Judith Heumann was 18 months old when she contracted polio. At age 5, Heumann was denied the right to attend school because she was considered a “fire hazard.” She has spent a lifetime fighting for disability rights and is internationally known for her leadership. “I am focused on working with our community to expand our movement and have the voices of millions of disabled people speaking up and demanding equality,” Heumann said.
Heumann joined the University of Kansas in commemorating the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disability Act on Oct. 28-29. “ADA 30 — Nothing About Us Without Us — A Celebration with Judith Heumann” featured a keynote conversation, as well as a series of discussions exploring the Disability Rights Movement, representation of disability in the media and the Independent Living Movement. KU ADA Resource Center for Equity and Accessibility organized the events with support from university partners, including KU Endowment.
According to Heumann, the ADA is important but having the laws is not enough. It is essential to implement the laws, work on new laws and to look at the high unemployment rate of disabled individuals and assure people are getting the necessary education and training.
“Universities are critical to advance knowledge imparted to students and to our communities overall,” she said. “Too few universities have taken the inclusion of disability beyond making campuses accessible. We must see changes that result in systemic reforms. As campuses embrace diversity, disability studies must be essential and taught in all programs.”
As a society, it is important to look seriously at local elections, review the curricula at universities and educate ourselves on the country’s history. “We need to prepare students to work in a society that is fighting to achieve equality for all and to be leaders in advancing inclusion in all areas,” Heumann said. “Democracies are messy, but we need to be honestly and continually reevaluating, speaking up and speaking out,” she said.