Berkeley Talks: Judith Heumann on the long battle 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. He 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 Lectures episode 154, leading disability rights activist and UC Berkeley graduate 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 degree in public health in 1975 and was a founding member of the Berkeley Center for Independent Living . “Anyone in the community can become temporarily or permanently disabled 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'” about the ongoing battle against exclusionary structures.

“Often in your writing, it’s about inclusion and equality,” says Karen Tani, a professor of history and law at the University of Pennsylvania, who spoke with Hoiman last month in 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 institutions say “no” to people seeking inclusion and access? Are there any specific examples that come to mind?’

“It depends on the institution,” says Heumann. “In a university, for example, the students are only there for a short time and the professors are hopefully there for a longer time. But even for tenure-track professors, the ability to necessarily speak up and come out can be hindered by fear of reprisal.

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

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

Listen to the full discussion at Berkeley Lectures episode 154: “Judith Heumann on the long battle for inclusion.”

Watch a video of the conversation below.

Judith Heumann, a long-time disability rights activist, gave a talk on October 26 titled “The Status Quo Loves to Say No: Disability Rights and the Battle Against Exclusionary Structures.”


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