Keith: Welcome to Disability Empowerment Now, Season 2. I'm your host Keith Murfee-DeConcini. Today I will be talking to Stephanie Woodward, the Executive Director of Disability EmpowHer Network and a disability lawyer. Stephanie, welcome to the show.
Stephanie: Thanks so much for having me.
Keith: So, we have not met personally, but I became aware of you in 2017 when I quoted you in one of my academic papers on disability activism, and I sought you out because I wanted to know more about your activism. I'm unsure if I ever actually sent you the final paper, but we became friends and tell me about what you are currently doing.
Stephanie: Well, I would love to see the paper. I don't remember if I read it, but if you wanna send it along, I would love to read it now.
Stephanie: So as you said, I'm the Executive Director of Disability EmpowHer Network. We're an organization run by and for girls and women with disabilities and feminine aligned people, working really hard to help everyone in that demographic to become more confident and have the confidence to lead and believe in themselves as leaders.
Keith: So you are also a lawyer, and I love the tagline, under your Facebook profile picture, which says “a lawyer, but not your lawyer”. Would you mind explaining that?
Stephanie: Sure, I'm sure anyone in any different profession gets lots of people coming to them to ask them questions. For example, my best friend's a nurse and you wouldn't believe the amount of people who are willing to take off their pants to say, “hey, will you look at this?”
And she's like, whoa, well, I'm just having coffee here. So similarly, I'm a lawyer, but I am very likely not your lawyer, which means, I am not able to or willing to answer any legal questions, especially since in the attorney-client privileged area, I can't be giving out legal advice unless of course we have an established relationship.
So I like to be upfront and honest with everyone before they message me because before I had that in my tagline, I will tell you, I got lots of people who I had not talked to since, I don't know middle school, who would tell me, “well, I just got a DUI, what's your advice?” And my advice is get a lawyer.
Keith: So tell me, thank you for the explanation by the way. Tell me what motivated your current job and how did you workshop the name? Because the name of an organization regardless, if it's a non-profit LLC or something else entirely, needs to encapsulate exactly what the organization does and so talk to me about that process and how you came up with the name. What led you to the direction that your organization does?
Stephanie: Sure. So Disability EmpowHer Network, we worked on quite a few different names before landing on that one. I think that it's really important in that it emphasizes exactly what we do. We focus on disability and girls, women and feminine line, people with disabilities. So that's where disability really was important that we put that in the title. EmpowHer really does identify that we work to empower, specifically EmpowHer with the H in it, really helps to identify the population that we're serving. And then the network is really important to us because we don't want to be an institution, we don't want to be a center. We want to be a network, a network of people who are helping each other up, who are always there to rely upon everybody and to just have that loving and supportive community that many girls and women with disabilities have not had access to.
Because often girls, women with disabilities don't have access to peers who can understand them in the same way, we don't graduate from high school at the same rates. We don't go to college at the same rates as non-disabled people. When we are employed, we are significantly unemployed. Actually, we have the highest unemployment rate of men and women with and without disabilities.
And when we are employed, we're significantly underemployed and underpaid. In fact, studies have shown that for every dollar that a non-disabled man makes, a disabled man will make about 65 cents and a disabled woman will make 44 cents; and I'm just not okay with those statistics. So all of that really came together particularly when looking around the disability community. You see a lot of disabled women working in those frontline jobs, but when it comes to being the Executive Directors, we see disabled men or non-disabled women in those roles predominantly. And there's no reason that disabled women can't be leading not only in the disability community, but everywhere.
So we're really here to create that support system to uplift girls and women with disabilities so that they can live to their fullest potential. And of course, it doesn't hurt that the acronym did turn into DEN, which was not lost on me because the den is known as that comfortable space in your home where you can explore different activities, and we want to provide that environment to everyone in our network.
Keith: That's very interesting because the acronym of my podcast it's also, DEN, but thank you for your detailed explanation and you actually answered my next question already. Playing devil's advocate, why does the network need to exist and everything you'd said was a breath of fresh air, and I will let someone else make the argument. “Well why not create a similar network for disabled men.” That is not really important to this topic, the conversation we're having right now. When did you first create and brainstorm this idea?
Stephanie: Well, I created and brainstormed it probably back in like 2018, 2019 and I do wanna say, Keith, you are not the first person to bring up the, what about men?
In fact, many men enjoy bringing up that question and I welcome you to look at the entire history of the disability rights movement. There are many organizations that serve men and women, and if any man wants to start one specifically for men, I completely encourage you to do so, but when it comes to…
Keith: Oh I am sorry. Absolutely. I just wanted to point that out, but thank you for that.
Stephanie: Yeah, no problem. But I was actually inspired. I worked in a pretty hostile environment where I worked under a man who liked to tell me pretty regularly that I was not good enough, and it was just not a happy or comfortable environment. And I realized that looking around lots of women were being told the same thing, not only in my organization, but across the fields we've been told that we aren't good enough. That there is something that disabled women can't do, and we just know that's not true. So when I quit that job, I vowed to never work for a man again.
It's been working out pretty well for me, and with that, I connected with a lot of the people that I had worked with throughout the year saying, “Stephanie, like, let's do something for women. “Let's do something for women.” And actually, Stacy Parks, who was just a giant in the disability community, passed away, and she was such an incredible mentor to so many people. That is when I texted our co-founder Leah Smith that day and I said ”you know what, like, let's stop talking about it and let's do it. We need to provide this for our community.” Girls and women in our community deserve to have incredible disabled women mentors.
So I will say that Stacy's passing was just tragic for our entire community, but it did help us to get that motivation. We needed to stop talking about it and start doing it.
Keith: So it's a relatively new venture that you've started. How are the first few years going and are there surprises along that you didn’t anticipate? Did the brainstorming section match or even exceed what you thought the organization, the Network, sorry, would become and is becoming?
Stephanie: Oh, I would say that everything that has happened has exceeded my wildest dreams. From the very start, we launched in November of 2020. I will say we are a pandemic baby, proud to be and we always knew that one of our biggest programs would be in EmpowHer Camp. We really started the organization with the framework that EmpowHer Camp may be the only thing we ever do. We wanted to grow, but EmpowHer Camp was our pinnacle program, and that is a program available to young leaders, the ages between ages 13 to 18. We take them on a year long mentorship journey where they learn independent living and leadership skills. So, we bring them to the Adirondacks for their first summer. They camp for a week in the woods without any cell phones or anything like that with disabled women mentors. So the only people there are young disabled leaders and then the mentors.
That's it, and it's just a fantastic experience to be able to show these young people that like, you don't need a man to start a fire for you. You don't need a non-disabled person to help you with your personal care needs. Disabled people can do that for you. So we had our mentors helping with attendant care services and our young leaders. The first year we're just shocked by it.
I will never forget, we had one young woman who, quadriplegic CP kind of disability and by the third night it was our director's turn to assist her. And our director is Curran, who is a spinal cord injury manual wheelchair user. This young person just asked, “well, how are you gonna help me? Like, you're in a wheelchair essentially.” And Curran was like, yeah, you too girl, so let's get this done. And she went from not believing that Curran could help her to the next day, this young woman wanted to help us with everything. You could see the spark that it ignited in her that she could do so much more than what she thought she was capable of.
And for the rest of camp, she was asking, “how can I help with this? How can I help make meals? What else can I be doing?” And it was just an incredible switch to see in just a week. And we saw that with all of our young leaders that year after that one week of camping, they work with their mentors for the following year on a community project, and each girl gets to create her community project based on something that she is interested in that has to do with emergency preparedness or response.
So one of our young leaders worked with a domestic violence shelter to help them become more accessible because girls and women with disabilities are more likely to be victims of violence. Another one of our young leaders blew everyone away when she created, or she researched and wrote the first white paper ever on how school districts are ill prepared to help students with disabilities during school shootings.
Keith: Wait, hold on. White paper, did I hear that right? Or did you say write paper?
Stephanie: No, a white paper. So like a research paper, yeah.
Keith: Thanks for clarifying.
Stephanie: And it was amazing. So she did research. She interviewed over 400 students with disabilities and I believe over 200 teachers in districts across the country, about what is the emergency preparedness plan? How are you planning to help students with disabilities during school shootings?
And her white paper really revealed that school districts are doing nothing to help students with disabilities and it is putting students with disabilities at a significantly higher risk during school shootings. It is really important since Columbine, there have been more than 300 school shootings across our nation.
This is a real issue and it's something that students are very afraid of. And I think that's one of the things that I guess shouldn't have surprised me, but when we were talking about what do you want your projects to be, I guess I thought a lot of people were gonna wanna work on how to respond in case there's a hurricane or something.
And this young leader was like, “I'd really like to work on school shootings. Can I do that?” And I was, oh my gosh, yes, absolutely. And her white paper was amazing. So the next year we take all of our young leaders to Washington, D.C. and they get to present their projects to Congress and talk about why disabled women need to be involved in important decision making.
Our young leaders have gotten incredible support from their senator's offices from that. It's been amazing to see how much they've grown and the opportunities that have been put before them. I think more than seventy percent of our young leaders got their first jobs through connections with the Disability EmpowHer Network. Many of them are going to college now, or are still in high school and not ready to go to college. So that was just one program and we have grown significantly since then. I believe we're up to six programs, helping girls and women with disabilities throughout the nation. So we've certainly grown past anything I ever dreamed we would be and I am so thankful for that. And credit it all to disabled women who are continuing to help expand our network and who genuinely want to help lift up the next generation.
Keith: So did I hear you correctly that all of what you just said is based on one facet of the network, one program you have in your network and you have five other programs?
Stephanie: Yes. So that's where we started. I wanna say we have five. I'd double check our website to confirm that, but some other things that we do. We have a letter from a role model that was a really important program that we started right after we launched. We recognize that because girls and women with disabilities don't have access to disabled women in their lives to be positive influences, we have a pen pal program where you can nominate yourself or someone else in your life that has a disability to receive a personalized letter from someone with a similar diagnosis or similarly presenting disability. So for example, we had one girl, I wanna say in South Carolina, who had Arthrogryposis.
She was in fourth grade and one of her biggest worries was that she wouldn't be able to put on makeup when she was a teenager because her arms just simply wouldn't be able to reach her face because of how her Arthrogryposis presents. And we were able to connect her with Sarah Gaber, who is a beauty queen with Arthrogryposis in Florida.
And Sarah was able to write this young girl a letter about the different adaptive makeup techniques that she uses to help her put on her makeup and feel confident about herself. And they have since become pen pals writing back and forth to each other and that is one of the first matches that we made, but we have made so many matches since then and it's just incredible to see that it's not just like eight year olds that want a role model.
We've had women who are fifty six saying, hey, I got diagnosed with MS late in life and I don't know how to adjust. Can you connect me with a role model, so I can learn about this? And absolutely we can. It's just really great to see the connections and the support and that one-on-one time that really does make all of the difference.
So that was one of our other programs that we've had since the start. We've expanded since then. We offer a program called EmpowHer Stories that is a collaboration with the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, where we work with people with spinal cord disabilities. Any girl or woman who wants help developing her story, she can work with our editor who is also a disabled woman and they learn the entire writing and editing process. And then once their blog is finished, it is published on the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation website. So they are now published authors. They can put that link to their blog on their resume or on college applications and we also pay them because the unofficial official motto of Disability EmpowHer Network is that disabled women don't work for free.
Keith: Wow, all of that sounds incredible. Yeah I mean I am just, wow. So you're doing so much, so much good and it's clearly expanded as you'd said, just a few minutes ago, beyond your wildest dreams. What have been some significant challenges or roadblocks that you've encountered that your team has encountered in bringing this network to life?
Stephanie: Well, first thank you. I really appreciate your kind words. I think that sometimes it's easy to not see the impact when you're kind of in the trenches doing the work. So, I really appreciate your kindness there. Some roadblocks, gosh, well, for our first year I was working, I would say a full-time job on this, while also working my full-time job as an attorney.
So our entire first year I was definitely working two full-time jobs, but only being paid for one. And it wasn't until after our first year that we were able to get enough funding where I was able to finally leave my legal job in order to move full-time over as Executive Director. So that was quite a rough first year, but honestly, I expected to do that for the first five years. I would have. I had no idea that we would receive such an outpouring of support and people and foundations and companies that see the value in our work. So that certainly helped us. Some other, let's say, more difficult aspects, but certainly hasn't stopped us in any way, sometimes we have some parents who don't believe in the capabilities of their children.
So we have young people reaching out saying, I want to go
Keith: Wait, wait, hold up. Parents still in this day and age. Still, some parents struggle with believing in the abilities and capabilities of their disabled child or their child with disabilities?
Stephanie: Yeah, I mean, I can't say that I'm surprised by that. I've worked a lot throughout my life in advocacy and the legal world with parents who, let's say, don't give their child the room to be the greatest version of themselves that they can be. So I wasn't particularly surprised that that happened.
I have been disappointed when we had an absolutely incredible applicant who, hands down, would've been amazing for EmpowHer Camp. We accepted her immediately because there are only 10 spots in EmpowHer Camp every year and her grandmother told her that she couldn't come because she's in a wheelchair, and girls in wheelchairs can't do that.
Despite our best efforts to talk to her grandma and express that, like that's not the case. Like half of our mentors have physical disabilities, like we've had girls come through our program who are wheelchair users. They are capable of so much. We are capable of everything that a non-disabled person is, except for, you know, walking, but I honestly don't think that that's a big selling point if you ask me. So that was a heartbreaking moment for us, but how did we get around it, please?
Keith: Wait wait, no no. We will get to that later. Continue.
Stephanie: I was just gonna say in that specific situation, we got around it by raising the age.
So EmpowHer Camp used to only be for girls with disabilities, 13 to 17, but we knew that this young applicant was gonna turn 18 next year. So we changed EmpowHer Camp to be available from 13 year olds to 18 year olds so that she could apply and come without having to get the permission of her guardian, and I am pleased to say that she's now 18 and has applied to be in our next class of EmpowHer Camp, and I cannot wait to welcome her.
Keith: So you just said something, for lack of a better word, provocative. In a humorous sense that you don't find that walking is all it's cracked up to be. Did I quote you right on that? And can you tell me more about why you think that?
Stephanie: I mean, I think it just looks exhausting. I can't imagine doing that all day long. I'm just not interested in being a part of that. For people who enjoy walking, more power to you, do your thing, but like I could get just as many places in my wheelchair as you can get while walking. So I don't see why that would be a big selling point for anybody.
I am a really proud disabled woman. I love all of my disabilities and I think that my disabilities make me who I am. I certainly wouldn't have been a successful disability rights attorney if I didn't have a disability, and honestly, I come from a community where most people don't go to college. We, in my community, you kind of go to high school and you're done.
I specifically became a disability rights attorney because of the discrimination I experienced. So not only did I graduate high school and go to college, I then went to law school and I will say that I really feel that my disabilities have propelled me forward more than they've ever held me back.
Keith: Would you mind telling me about your disabilities?
Stephanie: Sure. I've been a wheelchair user since, oh gosh. Hmm. Well, I probably should have been my whole life, but my parents kept me in a stroller for far too long, probably because they were poor and didn't understand the intricacies of insurance to get complex rehab technology.
Then later in life I found out that all of these thoughts that zoom through my head all the time is actually called anxiety. And I think my anxiety makes me a freaking stellar attorney because I think of all of the worst case scenarios at all times and prepare for them. So I really do think that my disabilities have helped me in so many ways.
Keith: So do you miss being a full-time or part-time attorney?
Stephanie: I don't think there's ever a time that I'm not an attorney. So I mean, I still am doing policy work. I still sometimes do legal work, but it's in a very different realm where I don't have to represent individual clients anymore as much as I am working to push the community forward.
Even prior to starting Disability and EmpowHer Network, when I wasn't in a courtroom representing an individual client, I was doing a lot of my legal work on a, let's say a national or a statewide policy basis, which is incredibly important in order to move our community forward. So I don't miss it because it's still right here.
Keith: Is there anything else that surprised you? You mentioned a few minutes ago that you were prepared to do double duty in being both the Executive Director of Disability EmpowHer Network and also an attorney, and you only did that for one year when you thought you would be doing it for the first five. Are there any other surprises that caught you off guard?
Stephanie: At Disability EmpowHer Network I think I've had lots of incredible surprises, right? Like I was shocked that for our first class we accepted nine participants in our first class of EmpowHer Camp. I was shocked that there were nine sets of parents that were gonna send their teenage girls into the woods with a bunch of strangers for an organization that they had never heard of because it was only around for six months prior.
I was like, I think that was a big risk and I am so grateful to all of those parents who trusted the Disability EmpowHer Network to keep their kids alive. I will proudly say we did keep them all alive and uninjured. So that is fantastic but that was, even thinking back now, I'm like, oh god, what were they thinking?
So it certainly surprised me. I was really overwhelmed by the outpouring of support that we received even in our first days of launching Disability EmpowHer Network, the amount of women who reached out and said, “how can I help? I didn't have this when I was younger and I want to contribute to this now because this is exactly what I needed when I was younger and I didn't get it, and I'm so glad that you're doing it now.”
And in fact we have a way for people to sign up to be mentors or volunteers on our website. And in our first year we got over 200 disabled women reaching out to volunteer with us and that was just amazing, the outpouring of support and to know that, this experience that I had when I was younger of not having a mentor and wanting it, is not an anomaly.
It is what so many people have experienced and it's just an honor to be able to work with this incredible network of women and girls and feminine aligned people to make sure that the next generation doesn't have to go through that.
Keith: Yeah, I'll agree with everything you just said. I certainly had nothing like what you do. There is a great documentary on Netflix, I'm sure you've seen it a dozen times called Crip Camp. Yeah, I didn't have that. I know some people who've had that experience, and that's wonderful for them. It's shamefully too uncommon though and so you are in the first few years of the organization. I've heard about half of your programs in this episode. What would the next five to ten years look like to you as the Executive Director?
Stephanie: That is an excellent question. I will say that we actually just started our strategic planning process because it's really important for us to look to the future and decide who we want to be. For me as Executive Director, it's really important for me to make sure that other disabled girls, women, and feminine aligned people take as much ownership in Disability EmpowHer Network as I do.
I don't want to set the direction for our organization for the next five or ten years. I truly want this to be a network decision because I want every person involved to feel like this is their home, this is their place, and that they have a say in what we're doing. So I can say that some of the really exciting things that are on the horizon are, we are launching our Empower Expressions, which is a public speaking and career coaching program.
We piloted that program with several women prior to making it a fully accessible public program, and from that we found that disabled women who have gone through our pilot were able to secure new jobs. One woman went from an entry level job to a management position and doubled her income.
Others have been promoted, gotten raises and overall, every person who experienced our pilot said that they have a significant increase in their confidence, which is exactly what we're going for. So we are now accepting applications for that program up until February 20th and then that will be an eight week virtual program where we're gonna have ten women come together and work on public speaking and career coaching goals so that they can reach their own goals in their own lives.
So I'm excited about that. We also have a gender inclusivity statement that we're going to be putting out soon because we really want it to be very clear that the Disability EmpowHer Network is not here to exclude anyone. If you are a girl, woman, feminine aligned person who feels women based programming is right for you then you are welcome here and we welcome everyone else as our allies and supporters. There are incredible men that have helped the Disability EmpowHer Network grow. I will say that one of our founding board members, Paul Timmons, has been nothing but an incredible supporter who has helped us grow, who has helped us reach more girls and women with disabilities to empower them.
And I will give a quick shoutout to my husband who has listened to me say, oh men a million times, and has never said, “hey, wait a minute,” because he knows exactly what I'm talking about and is never gonna be like “not all men.” He's never been one of those guys, but has been incredible at using his own connections to help the Disability EmpowerHer Network to grow. So, we always welcome allies who may not be able to participate in our programs, but certainly can show their support for empowering girls and women with disabilities.
Keith: I must say I am so glad you brought up your husband because I get to share something that I really enjoyed. When you two were engaged, I saw a picture of either a birthday or anniversary present that you got him that made me laugh so much I started crying. It was so sweet you got him a mug that said “Real Men Marry Lawyers” and I think that picture encapsulated a lot about your relationship, but that's neither here nor there. But I'm glad that men can be involved in helping this organization because it's so important and you're so right, you want it to be a network decision on where you go from here, in terms of strategic planning for the next five to ten, even fifteen to twenty years.
Stephanie: Well, thank you. I also really enjoy that mug and I appreciated that my husband enjoys it as well. He is a man without an ego, and I can really appreciate that. And when it comes to.
Keith: Wait, wait, hold up. A man without an ego? Wow, that's really something. More men should be like that. Go on.
Stephanie: So I completely agree with you, and in fact, to go slightly left field on you, for the first six months I knew him, I refused to call him by his name because I thought he had an ego. He came into my life right after retiring from being a professional athlete and being in the Paralympics and I was like, we don't need that kind of inspiration pouring around here. No, thank you. And I wouldn't take him seriously for the first six months that I knew him. And then I got to know him and I realized that I was wrong, which I don't like to say often, that I really did stereotype him. And he turned out to be actually a pretty great guy and I am really happy to say that I now call him by his name.
Keith: That's beautiful. Yeah. I read a bit about your relationship on a post highlighting one of your, what I hope it's many, many, many, and anniversaries to come. And I love reading those posts because I love knowing how people meet, how they connect, how they grow together.
And it takes a very mature man to not get defensive and say, oh, it's not all men darling, sweetheart, whatever, and so props to him for that, regardless of the context of the job you do, having a committed partner is so important, but also to have a partner who doesn't have an ego or has less of an ego then most of the men out there nowadays is shockingly and shamefully rare and so good on both of you.
Stephanie: Well, thanks. I'll pass along your props to him.
Keith: Yes. But I want to go back to how people can support the Disability EmpowHer Network not just with financial contributions, but with volunteering or other opportunities. And I want to know what a man like me, a disabled man can do, okay this is going to be a little cheeky, to empower your program, your network. Because it is so important, so vital, because you literally are changing lives for the better. And I certainly want to be a part of it and I hope that a lot of people listening to this episode want to be a part of changing lives for the better and so how can people of all genders support the Disability EmpowHer Network?
Stephanie: That's a great question and thanks for giving me this opportunity to talk more about how people can get involved because we love people. So lots of ways to help out. We have different committees, including, we have a social media committee, so if you care a lot about Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, TikTok, all of that, we actually have a committee that works on all of our content.
Our social media is not me directing the way whatsoever. It's our committee that gets together once a month, hangs out and decides like, “hey, what is important that we highlight this month?” And not only is it a great opportunity if you're already active in social media, it's also a really great opportunity if you wanna learn. One of the things that we really care a lot about is ensuring that nobody feels like this isn't their place. So if you know nothing about social media, but you wanna learn, we wanna help you learn. In fact, our young woman who applied to the EmpowHer camp book couldn't go because of her grandmother, we wanted to make sure she stayed connected.
So she is our youth advisor on social media, regularly telling us that Facebook is for old people. Thank you so much. It doesn't hurt in my soul at all to hear that, but she also has learned how to make graphics. Because she works on our Canva, making graphics and we make that available to anyone who volunteers with us, so that they can play around and learn new skills.
We have a development committee, which really helps to look at what we should be doing for fundraising or for furthering our outreach to the community. We have an EmpowHer Camp committee that helps plan our events, that helps to plan our camp. How can we help girls get to the Adirondacks? Because one of the things that we really pride ourselves on is that our programs are not at all at a cost to our participants. So we make sure that we're covering travel costs, we make sure that we're covering food and everything so that all of our participants never have any financial barriers to being empowered. That's really important to us. And another way that I really encourage people not to undervalue this, is to spread the word.
We are such a young organization, and the only reason that we've been able to have this reach is because so many people have been kind enough to share this with other people in their life. So we have programs that we want to not only reach people who already know about us, we want to reach multiple marginalized people.
We wanna reach the hard to reach people who don't get to have these opportunities. We have a blogging program that pays girls and women with disabilities to write blogs. We don't wanna just pay people who are already getting paid, like that's great, but there are so many girls and women out there who have ideas, who have stories to tell and deserve to be uplifted through this program.
So being able to spread the word about our programs, telling people that have disabilities, but also telling people that don't, because they may know somebody. I cannot express how much we rely on word of mouth for people to learn about us and the impact that it makes. And honestly, the smile that it brings to my face when I hear how people have learned about us and they say, I saw it on this person's Twitter, and that's how I ended up at an EmpowHer camp.
It amazes me that we have girls that join us for a year long journey because they saw it on someone else's Twitter, so that is one huge way that allies can help us out, beyond joining our committees and all of that great stuff. Telling people about us is amazing. And of course, girls and women can sign up to be in our letter from a role model program, if you're willing to write a letter, we want to hear from you because we get nominations for girls and women with disabilities who want to receive a letter all of the time, and we look to really make those perfect matches. I'm not just gonna match someone who has CP with a woman who has CP because they both have CP, like first of all, CP presents in a million different ways.
Keith: Wait, what! I am joking, continue?
Stephanie: Right? So, but if the girl with CP loves musicals, I'm not gonna connect her with someone who loves Star Wars, right? If that's not in her interest level. So we really look at connecting through that program based on interest and how a disability presents, because I can connect a girl with CP who loves musicals to a girl with spina bifida who loves musicals as long as their disabilities present similarly. That's what we're looking for as someone that can relate to them. So that's a really great way for girls and women to get involved, especially, is to become a part of our letter from a role model program.
Keith: So if people want to find out more about the network and how to become engaged with it, and you've talked about ways that both women and allies of women can become engaged. Where would people find more information about the Disability EmpowHer Network?
Stephanie: So if you wanna learn more about Disability EmpowerHer Network, we have the world's longest URL for our website, but it is just our name. So disability, spelled traditionally Empower, is E M P O W H E R network.org. So disabilityempowhernetwork.org. On there, you can not only learn about our programs, we have a button that says get involved and that's where you can learn more and also tell us a little bit about you. How are you interested in getting involved? Because there's lots of different ways, and we certainly want people to be doing something that they're excited about. We don't want you to volunteer with us and then be miserable in your volunteering experience because that's not good for us. It's not good for you, and it's certainly not part of our mission.
Keith: And what do you need or want, or both, the most? What are some areas of critical need for the network going forward? Again, that it's not DisEmpowHer Network, that is Disability EmpowHer Network.
Stephanie: So, oh gosh, what do we need? I mean, we certainly are always in need of volunteers for our different committees. One of my passion areas that I would like to connect more with and I would love for people to help us, is connecting with the adopted network and the foster care network. I firmly believe that girls with disabilities that are adopted or are currently in foster care can really benefit from EmpowHer camp and from Letters From a Role Model, because they are experiencing a lot of different barriers in their life. And to have a constant organization that can support them and be with them and really be exposed to them at a young age, I think could make all of the difference.
So we have been working really hard to try to connect with more social workers in those realms so that girls with disabilities who may be in that stage of their life can learn about the opportunities that we can bring them and any other multiply marginalized group because again, it's great to help any girl or woman with a disability. But for us it's really about reaching those multiple marginalized groups that wouldn't otherwise have these opportunities because we want everybody to be able to rise to the top. We don't want there to be only a certain kind of person that is involved with the Disability EmpowHer network. We really are true in our intentions and our outreach to ensure that everyone feels like they belong here.
Keith: I am just awestruck that Disability EmpowHer Network is a relatively new organization and it is already making such an impact to the extent that you are. It just fills me with hope and I admire everything you are doing and I wish that you continue doing it Stephanie, because you and your team are doing such incredible work, such vital work for women who are going to carry on the lesson they learn through the network for the rest of the lives, and they're going to become fearless empowered leaders because they're going to have a network of other fearless and empowered leaders cheering them on. And so you mentioned earlier that in the trenches it sometimes gets hard seeing your own walk and the impact and I mean, just in this interview, if I knew nothing about you, or the work you did before today, which I did, but let's say I didn't, I would still be saying the same things because I only wish that it wasn’t necessary, you know. I wish that what the network does was so common and in place already. I wish that you had it when you were growing up, that your friends had it, that everyone had it growing up, but there are people like you and like the team you work with that saw a critical need and decided to do something, more than something, about it.
And that led you and your team to create this amazing network of programs that hopefully outlive you, and I just cannot tell you how incredible and how much I admire your work, work ethic and everything you are doing and I include your team behind you because one person cannot do it all. I mean, my podcast team, I couldn't do what I do if I didn’t have a team behind me. And so I am just so in awe of the Disability EmpowHer Network, and I do hope that you will come back again and tell me more about the network. But before I let you go, I'd like to end every episode with a few questions. You do a lot of work on empowerment and confidence building.
If there are any inspiring advocates who are, I don't know, just getting out of school and wanting to make empowerment and self advocacy their lives work, like what we are doing, what would be a few action steps that you would give them?
Stephanie: Oh, gosh. Well first, I do wanna say thank you again for all of your kind words, and I wanna give all of the credit to the team at Disability EmpowHer Network and all of our volunteers.
Honestly, they make this all look good and I should not get any of the credit, but gosh, what would I tell someone who's just getting out of school and aspiring to be more? I'm a big fan of goals. I would really ask them to think about themselves and what their goals are, where they want to be so that we can help them get there.
That's something that we put in every single one of our programs is goals. What do you want? It's not what I want you to be. It's what do you want to be and how can we help you get there? So at EmpowHer Camp, our young leaders create one year goals when they start camp, and then at the end, they give us a progress report on where they are on that goal. And then they create 1, 3, 5, and 10 year goals when they graduate from the program. And we check on them and ask them, how are your goals going? How can we support you? And I think I would do the same for any young aspiring young leader because, setting your goals and your intentions helps you take the next push forward, right?
And your goals and intentions can change, but it really will help you figure out your path and know that your path is yours and not something that is influenced unduly by somebody else. You shouldn't be doing something because someone else wants you to be that person. You should be doing things to be the person that you want to be.
Keith: I like to think and hope that both advocates with disabilities and people who have yet to discover their own disability, listen to this podcasts and as the guest, I want to ask you what do you hope that advocates with disabilities took away from this episode, and what do you hope that people who have yet to discover their disabilities take away from what we've talked about in this episode?
Stephanie: Gosh, I hope that disabled advocates listening are already empowered and know their value and know their worth. And if they are in that place in their life, then I hope that if nothing else they take from this podcast to reach behind them and help pull someone else forward. And if they're not in that place in life where they feel their full worth and confidence, then I hope that they reach out to me because it doesn't matter who you are or where your gender aligns, I want you to feel your full worth. Well, the Disability EmpowHer Network is for girls, women, and feminine aligned people. I as a person, and as someone who hopes to be a good, I guess mentor and friend, want to make sure that you know how valuable you are.
So I would hope that that's what advocates with disabilities would take away from this. For people who haven't discovered their disabilities yet, know that life with a disability is a beautiful life, and that you can be just as confident, if not more confident, living as a proud disabled person than you are as a non-disabled person.
In fact, some of my favorite stories are those people who tell me that they wouldn't, they've lived the non-disabled life and then they became disabled and they would never go back because of how much value their disability has brought to their life. And I want people to know that narrative. Disability is not a tragedy whatsoever.
It is pretty bland most of the time, right? I won't say it's incredible because I don't wanna be anyone's inspirational story, but it's a pretty great life. And, you know, we're just as boring as non-disabled people, it's just that sometimes we have more skills because we've had to adapt.
Keith: What is the website again?
Stephanie: Excellent question. It's disabilityempowHer network.org. And that's disability spelled traditionally. Empower is E M P O W H E R, and then network.org.
Keith: Stephanie, once again, thank you so much for coming on and talking about the incredible network that you helped create and I do really hope that you will come back sometime and give us an update about the network.
Stephanie: I would absolutely love to anytime.
Keith: Thank you very much and have a great rest of your week.
Stephanie: You too. Thanks.
Keith: You have been listening to Disability Empowerment Now. I would like to thank my guest today and you, the listener. More information about the podcast can be found on visit on disabilityempowermentnow.com. The podcast is available wherever you listen to podcasts or on the official website. This episode of Disability Empowerment Now is copyrighted 2023.