Duckworth Honors Disability Rights Hero Judy Heumann on Senate Floor
[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – Yesterday, U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) went to the Senate floor to honor the life and legacy of disability rights advocate and friend Judith Heumann. Senator Duckworth highlighted how Judy Heumann’s unwavering leadership and advocacy for the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act transformed the lives of millions of Americans living with disabilities—including her own. Video of the Senator’s remarks can be found here.
- She was someone who devoted her life to expanding disability rights—to making sure that accessibility in this country is not an afterthought but, in fact, is the norm.
- … it is in large part because of her never giving up that the Rehabilitation Act exists. That the ADA exists. That my full, wonderful, beautifully chaotic life is possible.
- In her name, I will forever keep striving to bring about that better tomorrow when people with disabilities won’t have to work so hard just to live our daily lives.
Duckworth’s full remarks as delivered are below:
I come to the floor today with a heavy-yet-full heart as I pay tribute to someone who I owe so much to—someone who millions of Americans living with disabilities owe so much to: Judy Heumann.
And to honor her, I want to start by describing the environment that we’re in for those who may be listening in who are visually impaired.
We are in the United States Senate chambers.
I am sitting on the top row of chairs. I’m sitting in my wheelchair.
I am an Asian American woman with brown hair and I am wearing my signature red lipstick—just as Judy used to wear.
Judy was more than a friend. She was a personal hero to me.
She was someone who devoted her life to expanding disability rights—to making sure that accessibility in this country is not an afterthought but, in fact, is the norm.
She worked so hard because she recognized a simple truth:
That everyone—whether they know it or not—is just one day, one split second away from acquiring a disability and needing the protections and rights that too many take for granted—rights that every American deserves.
You know, when I earned my disability in 2004, I actually considered myself pretty lucky.
I say lucky, because when I got home from Iraq, the Rehabilitation Act had been the law of the land for more than 30 years and the Americans with Disabilities Act had been in place for more than a decade—both of which Judy had fought tirelessly to implement, and in fact was the author of.
Both of which empowered people like me to lead full lives.
So yeah, pretty darn lucky. Because I wouldn’t have been able to roll my wheelchair through the maze of the Capitol Building and onto the Senate floor today to give this speech without those laws, or without the unwavering advocacy and leadership of Judy Heumann.
You see, Judy passed her exams to earn a teaching license before people with disabilities had equal protection under the law.
But she was denied that license by the School Board, even though she passed her exams—denied it, just because of so-called concerns about legal liability in the workplace because she had a disability.
They said that because Judy used a wheelchair, she represented a fire hazard and couldn’t safely teach in a classroom.
Judy, rightfully so, wasn’t going to take that for an answer, so she got to work.
She worked and she worked and she worked. She fought. Then she fought some more. She made a fuss. She caused what civil rights giant John Lewis called “good trouble.”
And it is in large part because of her never giving up that the Rehabilitation Act exists. That the ADA exists. That my full, wonderful, beautifully chaotic life is possible.
For that and for so much more, I will be forever grateful to Judy Heumann.
Judy passed away earlier this month, but what she lived for will live on forever.
I will never forget the hard-earned lessons she taught me about what it means to truly fight for our civil rights, to keep up that work day after day after day, to make sure we empower those who come next to continue reaching toward a more just and more accessible future.
In her name, I will forever keep striving to bring about that better tomorrow when people with disabilities won’t have to work so hard just to live our daily lives.
Rest in power, Judy.
We miss you already.
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