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International Women’s Day 2024: Pioneers and Advocates

In celebration of International Women’s Day and beyond, we want to shine a spotlight on some of the remarkable women from the disability community who have paved the way for rights, representation, and inclusion. These women have transcended barriers, challenged societal perceptions, and advocated for change, inspiring generations. Their contributions span across various fields such as advocacy, sports, arts, technology, and more, demonstrating the incredible impact of their leadership and resilience.

Pioneers, Activists and Leaders

The list below represents just a small sampling of the countless women who dedicate their lives to advancing the rights, representation, and well-being of the disability community worldwide.

Alice Sheppard – A dancer and choreographer who creates movement that challenges conventional understandings of disabled and dancing bodies. Founder of Kinetic Light, a project that explores the intersections of disability, dance, design, identity, and technology.

Alice Wong – An activist, media maker, and consultant. She is the founder of the Disability Visibility Project, an online community dedicated to creating, sharing, and amplifying disability media and culture.

Bonnie Brayton – As the National Executive Director of DAWN (Disabled Women’s Network Canada), Brayton focuses on ending the poverty, isolation, discrimination, and violence experienced by Canadian women with disabilities and Deaf women.

Cheri Blauwet – A Paralympic wheelchair racer and a physician specializing in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. She has won multiple medals in the Paralympic Games and advocates for the inclusion of people with disabilities in sports and physical activity.

Corbett O’Toole – An activist and author, O’Toole has focused on disability rights and LGBTQ+ issues. Her work includes contributions to disability studies and advocating for accessible healthcare for disabled people.

Dame Evelyn Glennie – A Scottish virtuoso percussionist who is profoundly deaf. Glennie has a successful international solo career and is a leading commissioner of new works for solo percussion, demonstrating that hearing impairment is not a barrier to achieving musical excellence.

Diana Elizabeth Jordan – An actress, director, and producer with cerebral palsy. Jordan uses her platform and work to challenge perceptions about disability in the arts and to advocate for the inclusion of disabled artists in the entertainment industry.

Eliza Hull – An Australian musician, writer, and disability advocate, Hull is known for her work on the ABC series “We’ve Got This: Parenting with a Disability” and advocates for the representation of disabled parents.

Emily Ladau – A passionate disability rights activist, writer, and speaker, Ladau’s work focuses on exploring disability identity and examining how society perceives the disabled community.

Frida Kahlo (1907-1954) – Although more commonly known for her art, Kahlo is a significant figure in the disability community for her honest portrayal of her physical struggles and pain through her paintings, making her a symbol of resilience and creativity in the face of adversity.

Haben Girma – The first Deafblind graduate of Harvard Law School, Girma is an advocate for equal opportunities for people with disabilities. She has worked to break down barriers in education and technology, and she was recognized by President Obama as a White House Champion of Change.

Helen Keller (1880-1968) – An American author, political activist, and lecturer. She was the first deafblind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree. Keller’s activism and writing left a significant impact on the world’s view of individuals with disabilities.

Izzy and Ailbhe Keane – Irish sisters who founded Izzy Wheels, a brand that produces fashionable wheel covers for wheelchairs. Izzy, who has Spina Bifida, wanted her wheelchair to express her personality, leading to the creation of the brand that advocates for fashion inclusivity and self-expression.

Jean Driscoll – An American wheelchair racer known for her eight victories in the Boston Marathon. Driscoll is also an advocate for people with disabilities globally, focusing on empowerment through sports.

Jessica Cox – The world’s first licensed armless pilot, Cox is also the first armless black-belt in the American Taekwondo Association. She is a motivational speaker and advocate for people with disabilities, demonstrating that limitations are only perceptions.

Judy Heumann (1947-2023) – An American disability rights activist who played a pivotal role in the development and implementation of major legislation, including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Katie Piper – After surviving an acid attack that led to major facial injuries, Piper founded the Katie Piper Foundation to help people with burns and scars to rebuild their lives. She is a best-selling author, inspirational speaker, and TV presenter.

Lizzie Velásquez – A motivational speaker, author and producer, Velásquez was born with a rare congenital disease that affects her appearance and health. She has become an advocate against bullying and for positivity and self-acceptance.

Lois Curtis – Institutionalized for most of her teenage years and into her 20s was one of the plaintiffs in the landmark Supreme Court case Olmstead v. L.C., which helped affirm the rights of people with disabilities to live in the community rather than institutions.

Maria Town – The President and CEO of the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD), Town works to increase the political and economic power of people with disabilities. Her efforts include advocating for inclusive digital and community spaces.

Marlee Matlin – An American actress, author, and activist. Matlin won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her debut film role in “Children of a Lesser God” and is the first deaf performer to win an Academy Award.

Maysoon Zayid – An American actress and comedian, who has cerebral palsy. Zayid is known for her advocacy for disability rights and for using humor to break down stereotypes about disabled people.

Mia Mingus – A writer, educator, and community organizer for disability justice and transformative justice. Mingus speaks about disability, adoption, and the intersections of race, class, and gender.

Minda Dentler – An athlete and polio survivor. Dentler became the first female hand cyclist to complete the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii. She speaks on resilience, empowerment, and overcoming obstacles, inspiring many within and beyond the disability community.

Patty Berne – A co-founder of Sins Invalid, a performance project that celebrates artists with disabilities, centralizing artists of color and LGBTQ+/gender-variant artists. Berne’s work focuses on themes of disability justice, exploring the intersections of race, gender, and sexuality.

Rebecca Cokley – A senior fellow for disability policy at the Center for American Progress and former executive director of the National Council on Disability, Cokley has spent her career working towards disability justice and advocating for inclusive policies.

Rosemarie Garland-Thomson – A scholar in disability studies and bioethics. She has contributed extensively to the development of the field through her work on the social theory of disability, focusing on cultural perceptions and representations of disability.

Ruth Madeley – A British actress who has become a prominent figure in advocating for better representation of disabled people in the film and television industry. Madeley, who uses a wheelchair due to Spina Bifida, has starred in various productions and spoken out about the importance of authentic portrayal and opportunities for disabled actors.

Simone Aspis – A British activist and campaigner for the rights of people with learning disabilities. Aspis has been involved in various campaigns and organizations aimed at improving the rights and lives of disabled people.

Sinead Burke – An Irish writer, academic, influencer, and disability rights activist. Burke is known for her work in advocacy for inclusive design and has spoken at numerous international platforms about the importance of accessibility in fashion and design.

Tanni Grey-Thompson – A retired British wheelchair racer, a parliamentarian, and a television presenter. She is one of the most successful disabled athletes in the UK, having won 11 Paralympic gold medals, as well as six London Marathon victories.

Vandana Gopikumar – Co-founder of The Banyan and The Banyan Academy of Leadership in Mental Health (BALM) in India, Gopikumar has worked tirelessly to provide care, support, and advocacy for mental health and disability rights.


Continue the Work

These pioneering women have laid foundational stones in the journey towards a more inclusive and equitable world for people with disabilities. Through their tireless advocacy, creativity and leadership, they have illuminated the path for future generations, challenging us to dismantle barriers and embrace diversity in all its forms.

On International Women’s Day and every day, we celebrate their achievements and the profound impact they have had and continue to have on society. Their stories remind us of the power of resilience, the importance of visibility, and the necessity of inclusion in creating a world where everyone can thrive.

Share the names of other women making a difference with AmeriDisability on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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