As we come upon the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act this July, I am filled with pride for how far the Disability Community has come over the past three decades, and like every anniversary that has come before, I know we have so much further to go. This year is different, however, because I have resolved to be a greater part of the path forward by helping to mentor young women with disabilities.
We always say that “the youth is our future” and this is undoubtedly true, and I want our future to have more disabled women leading us. Not just in the Disability Rights movement, but in every movement, industry, and forefront there is in our nation and in the world. To bring more disabled women to the forefront tomorrow, we need to mentor disabled young women and girls today.
Studies have consistently shown that disabled youth have lower high school graduation rates and higher unemployment rates than nondisabled people, but mentoring programs rarely focus on helping youth with disabilities. Additionally, researchers have found that “students with disabilities rarely have opportunities to meet adults with disabilities with the potential to be significant positive influences in their lives.” However, the need for girls with disabilities to have positive disabled role models and mentors is even greater because there is less visibility of successful disabled women in our culture, there are more limited “socially sanctioned roles” for women with disabilities in our communities, and women with disabilities are doubly marginalized, and face more barriers than disabled boys and men.
I know that I really could have benefited from having disabled women as mentors when I was a teenager. I felt alone and like I needed to be a pioneer in almost everything I did simply because I was a girl in a wheelchair who wanted to be a lawyer and I had never seen a woman with a disability in a successful career role. If I had a disabled woman mentor to help guide me, I know I would have felt more confident and probably would not have had to search so much for resources just to get basic accommodations to finish high school and go to college. Looking back, I am surprised I did not give up, especially when my high school did not have an elevator. They made me go outside of the school during harsh New York winters to go around the school in order to get to the lower level to go to some of my classes. I had the right to have my classes moved to be accessible, but I did not know that, so I didn’t ask for it. Instead, I rolled through the snow between classes every day.
I do not want the next generation of disabled girls to struggle. I want them to confidently take the reins and lead us to a more diverse, more innovative, and better world. I know they can do that if they have positive disabled women as role models and mentors. That is why, on the 30th anniversary of the ADA, I am committed to helping disabled girls and young women by creating more opportunities for effective mentorship. In the coming months I will be telling you about a new program that I am developing with other disabled women to help the next generation of girls with disabilities become leaders! Keep a lookout for more news in future blogs!
About Stephanie Woodward: Stephanie is a brand ambassador for Quantum Rehab® and works as a disability rights activist. She has received many awards for helping communities become more accessible, as well as for her actions in fighting for the rights of disabled individuals as it relates to Medicaid and other support services. Click here to learn more about Stephanie.