Do the Right Thing

May 21, 2024

I don’t often talk about the discrimination our son and family have faced because of his disabilities. Most of my friends are the same way. Why bother reliving the humiliation, heartbreak and inconvenience brought on by such experiences? Dwelling on them just doesn’t seem to do much good. Or does it?

With each indignity, and the way my blood boils as a result, I’ve grown increasingly aware of how and why it’s important to speak up and out. So has our son, Andrew, along with other young adults with disabilities who are expanding their awareness and advocacy skills. This is largely due to the passionate work of Judith Heumann.

Judy and Andrew in an animated and inspiring conversation at Connecticut College last September.

Throughout her 75-year life, the disability activist fought and taught so many people about why it’s important to change how society sees, values and supports individuals with disabilities. I hope her death last Saturday is a spark that ignites each of us to advocate, even when we’re weary, overwhelmed and least inclined to do so.

Judy’s teaching, writing, public speaking and fighting to enact legislation like the Americans with Disabilities Act and Rehabilitation Act changed the way families like mine live and contribute to our communities. Perhaps most importantly, her words and example encouraged and empowered individuals with disabilities (including Andrew) to change how the world views “people like them.”

Judy was a role model for why and how to illuminate injustice, effect progress, and hold people accountable for their lack of understanding and promises of improvement. This clip of her as a young woman testifying before Congress illustrates her polite but powerful approach to advocacy. It emboldens me every time I see it:

Below are just a few “words of wisdom” Judy shared over the years. Her memoir, Being Heumann, is filled with many more. And her book for young adults, Rolling Warrior, is equally instructive and empowering.

The next time you witness discrimination, perhaps try asking: “What would Judy do?” May we all be strong and courageous enough to follow her lead.

The family of Judith “Judy” Heumann invites the community to honor her life at a memorial service to be live-streamed on Wednesday, March 8 at 10 a.m.  Click here to join.

Interested in learning more about one-to-one coaching? Contact Kris for information on what this might look like for you, including outcomes, availability, fees and more.

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