Rolling Warrior: a polio survivor's memoir of fighting for disability rights

Since the 1970s, Judith Heumann has worked tirelessly for human rights and dignity, for "equal rights in an unequal world" for disabled people. Working with non-profits, NGOs, and community-based groups, Judy is a fierce advocate, a "Rolling Warrior." Diagnosed with polio at a young age, Judy has lived the majority of her life in a wheelchair, and the majority of that life creatively struggling to transform the world.

Disabled in Action, founded in 1970 at Long Island University, Brooklyn campus, was one of the first organizations to lobby, organize, and eventually "sued the New York City Board of Education when [Heumann's] application to obtain a teaching license was rejected because of her disability."

Susan Mizner, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Disability Rights Program, calls Heumann "the mother of the disability rights movement in so many ways" — an activist "who doesn't take crap, never has."

Heumann published, with Kristen Joiner, her memoir Being Heumann: An Unrepentant Memoir of a Disability Rights Activist in 2020.

"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."

In 2021, Beacon Press released a "young readers" edition, Rolling Warrior: The Incredible, Sometimes Awkward, True Story of a Rebel Girl on Wheels Who Helped Spark a Revolution.

The Heumann Perspective, her podcast, is accessible here.

Heumann's Ted Talk, "our fight for disability rights — and why we're not done yet," is available here.

For more on Heumann's life and the movement she was part of, check out the documentary film Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution, Audience Award Winner for best documentary at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival.

"No one at Camp Jened could've imagined that those summers in the woods together would be the beginnings of a revolution. In the early 1970s, teenagers with disabilities faced a future shaped by isolation, discrimination and institutionalization. Camp Jened, a ramshackle camp "for the handicapped" (a term no longer used) in the Catskills, exploded those confines. Jened was their freewheeling Utopia, a place with summertime sports, smoking and make-out sessions awaiting everyone, and campers experienced liberation and full inclusion as  human beings. Their bonds endured as many migrated West to Berkeley, California — a hotbed of activism where friends from Camp Jened realized that disruption, civil disobedience, and political participation could change the future for millions."