On Protecting the Rights and Dignity of Disabled Americans

Judith Heumann, a lifelong advocate for the rights of disabled people, joined Fernando Torres-Gil, professor of social welfare and public policy, for a wide-ranging virtual conversation focusing on the ongoing fight for universal accessibility. Hosted by the UCLA Luskin Undergraduate Program, the Feb. 8 dialogue came during Heumann’s weeklong appointment as a UCLA Regents’ Lecturer. Heumann and Torres-Gil spoke about their work shaping legislation and policies to protect the rights and affirm the dignity of disabled Americans. Both speakers have spent decades serving in key government and nonprofit positions focusing on health and aging, and both bring a personal perspective on living with disability as survivors of polio contracted as young children. Torres-Gil, director of the Center for Policy Research on Aging at UCLA Luskin, said making education, housing and health care more accessible will have a broad impact, as people young and old may face unexpected physical or cognitive decline and as the long-term health effects of COVID-19 become clear. Heumann also spoke about her work as a Ford Foundation fellow studying depictions of disabled people in the media. “The paper that we produced was a roadmap to inclusion,” she said. “It is making it normal that you could be blind, you could be deaf, you can have a physical disability, you can have an intellectual disability, you can have a memory issue — all these different things. They need to be built into the way we experience life.”

View a video or read the transcript of the conversation between Heumann and Torres-Gil, “Beyond Allyship: Disability Rights and Public Service.” 

View a video of Heumann’s UCLA Regents’ Lecture, “Disrupting Ableism in Higher Education and Beyond.” 


‘Beyond Allyship: Disability Rights and Public Service’

The UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs Undergraduate Program invites you to a conversation with Judith Heumann and Fernando Torres-Gil. The conversation will focus on how individuals and organizations can move beyond disability allyship to engage in coalition building and adopt an intersectional approach to policy making. This session is open to student leaders pursuing careers in public service who are interested in examining the intersections of disability, public service, and advocacy. Participants are invited to submit questions to help guide the conversation.

The event will have CART captioning, ASL interpretation, and be recorded.

For questions about the event, please email undergraduateinfo@luskin.ucla.edu.

For a full schedule of the UCLA Regents’ Lecture with Judith Heumann, click here.



Register to receive the Zoom meeting link here.



Judith Heumann
About Judith Heumann: Judy is a lifelong advocate for the rights of disabled people. 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.

Her memoir, “Being Heumann: An Unrepentant Memoir of a Disability Rights Activist“, co-authored by Kristen Joiner, was published in 2020. She is also featured in the Oscar-nominated documentary, “Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution“, directed by James LeBrecht and Nicole Newnham. Judy produces a podcast called “The Heumann Perspective“, which features a variety of members from the disability community.

Judy serves on a number of nonprofit boards, including the American Association of People with Disabilities, the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, Humanity and Inclusion and Human Rights Watch. She is also a founding member of the Berkeley Center for Independent Living. Prior to starting the Judith Heumann LLC, she served in the Clinton and Obama administrations.

You can purchase a signed copy of Judith Heumann’s memoir, “Being Heumann: An Unrepentant Memoir of a Disability Rights Activist,” at the UCLA Store here.

Fernando Torres-Gil
Fernando M. Torres-Gil’s multifaceted career spans the academic, professional, and policy arenas. He is a Professor of Social Welfare and Public Policy at UCLA, an Adjunct Professor of Gerontology at USC, and Director of the UCLA Center for Policy Research on Aging. His academic contributions have earned him membership in the prestigious Academies of Public Administration, Gerontology and Social Insurance. His research spans important topics of health and long-term care, disability, entitlement reform, and the politics of aging.

In 2010 he received his third presidential appointment (with Senate Confirmation) when President Barack Obama appointed him as Vice Chair of the National Council on Disability, an independent federal agency that reports to the Congress and White House on federal matters related to disability policy. During his public service in Washington, D.C., he also served as Staff Director of the U.S. House Select Committee on Aging. For a complete bio click here.

Torres-Gil on Long-Term Care for an Aging America

Professor of Social Welfare and Public Policy Fernando Torres-Gil co-authored a commentary in The Hill about the growing demand for caretakers as the U.S. population ages. According to one study, the United States has an unmet need for 2.3 million home care workers. Congress is currently debating legislation to improve affordable care by expanding Medicaid coverage for home care services for seniors and people with disabilities, among other measures. Torres-Gil and co-author Jacqueline Angel from the University of Texas, Austin, noted that middle-class and working families are most likely to shoulder the burden of caring for family members, and these populations are most likely to suffer from burnout and caregiver stress. Eventually, the authors hope to see the implementation of a universal long-term care policy, such as those in place in the European Union, South Korea and Japan. “We can do better here in the United States,” they wrote.

Torres-Gil on Facing the Vicissitudes of Aging

In an interview with the American Society on Aging, Professor of Social Welfare and Public Policy Fernando Torres-Gil spoke about his research in the field of aging as well as his own life story. After contracting polio as a child, Torres-Gil described his commitment to education despite going in and out of hospitals for years. “My particular disability opened doors that at that time were not available to low-income, ethnic or minority communities,” he said. When Torres-Gil first got involved in gerontology, the field was primarily focused on the aging of white older adults. His research focused on diversity within the older population, and he has also explored aging as an intergenerational issue. “Aging is not just about older persons,” he explained. “Aging is a lifelong process.” He recommended expanding universal healthcare, guaranteeing minimum income and providing retirement security in order to ensure that young people are able to enjoy their longevity.

Watch the interview

Torres-Gil on Reconstructing the Social Safety Net

Professor of Social Welfare and Public Policy Fernando Torres-Gil was featured in a Next Avenue article about COVID-19 and the future of aging. Torres-Gil spoke at the Milken Institute 2021 Future of Health Summit, which focused on ageism, technology, the impact of COVID-19 on older adults, and solving social issues with an intergenerational approach. “I’d like to think that the pandemic is pushing us, forcing us to reframe, redefine and reconfigure what kind of society we want,” Torres-Gil said. “One of the great silver linings is that we began to realize that everyone matters and we need and want to reconstruct both the social safety net and its social contract.” After observing ableism and ageism during the pandemic, Torres-Gil said that one of the great challenges for society will be informing and educating young people to stop seeing elderly and disabled people as expendable and realize that they, too, will grow old someday.

Torres-Gil on Collective Responsibility to Support Elderly

Professor of Social Welfare and Public Policy Fernando Torres-Gil was featured in a Covering Health article about developing policies to support aging populations. While advances in public health and medicine have increased the average life expectancy for humans, age- and health-related inequalities persist. Communities of color are especially vulnerable to social determinants of health and often have significantly lower life expectancies than other Americans. “If any good has come out of the pandemic, it may be that we are at a rare moment of opportunity for a paradigm shift moving away from individual to more collective responsibility,” Torres-Gil said. “One of the benefits of this great new era is that if we do all the right things, we have the real possibility to live a good long life, well into our 80s, 90s, and to be centenarians.”

Torres-Gil Highlights Generational Impact of COVID-19

Professor of Public Policy and Social Welfare Fernando Torres-Gil was interviewed by Next Avenue about the generational impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Older adults have experienced a heavy toll, and Torres-Gil argued that the failure to protect our oldest and most vulnerable communities is indicative of a flawed system. “We recognize that your ZIP code, race, income and education level matter when it comes to who is most likely to pay the price during this pandemic,” he said. As part of California’s Master Plan on Aging Task Force, Torres-Gil has spent the last few years working on ways to better prepare the state for its growing population of older adults. “If we use a holistic perspective — one that takes a lifespan approach — we can increase equity and intergenerational cohesion,” he said. “With understanding and commitment, we can get there, and I hope that will be a positive outcome of this very difficult time.”

Torres-Gil on Building a California for All Ages

Professor of Social Welfare and Public Policy Fernando Torres-Gil was featured in a Forbes article about Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Master Plan for Aging. The number of Californians age 60 and older is expected to nearly double from 6 million in 2010 to 11 million in 2030. One in five older adults in the state is living in poverty and older adults comprise the fastest-growing group of homeless individuals in California, Torres-Gil said. The Master Plan was also shaped by the COVID-19 pandemic, including recommendations to avoid prioritizing younger people with COVID-19 over older ones and acknowledging the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on older adults. “The pandemic really dramatized that certain populations were at terrible risk, especially Black and brown communities, low-income communities, older adults, nursing homes and skilled nursing facilities, and persons with disabilities and chronic conditions,” Torres-Gil said.

Time to Invest in the American People, Torres-Gil Writes

Professor of Social Welfare and Public Policy Fernando Torres-Gil co-authored a piece in the San Antonio Express News about the need for a new federal program to aid recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic and ensuing economic recession have exacerbated existing inequalities in the United States. During the Great Depression, New Deal programs and private investment in public enterprises helped promote economic recovery. According to Torres-Gil, President-elect Joe Biden has an “opportunity to create new economic policies for a healthier America and a social compact in which we can all value equity.” Torres-Gil described a “massive federal infrastructure spending bill — akin to a Marshall Plan — that creates more jobs, helps small businesses, emphasizing green industry as well as the hardest hit health and senior care sectors.” He recommended designing a new social contract that assures all Americans basic health care coverage, minimum income in old age, employment and caregiver support.

Torres-Gil on Biden’s Plans for Older Americans

Professor of Social Welfare and Public Policy Fernando Torres-Gil was featured in a Forbes article about President-elect Joe Biden’s plans for improving Medicare, Social Security and other income security policies that will have a large impact on older Americans. Panelists at the 11th annual Journalists in Aging Fellows Program recommended an intergenerational framework to shift the focus from the needs of people over 50 and instead see all issues as aging issues. “What I am suggesting for our generation [of baby boomers] is not only must we be advocates whether it is health security, retirement security, pension reform, protecting Social Security or protecting Medicare and Medicaid, but we must find ways to drill down and begin to represent the interests of younger, emerging, ethnic minority populations,” said Torres-Gil, director of the Center for Policy Research on Aging at UCLA Luskin. “Otherwise, I fear we may see greater incidents of generational tension, exacerbated by racial and ethnic tensions.”