Berkeley Talks: Judith Heumann on the long fight for inclusion

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

in the Berkeley talks Episode 154, leading disability rights activist and UC Berkeley graduate Judith Heumann shares her lifelong struggle for inclusion and equality.

“I think the disability community was one of the leading communities … for the importance of universal design,” says Heumann, who received a master’s degree in public health from Berkeley 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: Unrepentant Memoirs of a Disability Rights Activist, Heumann writes “The status quo loves to say no” about the ongoing fight against structures of exclusion.

“A lot of your writing is about inclusion and justice,” said Karen Tani, a professor of history and law at the University of Pennsylvania, who spoke with Heumann in Berkeley last month. “These institutions can be schools, companies, government agencies. They could be advocacy groups. So the question is, in your experience, what are some of the most common ways institutions say “no” to people seeking inclusion and access? Can you think of any particular examples?”

“It depends on the institution,” says Heumann. “At a university, for example, the students are only there for a short time and the lecturers are hopefully longer. But even for teachers who are being evaluated and aspire to tenure, the ability to necessarily speak up can be hampered by fear of blame.

“For students…when I look at a university, I think it’s about leadership,” she continues. “What often happens is that universities don’t really address disability inclusion like many of us would like. So we end up dealing with issues around physical accessibility, housing and not focusing as much on science and disability as we should. And not just disability courses, but the inclusion of disability in all academic fields where appropriate.”

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

Listen to the full conversation Berkeley talks Episode 154: “Judith Heumann on the long fight for inclusion.”

Watch a video of the conversation below.

Judith Heumann, a long-time disability rights activist, gave a lecture on October 26 entitled “The Status Quo Likes to Say ‘No’: Disability Rights and the Fight Against Structures of Exclusion.”

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