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'Leader of the disability movement': UC Berkeley alumnus Judy Heumann dies at 75

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Disability rights activist and UC Berkeley alumna Judy Heumann died March 4 at the age of 75.


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MARCH 07, 2023

Disability rights activist Judy Heumann died March 4 at the age of 75.

A campus alumna, Heumann was involved in the Center for Independent Living, or CIL, in Berkeley and spent her life uplifting others and promoting inclusivity as a disabled rights advocate.

“Judy died in her prime as the most visible and revered leader of the disability movement and the leading spokesperson for the rights and ability of all people with disabilities to lead productive lives as valued members of the community,” said Joan Leon, a colleague who worked with Heumann at the CIL, in an email.

Heumann joined the CIL in the 1970s, eventually taking on a leadership role as it expanded to include a wider range of services and civil rights issues that needed to be reformed, according to Leon.

Later, Leon said Heumann went on to found the World Institute on Disability with Leon and took on governmental roles relating to disability policy in the Clinton administration.

According to Victor Pineda, director of the Inclusive Cities Lab at the Institute for Urban and Regional Development and friend of Heumann, she opened up new dialogues and new channels of activism to a wide range of communities.

“One of the things that’s most impressive is how she truly touched so many Cal students,” Pineda said. “Instead of calling out anyone, she would call people in to do things better.”

Pineda recalls that Heumann has always had a special place in her heart for Berkeley.

Hari Srinivasan, a campus alumnus who was mentored by Heumann and former Daily Californian employee, said she has left an impact on his perspective of disability justice and his own advocacy journey.

“Getting to interact with Judy has had a[n] OVERSIZED impact on how I’ve come to regard disability, including my own sense of self-worth,” Srinivasan said in an email. “Judy was just so empowering.”

Heumann took the time out of her “extremely busy schedule” to attend Srinivasan’s undergraduate academic colloquium at UC Berkeley, where he presented his research on autism, he said.

Srinivasan noted that Heumann was a self-described “bad-ass” who encouraged other people with disabilities to demand their rights and call out discrimination.

“I loved that she was so grounded, approachable and showed so much humility, and so generous of her time and guidance,” Srinivasan said in an email. “It was like she was nudging and encouraging us to become pebbles that were widening ripples in the pond of change, adding to giant ripples that had been initiated by her.”

Srinivasan said he hopes the advocacy work by himself and others will continue Heumann’s legacy.

Pineda added that after Heumann’s death, the road to disability justice has only begun to be paved.

“Now it’s up to us to build off of her legacy and shine a path towards a future that leaves no one behind,” Pineda said.

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MARCH 08, 2023