Judy Heumann, a 68-year veteran of civil rights movements for people with disabilities in the U.S. and the globe, took the stage Thursday night to give closing remarks for day one of the 2nd annual Harkin Summit in Washington D.C.
“We need to stop talking to ourselves,” Heumann emphasized, saying those in attendance—business leaders, civil activists, and government representatives from over 40 countries—needed to go beyond the conference and find the places where disabled persons should be at the table and part of the decision-making process. After a discussion surrounding terminology had ensued before her remarks, Heumann also reiterated the importance of language when talking about disabilities, but expressed concern that such debates distract from more crucial pieces of an active, aggressive effort to change the status quo.
Evaluating the plenary discussions, Heumann encouraged participants to talk not only about what has yet to happen for disability rights, but also about the progress that has already been made. “We need to actively pursue our agenda,” she said, “and talk about what is happening today.”
“Nothing about us, without us” has been a rallying cry for disability activists worldwide for decades. Thursday, participants in the Harkin Summit cheered on a renewed version of the phrase: “Nothing without us.” Heumann praised the modified call to action, seeing its broader scope as better capturing the need for inclusion of people with disabilities in every facet of business, policy-making, and activism. And while some attendees were optimistic about individuals entering President Donald Trump’s administration in positions related to labor and the workforce, Heumann said she was more cautious, noting that some federal contractors who have been reliable sources of employment for people with disabilities in the past are not currently hiring at all.
Written by Dustin Eubanks