Judith Heumann with a quote "We know Discrimination when we see it, and we need to be fighting it together"

30 years of the Americans with Disabilities Act

"Nothing About Us Without Us"
A Virtual Celebration With Judith Heumann


Judith Heumann, internationally recognized disability rights leader and activist, celebrated the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and October's National Disability Employment Awareness Month virtually with the University of Kansas and Lawrence communities and guests worldwide Oct. 28-29. Heumann's visit was organized by the KU ADA Resource Center for Equity and Accessibility. 



Our event has concluded and session recordings are available. Visit the schedule page to learn more. Learn more about the event panelists and moderators.


Note: The realities of the COVID-19 pandemic made this a virtual event.  

Many thanks...

This event would not have been possible without the diverse group of community and University of Kansas partners who contributed financially and through in-kind donations. Our community partners include:


The Arc of Douglas County  |  Bonnie Hemenover  |  The City of Lawrence 

the Falling Forward Foundation  |  ForwardWorks, LLC  |  Independence, Inc. 

Kansas Youth Empowerment Academy  |  Lawrence Public Library 

Martha Gabehart  |  Minds Matter 

the National Disability Mentoring Coalition | Norm Johnson

The Oread  |  the Self Advocate Coalition of Kansas 

Topeka Independent Living Resource Center  |  The Raven Book Store  |  Zoom

Judith being herself on The Daily Show

Judith Heumann’s humor and candor have resulted in several notable media appearances.

An Early History

Heumann has been a leader, advocate and activist for the disability rights movement since the 1970s. She has made significant contributions to the development of human rights legislation and policies benefiting children and adults with disabilities.

A polio survivor at the age of 18 months and lifelong wheelchair user, Heumann’s activist career began early. Her family fought repeatedly to have her included in her local public school after she was denied access and called a fire hazard because of her wheelchair. Given home instruction twice a week for about an hour each visit for more than three years, Heumann's mother challenged the school board and won Heumann the right to attend fourth grade in a special school for disabled children. Eventually, Heumann’s mother secured her the right to attend mainstream schools, and she graduated high school in 1961.

In her early 20s, Heumann served as a counselor at Camp Jened, a camp for disabled individuals documented in the Netflix film “Crip Camp.” The camp fostered a spirit of inclusion and ableness and served as a beacon for many. The acclaimed film by Nicole Newnham and Jim LeBrecht was produced by Barack and Michelle Obama’s Higher Ground Production company with support from the Ford Foundation.

Heumann went on to earn her New York State teaching certificate. Later, she sued the New York City board of education after it refused to hire her to teach. These early experiences fostered an activist spirit that led to a lifelong career of service to others.

Along the way, an Academy Award

Heumann’s activist spirit was kindled at Camp Jened. Her and fellow campers' time there is chronicled in the Oscar-winning documentary Crip Camp.

Judith at the 2021 Academy Awards

A picture of Judith seated wearing a white sequined gown, two rings and a gold bracelet. Her hair is in a bob.

Judith's career, the ADA and resources

Judith's career is synonymous with the signing of the Americans with Disability Act. Below information on both of these, you will also find several helpful resources.

Landing page accordion

Disabled in Action

Heumann and several friends founded Disabled in Action (DIA) in 1970, an organization dedicated to protecting people with disabilities under civil rights laws through political protest.

504 Sit-in

After passage of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the first U.S. federal civil rights protection for people with disabilities, meaningful regulations were never implemented by the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW). In 1977, a HEW task force significantly weakened the proposed regulations. The American Coalition of Citizens with Disabilities (ACCD) demanded action and staged demonstrations in 10 U.S. cities on April 5, 1977, including the beginning of the 504 Sit-in at the San Francisco Office of the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare. This sit-in, led by Heumann and organized by Kitty Cone, lasted until May 4, 1977, a total of 28 days. It is the longest sit-in at a federal building to date. The success of the sit-in in part hinged on relationships Heumann had forged with other groups such as the Black Panthers and the Butterfly Brigade. These groups provided essential support and ensured the protest’s longevity. On April 28, 1977, Joseph Califano signed regulations implementing both the 1977 Education for All Handicapped Children Act and original Section 504. More on the 504 Sit-in.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act

While serving as a legislative assistant to the chairperson of the U.S. Senate Committee on Labor and Public Welfare in 1974, Heumann helped develop legislation that became the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Center for Independent Living

Heumann worked for the Center for Independent Living in Berkeley, California, serving as its deputy director from 1975 to 1982.

World Institute on Disability

Heumann co-founded the World Institute on Disability with Ed Roberts and Joan Leon in 1983, serving as co-director until 1993.

Clinton Administration

Heumann served in the Clinton Administration as Assistant Secretary of the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services at the U.S. Department of Education from 1993 to 2001.

World Bank

Heumann served as the World Bank Group's first Advisor on Disability and Development from 2002 to 2006. She expanded the bank’s capacity to work with governments on disability issues in financing discussions. Heumann also adapted World Bank country-based analytical work to include support for improving policies, programs and projects that allow disabled people to live and work in the economic and social mainstream of their communities.

Department on Disability Services

Washington, D.C., Mayor Adrian Fenty appointed Heumann the first director of the Department on Disability Services in April 2007. She was a liason to the Developmental Disability Administration and the Rehabilitation Services Administration.

Special Advisor

In 2010, President Barack Obama appointed Heumann to be Special Advisor on Disability Rights for the U.S. State Department. Heumann was the first to hold this role and served from 2010 to 2017.

Ford Foundation

From September of 2017 to April of 2019, Heumann was a Senior Fellow at the Ford Foundation where she advanced the inclusion of disabled individuals in the Foundation’s work. As a Fellow, she published a paper co-written by Katherine Salinas and Michellie Hess titled “Roadmap for Inclusion: Changing the Face of Disability in Media,” which explored the lack of representation of disabled people in front of and behind the camera. The paper also explores prominent stereotypes of disabled characters when represented in the media.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a civil rights law passed in 1990 prohibiting discrimination based on disability. Its protections are similar to those of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which bans discrimination based on race, religion, sex, national origin and other factors. The ADA goes further by requiring employers covered by it to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities. It also imposes accessibility requirements on public accommodations and has the larger goal of creating accessible communities.

Judith Heumann testifies before a joint session of Congress on Sept. 27, 1988,
in support of ADA legislation. Part two of a four-part series.


The Americans with Disabilities Act signing ceremony, July 26, 1990.

The Disability Rights Movement

General perceptions of disability in the United States have undergone transformation since the 1900s because people with disabilities have demanded and created change, and examples of disability activism can be found among various groups dating back to the 1800s. To date, the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the subsequent ADA Amendments Act (2008) are the movement’s greatest legal achievements.

Self-advocacy groups have played a pivotal role in changing the national conversation around disability. Self-advocacy means representing one's own interests, a core tenet of the Disabilty Rights Movement. Leading elf-advocacy groups include DREDF (Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund), ADAPT (Americans Disabled Attendant Programs Today) and the NCIL (National Council on  Independent Living). NCIL is the longest-running national cross-disability, grassroots organization run by and for people with disabilities. Founded in 1982, NCIL represents thousands of organizations and individuals including: individuals with disabilities, Centers for Independent Living (CILs), Statewide Independent Living Councils (SILCs) and other organizations that advocate for the human and civil rights of people with disabilities throughout the United States.

The Capitol Crawl

The Capitol Crawl was a pivotal protest urging Congress to move forward with the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA. The ADA had stalled in Congress and the disability community gathered for a multi-day action to urge Congress to act. The protest was the culmination of a massive national grassroots effort by activists from every state and territory to call for an end to discrimination based on disability. The Capitol Crawl pointedly symbolized the struggle people with disabilities face on a daily basis.


Wheels of Justice footage from the Capitol Crawl, March 12, 1990.

Capitol Crawl from Stephanie K Thomas on Vimeo.

Links to resources related to the ADA:

(Content from "The Disability RIghts Movement" and "The Capitol Crawl" comes from The Whole PErson Website.)

Below is a selection of links to videos, interviews and other resources related both to the life and career of Judith Heumann and to disability rights advocacy.




Articles and histories:


Awards and Honors:

Other Resources: 

The many KU partners and the amazing project team

Community support for this event was unparalleled, but so was the effort internal to KU.

KU partners


Ambler Recreation Center  |  The Beach Center Endowment  |  The Commons (Spooner Hall)

the Department of English  |  the Department of Psychology 

the Department of Theater and Dance  |  the Department of Visual Art

the Dole Institute of Politics  |  the Emily Taylor Center for Women & Gender Equity

Facilities Services  |  the Faculty and Staff Council for Disability Inclusion

the Fraser Hall Psychological Clinic  |  The Hall Center for the Humanities

Human Resource Management  |  Information Technology

Kansas Disability & Health Program  |  the Kansas Union Bookstore

KU Athletics  |  KU Endowment  |  KU Libraries  |  Legal Services for Students

the Media Production Studio  |  the Office of Diversity & Equity

the Office of Integrity & Compliance  |  the Office of Multicultural Affairs

the Office of the Provost  |  the Office of Public Affairs  |  the Office of Research

the Office of Student Affairs  |  the Office of Transition to Postsecondary Education

the Ombuds Office  |  the Research & Training Center on Independent Living

the School of Design  |  the Sexual Assault Prevention and Education Center

The Spencer Museum of Art  |  Staff Senate  |  the Student Access Center

Student Housing  |  Transportation Services  |  TRIO SES & STEM

Undergraduate Studies  |  the University Academic Support Center

the University Career Center  |  The University of Kansas Alumni Association

the William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communications.



Meet the Project Team


This event was the culminating effort of several people who put in months and sometimes years to see it to completion. Event organizer Catherine E. Johnson began planning in 2019 and slowly brought on the team listed below to help her see her vision to fruition. It is the goal of this team that this website will serve as a resource for years to come, proof that all the time spent planning resulted in a real investment in the future.


Catherine E. Johnson, Director of the ADA Resource Center for Equity and Accessibility

Abby King, Accommodation Specialist, ADA Resource Center for Equity and Accessibility

Katelynn Schultz, Disability Inclusion Fellow, ADA Resource Center for Equity and Accessibility

Kit Cole, Accessibility Technology Coordinator, KU Information Technology

Dot Nary, Investigator, Switzer Fellow, and Research Associate, Center on Independent Living

Jeff Chasen, Associate Vice Provost, Integrity and Compliance, KU

Andy Hyland, Assistant Director of Strategic Communications, KU

Megan Belaire, Graduate Academic Advisor, KU

Andrew Foster, Director, Emergency Management, KU

Dana Lattin, Research Project Coordinator, Transition to Postsecondary Education, KU

Megan Williams, Assistant Director, Emily Taylor Center, KU

Bob Mikesic, Co-Executive Director at Independence Inc

Haines Eason, Communications Coordinator, KU

Evan Korynta, ADA Compliance Manager, City of Lawrence

Jennifer L. Humphrey, Associate Director for External Affairs, Life Span Institute, KU

Bulaong Malika Ramiz, Director, Emily Taylor Center, KU

The project team wish to especially thank ASL interpreters Kim Bates and Alana Calhoun, graphic designer Sierra Hunter and captioner Jeanette Christenson. Their work was integral to the success of the event. 

Note: This page at times employs people-first language, or language that puts a person first and attributes second. (“Person with a disability,” for example.) The organizers of this event wish it known that they respect identity-first language, or language that puts a disability forward in the identification of an individual (disabled person), which is a sometimes favored mode of identification in the disabled community. Learn more about people-first and identity-first language.

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