Remembering my friend Judy Heuman, by Jo Ann McCann


By: Jo Ann McCann

Judy Heuman

We in the disability community have lost a great champion. Judy Heumann, widely regarded as “the mother” of the disability rights movement—passed away in Washington, D.C. on the afternoon of March 4, 2023 and we are just now coming to grips with our loss.

The world is awash with stories of the many battles she won and the challenges she faced in securing civil rights for people with disabilities. This story is not one of those. Instead, this is how I remember my friend Judy. Although I am retired now, I worked with Judy at the US Department of Education, years ago while she served as the Assistant Secretary, Office of Special Education Programs and Rehabilitative Services. I was the Project Officer for Captioned Television Programs and for Video Description Projects. If nothing else, Judy truly understood disability access and supported our efforts in developing the technology and providing these services for individuals with disabilities. In any large organization, there are always tasks to be done that fall under the category of “other duties as assigned.” In this instance, because I held a national certification, I occasionally was called upon to fill in as a sign language interpreter for important meetings. I don’t remember the venue nor the specific topic of discussion, but with Judy there, I am sure it was disability centered. As it happened, I was sitting directly across from Judy, facing her and the larger audience. I recall that the speaker made several important points about disability issues, and one particular point that he made truly resonated with me. I suppose, at the moment, I was awash with a certain joy that I feel when I realize that someone really “gets” the disability issue. Still interpreting, I looked right at Judy, and without thinking, I winked. Judy Heumann, Assistant Secretary, Office of Special Education Programs and Rehabilitative Services winked right back.

That’s my memory of Judy.