Empowering Girls with Disabilities

Did you know that there are studies and statistics that track the prevalence of women in leadership positions nationally and globally, but there are not any studies or statistics that track the prevalence of women with disabilities in leadership positions?

As a proud disabled women who is passionate about helping women with disabilities excel and find opportunities to be in leadership roles, I have been searching for information about this topic for a long time and I have come up with one thing: no one is tracking women with disabilities in leadership because there are not enough of us in leadership roles yet. We can change that. 

In order to change that, I began looking into other statistics about women and girls with disabilities, and here’s what I found:

Girls with disabilities are significantly less likely to graduate high school than girls without disabilities and have higher unemployment rates than their nondisabled peers. We can change that. 

People with disabilities are 2 to 4 times more likely to die or be critically injured in a disaster, and women with disabilities are particularly vulnerable. We can change that. 

Disabled girls often do not have disabled adult role models to be positive influences in their lives. We can change that. 

With this information in mind, I got together with my friend Leah Smith, who is also an incredible woman with a disability, and we founded Disability EmpowHER Network, a mentoring and leadership organization aimed at empowering young women with disabilities through transformative learning experiences focused on disaster preparedness and survival. 

Why disaster preparedness? We believe disabled women can lead in all situations, from the boardroom to crisis situations during disasters or pandemics. Whether it’s a hurricane, tornado, fires, or flooding, natural disasters are real and very much a part of the world we live in. As people with disabilities, survival skills in these types of situations are something we need to learn, as survival skills for people with disabilities often are different than survival skills for people without disabilities. 

Research tells us that people with disabilities are 2 to 4 times more likely to die or be critically injured in a disaster, but why? Unfortunately, disabled people are not the first that rescue teams come to look for. The first few hours after a disaster are critical and people with disabilities need to know how to survive for themselves because help is not available and may not be there for a very long time. 

For example, I was part of a relief team in Puerto Rico weeks after Hurricane Maria hit for disabled Puerto Ricans. Four weeks after the hurricane, there was still no power on many parts of the island and we were the very first relief that individuals with disabilities came in contact with.

It is so important that disabled people know how to get through these situations and are equipped with the knowledge and tools to survive. So, we created the Disability EmpowHer Network.

We’re confident the Disability EmpowHer Network will teach these girls basic survival skills and confidence and leadership skills that will impact the rest of their lives. Additionally, we have a mentorship plan in place so that these girls will have a mentor through the following year to support their goals and dreams.  

We are so excited to start empowering young women with disabilities today so that they will be the leaders in our world tomorrow! We are going to change those missing statistics about women with disabilities in leadership positions!

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.