Judy Heumann, a renowned activist who helped secure legislation protecting the rights of disabled people, has died at age 75.
News of her death Saturday in Washington, D.C., was posted on her website and social media accounts and confirmed to The Associated Press by her youngest brother, Rick Heumann.
He said she had been in the hospital a week and had heart issues that may have been the result of something known as post-polio syndrome, related to a childhood infection that was so severe that she spent several months in an iron lung and lost her ability to walk at age 2.
She spent the rest of her life fighting, first to get access for herself and then for others, her brother recalled.
"It wasn't about glory for my sister or anything like that at all. It was always about how could she make things better for other people," he said, adding that the family drew solace from the tributes that poured in on Twitter from dignitaries and past presidents like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.
President Joe Biden recalled working with Heumann, who he called a "trailblazer," to advocate for disability rights.
"Judy Heumann was a trailblazer – a rolling warrior – for disability rights in America," Mr. Biden said in a statement. "After her school principal said she couldn't enter kindergarten because she was using a wheelchair, Judy dedicated the rest of her life to fighting for the inherent dignity of people with disabilities."
Heumann has been called the "mother of the disability rights movement" for her longtime advocacy on behalf of disabled people through protests and legal action, her website says.
She lobbied for legislation that eventually led to the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and the Rehabilitation Act. She served as the assistant secretary of the U.S. Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services, beginning in 1993 in the Clinton administration, until 2001.
During the 1970s she won a lawsuit against the New York Board of Education and became the first teacher in the state who was able to work while using a wheelchair, which the board had tried to claim was a fire hazard.
She also was a leader in a historic, nonviolent occupation of a San Francisco federal building in 1977 that set the stage for passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act, which became law in 1990.