Jim Tillett, a doctoral student in human development and family science, describes Judith Heumann as the most famous disability rights activist in the world.

Huemann will give the InclusiveVT Welcome keynote at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 15, via Zoom with Tillett moderating the discussion. Register to attend to receive the Zoom link and submit your questions.

“Moderating the event is a huge honor and feels like such an important moment. This is a big deal,” Tillett said.

Huemann has been instrumental in the development and implementation of legislation that protects the rights of disabled people, such as the Rehabilitation Act and its Section 504, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Along with Kristen Joiner, Huemann wrote about her life in “Being Heumann: An Unrepentant Memoir of a Disability Rights Activist.” She was featured in the Oscar-nominated documentary “Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution,” directed by James LeBrecht and Nicole Newnham. She also produces a podcast, The Heumann Perspective, which features conversations with disabled changemakers and their allies. 

“The fact that she is coming here is a really great sign that Virginia Tech takes an interest in disabled individuals,” Tillett said, “not just to check a box, but as a social justice issue and a group of people that deserve to feel more welcome here. They deserve to have space made for them.”

Tillett, a doctoral student in human development and family science, teaches Intro to Disabilities and conducts research about transforming the experience of autistic people in relationships.

He came to this field after a personal journey — he ran away from his disabled identity when he was younger. He later was drawn to the disability rights and justice movement by a friend who helped reframe what being disabled meant to him, much in the way the Heumann has helped reframe the public thinking on people with disabilities.

Part of that transformation is shifting away from seeing disability as a medical experience and toward seeing the lived experience of disabled individuals as a social identity group, Tillett said.

He said he wishes he could have had access to a course like the one he is teaching when he was younger.

Huemann’s talk is part of InclusiveVT Welcome, a celebration of inclusion and belonging hosted by the Office for Inclusion and Diversity. Faculty, staff, and students are encouraged to participate in events happening across the university Sept. 12-16.

If you have an event that is celebrating that Virginia Tech is where everyone is welcome and belongs, even if it outside of this specific week, please complete the InclusiveVT Welcome 2022 Events form.

If you are an individual with a disability and desire an accommodation, please contact Michelle Carter at mdcarter1@vt.edu at least 10 business days prior to the event.

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