Judy Heuman: The activist who gave a voice and supplies to the disabled has passed away

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Judy Heuman, an American, breathed her last at the age of 75 activist internationally recognized for her fight for the rights of people with disabilities. Having herself been confined to a wheelchair since the age of two due to the polio she contracted, Human dedicated her life to the struggle to awaken a society characterized by indifference towards the Disabled.

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Moreover, from a very young age she had been faced with rejection. School she didn’t go until she was 9 years old after her wheelchair was labeled a “fire hazard”. But even then, as she would say, she was treated as “second class citizen”. “THE disability it only becomes a tragedy when society refuses to provide those means that will allow us to take the reins of our lives in our hands” she would say in an interview in 1987. Born 40 years earlier in Philadelphia, USA, Judy Heuman grew up in Brooklyn, New York from a Jewish family he had chased by them Nazi and who in her new life in America devoted herself to securing a better life for herself. This shared and sustained struggle allowed her to study speech therapy at Long Island University and then continue her studies as a graduate student in Public Health at Berkeley, California.

Even with these studies, however, she would have to fight a hard battle – a battle won in the end – to become New York state’s first wheelchair teacher. The initial rejection cited “paralysis in both lower extremities” as the cause. Judy Heuman then sued the state of New York, and the case gained press coverage. Heuman would explain to the New York Times that even if the school didn’t have a ramp or an elevator, she could teach in ground-floor classrooms. She also said that her electric wheelchair enabled her to move faster than her pedestrian colleagues.

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The newspaper wrote in its main article dated May 27, 1970 that “the blind student who takes notes from memory or the paraplegic who uses a wheelchair in order not to miss his lesson show a determination that surpasses that of athletes – heroes of our society”. Heuman may have won her nomination, but her victory didn’t distract her from her fight. In 1977, he organized a nearly month-long occupation of a federal building in San Francisco, winning yet another battle: that protest paved the way for the ADA, the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The protest in San Francisco is considered the longest nonviolent occupation of a public building in the history of USA. And this despite the fact that the conditions were anything but friendly. Many of the squatters had not brought with them the necessary supplies or even clothes to change into. At the same time, the authorities reacted by cutting off the water supply and telephone communications. The reaction did not deter them. Deaf and mute people used sign language to get their messages across outside the building, while others resorted to entertainment by organizing wheelchair races. On their side they had the mayor of the city, as well as Black Panthers who supplied them with food.

Later, Judy Heuman would travel to Washington to participate in a special congressional hearing. “We will no longer allow the government to oppress people with disabilities. We don’t want another marginalization” he would say to the senators of the Committee, while he did not leave the reaction of one of them untouched: “I would appreciate it”, he told him, “if you would stop nodding your head since it is obvious that you do not understand what you are talking about I talk”. Once again, the road had opened. The 1990s would find her under secretary in the Clinton administrations for special education and rehabilitative services. She also served the Obama administrations, with the former US president declaring himself “lucky” to have worked with her. From her tireless action and experience, the autobiography “Being Human” was born, as well as the award-winning documentary “Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution”.

Source: News Beast

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