Disabled In Action came together as a result of a young woman’s fight against employment discrimination. In 1970, Judy Heumann was a recent graduate of Long Island University. She wanted to use that freshly printed diploma to start her career as a school teacher but the New York City Board of Education told her that people who use wheelchairs can’t teach.
Judy’s lawsuit against the Board of Education generated so much media attention that disabled people with similar stories coalesced around her struggle and the fight for the human rights of people with disabilities took a giant step forward. People supporting Judy’s fight as well as others with similar stories of discrimination came together with the goal of creating an inclusive, accessible society. They called this newly formed coalition, Disabled In Action.
As its first president, Judy lead DIA in many protests and actions that addressed national and local disability rights issues. In 1973 Ed Roberts invited Judy to assist him at the Center for Independent living at Berkeley California where she stayed until 1982. During that time she organized and lead the famous “takeover” of the San Francisco office of the U.S. Department of Health Education and Welfare. In that direct action, more than 100 protesters occupied the “HEW” offices for 28 days and forced Secretary Califano to sign Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, The first civil rights legislation for people with disabilities.
In 1983 Judy co-founded the World Institute on Disability with Ed Roberts and Joan Leon. She served in two presidential administrations. Bill Clinton appointed her Assistant Secretary of the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services at the US Department of Education and she served Barack Obama as his Special Advisor on International Disability Rights for the U.S. State Department.
Judy Heumann’s story and contributions to the fight for disability rights are laid out in her memoir, published in February, 2020 Being Heumann, published by Beacon Press, (ISBN: 9780807019382)
For a more complete listing of judy’s accomplishments you can check out her Wikipedia page.
Soon after Judy left her position as the Assistant Secretary at the Department of Education, we sat down at her Washington, DC apartment with her to discuss independent living. This extended interview was posted on DIA’s previous website