Judith Hoiman, disability rights activist who spoke at NYU graduation, dies at 75

Disability rights pioneer Judith Hoiman died in Washington, D.C., on Saturday afternoon.

Manasa Gudawali

File photo: Judith Hoiman at NYU’s May 2022 commencement ceremony (Manasa Gudawali for WSN)

Judith Hoiman, a dedicated advocate known to many as the “mother” of the disability rights movement, died on March 4 in Washington, D.C., at the age of 75. The cause of her death was not immediately released.

In the 1990s, Hoiman played a key role in shaping legislation that prohibited discrimination against people with disabilities and required accommodations in public life, including the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

She was a trailblazer throughout her life as the first wheelchair-bound public school teacher in New York City, the World Bank’s first adviser on disability and development, and the US State Department’s first special adviser on international disability rights. appointed by President Barack Obama. She also served Deputy Secretary of the Department of Special Education and Rehabilitation of the Department of Education, under President Bill Clinton.

Last year, Hoiman spoke to thousands of NYU’s 2020 and 2021 graduates at Yankee Stadium as part of a joint commencement ceremony for students whose senior year of college was affected by the pandemic. She was also awarded an honorary doctorate by the university. Speaking to a WSN reporter a few days before his speech at the ceremony, she said she was surprised and honored that she had been chosen to speak and admitted that putting her speech together was a “terrible thought”.

On the day of the commencement ceremony, Introducing her before she began her speech, Fay Ginsburg, a professor of anthropology at the university and co-director of its Center for Disability Studies, described Hoiman as “an amazing and unrepentant badass.”

Hoiman spoke about the extraordinary impact of the pandemic on people with disabilities, as well as the strength and scope of the disability advocacy movement. She also conveyed her excitement and optimism about the world her audience of new graduates will shape.

“As we make our way through the daily challenges of life, please know — and I know you believe this — that you will overcome these challenges,” Human said. – said at the ceremony. “I wish you strength and luck as you move forward. And remember, never take it for granted that you too have a part to play in weaving the threads of this one garment of destiny.”

Born and raised in Brooklyn, Hoiman graduated from Long Island University in 1969 and then attended the University of California, Berkeley, where he earned a Master of Science in Public Health in 1975.

At the age of two, Hoiman contracted polio, which left her unable to walk. She was denied early elementary education because the school she attended deemed her a “fire hazard.” She was later denied a teaching license – the New York City Board of Education claimed that Heumann was “physically and medically unfit to teach.” In response, Hoiman sued the Board of Education in 1970 and later became the first wheelchair-bound teacher in New York City.

In 1983, she co-founded the World Institute on Disability, one of the first global disability rights organizations. The non-profit grassroots corporation operated as a research and resource center for people with disabilities. In 2020, Heumann was named one of the 100 defining women of the past century.

Hoiman also appeared in the Oscar-nominated Netflix documentary Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution, in which she and others shared their experiences at Camp Jenned, a New York summer camp for people with disabilities. The camp served as the foundation for many future disability rights activists like Heumann. The documentary premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival and won the Audience Award. It has also won awards, including a Peabody Award for Documentary and an Independent Spirit Award for Best Documentary.

Hoiman’s death was first announced in a press release posted on her website.

Contact Arnav Binaikia and Bruna Horvath at [email protected]

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