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Berkeley Talks: Judith Heumann on the long fight for inclusion

Leading disability rights activist and UC Berkeley alumna Judith Heumann discusses her lifelong fight for inclusion and equality

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Judith Heumann, a leading disability rights activist and UC Berkeley alumna, has been fighting for inclusion for six decades. (Photo courtesy of Judith Heumann)

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a person wearing a bright shirt smiles warmly

Judith Heumann, a leading disability rights activist and UC Berkeley alumna, has been fighting for inclusion and equality for six decades. She is a founding member of the Berkeley Center for Independent Living and helped launch the independent living movement nationally and globally. (Photo courtesy of Judith Heumann)

In Berkeley Talks episode 154, leading disability rights activist and UC Berkeley alumna Judith Heumann discusses her lifelong fight for inclusion and equality.

“I think the disability community has been one of the leading communities … of the importance of universal design,” says Heumann, who graduated from Berkeley with a master’s in public health in 1975 and was a founding member of the Berkeley Center for Independent Living. “Anyone in the community can acquire a temporary or permanent disability at any time.”

In her 2020 book, Being Heumann: An Unrepentant Memoir of a Disability Rights Activist, Heumann writes “The status quo loves to say ‘no'” of the ongoing battle against structures of exclusion.

“Often in your writing, it’s about inclusion and equity,” says Karen Tani, a professor of history and of law at the University of Pennsylvania, who was in conversation with Heumann last month at Berkeley. “These institutions could be schools, businesses, government agencies. They could be advocacy organizations. So, the question is, in your experience, what are some of the most common ways that institutions say ‘no’ to people seeking inclusion and access? Are there particular examples that come to mind for you?”

“It depends on the institution,” Heumann says. “At a university, for example, students are only there for a short period of time, and faculty, hopefully, are there for a longer period of time. But even for faculty, who are being judged and are looking for tenure, the ability to necessarily speak up and out can be hampered by the fear of recrimination.

“For students … when I look at a university, I think it’s about leadership,” she continues. “What frequently happens is that universities are not really looking at the issue of inclusivity in the area of disability as many of us would like it to be. So, we wind up dealing with issues around physical accessibility, accommodations, and not focusing as much as we should on the issue of academia and disability. And not just disability studies courses, but the inclusion of disability in all academic areas where appropriate.”

This Oct. 26 talk was part of the Jefferson Memorial Lectures, an annual series sponsored by Berkeley’s Graduate Division.

Listen to the full conversation in Berkeley Talks episode 154: “Judith Heumann on the long fight for inclusion.”

Watch a video of the conversation below.

Judith Heumann, a longtime disability rights activist, gave a talk on Oct. 26 called “The status quo loves to say ‘no’: Disability rights and the battle against structures of exclusion.”

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