Judith Gilliom; Fought for Those With Disabilities

 Judith C. Gilliom became paralyzed from the neck down in 1970.
Judith C. Gilliom became paralyzed from the neck down in 1970.
Sunday, October 19, 2008

Judith C. Gilliom, 65, who led the first department-level disability program at the Defense Department, died Oct. 15 at Suburban Hospital from the effects of a stroke. She lived in Wheaton.

Ms. Gilliom was paralyzed from the neck down in 1970, when she fell in her home and struck the back of her neck on a kitchen stool. After a year of rehabilitation, she returned to her job as editor of Hearing & Speech Action, a publication of the National Association for Hearing and Speech Action.

She reached a turning point, she said in a 1975 article in Ms. Magazine, when she accepted her fate as a disabled person.

"I cannot overemphasize the importance of giving up hope," she said. "Facts are facts. Wishful thinking is a waste of time."

She used motorized wheelchairs and specialized devices to help her with writing, eating and other everyday tasks.

In the late 1970s and early '80s, Ms. Gilliom worked for the old U.S. Civil Service Commission and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, where she wrote documents that helped form the basis of a federal affirmative action program for people with disabilities.

In 1983, she joined the Defense Department, where she had a key role in making building standards and computer and electronic accommodations meet the needs of people with disabilities. She also helped develop programs for disabled hiring and career advancement. Many of those programs were adopted by other federal agencies.

At the Defense Department, Ms. Gilliom was also Asian Pacific program manager for 21 years and served as interim manager of the Federal Women's Program. She was also a member of the U.S. Access Board, an independent federal agency devoted to accessibility for people with disabilities.

She received two Civilian Career Service Awards from the secretary of defense and the Outstanding Service Award of the Federal Asian Pacific American Council. She was named to the Defense Department's civilian employee hall of fame.

Judith Carr Gilliom was born in Indianapolis and graduated in 1964 from Northwestern University, where she was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. She received a master's degree in English from the University of Pennsylvania in 1966. She came to Washington in 1969, when she joined the National Association of Hearing and Speech Action.

She served on the Montgomery County Division of Transit Services' taxicab commission and was on a committee to help make Arena Stage accessible to the disabled.

Survivors include her companion of 33 years, Burton Rothleder of Wheaton; and a brother, David Gilliom of Alexandria.

-- Matt Schudel

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