In the 20 years since she was refused a teaching job because she couldn't walk, Judith Heumann has seen progress in the disabled-rights movement.
Now assistant secretary of education for the U.S. Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, Heumann says it's time for those pushing for equality to look at how they are connecting to minority and other disenfranchised groups.There is a need to reach out to those with "invisible disabilities," such as mental illness, cancer or diabetes, she said.
"Centers (for independent living) need to reflect the community," Heumann said. "The bottom line is, we have a lot more work to do."
Heumann was in Salt Lake City Monday to speak to those attending a conference for Independent Living Centers in Utah and Colorado. Independent Living Centers are nonprofit organizations run for and by people with disabilities.
From 1975 to 1982, Heumann was deputy director of the nation's first Center for Independent Living in Berkeley, Calif.
Heumann told the gathering there needs to continue to be strong discussion at the grassroots level about the effects discrimination has on the disabled. And, those in the American disabled-rights movement need to watch how those in other countries are proceeding for equality.
Heumann entered the fight for disabled rights when she was denied a teaching job in New York in the early 1970s because she was in a wheelchair. She sued and also co-founded Disabled in Action, a group that led protests in Times Square and other New York landmarks inaccessible to people with disabilities.
She said people are still being discriminated against because of a lack of understanding that removing barriers for people with disabilities would be good for all of society.
She urged the audience to focus on the economic supports people with disabilities need and what the education and employment picture will look like over the coming decade.
Policy questions - like penalizing people on Medicaid or Social Security if they get a job - also need addressed, she said.
Heumann, who helped draft the Americans with Disabilities Act, coordinates programs for 49 million disabled Americans overseeing the Office of Special Education Programs, the Rehabilitative Services Administration and the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research, which have a combined budget of $7 billion.