Centering the voices of adults with IDD on pressing topics in health care

Tribute to Judy Heumann

By Amanda Harrinauth

Here’s the first photo that our CAB member, Amanda Harrinauth, took with Judy Heumann in 2014 at the “Youth Independence Conference” in Berkeley, where Amanda served as a mentor to individuals with disabilities for a Summer program. 

Here is another photo of Amanda Harrinauth and Judy Heumann.

Judy Heumann is best known as the mother of disability rights, making a name for herself in San Francisco and Washington.

She was a woman who never took “no”  for an answer.  Judy was always ready to fight for the rights of others, including herself.

One of the best lessons I learned from her is that crying does not mean you are weak, it means you care, and it helps to foster a passion deep in your heart.

I met Judy Heumann for the first time at “The Youth Leadership Conference” in Berkeley, California, during the summer of 2014.

At the time, I was a college student studying at Holy Names University, planning to become a special education teacher. I had not heard of her prior to this conference as I was still not comfortable in my own skin for being disabled, even though I had grown up with disabilities my entire life.  

At the conclusion of the two-day conference, Judy asked members of the audience to think of a time where we had to be strong. I decided to raise my hand and share the experience I was having during internship in the school district.

When I came to the part of my story where I mentioned I cried after one of the teachers mistreated me, and that resulted in telling my supervisor, Judy responded, "Let’s give a round of applause for Amanda.“ She did not see weakness in my tears, she saw strength. Strength doesn’t mean that you don’t cry, it means you push through the tears to overcome adversity.

From that moment on, Judy was my hero.  We developed a friendship. She was working under the Obama Administration and when my then-fiancé and I were scheduled to be married, she invited herself to our wedding.

That was Judy, bold and very beautiful.

She handed me a business card with her phone number. Although it did take me about two years to reach out to her, my reason being that if she was ever in a meeting while I called her, I always envisioned President Obama answering phone.

I finally sent her a text in 2016, and we stayed in communication from that point on.

We talked about everything: food, goals, struggles, holidays, jewelry, family and, yes of course, poetry.

I would text her my latest poems.  What an honor to take the time to read my work.

Texting Judy back-and-forth was a gift.  Sometimes, she would text me back at 2 a.m., my time.

Since I’m a night owl, some of the time I would text her back immediately.

I finally wrote her a poem of her own, after years of her telling me how beautiful my poems were, as I sat in the back of the car while my dad drove to Oakland.

I wrote the draft on a legal pad. My pen scratching through lines that did not fit.  Finally, I came up with the perfect title: It was called Heumann Rights.

I sent her holiday cards for a number of years.

Judy is Jewish and celebrated Hanukkah while her husband, Jorge, celebrates Christmas. So it was wonderful getting to wish her a Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah!  

I would see Judy for the last time in October 2022. She was very excited that I was coming to her lecture at UC Berkeley.  We took pictures and we chatted as we enjoyed an elegant dinner reception on the UC Berkeley campus.  

I presented her with a framed copy of the poem that I had written for her, “Heumann Rights,”  and as she read the poem she cried.  

She told my dad later that evening, "You have an amazing daughter.“ The statement truly warmed my heart. It was such a compliment from a legendary woman.

We truly loved each other.  As I move forward in my quest for disability rights and inclusion, I take the spirit of Judy with me to continue our fight.

I dream of a better world, where we are holding hands in support of one another.

A world where my ethnicity doesn’t matter.

The language that I speak, is not mocked and ridiculed.

I dream of a better world, where racism does not exist.

My disability, it doesn’t mean exclusion from the in the world, rather curiosity. 

I dream of a better world, when I can look in the mirror and not have to hear statements, from the outside world “Hi ugly”

Everyone is beautiful, let your inner and outer beauty shine.  

I dream of a better world, I’m so tired, can you please join me, in making this a reality?"

This is the last poem Amanda sent Judy in January 2023.