President Biden on Sunday remembered disability rights activist Judith Heumann, who passed away on Saturday at 75, as a “trailblazer” and a “rolling warrior.”
Heumann advocated for the rights of disabled people for more than five decades and served in two presidential administrations. She died Saturday at the age of 75, her team confirmed.
“Judy Heumann was a trailblazer – a rolling warrior – for disability rights in America. After her school principal said she couldn’t enter Kindergarten because she was using a wheelchair, Judy dedicated the rest of her life to fighting for the inherent dignity of people with disabilities,” Biden said in a statement.
Heumann needed to use a wheelchair for most of her life due to polio. In 1970, she was denied a teaching license because school officials in New York City said her wheelchair was a fire hazard. After challenging the decision in court, she became the first person who used a wheelchair while teaching in the state.
Biden said in his statement that he knew Heumann for a “long time,” noting that he hosted a meeting with her in the White House when he was vice president to discuss how to “break down barriers for those who face discrimination and neglect.”
He also credited her advocacy for helping get pieces of legislation through Congress that opened up more opportunities to others with disabilities.
“Her courage and fierce advocacy resulted in the Rehabilitation Act, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act – landmark achievements that increased access to education, the workplace, housing, and more for people with disabilities,” he said.
“Her legacy is an inspiration to all Americans, including many talented public servants with disabilities in my Administration,” Biden added. “Jill and I send our deepest condolences to Judy’s husband, Jorge Pineda, and their entire family.”
Heumann served as the Assistant Secretary of the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services for the Clinton administration and was appointed by President Obama as the State Department’s Special Advisor on International Disability Rights.
Heumann co-authored her memoir, “Being Heumann,” in 2020, and published a version of it for younger readers, “Rolling Warrior,” in 2021.
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This story was originally published March 5, 2023, 10:19 PM.