January is National Mentoring Month and it’s no secret that I am passionate about helping girls with disabilities connect with successful disabled women mentors. Girls with disabilities have a greater need for disabled women role models because there is less visibility of successful women with disabilities in our society. Girls with disabilities experience many more barriers than girls without disabilities. Research shows that mentoring relationships have powerful effects on young people. Mentoring helps young people with personal growth and development and provides social and economic opportunities.
When I was young, I did not have any disabled women mentors and I wish I did because I think it would have impacted my life in a big way. When I was about 19 years old, however, I learned about the Disability Community and I finally got to meet incredible women with disabilities who became my mentors and friends. This month, I would like to honor a few of them.
Anita was my first boss when I got a job at an independent living center in Rochester, NY. They hired me as a part-time transportation advocate and I was incredibly lucky to have Anita as my supervisor. Anita has previously served as a transit information agent with the Chicago Transit Authority and she had spent years fighting for access to transportation with the grassroots disability rights group, ADAPT. Anita taught me the law and she taught me how to organize to demand access to transportation. Thanks to Anita, I will always have a passion for transportation access issues.
I met Rebecca when I was a fresh-faced kid in Washington, D.C., and she worked in the Obama administration. Rebecca is bold, unapologetic about taking her space and outrageously fashionable. Disabled and proud, Rebecca’s energy is contagious. She taught me how to network. Rebecca showed me that a disabled woman can have kids and a career and she was there for me when I experienced sexism early in my own career. Thanks to Rebecca, I know that disabled women will experience ableism and sexism in our careers and we will succeed anyway.
I first met Sarah at a National Council on Independent Living Conference in Washington, D.C. Sarah was the Executive Director of the Vermont Independent Living Center when we met (and she still is!) and now she is the president of the National Council on Independent Living. Sarah leads with laughter, kindness and confidence. She is just as comfortable leading in a boardroom as she is blocking traffic when she leads a line of protesters marching in the streets for Disability Rights. Sarah has experienced some of the toughest times I have ever seen anyone go through, from personal loss to leading a national organization through crisis. Yet, she maintains such a positive outlook in her leadership. Her positivity is truly magnetic. Thanks to Sarah, I know that disabled women can lead through all types of adversity and we can lead with laughter, kindness, and confidence.
Thankfully, the Disability Community has filled my life with many incredible disabled women mentors who continue to teach me and help me to grow every single day. I hope that I can help future generations of girls with disabilities in the same way that my mentors have helped me, because when disabled girls lead, we all succeed.
Happy National Mentoring Month!
About Stephanie Woodward: Stephanie is a brand ambassador advisor for Quantum Rehab®, a power wheelchair user 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.