We at Women Enabled International are mourning the loss of Judith “Judy” Heumann, the Mother of the disability rights movement, who passed away March 4, 2023. Her unwavering commitment to advancing human rights was immeasurable, and her passing has left a deep impact on all of us, both personally and professionally. It is an honor to celebrate her life and legacy this International Women’s Day.
“Judy was a trailblazer who made it possible for us to do the work we do at Women Enabled today,” said Anastasia Holoboff, Senior Legal Advisor at WEI. “Her advocacy, leadership, and pioneering intersectional approach to disability rights are guideposts for all of us in a field where the wins are infrequent and the obstacles at times feel insurmountable.”
Judy’s legacy in the global disability and gender justice movements is unparalled. From the 504 sit-ins in San Francisco to her work at the State Department and her role in influencing disability rights policy around the globe, her fierce determination and indomitable spirit changed the course of history and paved the way for so many of us.
While Judy’s impact was global, she built it in a profoundly personal manner. Despite her prestigious and iconic status, she valued the individual stories and personal connections she made with everyone she met.
“Judy was the Mother of the disability rights movement, but she knew the power of collective leadership. It wasn’t all about her. That’s what set her leadership apart. She valued getting to know people on a personal level.” Dr. Janie Mejias, Coordinator for the US Alliance, stated. “Even though we’re all working towards the same goal in the movement, we all have our own individual stories. And Judy took the time to get to know those stories and get to know the people.”
Today, we want to honor Judy’s legacy by sharing quotes and stories directly from WEI staff about how Judy impacted their lives and our movement. We hope that by highlighting these personal stories, we can celebrate and honor a few of the personal connections that Judy made throughout her life and the stories she leaves behind.
“I first met Judy in 2010 at the Conference of States Parties to the CRPD. She was a giant, for the US and global disability rights movements. But what struck me most about her was how accessible, down to earth, and engaged she was in the work of persons with disabilities around the world.” – Amanda McRae, Director of UN Advocacy
“Despite her stature in the movement and busy schedule, Judy always took the time to mentor and support young advocates, which just speaks to her incredible generosity of spirit and style of leadership. Her reaching out to me directly to congratulate me on the publication of the WEI-UNFPA Guidelines, will always be one of the highlights of my career. Her physical presence in our movement will be deeply felt and missed going forward, but we will always be guided by the lessons she shared and her legacy.” – Anastasia Holoboff, Senior Legal Advisor
“Judy was known for her tenacious, wont-back-down advocacy in the face of adversity. But I think what made her ‘the mother of the movement’ was her ability to connect on a personal level. Whether it was to sway a government official or ask each activist to keep fighting, even for just one more day. That’s how she built the movement, by individual invitation.” – Brittany Evans, Communications Manager
One staff member shared, “her unwavering commitment to intersectionality showed us that we can’t fight for justice in silos.” Another said, “Judy was the spark whose conviction ignited an entire generation. She challenged ableism so that others could believe in themselves and come together to demand a better future.”
At WEI, we’re still grappling with this profound loss. Judy’s presence in our community felt as immortal as her impact. Just weeks ago, Judy reached out to our new executive director, Maryangel García-Ramos.
“Judy opened portals to power for women like me. Her kind words to me directly, as a fellow disabled feminist leader, were a profound moment of solidarity and mentorship. It’s a testament to her commitment to nurturing disabled leadership. She was not only a leader of a generation and a role model to the next but a beacon of hope for generations to come.”
We are honored to have had the opportunity to know and learn from Judy. As we mourn the loss of such a titan of the disability rights movement, we are called to action, to continue her work, to honor her memory, and to create a world that is more just, equitable, humane, and inclusive for all of us in all our diversity.
Rest in power, Judy.
We hope you find as much joy in this video of the Heumann Perspective featuring our founder, Stephanie Ortoleva, talking about WEI as we do!