Lifetime Achievement Award for Disability Inclusion to Judith Heumann

Donald Steinberg, CEO of World Learning

Washington, D.C.

[Remarks as Prepared]

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen.  I am Don Steinberg, CEO of World Learning, and it is my extreme honor this evening to present this lifetime achievement award for disability inclusion to Judith Heumann. 

InterAction’s decision to provide a separate award for disability inclusion reflects a fundamental truth: the mission of the global development and humanitarian community – exemplified in our commitment to eliminate extreme poverty within the next two decades and achieve the outcomes identified in the Sustainable Development Goals – cannot be accomplished unless we draw on the talents, expertise, and unique world view of the 1 billion people in the world who have disabilities.  World Learning believes that these individuals must be planners, implementers and beneficiaries of our efforts under the watchwords, “Nothing about us without us.”

This is the first time InterAction is recognizing a single individual in this arena, and there could be no better trailblazer than Judy Heumann.  Her work in blazing trails started early: confined to a wheel-chair, she and her mother had to fight to attend public elementary school.  Two decades later, she was first person in a wheel-chair to teach public school in New York City. 

Soon, she created the organization, Disabled in Action, to secure civil rights protection for people with disabilities.  She also helped develop what became the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.  Working inside and outside the system, she organized demonstrations in 10 cities to ensure that the U.S. government was seriously implementing such legislation. 

She’s been a leader at the Department of Education, the World Bank, the District of Columbia, and most recently the State Department, where she was Special Advisor on Disability Rights.  She also played a key advisory role as a dozen InterAction members came together last December to prepare the Global Call to Action for Disability Inclusion.

Judy knows how to draw new allies into the movement.  She understands the need to create a big tent for people new to the disability struggle, and thus prone to mistakes in attitude or language.    

Indeed, despite all the errors and faux pas I’ve committed over the course of our friendship, she remains a welcoming and forgiving mentor.

Eighteen months ago, Judy asked me to join her for a global webcast for U.S. embassies abroad on how to work with NGOs to promote disability rights. She wasn’t aware that I’d just been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.  When I arrived for the program, we talked for a while and my hand was shaking with the tell-tale symptoms.  She seemed not to notice this until just before the show went live, when she leaned over and whispered, “Don, welcome to the community.”

I’m proud indeed to be a part of any community that has someone like Judy as a leader.  Please join me in welcoming to the stage, Judy Heumann. 

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