Part memoir, part oral history of the modern disability rights movement, Judith Heumann’s book sparkles with personality, strength, and wit. As the granddaughter of Holocaust victims, Heumann’s childhood was marked not only by this loss, but also by her parents’ work to create for their daughter a life filled with dignity, curiosity, and the courage to dream following her paralysis by polio at eighteen months.
Most striking is just how far the work of activists like Heumann has taken us. Though we have more work to do, life before the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act – which was passed 30 years ago this July – was filled with obstacles, attitudes, and indignities that seem unimaginable post-ADA. Heumann recounts being described as a “fire hazard” when she wanted to attend public school, and later on, when she returned, qualified, to teach at a public school, was denied employment because of her paralysis. (Her lawsuit following this was ground-breaking.)
The work we do here at Solutions for Independence – teaching self-advocacy and supporting independent living goals – isn’t work Heumann began or singlehandedly shouldered as the disability rights movement gained traction in the 1970s. It’s impossible to deny, however, that Heumann is a singular force of nature and a visionary activist, and she will be counted among the great civil rights leaders of this and future generations.
Being Heumann: An Unrepentant Memoir of a Disability Rights Activist by Judith Heumann with Kristen Joiner is available for purchase in hardcover, as an e-book, or as an audiobook.