March 24th: Judy Heumann

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Judy Heumann has, in my personal opinion, the best comeback story in the history of comeback stories.  After battling polio when she was 18 months old, Heumann was left confined to a wheelchair.  When she was old enough to attend elementary school, she was sent home for being a fire hazard.  I’m not paraphrasing, her mother was told that she was a fire hazard and she would not be allowed to attend school.  Her mother challenged the decision and Heumann was allowed back into her local public school in the fourth grade.  During college, Heumann became an activist for people with disabilities.  After graduating, she tried to get a license to teach in New York, but was rejected because, keeping with a recurring theme in her life, the school board did not believe she would be able to safely evacuate herself and her students if there were a fire.  A judge intervened, grave Heumann her teaching license, and she taught elementary school for three years; she was the first person in a wheelchair to do so in New York City.  In 1970, she and some friends organized a civil rights organization for people with disabilities called Disabled in Action.  She went on to be a legislative assistant, working on multiple bills that would advance the rights of disabled people, all while still organizing rallies, sit-ins, and demonstrations for the disabled.  She also worked in the white house during the Clinton administration in the Department of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services, and the Department of Education.  Eventually Heumann even became the first ever Special Advisor on Disability Rights for the US State Department during the Obama administration.

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