Her death was reported on her website and social media sites on Saturday in Washington, D.C., and it was confirmed by the American Association of Persons with Disabilities. The cause of death wasn’t made known right away.
According to her website, Heumann, who contracted polio at age 2 and lost her ability to walk, has been dubbed the “mother of the disability rights movement” for her longstanding support of disabled people through rallies and legal action.
She advocated for legislation that ultimately resulted in the federal Rehabilitation Act, People with Disabilities Education Act, and Americans with Disabilities Act. She served as the assistant secretary of the U.S. Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services, beginning in 1993 in the Clinton administration, until 2001.
Heumann also was involved in passage of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which was ratified in May 2008.
She helped found the Berkley Center for Independent Living, the Independent Living Movement and the World Institute on Disability and served on the boards of several related organizations including the American Association of People with Disabilities, the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, Humanity and Inclusion and the United States International Council on Disability, her website says.
Heumann, who was born in Philadelphia in 1947 in Philadelphia and raised in New York City, was the co-author of her memoir, “Being Heumann,” and a version for young adults titled, “Rolling Warrior.”
Her book recounts the struggle her parents experienced while trying to secure a place for their daughter in school. “Kids with disabilities were considered a hardship, economically and socially,” she wrote.
She went on to graduate from high school and earn a bachelor’s degree from Long Island University and a master’s degree in public health from the University of California, Berkeley.
She also was featured in the 2020 documentary film, “ Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution,” which highlighted Camp Jened, a summer camp Heumann attended that helped spark the disability rights movement. The film was nominated for an Academy Award.
During the 1970s she won a lawsuit against the New York Board of Education and became the first teacher in the state who was able to work while using a wheelchair, which the board had tried to claim was a fire hazard.
She also was a leader in a historic, nonviolent occupation of a San Francisco federal building in 1977 that set the stage for passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act, which became law in 1990.