On January 9, 2018, Alice Wong interviewed Judith Heumann for the Disability Visibility Project® with the StoryCorps app. Judy talked about growing up as a Jewish disabled girl in Brooklyn, her family, and the need for disabled people to find one another.
ALICE WONG: Judy I just want to thank you so much for agreeing to be part of the Disability Visibility Project and share your story with us. Do you wanna just kind of introduce yourself and say a little bit about yourself?
JUDY HEUMANN: Sure. Thank you Alice really very much for doing this. I really admire the work that you’re doing and love the, kind of strange to think as I just turned 70, but the intergenerational aspect of this because I think we’re all learning from each other and for me, that’s very important. So who am I? I’m a girl from Brooklyn and I always speak about that because Brooklyn I think very much in my family made me who I am because in New York, you really grow up to just expect that you have to be a demanding person. And so, as I was, I had polio in 1949, I’m a post-polio quadriplegic, I used a motorized wheelchair. I walked until I, I mean I never walked but I walked til was 18 months old before I had polio, and then never walked independently again. I used braces until I had my spinal surgery, for curvature of the spine and then went from a world where I was wearing braces every day, all day to not wearing braces ever again when I was about 20, 21. And that’s a whole other conversation but my experience growing up as a younger person and the discrimination that I experienced as of course many, many, many other disabled people really helped to formulate and frame my life over the last number of decades. And I think it’s been very important for me to really work in a collaborative way with very diverse groups of people, not just disabled individuals but others, and working collaboratively with people I think I’ve been able to be a reasonably meaningful part of legislative changes that have gone on in the U.S., work that I did with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, colleagues and friends that I’ve made around the world and my ability to meet with other disabled people around the world and to learn from them and speak at their meetings. So who am I, I guess I’m a change agent, I’m a fighter, I’m a believer in civil rights and human rights…
So I define myself as a disabled Jewish woman, and all three of those parts of me are very important. And my experience growing up as a disabled person, as a Jewish person, and as a woman, and as a Jewish disabled woman was that I experienced exclusion and discrimination kind of everywhere, and as I said I grew up in Brooklyn but then I lived in the Bay Area for oh, about 25 years, I was invited to a meeting in LA in I think the 80s which was organized by Jewish disabled people, and it was a very powerful meeting, because it was the first time that we had ever gotten together in an environment which we felt was safe, where we could speak about how hurtful it was for us not to be able to really be seen as equals within that community. And slowly things have been changing. That was the 80s and we’ve seen more activity going on in this century, 2010 forward.
Younger people I think very much need time to be able to talk about what’s going on in their lives, what’s happening with their non-disabled peers, how they’re feeling, what they wanna do, whether they’re getting the right messages to do what they want to do, whether they’re getting the right opportunities to be able to do what they wanna do… if you’re the only disabled person in a family, my experience was, although my parents are very loving and supportive and became strong advocates and had experienced discrimination themselves as Jews growing up in Germany. It’s still different. My experiences were different. I could learn from them but when they began to be supportive of my learning from other disabled individuals and helped with getting people to demonstrations and helping support our disability rights group in New York, that was all very important.
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Disability Visibility Project®. (2018, December 13). DVP Interview: Judith Heumann and Alice Wong. Retrieved from: https://disabilityvisibilityproject.com/2018/12/13/dvp-interview-judith-heumann-and-alice-wong/
An outdoor patio with Alice Wong [left], an Asian American disabled woman in a wheelchair. She is wearing a mask over her nose connected to a tubing for her ventilator. She is wearing a long-sleeved navy shirt and a sporty aqua blue vest and holding a paper coffee cup. On the right is Judith Heumann, an older white woman with short wavy brown hair. She is sitting in a power chai and wearing glasses, a dark green short-sleeved top and a scarf tied into a knot. Both are looking at the camera and smiling.
“Positive and Fun” by Scott Holmes is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
Produced for the Disability Visibility Project® by Alice Wong. Interview recorded by StoryCorps, a national nonprofit whose mission is to provide Americans of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to record, share, and preserve the story of our lives. For more: www.storycorps.org and www.disabilityvisibilityproject.com