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SOA Statement on the Passing of Judy Heumann

We are saddened to hear about the passing of Judy Heumann, one of the most powerful and effective leaders in disability rights history. Judy was a groundbreaking advocate and activist whose work has made the United States a much more inclusive place for people with disabilities. She directly contributed to more access in higher education as an activist at the University of California, Berkeley; co-led a 1977 sit in at the San Francisco federal building that helped enshrine Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act; and founded, led, and sat on boards and advisory committees for some of the most influential disability entities in the country.


Judy also had an international impact throughout her life. Her actions alongside other advocates in the Independent Living Movement reverberated globally; she worked on international programs, policies and advocacy as a co-founder and Executive Director of the World Institute on Disability; and she supported the US government’s international efforts as part of the United States International Council on Disability. Judy was a giant in the domestic and international disability rights movements.


“Judy’s impact on disability rights, advocacy groups, laws and policies was unrivaled,” said Marcalee Alexander, SOA’s Executive Director. “Her direct-action protests and policy advocacy led to foundational laws, such as Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, that support disability rights, independence and inclusion in the US and have served as frameworks for disability rights laws abroad. She also championed the idea of disability pride, which has empowered people with disabilities to transform their own lives and become effective advocates. She will truly be missed.”


Alex Ghenis, SOA’s Deputy Director, has always been struck by Judy’s determination and success. “In my time in Berkeley and Oakland, I’ve seen her impact everywhere and, as someone with a disability, benefited from it firsthand,” he says. “Judy and her fellow leaders in the Independent Living Movement transformed accessibility in the City of Berkeley and at UC Berkeley; she founded the Independent Living Center whose services my friends and I used to remain independent; she founded the World Institute on Disability where my climate justice career started; and served on the board of the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund whose Berkeley office is a home base of world-changing legal advocacy. In addition to her direct impacts, she was a trailblazer that paved the way for countless disability advocates to change the world in their own ways. I’m grateful to have met her in person and for everything she accomplished.”


The outpouring of remembrance, from grassroots advocates to US Presidents, shows how much Judy was respected and loved. Sustain Our Abilities, our staff and volunteers send our condolences to her friends and family in this time of grieving.

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