7 Women with Disabilities who You Should Know

By Makayla Sundquist

Bada** and disabled? Can those two words coincide? Oh, they most definitely can. Even though women with disabilities are typically portrayed negatively in the media, real life women are combating ableism (discriminating against persons with disabilities) and making history. Here are 7 women with disabilities whose names and stories you need to learn…

  Melissa Stockwell

Althete Melissa Stockwell celebrates her victory holding an American flag. She has an amputated leg and competes in triathlons
Stockwell celebrates a victory in Auckland, New Zealand. Photo via her website

Melissa Stockwell is a Paralympic athlete who competes for the United States as a triathlete. She has won gold in multiple world championships. However, Stockwell was famous long before her athlete career. She was the first American female soldier to lose a limb in the Iraq war. Her left leg was amputated after a car bomb in 2004. She started competing in triathlons after having her leg amputated. Talk about bada**!

            Judy Heumann

Huemann sits in her automized wheelchair giving a TEDx talk.
Huemann gives a TEDx talk describing the need to continue fighting for disability rights. Photo via youtube.

Next on the list of totally awesome disabled women is Judy Heumann. Heumann became the first teacher in New York City to teach in a wheelchair. She also played a critical role in the passing of Section 504, the first civil rights protection for people with disabilities. What Section 504 does is prohibit programs that receive federal funding to discriminate against people with disabilities. She currently works as a Special Advisor for International Disability Rights. Go Judy!


            Claudia Gordon

Claudia Gordon delivers a speech in sign language wearing a white dress.
Gordon delivers the opening keynote speech in American Sign Language at a conference for deaf Americans. Photo by the White House archives.

If you have not heard about Claudia Gordon, you need to (which is why you are reading this blog post). Gordon is the first deaf female African American attorney, but there’s more. Gordon is Chief of Staff in the Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs. This means that she makes sure that federal government contractors do not discriminate against people with disabilities or anyone else. She has also worked in the White House Office of Public Engagement as a disability group connection.

            Stella Young

Young delivers her TEDx in Sydney in 2014. Photo by TED.com

Young is not American. However, I believe her activism and message is too important not to include on this posting. Young has had a career in media that has allowed her to introduce viewers to “inspiration porn”- which is the tendency to see people with disabilities as “feel goods” and not actual people. Young has also edited the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s online magazine Ramp Up, and hosted Australia’s first disability program No Limits. She also won the Best Newcomer award for her one-woman show, Tales from the Crip, at the 2014 Melbourne International Comedy Festival. She also performed a TEDx talk in Sydney titled I’m Not Your Inspiration, Thank You Very Much. Young died in 2014, and the disability community lost a power and intelligent voice. Here is her letter to her 80-year-old self if you can’t get enough of her wisdom and wit.

             Dr. Danielle Sheypuk

Sheypuk sits in her motorized wheelchair outside the screening of a show in New York.
Sheypuk attends the “Kelly and Cal” screening in New York. Photo by Jason Carter.

This is the first time I have heard of Sheypuk, and I am so blown away by her activism. Sheypuk was born with spinal muscular atrophy and has used a wheelchair since childhood. She is a licensed psychologist practicing in New York City. She is also a model and became Ms. Wheelchair NY, a beauty pageant for women in wheelchairs. Her New York TEDx talk discussed the stigma disabled women face in the dating scene. Her message also targets the media and the lack of disabled models. She says that society’s portrayal of disabled women makes dating difficult because partners assume they cannot have sex, be mothers, or have happy lives.

            Zahra Nemati

Nemati pulls back her bow across her face as she prepares to shoot in the London Paralympics.
Nemati positions herself to shoot her bow in the London Paralympics in 2012. Photo by Harry Engels.

Nemati is Iranian, but she made history and I wanted to include her. Nemati is a Paralympic athlete who competes in archery. When she won gold in London in 2012 she was the first Iranian woman, abled or disabled, to win a gold medal at the Olympics. Before she was paralyzed after a car accident, she was a Tae Kwon Do black belt. Her spinal cord injury forced her to adjust her path, and after only six months of learning archery, she won bronze at the National Championships (against able-bodied archers)!

            Hailey Dawson

Hailey Dawson throws out the first pitch with her 3D printed hand at a baseball game in June.
Dawson throws the opening pitch between the Washington Nations and the Texas Rangers at National’s Park in June. Photo by Greg Flume.

So, this last woman isn’t technically a woman, (because she is only 7 years old), but I fell in love with her story and I think you will too. In case you have not heard, Dawson is a young girl who was born without three fingers on her right hand, due to a condition called Poland Syndrome. She loves baseball. Consequently, not having those fingers made it difficult to throw. After having a hand 3D printed by the University of Nevada at Las Vegas engineering department, Dawson has decided that her goal is to throw out the first pitch at every baseball stadium. Dawson even got to throw out the first pitch at game four of the World Series. An interesting fact about Dawson is that she has seven prosthetic hands and likes to have them signed by the players at each stadium she visits. Dawson isn’t only a star pitcher, but she is actively raising awareness about Poland Syndrome and letting others know that having a 3D printed hand is affordable.

I could have written a book about the women with disabilities who are changing the world. Hopefully this article inspires you to continue with your own research and that you will see disabled women as the powerful, intense, smart and dominating women they truly are.




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