10 Women Changing the Way We View Disability

10 Women Changing the Way We View Disability


May 17, 2018

In no way should a disability define one's right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

While much progress has been made, much more remains. According to Pew Research Center, those living with disabilities earned less than 70% of the median earnings for those without a disability. That's why MAKERS is raising our voice for equality, increased opportunity and inclusivity for those living with disabilities in honor of International Day of People with Disabilities. Because when we demand equal pay, equal healthcare, equal opportunity and equal rights, that includes women and men living with disabilities of every race, religion, sexual orientation, and economic background.

Today, more than 27 million women in the United States live with a disability, which the CDC defines as "any condition of the body or mind that makes it more difficult for the person with the condition to do certain activities and interact with the world around them."

In honor of International Day of People with Disabilities, MAKERS is shining a spotlight on 10 amazing women who are changing the conversation around disability and lifting up their communities.


Retired WNBA champion and MVP Tamika Catchings has four Olympic gold medals, 10 WNBA All-Star appearances, and a congenital hearing impairment. Catchings, however, refuses to be defined by what others think she can't do—in fact, she's adamant that what makes her different off the basketball court has also made her better on it. "I think not being able to hear at 100 percent capacity, you almost have a sixth sense," Catchings said in her MAKERS interview. "You kind of see things happen before they happen." In addition to her incredible basketball career, Catchings also serves on the Board of Advisors at Oath (the parent company to MAKERS) and she's the founder of the Catch The Stars Foundation, a charitable organization that has helped provide academic and athletic support to countless underprivileged children in the U.S.


Harvard Law School never had a student quite like Haben Girma. The first deaf-blind person to earn a degree from the prestigious graduate school, Girma, who lives with both vision and hearing impairments, was inspired to pursue a legal career in part because she was hungry. While an undergrad student at Lewis & Clark College, she would often eat whatever was given to her at the cafeteria until she finally asked for an emailed menu to print out on a Braille machine. When the menu was delivered infrequently, she talked to the food services manager and reminded them that under the American Disabilities Act, they were required to make a reasonable effort to accommodate those in the community. They quickly recommitted to helping her, and she realized she wanted to use her voice to advocate for those like herself who weren't given a chance. In turn, she herself has received recognition for her accomplishments: President Barack Obama named her as a White House Champion of Change; Forbes included her on its 2016 30 under 30 list; and the Hellen Keller Services for the Blind appointed her to its national Board of Trustees.


It's only fitting that a political rise as divine as Amanda Folendorf's should happen in Angels Camp, Calif. Folendorf, the first deaf woman mayor in the U.S. and the youngest mayor in the history of the Calaveras County city, was only 31 when she was appointed to the top position in January. Now she intends to use her new position to have an impact far beyond the local level. "My vision," Folendorf said, "is that this platform can be used as a catalyst to start a national conversation of removing stigmas and start a positive platform of supporting anyone that wants to run for office, especially young females and individuals with various abilities."


In 2016, Cristina Sanz became the first Hispanic woman with a disability to win an Emmy Award for her work as a cast member of A&E's Born This Way. The documentary series, which follows the lives of seven young adults born with Down syndrome, became the jumping off point for Sanz to become an accomplished public speaker and vital member of RespectAbility's #RespectTheAbility campaign, which has called attention to individuals like her who have found success following their dreams.


Before Maysoon Zayid, stand-up comedy wasn't performed in Palestine and Jordan, and American Muslim women weren't comedians. But now it's Zayid who's having the last laugh as she entertains her fans around the world with her inspiring, hilarious perspective on living with cerebral palsy. As fearless as she is funny, she has used comedy to shed light on her condition everywhere from the 2016 Republican National Convention to her TED Talk, "I Got 99 Problems ... Palsy is Just One." Along with her game-changing act, Zayid also runs an art program for disabled and orphaned Palestinian refugee children funded almost entirely by her work.


Rebecca Cokley may have been born with achondroplasia, a genetic disorder that caused her dwarfism, but hers is a career filled with towering accomplishments. Under the Obama administration, Cokley has served as Director of Priority Placement for Public Engagement in the Presidential Personnel Office, Principal Deputy at the Administration for Community Living at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and Executive Director of the National Council on Disability. Currently, she is continuing her work on behalf of Americans with disabilities as Senior Fellow of the Center for American Progress.


For Christine Ha, being MasterChef's first blind contestant simply wasn't enough—she had to become its first blind winner. And in 2012, during the cooking show's third season, she did precisely that. In addition to her burgeoning career as a chef and reality TV judge for numerous cooking competitions, Ha is also an accomplished writer who has penned award-winning poetry and a popular cookbook, Recipes From My Home Kitchen: Asian and American Comfort Food.


Fans of the former hit Fox show Glee will recognize Lauren Potter as the actress who played Becky Jackson, one-time member of the Cheerios and sidekick to Sue Sylvester. However, Potter's work outside of Hollywood also deserves recognition: Potter has become an advocate on behalf of individuals with special needs, working with organizations such as Best Buddies International, the Down Syndrome Association, the American Association of People with Disabilities, and the Special Olympics.


Best known for her work in Children of a Lesser God, which made her the first and only deaf performer to win an Academy Award, Marlee Matlin has had a legendary acting career spanning more than three decades and dozens of film and television roles, including portraying ex-FBI agent Jocelyn Turner on Quantico. Beyond acting, Matlin has also authored multiple novels and an autobiography titled I'll Scream Later and has been a prominent member of numerous charities, including Easter Seals, the Children Affected by AIDS Foundation, and the Red Cross Celebrity Cabinet.


Lydia X. Z. Brown is among the foremost activists fighting on behalf of those with autism and other developmental disabilities. Brown has fought the good fight for these individuals in a variety of arenas—everything from organizing outdoor protests to writing and proposing legislation to serving as lead editor of All the Weight of Our Dreams, the first-ever anthology written by people of color with autism. For her previous and current work, she has been honored by the White House, the Society for Disability Studies, the Washington Peace Center, and publications such as Pacific Standard and Mic.

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