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President’s Award

This award honors an activist and/or artist who has advanced the mission of SDS. The award recipient may or may not be an SDS member; there are no restrictions on who may be considered. This is the only SDS honor awarded directly by the Board of Directors, and it comes with complementary SDS meeting registrations. In establishing this award, the Board of Directors wants to acknowledge all contributors to the development of disability studies and the advancement of disability justice. We look beyond the usual structure of SDS awards such as paper prizes, editors’ choices, and formal scholastic nomination procedures based on curriculum vitae and letters of reference. This award recognizes the full work of disability studies by noting that academia is only one point of focus of our efforts and creativity.


The President and the Board of Directors of the Society for Disability Studies (SDS) are delighted to award the 2018 SDS President’s Award to Judith E. (Judy) Heumann.

SDS confers the President’s Award for artists and activists who embody the goals of the Society, reiterating our commitment to all kinds of work in disability studies. SDS recognizes Judy Heumann for her five-decade career as a disabled activist who has changed the lives of every single disabled person in the United States and across the globe. Her work has shown the vibrancy and strength of the social model of disability and the power and importance of the disability rights movement’s central mantra: “nothing about us without us.”

Born in 1947, Judy Heumann has been a part of almost every pivotal moment in American and international disability history: she founded Disabled in Action in 1970; helped found the first Center for Independent Living in Berkeley; was a leader in the 1977 federal building sit-in as part of the Section 504 movement; co-founded the World Institute for Disability in 1983 and helped ignite a global independent living movement; served in the Clinton administration as the Assistant Secretary of the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services, 1993-2001; and worked at the World Bank as their first Advisor on Disability and Development, 2002-2006. In 2010, Judy became the first Special Advisor on Disability Rights for the US State Department under President Obama. Most recently, she is serving as a senior fellow to the Ford Foundation.

Disabled people experience the effects of Judy’s life work every time we roll into a building, access a talking ATM, work at a job that recognizes the unique strengths we have, use a sign language interpreter at a hospital, or see a teacher in a school who has the same disability as us. Without her activism, we may not have had the Independent Living Movement, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities. We all truly owe much to her.

Judy Heumann is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley and Long Island University, and has received numerous honors including the Henry B. Betts Award, the Max Starkloff Lifetime Achievement Award, and the InterAction Disability Inclusion Award.

The Society for Disability Studies confirms that our efforts and creativity exist and thrive far beyond academia. SDS seeks to augment understanding of disability in all cultures and historical periods, to promote greater awareness of the experiences of disabled people, and to advocate for social change. Past recipients of the SDS President’s Award are Laura Hershey, MFA (1962 -2010), writer, poet, activist, and consultant, and Riva Lehrer, artist, writer, curator, and educator.