Rolling Without Limits

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Judith Heumann: The first Wheelchair User to be Hired as a Teacher in New York City
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Judith Heumann: The first Wheelchair User to be Hired as a Teacher in New York City

We expect teachers to be teeming with knowledge. Judith Heumann broke out the long-rooted stereotype by becoming the first wheelchair user to be employed as a teacher with the New York City school system.

Heumann later had an opportunity to work for Presidents Bill Clinton, as well as Barack Obama and is currently touted as one of the highest-ranking wheelchair users in the United States' federal government. Heumann teamed-up with other differently-abled activists, demanding accessibility and inclusion.

While talking to GMA (Good Morning America), Heumann said it is imperative for us to demand equality, putting aside our own struggles with discrimination and disability. She garnered huge popularity for arranging America's longest federal building sit-in, comprising a staggering 504 Sit-In back in April 1977.

Her unceasing efforts as an activity led to the historical 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act. Heumann's parents were one of the German-Jewish immigrants escaped the Holocaust. She was raised in Brooklyn, New York.

Amid 1949's polio epidemic when Heumann was just 18 months old, she contracted the virus and was paralyzed. "I have limited use of my hands and arms, and I don't walk. To this day, people stare frequently," Heumann said.

While institutionalizing children with disabilities was a common practice at the time, Heumann's refused to send her away, ignoring a doctor's recommendation to do so. Heumann's mother tried to get her admitted into a kindergarten, but most of the schools refused to give her admission, deeming her a "fire hazard."

She received 1/2 hours of homeschooling twice a week until she was in the fourth grade. She has detailed an incident in her book titled "Becoming Heumann" that made her realize that some people thought she was different, and she started seeing herself as not being the same.

Heumann didn't give up and became the first student to go to high school, and even reached college. Despite facing similar challenges at Long Island University, she didn't allow her dreams of becoming a teacher dwindle.

Image credit: TEDx Talks / YouTube Channel

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  1. Arnie Slater
    Arnie Slater
    Great article, If you haven’t seen the movie CRIP Camp (on Netflix) about Judith Heumann and several other disabled youths who gave rise to the protests over section 504 that your article mentioned. I just wrote an article about it...but, you beat me to the punch! Good Job!
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