Meet CommunicationFIRST Director Judy Heumann

Anyone familiar with US disability rights history needs no introduction to Judy Heumann. We are honored that she has decided to take up this important fight and to share her wisdom and experience from decades leading the disability movement and advancing civil and human rights worldwide. Judy kindly agreed to answer a few questions to help our community get to know her better.

photo of Judy HeumannHow do you communicate? Using my voice. I also frequently use NaturallySpeaking [the speech recognition software]. 

Tell us about your childhood. Where did you grow up? I had polio in 1949 and grew up in Brooklyn, NY. 

Why did you decide to join the Board of Communication First? Ever since I was a child, I have had many friends and colleagues who have had non-typical means of communication. Whether the person had cerebral palsy or Parkinson’s or MS, etc., I have always been concerned that people are disregarded if their speech is not "typical." I have also been deeply concerned about how many families are unaware of the types of technology that are available for children through seniors. Communication is essential and not all people communicate the same way, but all should have the right to communicate. It's a human right.

What is one thing you hope Communication First is able to accomplish in its first two decades? I'm 71. It will be amazing if I'm around in two decades! I hope to be able to be a part of this organization to enable people to gain their voice, to help the average person accept and expect that all people can communicate, and to ensure elected representatives and foundations appreciate their responsibility to support these efforts.

What do you consider to be your greatest personal achievement? What are you most proud of? Being a part of an ever-expanding international disability rights movement. 

What’s one thing about you that most people might be surprised to learn? I love to dance. 

How do you relax? Good question. When I do, it's with family and friends. I like to go to the shore and peaceful places and play games and eat smores. 

What's the most daring thing you've ever done? Get arrested on an airplane. 
old black and white photo of young girl with polio smiling and walking with braces
Choose a movie title for the story of your life. Being Heumann. 

How old is the oldest pair of shoes in your closet? This is a completely hysterical question as I have a great deal of difficulty buying shoes that fit my feet. So, the oldest pair of shoes I have is probably 20 years old and the ones that I am wearing now I think are more than 10. 

Can you play any instruments? Piano, very very poorly. I also studied voice. Although, as I've aged, so has my voice. 

Strangest talent? Obsessively networking. 

What’s on your bucket list? Traveling with my husband on a non-work trip. Money, of course, is the limitation. 

The best piece of advice I've ever been given is: Never say no (and this is why my family is frequently angry with me). 

If I weren't doing my job, I'd probably be: Going to the opera, ballet, concerts, museums, visiting family and friends, doing more social justice work, and campaigning for candidates I believe in. 

My favorite words in the English language are: “Why?” and “Thank you.” 

The most important things I learned before high school were: (1) I needed more friends with disabilities, and (2) I needed to have a strong inner self to fight against discrimination. 

Who would you most like to swap places with for a day? Barack Obama or Malala Yousafzai. Or a fleeing refugee.

Personal motto? Never give up. Encourage others to believe in themselves and fight for their rights.