Women's History Month 2023

Celebrating Women's History Month: eight inspiring women with disabilities

Eight inspiring women with disabilities

Did you know that each year, a presidential proclamation declares March to be Women’s History Month in the United States? Did you also know that March 8 is International Women’s Day – first declared by the United Nations in 1975?

This month is all about recognizing the contributions and achievements of women throughout history and in contemporary society. We’re joining in the celebration by shining a light on eight inspiring women with disabilities who have achieved amazing things, and who continue to advocate for change.

Judy Heumann

Judy Heumann is an internationally recognized advocate who is widely regarded as “the mother” of the disability rights movement. She contracted polio as a child and began to use a wheelchair for mobility. Faced with discrimination as early as five years old, she has spent her life breaking down barriers for the disability community.

Judy founded the disability rights group Disability in Action (DIA) at the age of 22. She and the DIA were a prominent force that led to the development and implementation of key legislation for disability rights. This includes Section 504, the Individuals with Disabilities Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

In 1983, she co-founded the World Institute of Disability. From 1993 to 2001, she served as the US Assistant Secretary for the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services in the Department of Education. She was the World Bank’s first Adviser on Disability and Development (2002-2006), and served as the first Special Advisor for International Disability Rights in the US Department of State throughout the Obama administration.

Haben Girma

Haben Girma is a civil rights attorney who advocates for disability rights. In 2013, she became the first person with deafblindness to graduate from law school, finishing her degree at Harvard Law. She is also a public speaker who travels the US, challenging perceptions of the disability community in the media. She has been featured in Forbes “30 Under 30” and has made appearances on NBC and NPR.

Collette Divitto

Collette Divitto is a business owner and author with Down Syndrome. She owns and operates Collettey’s Cookies in Connecticut, which has been featured on Peacock’s Born for Business series.

After attending college at Clemson University, she found it difficult to break into the job market. She attributed this to employers overlooking her because of her disability, so she decided to make a change. Proving that people with disabilities are just as capable as everyone else, she opened her business and continues to create job opportunities for people with disabilities.

Tammy Duckworth

Tammy Duckworth, wearing a sleek black jacket and dress. She is smiling and looking directly at the camera.


Senator Tammy Duckworth represents Illinois in the US Senate. She is also a retired Army National Guard lieutenant colonel and Purple Heart recipient. Tammy lost both of her legs and some use of her right arm after her helicopter was struck by a rocket propelled grenade during the Iraq war.

Among the number of history-making firsts to her name, she is the first female helicopter pilot to lead a combat mission, first double amputee of the Iraq war, first Thai-American woman to be elected to the US Congress, first woman with a disability to be elected to the House and Senate, first female senator to use a wheelchair and first senator to give birth while in office.

Jillian Mercado

Jillian Mercado is a model and disability rights advocate. She was one of the first ever models with a physical disability. It’s important to her to use her platform to raise awareness for disability rights, while breaking down barriers for her community.   

As a teenager, she was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy. The lack of representation of the disability community prompted her to forge a career in fashion. Initially behind the scenes, it wasn’t long before she signed up for her first modeling job – an ad campaign for Diesel Jeans. Since, she has signed with IMG Models and booked with the likes of Beyonce, Target, Tommy Hilfiger and Yves Saint Laurent. She has also appeared on the catwalk at New York Fashion Week.   

Mary Temple Grandin

Mary Temple Grandin is a highly regarded professor of animal sciences at Colorado State University. She was one of the first scientists to discover animal sensitivities to visual distractions, and her research has been vital to the humane treatment of animals in handling facilities. She is also one of the first people to speak out about her experience with autism.

She has written many books, both about her personal experiences and professional research. In 2010, she was named one of Time Magazine’s most influential people, and in 2017 was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

Andrea Dalzell

Andrea Dalzell wearing her purple nurses uniform, sitting on the floor next to her wheelchair. She is looking confidently at the camera with her arms folded.


Andrea Dalzell is a Registered Nurse and passionate healthcare advocate living in New York. She was diagnosed with transverse myelitis at a young age and was using a wheelchair full-time by the age of 12.

Growing up, Andrea had a dream to become a nurse. She earned her associate’s and bachelor’s degree in nursing; however, found it difficult to find a job due to her disability. In 2015, she was named Ms Wheelchair New York, using the platform to raise awareness about people with disabilities. After 76 interviews, she achieved her goal and became the first Registered Nurse who uses a wheelchair in New York State. 

Dame Evelyn Glennie

Dame Evelyn Glennie is a Scottish virtuoso percussionist. She began losing her hearing at eight and by 12 was completely deaf. Not to be deterred from her love of music, she taught herself to hear with different parts of her body by feeling the vibrations of instruments. She often performs barefoot so she can better feel the vibrations, using them to guide her music.

She performs on an international level and has worked with world renowned artists and productions. This includes Bjork, Bobby McFerrin, Mark Knopfler and the Royal Shakespeare Company. Evelyn opened the 2012 Olympic games in London, was named one of two laureates for the Polar Music Prize in 2015, and was named Chancellor of Robert Gordon University in 2021.