Philadelphia, PA – It is with heavy hearts that Delta Phi Epsilon mourns the loss of notable alumnae, trailblazer and activist Judith “Judy” Heumann who passed away on the afternoon of March 4, 2023. Judy was known internationally as a pioneer in disability rights and was at the forefront of prominent demonstrations and passing legislation that protected the rights of disabled people. 

Born in 1947 to Ilse and Werner Heumann, and raised in Brooklyn, New York, she contracted polio at age two and lost her ability to walk. Her activist career started in the 1970s in New York, where she sued the New York Board of Education for refusing to give her a teaching license, which she later won and became the first teacher in the state to use a wheelchair. 

Within the decade, Judy helped lead a historic non-violent protest in support of the Rehabilitation Act, specifically section 504, which would outlaw disability discrimination for institutions that receive federal funds. Judy, only 29 at the time, organized the occupation of a San Francisco federal building for almost a complete month with support coming from San Francisco’s mayor, George Moscone, and the Black Panther party. This demonstration would lead to Judy testifying in a special congressional hearing which facilitated the later passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act. 

Judy served as an official in the Clinton administration and a special advisor to the Obama administration’s State Department. She helped found the Berkley Center for Independent Living, the Independent Living Movement, and the World Institute on Disability; and served on the boards of the American Association of People with Disabilities, the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, and many more.

In 1966, prior to her many accomplishments and accolades, Judy was initiated into Delta Phi Epsilon in the Upsilon chapter at Long Island University, where she received her Bachelor’s degree in 1969. Committed to the sisterhood, Judy, just as recently as of July 2022, held a fireside chat for our members at our International Leadership Forum to speak, inspire, and educate our members about disability advocacy and her work. 

While we could go on about her many accomplishments and accolades, Judy to us was a sister, a vital part of the fabric of the modern Delta Phi Epsilon. She constantly reminded us, like our founders, that justice is rooted in equality and that it’s something to be cherished and for which to fight.

“Some people say that what I did changed the world,” Judy wrote, “But really, I simply refused to accept what I was told about who I could be. And I was willing to make a fuss about it.”




About Delta Phi Epsilon, Inc.

Delta Phi Epsilon Sorority was founded on March 17, 1917 at New York University Law School as a social organization for women. The mission is to provide a sisterhood experience rich with tradition, innovation and opportunities for growth. Learn more about Delta Phi Epsilon at