Welcome to Behind the Book with Ability360

Graphic depicts people advocating for justice in front of the U.S. Capital in Washtington D.C. In the background is an American flag with the wheelchair logo and beside that the words "Behind the Book."

This is a multi-part video series exploring the history, themes and lessons within “Being Heumann: An Unrepentant Memoir of a Disability Rights Activist” by Judith Heumann and Kristen Joiner.

Each episode in this series will explore a different topic from the memoir including the 504 sit-in, activism today and the issue of ableism. Throughout the series you will hear from the co-authors as well as various members of the disability rights community throughout the country. Behind the Book is produced by LivAbility Media, a program of Ability360 in Phoenix, Arizona. Each episode was produced from a pre-recorded Zoom interview with the co-authors. Episodes will be available to view on this site as well as on Ability360 social media platforms.

Join us for this exclusive conversation with a pioneer in disability rights activism!

Additional information about Judith Huemann, Kristen Joiner, how to purchase the book and audio book can be found on this site.

Edition 21 | Summer 2020

A conversation with Judith Heumann and Kristen Joiner

by Sarah Farrell and Kasey Kaler

As a Center for Independent Living, we at Ability360 recognize the vital role our organization plays in facilitating conversatinos regarding the disability rights movement and community. Behind the Book with 360 is a video series produced by LivAbility Media, designed to do just that.

As it stands, the fight for equality–for many–is far from over. This organization firmly believes that the work accomplished during the independent living movement by Ed Roberts, Judith Heumann, Kitty Cone, Justin Dart and others is a fundamental piece of civil rights history. A portion of history that many of us are missing. We aren’t taught these vital pieces of civil rights history in school.

The United States has stood for nearly 250 years. To date, the longest occupation of a federal building in history was held by people with disabilities. The 504 sit-in was an example of what can happen when people of all different races, genders, sexual orientations, and more come together.

Lawrence Carter-Long, the communications director of the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, said it best:

“Why aren’t we using [the Section 504 sit-in] as an example to say, ‘this is what happens when communities come together? These are the changes that can occur when we stand together, roll together, sit together in solidarity.’”

In March, our LivAbility Media team was faced with the unique challenge of producing a virtual book tour for “Being Heumann: An Unrepentant Memoir of Disability Rights Activist” by Judy Heumann and Kristen Joiner. This sparked an idea for our team: The opportunity to produce a curated, multi-episode series based on a lengthy Zoom interview with Heumann and Joiner.

This five-month-long project did present a lot of obstacles for our team along the way. Some included organizing with Joiner, a human rights activist, now based in New Zealand. Our team also spent time combining book details and themes with the social commentary of today’s world while digging through hours of interviews to build episodes.

Each episode features a one-minute graphic introduction that our team created and voiced. Episodes also include footage from LivAbility Media’s interview with Heumann and Joiner and interviews with other prominent figures and activists in the disability community. Each one follows its own theme ranging from the importance of Centers for Independent Living in the disability community to the impact of COVID-19.

The purpose of this series was to be an educational platform for the public to learn more about the history of the disability rights movement, the 504 Sit-in and the life of Judith Heumann. Beyond that, though, the audience has the opportunity to hear from two prominent activists about social issues shaping our world.

As a team, we hope that this is content that both persons with disabilities and non-disabled viewers will be able to enjoy and learn from for years to come.

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Sarah Farrell

Sarah Farrell | Writer | @thesarahfarrell

Sarah Farrell holds a master’s degree in sports journalism from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University, and a bachelor’s degree in communication with a minor in sports management from Trinity University. She is a Texas native who has fallen in love with hiking the Arizona wilderness.

Read more by Sarah Farrell.

Kasey Kaler

Kasey Kaler | Writer | @kasey_kaler

Kasey Kaler is a graduate of Gonzaga University’s Sport and Athletic Administration M.A. program and Arizona State’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication B.A. program. For the last six years, Kasey remained true to her passion for producing content for a multitude of platforms and sharing stories to help people view differences as an asset.

Read more by Kasey Kaler.

Being Heumann Book Cover

Being Heumann: An Unrepentant Memoir of a Disability Rights Activist

One of the most influential disability rights activists in US history tells her personal story of fighting for the right to receive an education, have a job, and just be human.

A story of fighting to belong in a world that wasn’t built for all of us and of one woman’s activism—from the streets of Brooklyn and San Francisco to inside the halls of Washington—Being Heumann recounts Judy Heumann’s lifelong battle to achieve respect, acceptance, and inclusion in society.

Paralyzed from polio at eighteen months, Judy’s struggle for equality began early in life. From fighting to attend grade school after being described as a “fire hazard” to later winning a lawsuit against the New York City school system for denying her a teacher’s license because of her paralysis, Judy’s actions set a precedent that fundamentally improved rights for disabled people.

As a young woman, Judy rolled her wheelchair through the doors of the US Department of Health, Education, and Welfare in San Francisco as a leader of the Section 504 Sit-In, the longest takeover of a governmental building in US history. Working with a community of over 150 disabled activists and allies, Judy successfully pressured the Carter administration to implement protections for disabled peoples’ rights, sparking a national movement and leading to the creation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Candid, intimate, and irreverent, Judy Heumann’s memoir about resistance to exclusion invites readers to imagine and make real a world in which we all belong.

“Full of stories of triumph, love, and total badassery, Being Heumann is a look into a world and moment in history that very few know or appreciate. You don’t have to have a disability to completely relate to Judy’s story. Haven’t all of us been dismissed by others at some point in our lives? Readers will finish this book with a whole new perspective on people with disabilities and on their own lives too. Judy doesn’t just believe in the power of community and the potential of democracy to deliver equality and justice—she and her many friends and allies set out to prove, against all odds, that it is true. Their epic struggle to achieve civil rights protections for people with disabilities has remade our world, whether we realize it or not. Intimate and engrossing, this book is a profound gift. It should be read and cherished by all, as both an unforgettable portrait of one of our greatest activists and a road map for how to build a more just and inclusive world.”

Nicole Newnham and Jim LeBrecht, directors of Crip Camp

“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.”


“Judy’s advocacy for disability rights began as a fight for her own future and then, as a leader of the movement, spanned the nation and the globe. As secretary of state, I relied on Judy’s insights, knowledge, sass, and wit to elevate advocacy for disability rights in our diplomacy. This important book will help ensure that every person gets a chance to live up to their full potential and will always have a place at the table.”

Hillary Clinton

“It’s one of the ironies of American life that the one category into which almost all of us will fit at some time in our lives—people with disabilities—is often the last on the list of included groups in this country. . . . I met Judy Heumann almost four decades ago, and her writing, activist skills, and kindness helped me to see this simple truth. Her life story as an activist will enlighten readers everywhere.”

Gloria Steinem

“Judy’s story has shaken me to the core. For the first time, I see myself in someone else. Her fierce advocacy and work changing the laws around disability rights have undeniably paved the way for me to achieve what I have today. . . . A must-read.”

Ali Stroker, Tony Award–winning actress

“Thoughtful and illuminating, this inspiring story is a must-read for activists and civil rights supporters.”

Publishers Weekly, Starred Review

“A driving force in the passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act looks back on a long career of activism . . . A welcome account of politics in action, and for the best of causes.”

Kirkus Reviews

Meet the Authors

Judith Heumann

Judith Heumann

Judith Heumann is an internationally recognized leader in the Disability Rights Independent Living Movement. Her work with a wide range of activist organizations (including the Berkeley Center for Independent Living and the American Associate of People with Disabilities), NGOs, and governments since the 1970s has contributed greatly to the development of human rights legislation and policy benefitting disabled people. She has advocated for disability rights at home and abroad, serving in the Clinton and Obama administrations and as the World Bank’s first adviser on disability and development. She lives in Washington, DC.

Kristen Joiner

Kristen Joiner

Kristen Joiner is an award-winning entrepreneur in the global nonprofit and social change sector. Her writing on exclusion and belonging, inequality, and social change has been published in numerous outlets including the Stanford Social Innovation Review. She lives in Auckland, New Zealand, with her family.

More Judy Heumann

Judy Heumann appears on the Daily Show with Trevor Noah March 4, 2020 to share anecdotes from her life and her experiences organizing demonstrations.

Judy Heumann tells her story in her own words at TedxMidAtlantic in October 2016:

Actress Ali Stroker stars as Judy Heumann in a Drunk History episode about the 504 sit-in that aired February 20, 2018: