Women's History Month: Celebrating Leaders In Accessibility

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Women's History Month: Celebrating Leaders In Accessibility

Posted March 08, 2024


Posted March 08, 2024

"Women's History Month." A stylized line drawing of a woman's profile with a hearing aid.
"Women's History Month." A stylized line drawing of a woman's profile with a hearing aid.

This Women's History Month we are spotlighting the trailblazers in the realm of accessibility and disability rights; celebrating the women who have not only paved the way for more inclusive societies but have also raised the banner high for equality and accessibility. Join us in honoring their achievements and learning from their unparalleled commitment to making the world accessible to all.

Claudia L. Gordon, Esq.

Framed photo of Claudia, a Black woman with short blond hair smiling, with her hand against a painting behind her, wearing a T-shirt that reads "BLACK DISABLED WOMEN MATTER". To the right, text reads "Claudia L. Gordon, Esq. Sr Accessibility Strategy Partner @ T-Mobile."

Claudia L. Gordon is the first deaf Black female attorney in the United States, marking a significant milestone in the fields of law and advocacy for the deaf and hard of hearing. Born in Jamaica, Gordon lost her hearing at the age of eight and later moved to the United States. She pursued higher education with vigor, earning her bachelor's degree from Howard University and her J.D. from the American University Washington College of Law.

Gordon's career has been marked by her dedication to civil rights, particularly in combating discrimination against people with disabilities. She has served in various capacities, including working for the U.S. Department of Labor and the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, where she played a crucial role in policy development and enforcement of laws that ensure equal employment opportunities for people with disabilities. Gordon's work extends beyond her professional achievements; she is also a renowned speaker and advocate, using her platform to raise awareness about disability rights and to inspire positive change. Her journey and accomplishments resonate as a powerful testament to resilience, making her a trailblazer and a source of inspiration for many.

Judith Heumann

Framed photo of Judy, a white woman with shoulder length brown hair smiling, wearing a blue blouse and red-framed glasses. To the right, text reads "Judith Heumann. Disability Rights Activist."

Judith Heumann (1947–2023) was a pioneering activist and leader in the disability rights movement. Born in Philadelphia and later moving to Brooklyn, New York, she contracted polio in her early childhood, which led to her using a wheelchair. This early experience with discrimination, including being denied school access for being considered a "fire hazard," ignited a lifelong commitment to advocacy for people with disabilities. She played a crucial role in the development and passage of landmark legislation, including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, specifically Section 504.

Heumann's work extended globally as she promoted disability rights worldwide, contributing to the adoption of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Co-founder of the World Institute on Disability and the author of "Being Heumann," her memoir, Judy Heumann's legacy is a powerful reminder of the impact of advocacy and resilience in the ongoing fight for equal rights and inclusion.

Maysoon Zayid

Framed photo of Maysoon Zayid, a Middle Eastern woman wearing a blue dress, smiling.  Text reads "Maysoon Zayid. Comedian, Actor, Writer, Advocate."

Maysoon Zayid embodies versatility and advocacy, combining her exceptional talents as a comedian, actress, writer, and disability advocate. A distinguished graduate of Arizona State University and a Princeton Fellow, Maysoon has carved a unique niche for herself in the entertainment industry while fervently championing inclusivity. She co-founded the New York Arab American Comedy Festival and The Muslim Funny Fest, creating a platform for Arab and Muslim comedians. Her insights have enriched audiences nationwide, from her role as a full-time On Air Contributor to Countdown with Keith Olbermann to her engaging columns in The Daily Beast. Maysoon’s influence extends through appearances on major platforms like 60 Minutes, CNN, ABC News, and the Oprah Winfrey Network, culminating in the most-viewed TED Talk of 2014.

Beyond the screen and stage, Maysoon Zayid’s achievements span sold-out comedy shows, notable acting roles, including alongside Adam Sandler in “You Don’t Mess With the Zohan,” and contributions to Glamour magazine. Her participation in New York Fashion Week and a recurring role on “General Hospital” showcase her dynamic presence across different media. As the author of the best-selling memoir “Find Another Dream” and the forthcoming comic book “Shiny Misfits” with Scholastic, Maysoon continues to inspire and entertain, bridging gaps and challenging stereotypes with her boundless creativity and unwavering spirit of advocacy.

Lauren "Lolo" Spencer

A framed photo of Lolo, a Black woman with short purple hair, wearing a colorful, patterned dress, sitting in a power wheelchair, and smiling. Text reads "Lauren “LoLo” Spencer. Author, Actor, Influencer, Advocate."

Lauren "Lolo" Spencer is a dynamic force in the world of entertainment and advocacy, seamlessly blending her talents as a disability lifestyle influencer, model, content creator, and public speaker with her passion for acting. Her performance as Tracy in the critically acclaimed film "Give Me Liberty" earned her an Independent Spirit Award nomination, showcasing her profound ability to bring depth and authenticity to her roles. Currently, Lolo shines in Mindy Kaling’s HBO Max series, "Sex Lives of College Girls," lends her voice to the character Jazmyn "Jazzy" Jones in Disney's "Firebuds," and continues to captivate audiences with guest appearances on some of today's most popular TV shows.

Beyond her accomplishments in entertainment, Lolo has been recognized as one of "50 Women Making the World a Better Place in 2021," a testament to her influence and commitment to making a positive impact. With the launch of Live Solo, a lifestyle brand aimed at young adults with disabilities, Lolo is at the forefront of promoting independence and self-empowerment. Her work not only entertains but also educates and inspires, making Lolo Spencer a true advocate for change and inclusivity in both the digital and real world.

Joyce Bender

Framed photo of Joyce Bender, a white woman with curly ear-length hair, wearing red-framed glasses, smiling. Text reads "Joyce Bender. Founder of Bender Consulting Services, Inc."

Joyce Bender is a renowned advocate for disability employment whose work centers around increasing workplace inclusivity for people with disabilities. As the founder and CEO of Bender Consulting Services, Inc., Joyce has facilitated employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities, partnering with various sectors to ensure this underrepresented group gains access to competitive career paths. Her commitment stems from personal adversity; having survived two life-threatening seizures due to epilepsy, Joyce channels her experiences into a fervent drive to advocate for disability rights and employment. Her company is at the forefront of promoting diversity and inclusion in the workforce, demonstrating the valuable contributions individuals with disabilities can make in professional settings.

Expanding her advocacy, Joyce Bender also founded and serves as CEO of the Bender Leadership Academy, a non-profit organization dedicated to smoothing the transition into the workforce for youth and young adults with disabilities. Through this initiative, Joyce aims to equip the next generation with the skills and confidence needed for successful careers, addressing a critical gap in employment readiness. Her leadership and contributions have not gone unnoticed; she has received several accolades, including the 2003 New Freedom Initiative Award from the Bush administration, and has chaired the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD). Joyce's voice reaches a wide audience through her internet radio show, "Disability Matters with Joyce Bender," where she tackles significant issues impacting the disability community. Through both her businesses and advocacy efforts, Joyce Bender is not just a leader in disability employment but a driving force for creating a more inclusive society where every individual is empowered to achieve their career aspirations.

Gabby Giffords

Framed photo of Gabby Giffords, a white woman with shoulder-length light brown hair, wearing dark-rimmed glasses, smiling. Text reads "Gabby Giffords. Former U.S. Congresswoman."

Gabby Giffords, a former U.S. Representative from Arizona, is a symbol of resilience and courage in the face of adversity. As a former U.S. Representative for Arizona's 8th congressional district, Giffords' career was marked by her dedication to public service and her commitment to issues such as healthcare reform, renewable energy, and military veterans' support. On January 8, 2011, her life took a dramatic turn when she was the victim of an assassination attempt at a constituent meeting in Tucson, Arizona. This left her with severe brain injuries and was the beginning of a long and challenging recovery process. Despite the severity of her injuries, Gabby's spirit and determination remained unbroken. Her remarkable journey of rehabilitation, which involved relearning how to walk and speak, has inspired countless individuals across the nation and the world. Gabby's unwavering commitment to public service and her indomitable will to overcome obstacles has made her an enduring figure of strength and perseverance.

In the aftermath of the shooting, Gabby Giffords and her husband, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, founded Giffords, an organization committed to saving lives from gun violence. Gabby has become a leading voice in the fight for gun safety laws through her advocacy work, leveraging her personal experience and platform to push for meaningful legislative change. Her efforts aim not only to honor the victims of gun violence but also to prevent future tragedies by promoting responsible gun ownership and strengthening background checks. Gabby's transformation from a public servant to a global advocate for peace and safety exemplifies her dedication to positively impacting the world, proving that it's possible to forge a path of hope and action even in the wake of tragedy.

Alisa Smith

Framed photo of Alisa Smith, a white woman with long wavy brown hair, smiling. Text reads "Alisa Smith. Accessibility Evangelist @ AudioEye."

Alisa Smith is a veteran accessibility advocate bringing over two decades of rich experience in technology that spans design, development, and quality assurance within diverse sectors, including digital marketplaces, automotive, and financial services. As the Accessibility Evangelist at AudioEye, Alisa leverages her vast expertise to champion accessible digital experiences. She collaborates closely with communities of people with disabilities, ensuring that user experiences meet accessibility standards. Her responsibilities extend beyond mere evaluation and validation; she provides strategic guidance to businesses, helping them create more inclusive environments and develop accessible solutions that benefit a broader audience.

Embarking on her web accessibility journey in the mid-90s after acquiring her first home computer, Alisa began teaching herself HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. What started as a means to connect with family became a fervent career dedicated to enhancing web accessibility. Today, she is committed to guiding businesses in recognizing the critical need to make digital content accessible and easily discoverable, striving towards a universally accessible internet. Alisa's dedication is rooted in her conviction that technology can eliminate barriers and foster a more inclusive world, a belief she practices daily in her work. Her journey from a self-taught enthusiast to a key figure in accessibility underscores the transformative power of technology and the importance of creating an inclusive digital landscape.

Mariella Paulino-Peralta

Framed photo of Mariella Paulino-Peralta, an Afro-Latina woman with shoulder-length black hair, smiling. Text reads "Mariella Paulino-Peralta, Senior Advocacy and Social Media Marketing Manager @ AudioEye."

Mariella Paulino-Peralta is a trailblazer in the world of accessibility, merging her personal experiences with a profound professional commitment to creating inclusive environments. Her journey into accessibility advocacy began in 2014, following a nerve-racking encounter with law enforcement that highlighted the challenges faced by individuals with hearing disabilities. This pivotal moment propelled her to pursue a Master's degree at Georgetown University, where she delved into the interactions between people with hearing disabilities and their surroundings. In 2019, Mariella founded Project Hearing, aiming to foster a supportive community for people with hearing disabilities by sharing technology, best practices, and insights into the nuances of deafness. Mariella's dedication to accessibility inclusion has taken her to speak at prestigious platforms such as The United Nations, Harvard University, and the NY Tech Meetup, making significant strides in promoting awareness and implementing change.

Now serving as the Sr. Advocacy and Social Media Marketing Manager at AudioEye, Mariella continues championing digital accessibility and inclusion. With a rich background in technology as a software developer, designer, and project manager, she leverages her experiences to break down barriers in digital access, a crucial mission given that less than 3% of the internet is currently accessible. Her work extends beyond advocacy, embodying the creation of systems and tools that enhance interaction with the digital world for people with disabilities. Mariella's story is a testament to the power of personal experiences in fueling a lifelong commitment to creating a more inclusive and accessible world, from her beginnings in Santo Domingo to her impactful work with AudioEye, and her continuous pursuit of leveraging technology to improve lives.

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