Judy HeumannJudy Heumann

UPDATED March 18: Judith “Judy” Heumann, renowned advocate for the rights of disabled people and author of the memoirBeing Heumann: An Unrepentant Memoir of Disability Rights, was to have been the featured speaker for the annual Arlington Reads Together (ART) program later this month. But she has died, NPR has reported.

She is being honored at Robbins Library this afternoon. See the program >>

In a statement issued Sunday, March 5, Anna Litten, libraries' director, wrote under the headline 'Arlington Mourns Death of Judy Heumann' that “Arlington joins those across the nation and world mourning the death of Judy Heumann, lifelong advocate for disability rights and author of the 2023 Arlington Reads Together title,Being Heumann: An Unrepentant Memoir of a Disability Rights Activist.”

Heumann died Saturday, March 4, at age 75. She had been hospitalized the previous weekend in Washington, D.C., with breathing problems, the National Public Radio account says. 

“Judy led a truly remarkable life. Her activism was instrumental in creating legislation supporting rights and access for disabled Americans including the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act. Her work became a true beacon for those around the globe seeking to build a more equitable and accessible world. The impact of her work and her spirit will live on.  

“Judy was scheduled to visit Arlington via Zoom on March 19 to discuss her life and her book. Library staff  [had looked] forward to creating an opportunity for Arlingtonians to celebrate and honor Judy’s life.”

Litten added, “We will not be able to hear from Judy on March 19, but we [still] will be coming together to share stories of Judy’s impact on the lives and experiences of differently abled community members.  May her memory be a blessing.”

Gathering March 19

On Sunday, March 19, a gathering is set to honor and celebrate the life of Heumann from 3 to 5 p.m. on Zoom or attend the livestreamed conversation in the Robbins Library Community Room. Seedetails here >>

See related events >>

ART, the local community read program, is more than two decades old.

Library visitors can still pick up copies of Being Heumann,Rolling Warrior andFighting For Yes!at the Robbins or Fox Branch library; alternatively, they may request a copy by phone or online via theMLN catalog.Being HeumannandRolling Warriorare also available in ebook format or audiobook via Libby.

Book discussions and other events will take place throughout March. A full schedule of events and programs may be viewed on the library’s website, robbinslibrary.org.

The full version of the book is Being Heumann: An Unrepentant Memoir of Disability Rightsby Judith Heumann and Kristen Joyner, published in February 2020. One of the most influential disability rights activists in U.S. history, Heumann described her mission of fighting for the right to receive an education, have a job and just be human. This memoir is also available in a young readers edition, titled Rolling Warrior. And the picture book version -- Fighting for Yes! --relates an even more simplified version of Heumann's life and is suitable for preschoolers and their families. 

Heumann a longtime activist

Heumann found her voice as an activist at a young age and continually worked in collaboration with other disabled people to fight for access, rights and inclusion. She was an internationally recognized leader in the disability rights community whose life story was also featured in “Crip Camp,” a Netflix film.

According to the NPR account, Heumann served in both the Clinton and Obama administrations. In the former; she was an assistant secretary of education in charge of  all federal education programs for students with disabilities. In the latter, she was a special assistant to then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and given charge of spreading ideas about civil rights across the world.

“We’re so excited to welcome Judy,” Litten wrote in the initial, January news release. “Judy’s story is about giving agency to disenfranchised people, building movements to drive change -- and doing it all with verve. Her story and her example are truly remarkable.” 

History of the longstanding book program

ART launched in 2002 as a way of bringing Arlington together through literature. The goal is to address issues, understand differences and create connections through shared experience, library officials say.

Book selections are chosen by a committee of library staff and supporters, librarians from Arlington Public Schools (APS), members of the Diversity Task Group of Envision Arlington and other community partners.

During the summer of 2022, local residents nominated more than 30 titles for the current ART session. Then the ART selection committee narrowed the nominations down to one title.

Rebecca Gruber, chair of the Envision Arlington Diversity Task Group and ART selection committee member, said, “Part of being human is recognizing that we are all differently abled, and however one is currently abled may not be how one is abled in the future.

Gruber continued, “ReadingBeing Heumannmade me much more cognizant of that for both myself, my loved ones and my neighbors. This book builds understanding and empathy to what being human really means.”

The 2023 community partners for Arlington Reads Together programs include the Arlington Libraries Foundation, the Friends of Robbins Library, the Diversity Task Group of Envision Arlington, the Arlington Disability Commission, APS and the Arlington Human Rights Commission.

Questions about ART may be directed to Amanda Troha atThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.or 781-316-3202. 

This news announcement was first published Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023, based on information from Anna Litten, director of libraries. YourArlington volunteer Kim Haase helped prepare it for publication. This article was updated Feb. 15 with a link to Arlington Reads Together events. It was updated March 5 to report Heumann's recent death and to add a statement from the director of libraries, and updated again March 18, to add program link.