“For most of us, technology makes things easier.” -Judy Heumann
I’m a 28 year old adult with a deafness disability who uses a cochlear implant to help me hear. I’m your average joe who loves sports, exploring new places especially places to ski, and loves being a part of things. Technology has shaped my life by allowing me to hear all of those around me as well as in my community. There is one person I can owe thanks to and that is Judy Heumann. Judy Heumann, an international leader in the Disability Rights and Independent Living movement, advocates for disability rights all over the world. Her advocacy has shaped my life in so many ways giving me the opportunity to be a part of sports teams, go to music concerts, and travel the world.
It’s the 21st century and technology is everywhere, even in your hand! Human civilization went through a warp speed of evolution in technology throughout the 1900s, from the railroad train to buses, planes, and now rocketships. But for people in the disability community, it was more of a blip than an explosion of inventions. For the first time in civilization, the United States of America created a spaceship to put the first man on the moon on July 20, 1969. We can land a man on the moon, but we can’t caption our videos? In each decade of the 1900s new things were invented out of thin air to make human lives a little easier. But there was one thing missing, there were no disability rights anywhere in the world in that time period. No technology is invented for those who had disabilities to make their lives a little easier, just best practices strapped with a band-aid, and people would assume you were on your way!
But in the midst of all these great inventions and feats that human civilization has succeeded in, there is one person who casts a large shadow over what the next biggest feat of human civilization will bring. Judy Heumann, she started her first invention called The Disabled In Action (DIA) in 1970. An organization that focused on securing the protection of people with disabilities under civil rights laws through political protest. This fight went on for years, even in 1977 when the U.S. Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare Joseph Califano refused to sign meaningful regulations of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, the first U.S. federal civil rights protection for people with disabilities. Heumann’s next invention was called “pride for the people with disabilities.” She gathered 125 to 150 people to protest in a sit-in at the San Francisco Office of the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare and refused to leave until they got what they wanted. In the midst of this, Heumann and her friends organized the longest takeover at a federal building held for 28 days. That record still stands today for any federal building!
Heumann’s achievements didn't stop there. She continued to have a huge impact on policy and pushed for the Americans with Disabilities Act that became effective on July 26th, 1990. You may think human civilization has created many things. But I think Judy Heumann is the greatest invention that civilization has experienced. At least for me, technology has made my life easier. Technology has been a lifeline for Knowbility, allowing us to continue our passionate work of bringing web accessibility to people with disabilities. It has given us the ability to expand our work through our most popular event called John Slatin AccessU. AccessU is a place where anyone can come to and learn about making the digital world an accessible place. This event will have deep dive-style accessibility workshops beginning on May 9. We are excited to have keynote speakers to speak about accessibility! But most importantly, we couldn't be more grateful to Judy Heumann, one of our keynote speakers last year, for making all of this possible!