SeeHer Story Pays Tribute to Disability Activist Judy Heumann in Episode 18
SeeHer Story airs every week on PEOPLE.com and @PeopleTV social handles
Judy Heumann has never let her disability hold her back from taking on big challenges - including fighting for equal rights.
The activist and author has dedicated her life to advocating for those with disabilities and making sure their voices are heard, which is why SeeHer Story wants to honor her in this week's episode.
Heumann lost the use of her legs after a childhood bout with polio and has been in a wheelchair ever since.
She became an activist for the disabled early on — starting with her first day of school when a principal wouldn't let her into the building.
"The principal denied me entrance into the school because I couldn’t walk, and he said I could be a fire hazard," she recalled in an early interview.
Years later, she took the same school district to court when she was banned from teaching. She won the case and became the first wheelchair user to teach in New York City.
When President Nixon vetoed legislation protecting the disabled, Heumann was quick to advocate for the disabled community and fight back.
“There we were, 50 of us, from Brooklyn and Queens and Manhattan and the Bronx, and we decided, ‘OK, we’re gonna shut down the streets,'" she explained during an appearance on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah in March.
“They were announcing, ‘Paraplegics stop traffic in Manhattan,’ and the police went and got a representative from Nixon headquarters and they wanted to know what we wanted.”
Heumann led the group in fighting for equal rights under the law as well as for more respect.
When Nixon later signed the Rehabilitation Act in 1973 but failed to establish tools to enforce it, Heumann led an occupation of the Federal Building in San Francisco that lasted 25 days.
Her occupation prompted Nixon to require states to comply with the law and the modern disability rights movement would soon be born.
Heumann's work didn't stop there — she continued her advocacy, working with Presidents Clinton and Obama on issues like special education and disability rights.
She also wrote a memoir about her life and her work called Being Heumann, and appeared in the documentary Crip Camp, about the groundbreaking summer camp she and many other disability activists attended as teens.
At 72 years old, Heumann continues to celebrate people's differences, saying in a recent clip, "Disabled people are feeling prouder and speaking up, recognizing that disability is a part of who they are."
SeeHer Story will be a regular feature in PEOPLE’s print edition and the weekday morning newsletter Wake-Up Call with Katie Couric.
"SeeHer Story celebrates the important contributions of bold women from the past 100 years who have changed our country forever,” said Couric in a statement. “We hope recognizing them and telling their stories will not only give them their due but will also inspire the next generation of leaders.”
She added, “Together with Meredith and PEOPLE, I’m so excited to bring back a second season of stories of women whose names you may know — and put those whose achievements are not as well-known — front and center so we can celebrate them as well.”