In our latest video interview, Disability Horizons Co-founder Martyn Sibley talks to disability-rights activist Judith Heumann, a formidable woman from New York who has played an integral part in fighting for disabled people’s rights. Watch her video interview to find out more about her life, her disability, and how she has continued to fight for change into her 70s.
I met Judith about six years ago, when the Paralympic Games were being hosted in London. Our meeting was brief, but in that short time, she inspired me and Srin to really push to grow Disability Horizons to be bigger and better, to be another cog in the giant wheel fighting for change disabled people across the world.
Having been born in 1947, Judith’s story is one that is similar to many other disabled people’s. In 1949 she contracted polio, which left her with life-altering disabilities. At the time, there were no laws in place in the US to protect disabled people’s human rights.
Throughout her childhood, she faced prejudice and inequality. Unable to attend mainstream school and forced to travel long distances because of inaccessibility, it was clear to her that disabled people were being segregated and treated as different.
In the 60s, the media portrayed disability in a patronising way. The Disability Rights Movement wasn’t perceived in the same way as other movements, such as civil and women’s rights. It too, like the people it fought for, was pitied and seen as less important.
It was her experiences that solidified her resolve to fight for change for not only herself, but all disabled people.
After school, she and her disabled friends began to envisage how they wanted the world to be for disabled people, how there needed to be role models they could aspire to.
She wanted to end the tragic picture that was being painted of disabled people. At that time, she and many others were being discriminated against in employment. She was denied a teacher’s licence because she couldn’t walk. With no laws in place, such flagrant discrimination was allowed.
But her break came when a journalist friend made a noise about her plight, and that of many other disabled people. With a media storm having been created, Judith was finally able to win the right to teach, but also to fight for other disabled people to have the same rights.
Hear her incredible story in her video interview below.
As well as sharing her story, Judith has also shared her insight into what all disabled people can do to make change happen.
We’ll be screening her tips video on the DHorizons Tribe Facebook page. Find out when it will be added by signing up for our newsletter. You’ll also get our Ultimate Disability Survival Guide, as well as weekly articles – all for free.
By Martyn Sibley