Washington and Lee University set to host disability rights activist Judy Heumann
Dani Roberts, assistant director of Inclusion and Engagement, and Catherine Xia ’23 will co-moderate the discussion.
The event is free for the public to view online, but advance registration is required and available to access at https://go.wlu.edu/heumann.
During the discussion, Heumann will share her experiences advocating for disability rights and discuss the movement’s future. A question-and-answer session will follow the conversation.
“Heumann’s work as an activist has been instrumental in the disability rights movement,” said Roberts. “Without her contributions and those of her colleagues and fellow activists, we may not have some of the laws and regulations today that protect and support people with disabilities.”
For Xia, this conversation is an important one for the entire campus community. On campus, Xia is a liaison of WLUnite, a club focused on educating, advocating and raising awareness about disabilities and accessibility at W&L. She first sparked the idea for Roberts to invite Heumann. Xia believes the campus would benefit from more programs dedicated to accessibility, disability awareness and disability rights.
“I’m a disabled student myself, so the issue of disability and accessibility is always on my mind,” said Xia. “As I got more involved with campus life, I realized that disabled students, and disability in general, were consistently left out when people talked about diversity and inclusion. When Dani Roberts asked what kind of programming I’d like to see in the future, I felt it was the perfect time to raise my concerns and see how W&L can start conversations about disability and accessibility.”
Lauren Kozak, Title IX coordinator and director of Disability Resources at W&L, says Heumann’s visit is a step in the right direction for the campus.
“I think this event is great and illustrates how the Office of Inclusion and Engagement (OIE) is working to create a more accessible and inclusive campus environment for all students, including students with disabilities,” Kozak said.
Heumann is a lifelong advocate for the rights of disabled people. In 1949, she contracted polio and began to use a wheelchair for her mobility. At five years old, she was denied the right to attend school because she was considered a “fire hazard.” While her parents played a substantial role in fighting for her rights as a child, Heumann soon determined that she, working in collaboration with other disabled people, had to play an advocacy role due to continuous discrimination.
Today, Heumann is recognized internationally as a leader in the disability rights community. She has been instrumental in developing and implementing legislation such as Section 504, which protects students with disabilities; the Individuals with Education Act; the Americans with Disabilities Act; the Rehabilitation Act; and the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. She graduated from Long Island University and earned a Master of Science degree in public health from the University of California at Berkeley.
Her memoir, “Being Heumann: An Unrepentant Memoir of a Disability Rights Activist,” was published by Beacon Press and audio recorded by Ali Stroker, the first wheelchair actor to perform on Broadway. Heumann is also featured in a 2020 American award-winning documentary film, “Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution.”
“Judy Heumann is an incredible person and very well-known within the disabled community,” Xia said. “I’m looking forward to starting a much-needed conversation about disabilities, accessibility and inclusion that I think is missing from W&L’s campus. I hope all the attendees learn more about what it means to be disabled, how they can be an ally to their disabled peers and how so many other issues are also considered a disability issue.”
This event is sponsored in part by OIE, W&L Hillel, Student Activities, Law School Student Affairs and WLUnite.