2024 – Being Heumann





Being Heumann:

An Unrepentant Memoir of a Disability Rights Activist

by Judith Heumann
and Kristen Joiner

“Some people say that what I did changed the world. 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.”  –Judith Heumann

So begins Being Heumann: An Unrepentant Memoir of a Disability Rights Activist by Judith Heumann and Kristen Joiner. The Malden Reads book selection committee, made up of volunteers from across our community, along with librarians from the Malden Public Library, unanimously selected Being Heumann as our 2024 community read. The book highlights the history of the disability rights movement in our country through a personal memoir of one of its most recognized leaders.


Imagine a time in the U.S. when it was acceptable and legal for a child with disabilities to not attend school because their physical disability made them a “fire hazard.” Imagine, as well, that a child using a wheelchair could not play with a child that lived across the street because sidewalks did not have curb ramps. Imagine being carried by your father in your wheelchair up and down stairs wherever you went. Imagine the daily struggle in every possible way to survive in a world that isn’t built for your existence. This is the era in which Judith Heumman had grown up, before Section 504 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) made practices like these illegal. 


How did these laws get passed? Who were the people involved? Through Being Heumann, we learn that laws were enacted through the tireless work of disability awareness activists like Heumann who helped people understand that disability rights are human rights. Working with over 150 disabled activists and allies, Heumann helped lead a sit-in and the longest takeover of a government building in U.S. history through collaboration, banding together with one voice, and strategic planning (as well as food delivered by the Black Panthers every night!).


Booklist has this praise for Being Heumann: “Consider this book an inspiring call for inclusiveness, courage, equity, and justice as well as a reminder of people’s power to change the world for the better.” Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation called the book a “moving chronicle of social change” that “will restore your hope in our democracy and the power of our shared humanity.” Publishers Weekly named it a Best Book of the Year for Nonfiction.


Join Malden Reads: One City, One Book as we explore themes related to Being Heumann for our 14th year, including disability awareness; hidden disabilities; the benefit of ADA to non-disabled people; advances in technology for people with disabilities; civil rights, human rights, and how bills like the ADA become law; the power of one person working in collaboration with a team to create change.


The 2024 Malden Reads program will begin in late January with an opening celebration held at the Malden Public Library. Details will be posted as they become available on this website and on social media (@maldenreads). Additionally, Malden Reads will host programs such as book discussions, film screenings, and other special events. 


Books are available for checkout from the Malden Public Library.  Books are also available for purchase from The Gallery @57, a unique retail show in Malden run cooperatively by local artist. Books may also be purchased from our favorite local independent bookseller, The Book Oasis in Stoneham. 




Judy Heumann (December 18, 1947 – March 4, 2023) was an internationally recognized advocate for the rights of disabled people. She was widely regarded as “the mother” of the Disability Rights Movement.

At 18-months-old, Judy contracted polio in Brooklyn, New York and began to use a wheelchair for mobility. She was denied the right to attend school at the age of five because she was considered a “fire hazard.” Later in life, Judy was denied her teaching license by the same school district. After waging a lawsuit against the state of New York, Judy went on to become the first wheelchair user to teach in the state of New York.

In 1977, Judy was a leader in the historic 504 Sit-In in San Francisco. This 26-day protest (the longest sit-in at a federal building to date) led to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act being signed into law. Judy was instrumental in the development and implementation of other legislation that has been integral in advancing the inclusion of disabled people in the US and around the world.

Judy served in both the Clinton and Obama administration, advancing rights for disabled individuals nationally and globally. She also was a Senior Fellow at the Ford Foundation, where she produced the white paper Road Map for Inclusion.

Judy was a founding member of the Berkeley Center for Independent Living which was the first grassroots center in the United States and helped to launch the Independent Living Movement both nationally and globally.


“Our anger was a fury sparked by profound injustices. Wrongs that deserved ire. And with that rage we ripped a hole in the status quo.”
― Judith Heumann, Being Heumann: An Unrepentant Memoir of a Disability Rights Activist

Join us this upcoming season as we delve into the disability rights movement and become more aware and sensitized to the challenges faced by people with disabilities everywhere. 


Help us promote reading and build community!