Wos: The impact of Judy Heumann on my life

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Raymond Wos, Jr. stands in a "Inclusion isn't a Choice" t-shirt. - Photo / Raymond Wos, Jr.

What is Section 504? What is IDEA? What is ADA? What is the UN Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities?

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is the first ever civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of a disability. 

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (1975) is a law that makes free appropriate public education available to eligible children with disabilities throughout the nation and ensures special education and related service to those children. 

Americans with Disabilities Act (1990) is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation and all public and private places that are open to the general public. 

The purpose of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2006), is to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity. Persons with disabilities include those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual, or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on equal basis with others.

These three powerful pieces of legislation have provided an opportunity for all disabled people throughout the United States. The hard work and praise can be credited to Judith Heumann, a Disability Rights pioneer and the mother of the Disability Rights Movement. Most importantly, Heumann’s self-advocacy and advocacy for the disabled community shows that she has lit the way and paved the path for disability justice throughout the world.

She has fought for millions of people with disabilities to have civil rights and education rights. Her fight has truly paid off because I have personally been able to benefit from landmark legislation that Heumann has spearheaded.

I’m a person who has invisible disabilities, the term used to define disabilities that people are not able to see on the immediate appearance of a human. I am also neurodivergent. This term is defined as a brain that functions in ways which diverge significantly from the dominant societal standards of “normal,” according to Kassiane Asasumasu who originally coined the term. An example is having developmental, intellectual, psychiatric, or learning disabilities.

However, I have been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) at the age of 6. Fast forward to the present day, in 2021 I was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) at around 22 years old.

When I started first grade, I struggled with a larger classroom size of 25 kids within a class. It caused me to become very anxious and not be able to focus in class. After getting evaluated by a few professionals within the state, I was finally able and lucky to receive services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. I received services in Special Education with a small classroom size, which was a resource classroom setting. In addition, under IDEA I was able to participate in public education further because I received an Individualized Education Program (IEP) as well through second grade to 12th grade. Also, I was protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act which allowed me to be in the area and space like everyone else in society. I was able to be successful in and out of the classroom.

After graduating from high school, I wasn’t able to use IDEA and my IEP. I was able to transition all of my documentation to a 504 Plan throughout my time at community college and now at Rowan. Again, I have gained access to education within our society due to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Since I was able to get an education for it, I have received my associate degree in education. Now, I am working toward my degree in both subject matter education and history at Rowan.

Heumann’s actions allowed me to receive an education through public school, community college and at Rowan. I was able to become successful, strong and empowered to gain equitable opportunities like everyone else within our society because of Heumann’s work of activism and legislative action. In addition, I know that many other members within the disability community and the allies can relate as well from the actions that she did for the community through Section 504, IDEA, ADA, and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Besides her action to help me and millions of other people throughout their education career, there are still issues that the disability community faces every day in society and not a part of the conversation on major decisions within our nation. She started and paved the way for the community to thrive, but we now must continue her fight and our fight for disability justice as members and allies, more than ever to self-advocacy and advocate for our community!

Finally, a quote from Heumann, “I wanna see a feisty group of disabled people around the world… if you don’t respect yourself and if you don’t demand what you believe in for yourself, you’re not gonna get it.”

Rest in Power and Fight like Judy!

Sincerely,

Raymond Wos, Jr.

Assistant Vice President of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Student Government Association

Beta Gamma Chapter President, Delta Alpha Pi, Intentional Honor Society for Students with Disabilities

Public Relations Officer, Neurodiversity Club

For comments/questions about this story, email the.whit.rowan@gmail.com or tweet @TheWhitOnline

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