“INDEPENDENT living is one of the driving forces behind my work,” declared disability rights activist Judith Heumann when she visited the Offaly Centre for Independent Living recently.
Ms Heumann is co-founder of the Centre for Independent Living Movement and she explained, “We know individually as disabled people we have experienced being laughed at and what it is like to try to remove barriers to get into society and to make the contribution we know we can.”
Ms Heumann was also appointed Special Advisor on International Disability Rights to the US Department of State, a newly created role, by President Barack Obama.
She had polio at the age of 18 months and had used a wheelchair most of her life. She had to fight repeatedly to be included in the education system and following court battles, she became the first person in a wheelchair to teach in New York.
Ms Heumann taught elementary school for three years and prior to being appointed to her new position, she worked in the Clinton Administration as Assistant Secretary in the Department of Education and she also worked as the World Bank’s first Advisor on Disability.
Comparing herself to a Minister for Foreign Affairs, Ms Heumann outlined during her Friday, October 21 visit to Tullamore that her work involved developing a set of standards for disabled people in the US.
Martin Naughton, one of the founders of Centres for Independent Living in Ireland, was introduced by MC Mary Grogan (Chairperson Offaly CIL) and he also addressed the gathering.
While Cllr Molly Buckley, one of the founders of the Offaly Centre for Independent Living, said it was a tremendous honour to have Judith Heumann and officials from the US Embassy visit. She paid tribute to Offaly CIL manager Michael Nestor.