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Being Heumann: An Unrepentant Memoir of a Disability Rights Activist

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One of the most influential disability rights activists in US history tells her personal story of fighting for the right to receive an education, have a job, and just be human. A story of fighting to belong in a world that wasn't built for all of us and of one woman's activism—from the streets of Brooklyn and San Francisco to inside the halls of Washington—Being Heumann rec One of the most influential disability rights activists in US history tells her personal story of fighting for the right to receive an education, have a job, and just be human. A story of fighting to belong in a world that wasn't built for all of us and of one woman's activism—from the streets of Brooklyn and San Francisco to inside the halls of Washington—Being Heumann recounts Judy Heumann's lifelong battle to achieve respect, acceptance, and inclusion in society. Paralyzed from polio at eighteen months, Judy's struggle for equality began early in life. From fighting to attend grade school after being described as a "fire hazard" to later winning a lawsuit against the New York City school system for denying her a teacher's license because of her paralysis, Judy's actions set a precedent that fundamentally improved rights for disabled people. As a young woman, Judy rolled her wheelchair through the doors of the US Department of Health, Education, and Welfare in San Francisco as a leader of the Section 504 Sit-In, the longest takeover of a governmental building in US history. Working with a community of over 150 disabled activists and allies, Judy successfully pressured the Carter administration to implement protections for disabled peoples' rights, sparking a national movement and leading to the creation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Candid, intimate, and irreverent, Judy Heumann's memoir about resistance to exclusion invites readers to imagine and make real a world in which we all belong.


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One of the most influential disability rights activists in US history tells her personal story of fighting for the right to receive an education, have a job, and just be human. A story of fighting to belong in a world that wasn't built for all of us and of one woman's activism—from the streets of Brooklyn and San Francisco to inside the halls of Washington—Being Heumann rec One of the most influential disability rights activists in US history tells her personal story of fighting for the right to receive an education, have a job, and just be human. A story of fighting to belong in a world that wasn't built for all of us and of one woman's activism—from the streets of Brooklyn and San Francisco to inside the halls of Washington—Being Heumann recounts Judy Heumann's lifelong battle to achieve respect, acceptance, and inclusion in society. Paralyzed from polio at eighteen months, Judy's struggle for equality began early in life. From fighting to attend grade school after being described as a "fire hazard" to later winning a lawsuit against the New York City school system for denying her a teacher's license because of her paralysis, Judy's actions set a precedent that fundamentally improved rights for disabled people. As a young woman, Judy rolled her wheelchair through the doors of the US Department of Health, Education, and Welfare in San Francisco as a leader of the Section 504 Sit-In, the longest takeover of a governmental building in US history. Working with a community of over 150 disabled activists and allies, Judy successfully pressured the Carter administration to implement protections for disabled peoples' rights, sparking a national movement and leading to the creation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Candid, intimate, and irreverent, Judy Heumann's memoir about resistance to exclusion invites readers to imagine and make real a world in which we all belong.

30 review for Being Heumann: An Unrepentant Memoir of a Disability Rights Activist

  1. 5 out of 5

    Tzipora

    3.5 very conflicted stars. Judith Heumann has lived an impressive and profoundly influential life. Unfortunately, this book itself is less than amazing. I seem to disagree with the majority but stick with me. I am not rating Judith or her life or achievements. I am rating the book. And for that, once we got past her childhood I really began to struggle to get through what’s ultimately a rather short book. Oddly, saying that I struggled through- I actually think I may have liked it more had it be 3.5 very conflicted stars. Judith Heumann has lived an impressive and profoundly influential life. Unfortunately, this book itself is less than amazing. I seem to disagree with the majority but stick with me. I am not rating Judith or her life or achievements. I am rating the book. And for that, once we got past her childhood I really began to struggle to get through what’s ultimately a rather short book. Oddly, saying that I struggled through- I actually think I may have liked it more had it been longer. Let’s summarize some of the incredible things Judith was involved with. Paralyzed by Polio at 18 months, in early childhood she was not allowed to attend school. Her parents wanted better for her and fought and fought, eventually finding a school for disabled kids though the education was horrible. Later Judith goes to college and wants to be a teacher, she had often taken on the role of teaching and helping the other students in her class. But her use of a wheelchair is used as an excuse not to hire her. She fights this. This is the start of her incredible advocacy work, fueled in part by the earlier advocacy of her mother. Judith played an integral role in finally getting Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act passed. She was one of the leaders of the 24 day sit-in protest in San Fransisco and its an incredible story. This eventually lead to the Americans with Disabilities Act being passed, again something she had some involvement with. She helped form or lead a number of important disability related advocacy orgs. She eventually worked under Bill Clinton’s White House as assistant secretary in the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services in the Department of Education. There’s a lot of disability history here and a lot of talk about disability discrimination and human and civil rights. Personally, I already knew much of this history as a disabled political junkie. I did like hearing some of the details about how entwined the early Disability Rights movement was with the Civil Rights movement. When they were not allowing food into the building during the 504 protest, a group of Black Panther party members breaks in and brings hot meals for everyone. There’s a lot of other really awesome collaboration and I wish this was discussed and taught about more. However... I was baffled for awhile on just why I was struggling to read this because I so deeply long for more stories like Judy’s, stories about people like me and stories that begin to show me what kinds of things I could be capable of (or not. Having a progressive illness brings a radically different set of limitations and issues to those faced by someone like Judith who was paralyzed by Polio and therefore has a much more stable day to day). I feel a special kinship too when I read stories of people who are marginalized in more than one way like I am so her Jewishness was special to me as well. And what Judith Heumann has done with her life and the role she’s played in Disability history and the US and even international Disability Rights movement is so important. But I think that’s the issue. This is far too heavy on the facts. The blow by blow and all the names of the 504 sit-in actually took something away from the story. And other parts were fine enough but by far the parts that interested me most were just her own thoughts and feelings. I wanted more of Judith’s story as only she could tell it. In many ways this reads a lot like a biography, something someone else has written about her. I know she worked with someone else whose name is on the book also but still, I wish we had gotten more personal. Who Judith is as a person is just as important as the things she’s done. I find it hard to care about the later without the former. And I say that as a disabled person who’s benefited from her work. While nondisabled folks or disabled folks who aren’t as aware of disability history may learn a lot here, I suspect they’d have the same issue. I mean this isn’t a story about disability history. It’s about Judith, first and foremost m- or at least the title and focus on her would make you think that- and the specific role she’s played. I found it hard to care enough about her as much as I wanted to. There’s the tiniest little section about the man she married who is also disabled and she talks more about their accessibility needs or the language barrier (her husband is Mexican) than anything. I don’t need to know all their business but gosh, as a disabled person, if it’s rare we get to see disabled folks represented and making a real difference in the world (as opposed to being “inspiration porn” aka when disabled people are praised for just existing and doing basic things or used as a “If she could get out of bed today, so can you”), we never hear disabled love stories and relationships. Hell, disabled people still to this day do not have marriage equality. I will lose my benefits and insurance if I marry. So I just wanted more. Sure she throws in a few stories about ableism she’s faced and we hear some about how she grew up but it’s too much fact, not enough feeling. Being Heumann lacks a certain level of humanity, ironically enough. I also want to add in here quickly- when it comes to facts as well, I noticed some number related errors that I’m surprised wasn’t caught during the editing process. When she discusses the number of people involved in the Sam Fransisco 504 sit-in she says there’s 135. Then a page or two later she says 125. And says 125 again. Then suddenly it’s 150. Similarly at another point in the book she mentions being 27. She’s asked to move to California at 27. Yet describes the months after and then literally states “a year and a half later” and ends with saying she was 27. I’m not a math person and these stood out to me. I figured it was worth mentioning though I don’t think it’s a major issue. Except that I firmly believe this book deserved a better editor or another pass or two through the editing process. I find it difficult to rate this book. Let’s call this 3.5 very conflicted stars. But I hate how often memoirs or even fiction about illness or cancer or trauma or the Holocaust or similar get automatic praise from people over the subject. Important subject here. Subpar, if not downright disappointing book. I hesitate to recommend it. I want everyone to learn about Judith Heumann and disability history and you can gain some of that from this book. Yet there’s got to be better options out there. Or there should be. And if you, like me, are a disabled woman looking for more stories of disabled women and disabled women to look up to, well, this probably isn’t the book for you. Though I’m sort of tempted to say read it anyway. I’m very torn. You could gain everything you gain from reading this book by simply researching the history of disability rights in America. And maybe many liked the book because they didn’t know these things. Or because reading stories like this and frankly, disabled people having opportunities like this are so rare. But I don’t think it’s a particularly good memoir at all. This is why we need more disabled stories, Damn it. This is why we need more notable disabled people, to allow people like me to live our dreams and do big things. I don’t want this to be good enough. It’s not. Judith is a fascinating person. Her book, not so much. I guess read it to learn- in a somewhat dry way- about the facts of what Judith lived through and was involved in when it comes to the evolution of the Disability Rights Movement. But don’t go in expecting so much of a memoir. Personally, I wanted the memoir. Because there are other “just the facts please” books and spaces to learn about the Disability Rights movement. That’s important. But I refuse to say this book is the book to read or even really a particularly good book. I hope that makes sense.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Maria Seno

    I don’t think I have the words to do this book justice, but I’ll try. If you have seen the Netflix documentary “Crip Camp” you will recognize some things when you read this book. If you intend to read the book, it may actually be better to read it before watching the documentary, which is not what I did. This book brought up a lot of emotions for me because I can relate to it. I can relate to the feeling of invisibility that living with a disability causes, and I can relate to the frustration abou I don’t think I have the words to do this book justice, but I’ll try. If you have seen the Netflix documentary “Crip Camp” you will recognize some things when you read this book. If you intend to read the book, it may actually be better to read it before watching the documentary, which is not what I did. This book brought up a lot of emotions for me because I can relate to it. I can relate to the feeling of invisibility that living with a disability causes, and I can relate to the frustration about living in an inaccessible society. It meant a lot to me to read the author’s insights about her personal experiences living with a disability and society’s lack of understanding or acceptance, but also to know that we as people with disabilities can still fight for proper treatment. I think it’s really important for non-disabled people to read this book, too. The Americans with Disabilities Act was signed by the time I was in second grade, so I didn’t experience all that the author did, but it didn’t solve everything. The law only asks for “reasonable accommodations,” which can mean many different things. Sometimes it means the bare minimum. Older buildings don’t have to comply with the ADA at all, or they can get by with the minimum. One grab bar in an otherwise tiny bathroom that’s too small for a wheelchair to turn around. A separate “wheelchair accessible” door into a building that’s around the back by the dumpster. Even in the USA in 2020, with all the progress that has been made toward disability rights thanks to the activism of Ms. Heumann and others, people with disabilities are still stigmatized, either with pity or inspiration, and we will continue to be until society is made more accessible so that we can become more visible. We are still seen as less important than other people, an inconvenience, a liability. The laws in place help, but they aren’t enough. Laws don’t make society treat us as normal human beings.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Abby Johnson

    This incredible memoir paints a picture of what life was like for people with disabilities before section 504 and the Americans with Disabilities Act were passed and the incredible struggle to get them passed. Judith Heumann got her start in activism accidentally when she was forced to sue the New York Board of Education for denying her a teaching license due to her physical disability. After fighting for herself, she never stopped fighting for her rights and the rights of people with disabiliti This incredible memoir paints a picture of what life was like for people with disabilities before section 504 and the Americans with Disabilities Act were passed and the incredible struggle to get them passed. Judith Heumann got her start in activism accidentally when she was forced to sue the New York Board of Education for denying her a teaching license due to her physical disability. After fighting for herself, she never stopped fighting for her rights and the rights of people with disabilities in this country and the world. With the 30th anniversary of the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (which brought about changes such as curb cuts and accessible city buses) coming up in July 2020, this is the perfect time to delve into the life of an influential disability rights activist.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Tai Tomasi

    I love this candid memoir. As a person with a disability. Reading it was a shot in the arm, some much-needed motivation.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Karen

    An impressive person and an interesting history lesson, but I'm not sure how I feel about the book itself. Like many books about accomplished leaders, it sort of reads as "then I did this, and then I did this, and then I was just leading everything" without that much sense of what's going on in the person's head or how how they became the sort of leader and activist they did. In this case, she tries, but it's just a short book. Also, the pacing and focus was uneven. The first third read like a b An impressive person and an interesting history lesson, but I'm not sure how I feel about the book itself. Like many books about accomplished leaders, it sort of reads as "then I did this, and then I did this, and then I was just leading everything" without that much sense of what's going on in the person's head or how how they became the sort of leader and activist they did. In this case, she tries, but it's just a short book. Also, the pacing and focus was uneven. The first third read like a biography, telling us about her childhood and education. The middle third described in detail one particular protest, and the last third whizzed through the rest of her career.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

    This was brilliant and should be required reading globally. A fascinating story of what growing up was like using a wheelchair before there were curb cuts and ramps and lifts on buses, but even more than that was Heumann's descriptions of the general invisibility of people with disabilities. The fact that she couldn't go to school because she would be a "fire hazard" for the other (presumably more important) children. To have her parents have to sue the school district to get her a regular educa This was brilliant and should be required reading globally. A fascinating story of what growing up was like using a wheelchair before there were curb cuts and ramps and lifts on buses, but even more than that was Heumann's descriptions of the general invisibility of people with disabilities. The fact that she couldn't go to school because she would be a "fire hazard" for the other (presumably more important) children. To have her parents have to sue the school district to get her a regular education. The hurdles she had to go through to become a teacher are galling. The sheer amount of work that was put into passing the ADA is absolutely incredible. I remember reading about the people crawling up the steps of the Capitol Building in Washington DC but I didn't know about the long sit in in San Francisco in the 1970s, and the fact that went on for as long as it did is mind boggling considering what was involved. This is just an incredible story and it is so unfortunate that the advancements that have been made by people with disabilities and helped along by previous American presidents may just be destroyed by the current one.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Wouter

    I was introduced to Judy Heumann after watching the documentary Crip Camp on Netflix and when I found out she wrote a memoir I just had to read it. Would really recommend this to anyone interested in the disability rights movement.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Kyra

    Now that I've joined my work book group in addition to my college book group, it's kind of weird that the first two books I finished for it have both inspired me to think first about the packaging before the book. With Trust Exercise: A Novel, I actually kind of appreciated the packaging for revealing just enough about the book to keep me reading through the weaker first half. In this book's case, the packaging had a more negative effect on me - I knew it was the memoir of an activist, but when Now that I've joined my work book group in addition to my college book group, it's kind of weird that the first two books I finished for it have both inspired me to think first about the packaging before the book. With Trust Exercise: A Novel, I actually kind of appreciated the packaging for revealing just enough about the book to keep me reading through the weaker first half. In this book's case, the packaging had a more negative effect on me - I knew it was the memoir of an activist, but when two of the top three blurbs in the packaging were from Hillary Clinton and Sheryl Sandberg, it kind of biased me against the book. And indeed, the most interesting section of this memoir for me by far was the middle section, which focuses, with plenty of detail, on a single major act of civil disobedience that eventually succeeded in achieving its goal. The first and third sections cover a lot more ground with less detail, and, although they also include descriptions of protests and activist actions, they also are much more centered on work within the political system than the middle section. Now, to be fair, while I assume I do have significant political disagreements with Heumann, the work she describes in the book, and not just the civil disobedience but all of it, seems to have been genuinely significant and laudable. I'm sure that she personally has played a major role in improving the lives of many people who are important to me. So in talking about the sections of the book and my reaction to them, I am consciously musing on and revealing my own biases - that it's just instinctively easier for me to read about radical action than about actions taken within the current national or global political systems of power. Feel free to judge me as you will for this! Obligatory Archer's Goon reference: It's probably all because there's no one as attractive as Torquil or as cunning as Erskine in power in the real world.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Leatrice Fullerton

    I really enjoyed the fact that I can relate to so much of what the author was talking about in this book. She gives a really great backstory to the signing of the Americans with disabilities act. This is a must read!

  10. 4 out of 5

    Meredith

    I adored this book. I can’t recommend it enough! I wish it were required reading for Americans. Judy Heumann is phenomenal. What an impressive human! The book was a quick read covering a lot of ground across the disability rights movement of the past 7 decades from a very compelling voice/author. The thing that struck me more than even her incredible strength in the face of the constant, flagrant discrimination in our society was the way she built and leaned on communities to create power and fu I adored this book. I can’t recommend it enough! I wish it were required reading for Americans. Judy Heumann is phenomenal. What an impressive human! The book was a quick read covering a lot of ground across the disability rights movement of the past 7 decades from a very compelling voice/author. The thing that struck me more than even her incredible strength in the face of the constant, flagrant discrimination in our society was the way she built and leaned on communities to create power and fuel herself and movements to fight injustice. So many books I’ve read by social justice advocates have a thread of loneliness in them because of how lonely it can be to fight these battles daily. But rather than an undercurrent of loneliness, Judy’s secret sauce was an undercurrent of community which I found very thought provoking of how I could emulate her approach more and use community building to fight both loneliness and injustice more effectively at the same time. I also enjoyed the focus of the book being on the achievements and victories (though few and far between as they were). It made it a very enjoyable and uplifting book to read even though the injustice she describes is palpable, upsetting, and continuing today. Also, I have not found too many books/memoirs by disability advocates and I’m really craving them to empathize more with their experiences and identify and unlearn the ableist biases I still hold, and this was a perfect one. I just want many more! If you know of great ones, please share!

  11. 5 out of 5

    Danielle

    Thank you Judy for everything you've done for the disability community. Accessibility is a civil right!

  12. 4 out of 5

    Richard Propes

    “I never wished I didn’t have a disability.” - Judith Heumann In "Being Heumann: An Unrepentant Memoir of a Disability Rights Activist," a book Judith Heumann writes with Kristen Joiner, she begins her memoir with the above words and then spends the remainder of the book's 200+ pages living into them. If you've never heard of Heumann, which sadly and entirely possible, Judith Heumann is an American disability rights activist recognized internationally for her groundbreaking and life-changing work “I never wished I didn’t have a disability.” - Judith Heumann In "Being Heumann: An Unrepentant Memoir of a Disability Rights Activist," a book Judith Heumann writes with Kristen Joiner, she begins her memoir with the above words and then spends the remainder of the book's 200+ pages living into them. If you've never heard of Heumann, which sadly and entirely possible, Judith Heumann is an American disability rights activist recognized internationally for her groundbreaking and life-changing work. Featured most recently in the documentary "Crip Camp," Heumann's work began in the 1970's and has included serving governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), non-profit organizations, and a number of disability rights organizations. Having had polio at the age of 18 months, Heumann, who is Jewish, was raised by parents with an acute awareness of the Holocaust. There was simply no way they would have ever considered following the doctor's recommendation that they institutionalize their daughter, instead providing her opportunities to grow, socialize, and learn. It would be the learning that would prove most difficult early on for Judith, whose early childhood came in the years before IDEA and well before ADA was even a thought. The local public school called her a fire hazard and refused her entry to the school, instead she spent three years receiving a mere one hour of home instruction twice a week. By the fourth grade, her mother's voice had grown louder and would demand more for Judith - eventually, she was granted entry into a special school for disabled children where, somewhat ironically, she would end up teaching for a time years later. The school system also tried to keep her out of high school. That failed. Her childhood years at Camp Jened, the camp featured in "Crip Camp," were among her most treasured childhood memories and it would be her friends at camp who would join her in fueling the burgeoning disability rights movement. By the time Judith Heumann entered Long Island University to study speech therapy, a choice made because Vocational Rehab wouldn't have funded her to study education since there were no disabled teachers at the time, her activist voice was growing and she began uniting both disabled and non-disabled students to demand ramps, access to dorms, and other accessibility options on campus. Initially denied a teaching license by the Board of Education in New York City because it was believed she couldn't get her students out in case of a fire (along with other lame excuses), Heumann would end up suing for discrimination. The case just so happened to end up in the hands of the city's first black female judge and, well, you can probably figure out what happened. Judith Heumann became the first wheelchair using teacher in New York City and her work was only getting started. From co-founding the group Disabled in Action with some of her Camp Jened friends to serving as Deputy Director for Center for Independent Living in California to having central involvement in developing the legislation that would become IDEA, Heumann was rapidly becoming a familiar face and a strong voice in the disability rights movement. However, it would be her leadership within the famous 504 Sit-In, a 28-day peaceful but passionate sit-in at the San Francisco Office of the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare that would turn her into a disability rights icon. Designed to push HEW Secretary Joseph Califano to sign meaningful regulations Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the event was one of several sit-ins nationwide but by far the largest and most enduring of all of them. It was also successful. Judith Heumann has continued to live a life of disability advocacy in roles with World Bank, Department on Disability Services, and she co-founded the World Institute on Disability. She served as Assistant Secretary of the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services in the Clinton Administration and Special Advisor on Disability Rights for the US State Department under President Barack Obama. Following President Trump's election, which she laments greatly in the closing pages of the book because of the rollbacks that have occurred in disability rights, she began serving in a role with the Ford Foundation. As magnificent a life as Heumann has lived, "Being Heumann: An Unrepentant Memoir of a Disability Rights Activist" is remarkable in its humanity. While she is, in fact, incredibly special as a human being and as an activist, Heumann possesses a perfect weaving together of confidence and humility and often prefaces her greatest achievements with the comment that in the moment she's tremendously confident but often feels anxiety and doubt both before and after such events. It helps us realize that even though our voices may quiver it is most important that we show up and use them anyway. The early part of "Being Heumann" is fascinating in exploring Heumann's childhood and its impact on the woman that she would become. As an adult with a disability myself, I found myself drawn most to these early sections as she dealt with early discrimination, learned how to live with her disability, learned to adapt, learned how to use her voice, built a community, and became comfortable with her emotional and physical needs. As someone who still gets embarrassed to ever ask for help, I practically wept (Okay, I actually did weep) during the sections where she would work through the embarrassment of her body's more intimate needs and learn how to meet those needs and build a tribe of people who simply cared for one another in a variety of ways. Nearly 1/3 of "Being Heumann" takes place at the 504 Sit-In. While I've long been familiar with this sit-in, Heumann adds splendid detail to it all including other groups involved, key players, and vivid memories both wonderful and definitely not so wonderful. For example, did you know that at a point went Califano had arranged for the building to be locked so that food could not be brought in that the local Black Panthers forced themselves in and would end up providing food at the sit-in every single day for the rest of the sit-in? I honestly had no idea. There are other little tidbits that were surprises to me, but they remain best discovered yourself by reading the book. It's hard to read a book like "Being Heumann" without becoming more aware of the ways in which I internalize my own ableism. The ways in which I shy away from my own needs, my own voice, my own body, and the ways in which I shame myself or treat myself as an "other." Heumann seemingly understands these feelings, but she pushes through them and it's marvelous. There were times in "Being Heumann" where I couldn't help but wish she'd expanded the breadth of her stories. For example, her marriage to Jorge at the age of 42 is given relatively little time yet for so many disabled adults the idea of dating or sex or marriage is a foreign concept. I'd have loved to have read more about this relationship. Additionally, there are times when "Being Heumann" gets a little too bogged down in "this happened...then this happened," rather than truly exploring the actual happenings that unfolded. Having worked in two presidential administrations, both experiences are given very little attention here and that would be fascinating. Likewise, as a woman who acknowledges throughout the book the need for assistance with going to the bathroom and other personal details it would be inspiring to learn more about how that impacted her global journeys. Details. I wanted more details. The basics, at least for this person who has spina bifida and is a double amputee/paraplegic, are far too surface to ultimately satisfy. However, these are relatively minor quibbles for a quickly paced, fascinating book written by one of the disability rights movements most fascinating and accomplished individuals. At just over 200 pages, Heumann, along with Kristen Joiner, packs the book with a lot of information both personally and professionally and the book is as much a primer on the disability rights movement as it is a memoir. Powerfully written and, indeed, unrepentant, "Being Heumann: An Unrepentant Memoir of a Disability Rights Activist" is a must-read for everyone.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Francine

    As a polio survivor with lifelong paralysis in one leg, and having written a disability memoir myself, I was eager to read Ms. Heumann's book. I also had seen her in the film, "Crip Camp" and enjoyed her intelligence and spirited approach to getting things done, both at the camp and later in a much bigger way as one of the framers of the disability rights movement. As another reviewer mentioned, she does have a very conversational style, which has the reader feel like he or she is getting to hea As a polio survivor with lifelong paralysis in one leg, and having written a disability memoir myself, I was eager to read Ms. Heumann's book. I also had seen her in the film, "Crip Camp" and enjoyed her intelligence and spirited approach to getting things done, both at the camp and later in a much bigger way as one of the framers of the disability rights movement. As another reviewer mentioned, she does have a very conversational style, which has the reader feel like he or she is getting to hear a great personal story over coffee. I did have a tiny bit of trouble with keeping straight all the organizations mentioned. Often the full name would be given once and from then on, just the initials. I kept flipping back through the book to remind myself which group was working on which issue and when. There are also a lot of players to meet and remember. It's a lot of historical fact logging to take in, and in that way could be used as a (lively, left-leaning) text book. I am so appreciative of the work these feisty activists did; it was a hard-won fight to pass the 504 regulations (I had never even heard of them before "Crip Camp" and this book) and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Even though I was fairly ambulatory when it passed in the early 90's, since then polio effects and weakness have taken their toll and I bless the places where so many ramps have been installed. Now I sit on my own town's committee for ADA accessibility review so am intimately aware of that the ADA accomplished for the millions of people with impaired function. It was interesting for me to read that early on, the disability rights innovators decided they did not want to be called handicapped. I had never heard that, even with a lifelong handicap or disability, until after my own book came out a couple of years ago, where I stated that I preferred being called handicapped, but that everyone should definitely find out how disabled individuals of any stripe like their issue named; some like challenged, some like disabled, some like handicapped. So now I know where the aversion to "handicapped" came from, starting in the 70's, even though it is still my own preferred term, given it implies impaired but not fully absent functioning. And, deep respect, here, for the choices these vanguards made in wording. Judith Heumann and the gritty souls who worked with her on this long-fought battle toward equality for people with disabilities are true heroes. I hope I get to meet Ms. Heumann one day!

  14. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Lashinsky

    Beautifully written story of a fiercely devoted activist. The writing in this book was so vivid and filled with personality, that I felt like I was in the room with Judy. When I was about halfway through the book, I actually got to see Judy speak live (on Zoom) with her co-author, Kristen Joiner, and three contemporary disability activists. This was a really special way to understand Judy's work against the backdrop of today's civil rights struggle; the systemic killings by police against George Beautifully written story of a fiercely devoted activist. The writing in this book was so vivid and filled with personality, that I felt like I was in the room with Judy. When I was about halfway through the book, I actually got to see Judy speak live (on Zoom) with her co-author, Kristen Joiner, and three contemporary disability activists. This was a really special way to understand Judy's work against the backdrop of today's civil rights struggle; the systemic killings by police against George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and many, many more. As I read this book, and listened to Judy speak, I could hear helicopters, filming the goings-on at Atlanta's Capitol, about mile from my home. It has felt so incredibly timely to remember the power of resistance to authority. To remember that our democracy was built with a narrow, self-selected group of people at the helm. To remember that there are Judy's of the world (and so many others, as she is quick to remind us), who are out to be the change.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    I listened to the audio of this one, read by the author, and I could not recommend that format more. This is a fantastic memoir about one of the most prominent disability rights activists in the US. It covers her childhood through adulthood. There's a long and really wonderful section about the Section 504 Sit-In, which I didn't know was the longest takeover of a government building in US history. The coordination and grit involved in that sit-in and in her activism work in general is palpable. H I listened to the audio of this one, read by the author, and I could not recommend that format more. This is a fantastic memoir about one of the most prominent disability rights activists in the US. It covers her childhood through adulthood. There's a long and really wonderful section about the Section 504 Sit-In, which I didn't know was the longest takeover of a government building in US history. The coordination and grit involved in that sit-in and in her activism work in general is palpable. Heumann herself has such an engaging voice that she uses to tell her own story -- which of course isn't only about her disability but family, love, and coming of age -- alongside her view on disability rights in the US more generally. I loved it and highly recommend.

  16. 5 out of 5

    ☺Trish

    Being Heumann by Judith Heumann and Kristen Joiner is a detailed memoir about Judith Heumann's life as a disabled American woman. Beginning with her sheltered early childhood Judith persevered to receive an education, became a teacher (had to sue for the right to do so, though), eventually became a disability rights activist, and truly became a force to be reckoned with. A quadriplegic after contracting polio at two years old in 1949, Heumann was denied an inclusive education with her peers in t Being Heumann by Judith Heumann and Kristen Joiner is a detailed memoir about Judith Heumann's life as a disabled American woman. Beginning with her sheltered early childhood Judith persevered to receive an education, became a teacher (had to sue for the right to do so, though), eventually became a disability rights activist, and truly became a force to be reckoned with. A quadriplegic after contracting polio at two years old in 1949, Heumann was denied an inclusive education with her peers in those pre-Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) days. (Her mother fought for Judith's inclusion when she was a child but structural inaccessibility paired with institutional/societal discrimination against disabled people mostly prevented it from happening until high school.) Interesting and informative memoir, if a tad dry, about Heumann's role in advocating for legislation essential to achieving rights for the disabled in the USA (the Americans with Disabilities Act). I would have really appreciated learning more about Judith's personal, day-to-day life, too, though. The passage of the ADA was a long time coming - just like any huge societal change, it took the work of many people over many (way too many!) years.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Barbara Ridley

    Wonderful memoir by one of the most prominent voices in the Disability Rights movement that led to the passage of the American with Disabilities Act. After a bout with polio as an infant, the author has used a wheelchair all her life. This account covers her childhood in Brooklyn, where she was denied access to the local elementary school because her presence would be a fire hazard, through to her being denied a teaching job as a young adult, and on to her move to Berkeley where she discovered t Wonderful memoir by one of the most prominent voices in the Disability Rights movement that led to the passage of the American with Disabilities Act. After a bout with polio as an infant, the author has used a wheelchair all her life. This account covers her childhood in Brooklyn, where she was denied access to the local elementary school because her presence would be a fire hazard, through to her being denied a teaching job as a young adult, and on to her move to Berkeley where she discovered the disability community. Her courage and tenacious determination shines through every page as we follow her success as a political leader in the movement for equal rights, and on to her appointment to powerful positions in the Department of Education in the Clinton administration and in the State Department under Obama. Inspiring and easy to read.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Anna Morgenstern

    I'm awed by how inspiring this woman is. I'm ashamed to say that I wasn't familiar with either her or her tremendous work before I picked this up. Heumann takes us growing up disabled in New York, describing her (and her parent's) fight for equality since she was very young. *I would warn you, the ableism she experienced is infuriating and might be difficult to read if you have a disability as well. If you ever feel like you can't do something, regardless why, pick this book up, read about her, s I'm awed by how inspiring this woman is. I'm ashamed to say that I wasn't familiar with either her or her tremendous work before I picked this up. Heumann takes us growing up disabled in New York, describing her (and her parent's) fight for equality since she was very young. *I would warn you, the ableism she experienced is infuriating and might be difficult to read if you have a disability as well. If you ever feel like you can't do something, regardless why, pick this book up, read about her, she's incredible in every single way. Easy five stars.

  19. 4 out of 5

    meganjay

    first discovered Judy Heumann via the documentary ‘Crip Camp’ and I became obsessed with her story and the development of Camp Jened. This gives incredible insight to the lives of disabled people and how although they are one of the largest groups in society, they are the most marginalised and publicly/institutionally discriminated against. everyone should learn about this woman as an amazing disability rights activist bc she changed America !!!

  20. 4 out of 5

    Maggie Mattmiller

    A MUST read memoir- and I highly recommend the audiobook! (I love that it's read by Ali Stroker!) I worry this will only be read by those in the disability community/field, but I think it should be read much more widely. Great for anyone who considers themselves to be a social justice/civil rights advocate or even just someone who thinks they know know American history. Do you know disability history? Read this one! Judith Heumann is a name folks should know!

  21. 4 out of 5

    Blake Charlton

    until reading this book, i was shamefully unaware of the decades-long campaigns disability rights advocates waged before and during my childhood. this sharply written memoir of a brilliant life filled with setbacks and triumphs was completely engrossing. more importantly, it should be required reading for all people with disabilities of my generation and younger; if we don't understand the sacrifices of those that first won and protected our civil rights, we risk undervaluing and losing them.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Robyn

    I feel like this should be required reading especially for anyone working as a teacher, politician, disability professional, social worker, HR, school administrator, housing administrator, librarian, or anyone who may ever have contact with someone living with a disability or anyone who can become disabled at anytime. So yeah, that’s everyone.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    I am going to teach (at least) the closing chapter of this book. Heumann’s story—her childhood, her entry into activism via teaching, leading the 504 sit-in in San Francisco—is crucial, and I didn’t know it. I love the little moments of gently teaching about ableist language. I love how she draws a contrast between the Black Panthers who brought dinner to disabled protestors and the feminist movement who didn’t help the disability activists at all. My one tiny criticism is that it reads a little I am going to teach (at least) the closing chapter of this book. Heumann’s story—her childhood, her entry into activism via teaching, leading the 504 sit-in in San Francisco—is crucial, and I didn’t know it. I love the little moments of gently teaching about ableist language. I love how she draws a contrast between the Black Panthers who brought dinner to disabled protestors and the feminist movement who didn’t help the disability activists at all. My one tiny criticism is that it reads a little basic—the language is very utilitarian and the story is just there, not stylized. I think that characteristic might make this book more teachable to high school students.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Lisa Aguirre

    Loved this book and am so grateful for the changes she helped make. Just incredible.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Kristin

    My favorite book of the year thus far.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Gail

    What an incredibly open and informative memoir! Much respect for Judy Heumann! In an interview Judy Heumann said, “One of the important parts I think of the celebration of the ADA, in my view, is what's going to happen the day after. The issue is the ADA will continue to go forward. The average person needs to understand why what the disability community is arguing for is not just for us, it's for everybody.” If you need a starting point to “understand why what the disability community is arguin What an incredibly open and informative memoir! Much respect for Judy Heumann! In an interview Judy Heumann said, “One of the important parts I think of the celebration of the ADA, in my view, is what's going to happen the day after. The issue is the ADA will continue to go forward. The average person needs to understand why what the disability community is arguing for is not just for us, it's for everybody.” If you need a starting point to “understand why what the disability community is arguing for is not just for us, it's for everybody,” the I would recommend Judy’s memoir.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Kate McPherson

    One of my top books of 2020. As someone who interacts with Section 504 and ADA/IDEA daily at work, it was FASCINATING to learn the history and just how far we’ve come in such recent years — and how far we still have to go. It should be required reading. Loved the audio narration by Ali Stroker!

  28. 5 out of 5

    Rodrigo Aguayo

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Truly a chingona!! I'm really enjoying memoirs by activists that include how their lived experience informs their work. So much respect for this woman!

  29. 5 out of 5

    Cindy

    It was a good lesson on US government activism and policy making. It was a little I did this and then I did that but overall an interesting read.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Kate Schultz

    Both a interesting memoir and an overview of the numerous agencies and laws that existing to help disabled people. Engaging, encouraging, and inspiring. Realistic and educational. There's a lot about the disability world I don't know (especially when it comes to activism and laws and government) and this was a great place to start learning about some of it and how people fought for rights we take for granted today.

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