Disability Civil Rights Pioneer
An internationally recognized social justice leader, Heumann has been a longtime human rights advocate—especially for people with disabilities. Since the early 1970s, when she sued the New York City Board of Education and became the school system’s first teacher in a wheelchair, her efforts have been instrumental to the disability rights movement and other movements for justice.
Today, through The Heumann Perspective, she is working to broaden discussions about intersectionality and disability, with a growing presence on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other digital platforms.
Recently, Heumann recently served in the Obama administration in a noteworthy step forward as the first Special Adviser for International Disability Rights at the US Department of State.
She has also served as executive director and adviser to several organizations including the Department on Disability Services for the District of Columbia and the World Bank—where, as the Bank’s first Adviser on Disability and Development, she helped expand the organization’s capacity to work with governments and civil society in support of policies that enabled disabled people to participate fully in economic and social networks.
Before working on international disability rights, Heumann was an early leader in the independent living movement in the United States. She co-founded a number of centres focused on disability, including the Berkeley Center for Independent Living, where she was deputy director and later a board member.
During her tenure, she played an instrumental role in securing one of the first federal civil rights laws protecting people with disabilities, staging one of the longest sit-ins ever at a federal building for 28 days with over 150 people at the San Francisco Office of the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare. Later, she served as Assistant Secretary for the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services in the Clinton administration.
Heumann is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley and Long Island University, and has received numerous honors including the Henry B. Betts Award, the Max Starkloff Lifetime Achievement Award and the InterAction Disability Inclusion Award. Heumann is married to Jorge Pineda.