Lesson Plan

Judy Heumann and Disability Rights Activism

Judith Heumann sitting in a power chair

Taylordw | CC BY-SA 4.0

GRADE LEVEL: Elementary, Middle School

COMMON CORE STANDARDS: Reading, Writing, Speaking & Listening, Language

SEL STANDARDS*: Self Awareness, Social Awareness, Relationship Skills, Responsible Decision-Making

Who Was Judy Heumann?

Judy Heumann, disability rights activist, died in March 2023 at the age of 75. Judy Heumann was born in 1947 to German Jewish immigrants. As a toddler, Heumann contracted polio, resulting in her using a wheelchair for the rest of her life. When Heumann was five years old, her parents tried to register her for kindergarten but were turned away. The principal told them because she used a wheelchair, Heumann would create a “fire hazard.” Years later, the same reason of a “fire hazard” was given when she tried to get a job as a teacher. When this happened, Heumann sued the Board of Education for discrimination, and the case was settled; she became the first teacher in New York City to use a wheelchair. Throughout her life, Judy Heumann, referred to as “the mother of the disability rights movement,” fought for the rights of people with disabilities in the U.S. and around the world.   

About the Lesson Plan

This lesson provides an opportunity for students to learn about Judy Heumann and her disability rights activism and to consider the ways in which our schools, communities and society need to continue to address the rights and fair treatment of people with disabilities.

Learning Objectives: 

  • Students will gain background knowledge about Judy Heumann.  

  • Students will reflect on what they know, want to know and learned about Judy Heumann and her work as a disability rights activist.  

  • Students will consider in what ways our schools, communities and world are still lacking when it comes to the rights of people with disabilities.  

* Based on CASEL's SEL Framework