Six Influential Women in the Disability Community
1. Alice Wong
Born in 1974, Alice Wong has a progressive neuromuscular disease that slowly weakens her muscles. Her parents were told she would not live beyond 18. Today at age 48, she is a self-described "disabled cyborg," as she writes in her 2022 memoir. Wong is best known for founding the Disability Visibility Project (DVP), a digital platform that aims to amplify the voices of people with disabilities. The project features a podcast, an online community, and other resources that allow people with disabilities to share their stories and advocate for their rights. Wong has been involved in disability advocacy for more than a decade and has worked on various issues, including healthcare, education, and the rights of people with disabilities in the workplace. She has also been a vocal critic of policies that exclude or discriminate against people with disabilities, including the lack of accessibility in public spaces and the removal of healthcare protections for these individuals. To read more about Alice, click here!
2. Selma Blair
Selma Blair is an American actress and disability advocate diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) in 2018. You may know Blair from her roles in movies like“Legally Blonde.” She also competed in “Dancing with the Stars.” Since being diagnosed with MS, she has used her platform to help raise awareness for the disability community. Blair has been open about her challenges, including difficulty walking and talking, and has used her experiences to shed light on the realities of living with a disability.
Blair has worked with the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation to promote awareness and raise funds for research. She has also used her social media platforms to highlight issues faced by people with disabilities and to call for greater representation and inclusivity in the entertainment industry. Through her advocacy work, Blair has become a powerful voice for disability rights and a source of inspiration for many. To read more about Selma, click here!
3. Preethi Srinivasan
Preethi Srinivasan is an award-winning disability rights activist and former international-level cricketer who became paralyzed from the neck down after sustaining a spinal cord injury. She has been a vocal advocate for disability rights, particularly in India. Srinivasan founded SoulFree, an organization that works to improve the quality of life for people with disabilities.
Srinivasan's advocacy work has focused on accessible transportation, employment opportunities, and access to education and healthcare. She has also challenged societal attitudes toward and stereotypes about people with disabilities, advocating for greater representation and recognition of their contributions to society. She is a public speaker, writer, agent of change, and currently a Ph.D. scholar at IIT Madras. Through her work with SoulFree and other organizations, Srinivasan has become a leading voice in the disability rights movement in India and beyond. To read more about Preethi, click here!
4. Alison Stroker
Alison Stroker is a Tony award-winning actress, singer, and activist for disability rights. As the first actress who uses a wheelchair to perform on Broadway, she has been a trailblazer for inclusivity in the arts. She has worked with organizations such as the National Disability Theatre to promote disability-inclusive casting and opportunities for actors and performers with disabilities. Stroker has become a powerful voice for disability rights, challenging societal norms and advocating for greater visibility and representation for people with disabilities in all aspects of society.
In addition to her work in the entertainment industry, she has advocated for disability rights legislation and founded the Be More Heroic initiative, which provides resources and support for young people with disabilities. Stroker has inspired countless individuals with disabilities to pursue their dreams, showing the world that inclusion and accessibility are necessary and enriching for all. To read more about Alison, click here!
5. Andrea Dalzell
Andrea Dalzell is the first registered nurse who uses a wheelchair in New York state. She has been using her platform to advocate for greater accessibility and representation of people with disabilities. After being diagnosed as a child with transverse myelitis, an inflammation of the spinal cord that causes pain, Andrea began using a wheelchair and experienced firsthand the challenges of navigating an inaccessible world. She has been vocal about the need for more accessibility in healthcare, transportation, and public spaces. She has also been involved in efforts to increase the representation of people with disabilities in media and leadership positions. She’s been named New Mobility’s Person of the Year (2021) and awarded the Craig H. Neilsen Visionary Prize, among other honors. Andrea continues to work towards greater inclusivity and equity for people with disabilities. To learn more about Andrea’s work in the disability community, visit her website using the link here!
6. Alana Shepherd
Alana Shepherd co-founded the Shepherd Center, a non-profit hospital in Atlanta, Georgia, that provides world-class clinical care, research, and family support for people experiencing the most complex neurological conditions, including spinal cord and brain injuries, multi-trauma, multiple amputations, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and pain. Alana's advocacy work began after her son, James Shepherd, sustained a spinal cord injury in 1973. Along with her husband, Harold, son James, and physician David Apple, she founded the Shepherd Center in 1975.
With the help of Alana's leadership and tenacity, Shepherd Center has become a world-renowned facility that has treated thousands of patients and helped them to regain their independence and begin again. Alana has also been a strong advocate for disability rights, working to improve accessibility and remove barriers for people with disabilities in the United States. She championed bringing the International Paralympic Games to Atlanta in 1996, changing Olympic/Paralympic history when her efforts led the International Olympic Committee to decree that all cities seeking to be the site of future Olympic Games must include plans and proposed financing for the Paralympics, as well access to the same sites and facilities. In recognition of her contributions, she has received numerous awards and honors. Alana Shepherd's advocacy has had a significant impact on the lives of people with disabilities and has helped to raise awareness of the importance of accessibility and inclusivity.
Written by Lindsey Rieben
Shepherd Center provides world-class clinical care, research, and family support for people experiencing the most complex conditions, including spinal cord and brain injuries, multi-trauma, traumatic amputations, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and pain. An elite center recognized as both Spinal Cord Injury and Traumatic Brain Injury Model Systems, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News as one of the nation’s top hospitals for rehabilitation. Shepherd Center treats thousands of patients annually with unmatched expertise and unwavering compassion to help them begin again.