Ford Foundation names Judy Heumann senior fellow

New York, 14 September 2017 — The Ford Foundation today announced the appointment of disability and civil rights advocate Judith E. Heumann as a senior fellow.

An internationally recognized social justice leader, Heumann has been a longtime human rights advocate—especially for people with disabilities. Since the early 1970s, when she sued the New York City Board of Education and became the school system’s first teacher in a wheelchair, her efforts have been instrumental to the disability rights movement and other movements for justice. Today, through The Heumann Perspective, she is working to broaden discussions about intersectionality and disability, with a growing presence on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other digital platforms.

"Judy is a brilliant leader who has touched the lives of so many advocating for disability rights in America and around the world, and we are truly humbled to have her join us as a senior fellow," said Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation. “She brings such depth of perspective and experience to our efforts to address inequality, and we look forward to learning from and being challenged by her.” 

As a senior fellow, Heumann will focus on advancing the inclusion of people with disabilities in both traditional and new media platforms. Her project will explore current portrayals of disability in the media, and how to transform outdated and limited stereotypes about people with disabilities that persist in the stories we consume today. Heumann’s work will draw on progress made by other civil rights movements to advance authentic representation, and aims to foster greater collaboration between these movements. 

Recently, Heumann recently served in the Obama administration in a noteworthy step forward as the first Special Adviser for International Disability Rights at the US Department of State. She has also served as executive director and adviser to several organizations including the Department on Disability Services for the District of Columbia and the World Bank—where, as the Bank’s first Adviser on Disability and Development, she helped expand the organization’s capacity to work with governments and civil society in support of policies that enabled disabled people to participate fully in economic and social networks. 

“I'm honored to join Ford as a senior fellow not only because of the foundation’s long-standing history of protecting the civil rights of all people, but also because of its renewed commitment to integrating the work of the disability rights movement into their grantmaking and internal culture. True equality can only occur when we include the 1 billion disabled people around the world, most of whom live in poverty,” Heumann said.

Before working on international disability rights, Heumann was an early leader in the independent living movement in the United States. She co-founded a number of centers focused on disability, including the Berkeley Center for Independent Living, where she was deputy director and later a board member. During her tenure, she played an instrumental role in securing one of the first federal civil rights laws protecting people with disabilities, staging one of the longest sit-ins ever at a federal building for 28 days with over 150 people at the San Francisco Office of the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare. Later, she served as Assistant Secretary for the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services in the Clinton administration. Heumann is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley and Long Island University, and has received numerous honors including the Henry B. Betts Award, the Max Starkloff Lifetime Achievement Award and the InterAction Disability Inclusion Award. Heumann is married to Jorge Pineda.

The Ford Foundation is deeply committed to the inclusion of disability in its grantmaking and operations across the organization, and Heumann will work closely with the foundation's leadership and staff to advance this objective.  Recently, the foundation has provided a number of grants to diverse organizations promoting disability rights and representation, including the National Center on Disability in Journalism, AXIS Dance in Oakland, California, and the Disability Rights Fund, which operates globally. 

The Ford Foundation has a long-standing program of appointing individuals who are distinguished in their fields or areas of practice to join the foundation as fellows for a limited period. Past senior fellows have included Michelle Alexander, best-selling author of The New Jim Crow, who focused on issues of racial justice and mass incarceration, and Albie Sachs, former Justice of the Constitutional Court of South Africa.

Media Contacts

Press Line
Tel (+1) 212-573-5128
Fax (+1) 212-351-3643
[email protected]

Joshua Cinelli
Media Relations Chief
[email protected]

The Ford Foundation

The Ford Foundation is an independent, nonprofit grant-making organization. For more than 80 years it has worked with courageous people on the frontlines of social change worldwide, guided by its mission to strengthen democratic values, reduce poverty and injustice, promote international cooperation, and advance human achievement. With headquarters in New York, the foundation has offices in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.