Heumann-Armstrong Educational Awards

The Heumann-Armstrong Educational Awards 2023 - 2024

Named after Judith Heumann and Elijah Armstrong, the Heumann-Armstrong Educational Awards are awarded annually to students with disabilities who demonstrate leadership in education.  Students who are paving the way for equal access in education (no matter how big or small) are encouraged to apply! 

  • 6 finalist awards available to students with disabilities grades 6 through graduate school
  • 6 semi-finalist awards available to students with disabilities grades 6 through graduate school
  • 1 award available to a student with a disability (and their classroom) grades 1-5 

Grades 6 - Higher Education Application Directions: 

For students in grades 6 through graduate school, please fill out the online form to apply.  For access purposes, we also accept video submissions.  If you are using this option, please limit your video to two minutes and 30 seconds as you answer the questions in the application.  Please submit your videos to CoelhoCenter@lls.edu.  

Grades 1 - 6 (Elementary School) Application Directions: 

Every year, we will be selecting an elementary school across the U.S. who commits to holding an art project competition for the Heumann-Armstrong Awards.  If you are interested in your school participating, please email us at CoelhoCenter@lls.edu.  Artwork by the award winners will be showcased on our websites and social media.  Winners will receive a $200 dollar gift card.  The award winner will also receive three children’s books on disability rights and disability activism for themselves and copies for everyone in their class.  These books will include Judy Heumann’s young adult memoir. The award winner's teacher/classroom will also receive a prize of accessible technology. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Who is Judith Heumann?

Judith (Judy) Heumann was a lifelong advocate for the rights of disabled people. She contracted polio in 1949 in Brooklyn, New York and began to use a wheelchair for her mobility. She was denied the right to attend school because she was considered a "fire hazard" at the age of five. Her parents played a strong role in fighting for her rights as a child, but Judy soon determined that she, working in collaboration with other disabled people, had to play an advocacy role due to continuous discrimination.

Judy is an internationally recognized leader in the disability rights community. Her memoir, authored with Kristen Joiner, is Being Heumann “Being Heumann: An Unrepentant Memoir of a Disability Rights Activist,” published by Beacon Press and audio recorded by Ali Stroker, who is the first wheelchair actor to perform on Broadway. Judy was featured on the Trevor Noah show.  Judy is featured in Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution, a 2020 American award winning documentary film, directed by James LeBrecht and Nicole Newnham, produced by the Obama Higher Ground Production and is available on Netflix. She also produced a podcast called The Heumann Perspective, which features a variety of members from the disability community.

She has been featured in numerous documentaries including on the history of the disability rights movement, including Lives Worth Living and the Power of 504 and delivered a TED talk in the fall of 2016, “Our Fight for Disability Rights- and Why We’re Not Done Yet”. Her story was also told on Comedy Central’s Drunk History in early 2018, in which she was portrayed by Ali Stroker,. As Senior Fellow at the Ford Foundation (2017-2019), she wrote “Road Map for Inclusion: Changing the Face of Disability in Media”. She served on a number of non-profit boards, including the American Association of People with Disabilities, the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, Humanity and Inclusion, as well as the Human Rights Watch board.

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.

In 1983, Judy co-founded the World Institute on Disability (WID) with Ed Roberts and Joan Leon, as one of the first global disability rights organizations founded and continually led by people with disabilities that works to fully integrate people with disabilities into the communities around them via research, policy, and consulting efforts.

From 1993 to 2001, Judy served in the Clinton Administration as the Assistant Secretary for the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services in the Department of Education.

Judy then served as the World Bank's first Adviser on Disability and Development from 2002 to 2006. In this position, she led the World Bank's disability work to expand its knowledge and capability to work with governments and civil society on including disability in the global conversation.

During his presidency, President Obama appointed Judy as the first Special Advisor for International Disability Rights at the U.S. Department of State, where she served from 2010-2017.  Mayor Fenty of D.C. appointed her as the first Director for the Department on Disability Services, where she was responsible for the Developmental Disability Administration and the Rehabilitation Services Administration.

She has been instrumental in the development and implementation of legislation, such as Section 504, the Individuals with Education Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act, and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which have been advancing the inclusion of disabled people in the US and around the world and fighting to end discrimination against all those with disabilities.

Judy graduated from Long Island University in Brooklyn, NY in 1969 and received her Master’s in Public Health from the University of California at Berkeley in 1975. She has received numerous awards including being the first recipient of the Henry B. Betts Award in recognition of efforts to significantly improve the quality of life for people with disabilities and the Max Starkloff Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Council on Independent Living. She has been awarded numerous honorary doctorates.

Image Description: A headshot of Judy Heumann, a cis-gender white woman who is a wheelchair user with short brown hair. She is wearing red glasses and a maroon and black embroidered sweater with the top buttoned with a matching maroon shirt underneath. She is smiling kindly.  

Who is Elijah Armstrong?

Elijah Armstrong hails from Jacksonville, Florida and is epileptic.  He attended high school at Stanton College Preparatory School in Duval County Public Schools.  His junior year of high school, the lights in his math classroom flickered, and it caused him to have seizures every other day. When Elijah asked his school for an accommodation, he was refused and told he would need to leave to keep the integrity of the school.  This experience motivated Elijah to become an disability and education activist.  Through his self-advocacy, Elijah  graduated from Stanton in 2015. Elijah went to college at Penn State, where he majored in Education and Public Policy and found a deep interest in advancing the rights of all students. While at Penn State, Elijah founded Equal Opportunities for Students Organization as a way to help tell the stories of marginalized students in education. After graduating from Penn State in 2019, Elijah went on to the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE), where he was President of the Black Student Union. Elijah earned his Master's in Education Policy and Management from HGSE in 2020. 

When Elijah brougth the idea of the "Heumann Educational Awards" to Judy Heumann in 2021, Judy told Elijah that she would only consent if the program was named the "Heumann-Armstrong Educational Awards."  Elijah has been deeply honored to be the founder and co-namesake of an award that honors the legacy of such a titan in the Disability Rights Movement.  Elijah won the 2021 American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) Paul G. Hearne Leadership Award for his creation of the Heumann-Armstrong Awards.  

Image description: A headshot of Elijah Armstrong, a light-skinned cis-gendered black man with short natural dread locks. Elijah is wearing a tan suit and striped tie.  He is smiling kindly. 

What is the purpose of this award?

The purpose of the award is to provide a platform for students with disabilities who are paving the way for equal access in education settings!  We are giving out ten education awards to students with disabilities, from 1st grade through higher education, who have experienced and combated ableism in education. Winners of this award will receive either a $1000 award (students in 6th grade and up) or a $200 gift card (students in 1st through 5th grade), and will have a video interview of themselves published on the Equal Opportunity for Students' and The Coelho Center for Disability Law, Policy and Innovation's webpages and social media. 

Who is eligible for this award?

Students in grade school (1st grade to 5th grade) may be eligible to compete in the Heumann-Armstrong Educational Award Art Competition.  Schools must be approved to be part of the competition.  Students with disabilities from the pre-selected schools are eligible to apply.  

Students with disabilities in middle school (6th grade to 8th grade), high school (9th grade to 12th grade), community college, college, university, graduate and professional school (Master's, Ph.D., J.D.) in schools within the United States are eligible to apply online.  

What is disability?

Disability is any physical or mental condition that affects the way someone attends classes, participates in extracurricular activities, or socializes with classmates (our definition is based on the definition on CDC website , so check it out if you have more questions). 

That definition is very broad, and that’s on purpose! Disability comes in many forms. For example, Judy Heumann survived polio, and now is a power-wheelchair user. People that use mobility aids like power wheelchairs, manual wheelchairs, canes, or crutches are considered to have disabilities. Disabilities can also be non-apparent like Crohn’s disease or epilepsy, or mental like ADHD or anxiety.

Students with disabilities are entitled to accommodations thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Schools often make small adjustments for students with disabilities to ensure they can have access to school. This is often done through 504 plans, Individualized Education Plans (also known as IEP’s), or accommodation letters in higher ed. You don’t need to receive accommodations to have a disability, or to be eligible for this award!

There is no need for documents or any "proof" of disability.  Self-identification is sufficient!

That description of disability sounds like me, but I’ve always heard people use other words, like “special education”. Why do you use the word “disability”?

A lot of schools tend to use other words to describe disability. Words like “special needs”, “special education”, “differently abled” or “handi-capable”. We choose to use the word disability because it is the word that best sums up our community, and helps to develop a sense of disability pride and disability identity. Disability isn’t a bad word!  There has been a lot of work done by activists like Lawrence Carter-Long in recent years, to get people to say the word disability when discussing disability issues.  #SayTheWord

We don’t judge any applicants for using the language they feel most comfortable with, but we as an organization use the language of "disability".

What is ableism?

Ableism is discriminating against someone because of their disability, which can take many forms. Judy Heumann wasn’t allowed to attend her local elementary school as a child, because the school said her wheelchair made her a fire hazard. Ableism can also be bullying, isolation, or refusal to provide a student with disability accommodations. Like other forms of discrimination, ableism is very common and shows up in many ways, including in micro-agressions like using disability as a joke, talking down to a disabled person, and assuming incompetence.  

What do you mean by combating ableism?

Combating ableism is a difficult thing that people with disabilities do every day. Some people organize community meetings and start student groups. Others attempt to get policies changed in their school, college or university. People protest, write blogs, join organizations, form organizations, or work to educate others. Ultimately, existing as a person with a disability is a form of resistance and a way of combating ableism, so we would suggest applying to the award as long as you consider yourself to have a disability.

Do I have to do an interview if I win the award?

Yes, we are requiring all awardees to do an interview about ableism in education. We’re doing this to start a new conversation around ableism and accessibility in education.  For elementary school winners (grades 1st through 5th), we will be showcasing their artwork - and an interview is not required. 

Do I have to disclose my disability?

You don’t need to disclose your disability if you don’t feel comfortable!

Do I need to submit my grades, a transcript or a resume?

No! Most education awards use metrics like assessing one's grades or grade point average (GPA), but we want to push against the idea that educational achievement comes only from grades. We don’t require anything but answers to the questions on our form!

What’s the application process?

We don’t ask too many questions in the application process. We ask some background stuff, like your name and pronouns, and stuff that will help us contact you later, like your email address. Our main questions are short answer questions on what ableism you’ve experienced in education, and how you’ve combatted ableism in education.

Talking is easier for me than writing. Can I do my application through a video?

We do accept video submissions for this award! Make a two minutes and 30 second video answering the questions in the application, and add the link in the “Contact Us” form on our website.

What does the elementary school award look like?

We are going to select four elementary school students with disabilities to win the Heumann-Armstrong award this year, and we are going to give them, their classrooms, and schools a series of prizes to help foster a new generation of disability activists.

Best of luck to everyone applying!


Apply Here: https://shorturl.at/ijuCX 

Informational YouTube Video: https://youtu.be/JX7ummuHpx8

DEADLINE: July 16th, 2023