Author of "Being Heumann: an Unrepentant Memoir of a Disability Rights Activist"
Since childhood, Judy Heumann has faced ableism — institutionally, socially, and personally. New York’s public school system prevented her from enrolling, and she was often bullied or excluded by her own peers. After a lifetime of activism, she is finally seeing a shift in how people with disabilities are viewed and treated. She gives us her Brief But Spectacular on the disability rights movement.
Judy Woodruff: Since childhood, Judy Heumann has faced ableism institutionally, socially, and personally.
New York’s public school system prevented her from enrolling, and she was often bullied or excluded by her own peers. After a lifetime of activism, she is finally seeing a shift in how people with disabilities are viewed and treated.
Her book is called “Being Heumann: An Unrepentant Memoir of a Disability Rights Activist.”
And she’s the star of tonight’s Brief But Spectacular.
Judy Heumann, Author: When I was 5 years old in Brooklyn, New York, on East 38th Street, my mother did what every other parent did when their kid was 5. She took me to school to register me.
And this was in the early 1950s. There were no motorized wheelchairs. So she pushed me to school, and it wasn’t accessible. She pulled me up the steps. And the principal said I couldn’t go to school because I was a fire hazard. I don’t really know that there was an explanation. It just was.
I think the average person, they see disability as a threat, as a threat to not being able to do things as people have typically done them. And I think there’s truth in that. But the question is, is it because one has a disability or because society itself has constructed itself in such a way because they haven’t seen us?
Discrimination against disabled people has existed from the beginning of time. And we’re in a place right now where, because of other movements, the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, Black Lives Matter movement, et cetera, people are speaking up and out.
One of the first pieces of legislation that the disability community really engaged in was getting regulations developed for a provision of law Section 504. Section 504 says you can’t discriminate against someone who has a disability if the entity is receiving money from the federal government.
It was the first time that many of these young disabled people felt a part of something, and really felt that they were making a difference, not only for their lives, but for the lives of many others.
There is a shift, I believe, going on in our society, where we’re looking at race and gender, equality, and disability as issues that we need to address, that diversity is something that makes our companies stronger, that diverse businesses provide better services for customers.
I also am a very big believer that the disability rights community cannot stand on its own. We need to be working with all other movements, and we want all other movements to be inclusive of disabled people.
If we are actively learning and working together, we can do things like make sure, when housing is being built in our communities, that it’s accessible, not just for people who have physical disabilities today, but if you’re going to have a physical disability tomorrow.
I think having a disability really has allowed me to do and get in touch with so many things and opportunities that otherwise would not have happened. People look at us as the label of our disability. And it is a part of who we are, but it is not who we are.
My name is Judy Heumann, and this is my Brief But Spectacular take on the disability rights movement.
Judy Woodruff: Judy Heumann, so inspiring to every one of us, thank you.
And you can watch all our Brief But Spectacular episodes at PBS.org/NewsHour/Brief.