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HHS Mourns the Loss of Disability Rights Leader Judy Heumann

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) joins the disability community in mourning the loss of Judy Heumann, who passed away over the weekend. Judy was one of our nation’s greatest advocates and was a driving force behind key disability rights accomplishments.

One of the founders of the independent living movement, she was instrumental to the passage of the Rehabilitation Act, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Her advocacy led to the first federal regulations implementing Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability, and to the U.N.'s adoption of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Her career spanned leadership roles in the federal government – including the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of State – as well as disability advocacy groups, local government, philanthropy, and international organizations.

“Judy Heumann’s impact cannot be overstated – every hard-won victory for disability rights since the 1960s stems directly from her leadership and advocacy,” said HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra. “Because of her, people with disabilities are guaranteed equal access and opportunities to go to school, build careers, and live the lives they want to live. Judy shaped the world we live in today, and we all are better for it. Our hearts go out to her husband Jorge, and all who knew and loved her.”

“Our community has lost an incredible leader, mentor, and friend, and our hearts are with her family.  Judy was a civil rights giant who truly changed the world,” said Alison Barkoff, Acting Administrator of HHS’s Administration for Community Living and Assistant Secretary for Aging.  “Her legacy lives on in the independent living movement she helped create and in the work of the Administration for Community Living.”

“Without Judy’s tireless efforts and pressure on our Department, disability rights law would never have gotten off the ground,” said Sam Bagenstos, General Counsel of HHS.  “Her vigorous and effective advocacy established the basic principle that disabled people – in the United States and around the world – are people with the right to direct their own lives.”

“We will honor Judy’s memory as we enforce the civil rights laws that Judy fought for,” said Melanie Fontes Rainer, Director of the Office for Civil Rights.  “Her life and accomplishments will continue to spur our work that builds upon her advocacy to break down barriers and ensure people with disabilities people have equal access and opportunities to benefit from all of the programs HHS funds.”

Please see the statement from President Biden and the obituary posted on Judy’s website to learn more about Judy, her work, and her impact.

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