​Disabled Women Make History: Dayniah Manderson

Posted by Stephanie Woodward in Life After Paralysis on February 21, 2023 # Disabled Women Make History

Dayniah “I’m passionate about this job for many reasons, but I would say that I feel honored that I get to spend my life doing something important; I impact children every day and I try to make it a positive one,” shared Dayniah Manderson, an 8th grade teacher in New York City. “I form great, longstanding friendships with my students and I get to experience their successes and failures authentically. Physically, teaching helps me to maintain my muscle strength and my brain stays sharp. It has helped me to be compassionate and to be a more reflective and socially conscious individual.”

Born on the island of Jamaica, Dayniah moved to the United States when she was 14 years old. She attended college at NYU where she earned both her bachelor's and master's degrees. For the past 19 years she’s been a proud public school teacher and she knows that her disability helps her connect with her students.

“I don’t take an offense to the saying, ‘if I can do it, you can’ because it is true given certain situations,” Dayniah explained. “As an educator, my students get to see someone who faces great challenges and still keeps a positive mindset. I’m very candid when my students ask questions and I think that helps them to understand more about society, discrimination, and access, to name a few.”

Dayniah For Dayniah, it’s important for her students to have a positive disabled woman role model, because she did not have any mentors with visible disabilities when she was growing up, and the mentors that she did have never mentioned disability. “I think this caused me to go through a period of isolation and feeling like no one understood what living with a disability is like.”

Now, Dayniah is a role model for her students and she sees just how much being a disabled woman role model impacts them. “My students can draw strength and wisdom from me and I can honestly encourage them as they work through their challenges; I understand how it feels being insecure, I get the feeling of not fitting in, and I understand what they mean when they say something isn’t fair,” said Dayniah. “My presence and willingness to be visible is a small step to bridging the gap between able-bodied people and those who live with a disability.”

When Dayniah isn’t leading in the classroom, you can find her writing. While she writes across all genres, her favorites are fiction, editorials, and poetry. Dayniah often writes fiction with disabled protagonists. “It is my goal to turn them into screenplays and produce them. This matters to me because I write about a lifestyle that I understand and I find it important that we are authentically represented.”

Dayniah also spends her time advocating for Disability Rights. “Our community is often exploited, marginalized, and then shunned by society. Services and equipment for us are exorbitantly expensive, we are forced into poverty, and we are denied access to opportunities,” she expressed with conviction. “Someone has to be willing to stay aware of issues, to stay connected to people who are doing the work, and to add to efforts aimed at expanding our rights. I nominate me.”

As Dayniah leads the way in school, in her writing, and in her advocacy, she also shared these words of advice for other disabled girls and women who want to be leaders: “A leader doesn’t have a physical profile, but they have the characteristics of true leadership. Don’t be discouraged by people and always be pragmatic. You’ll meet resistance and that’ll make you want to quit, but try to remember why you’re doing the work and adapt accordingly. It will be harder for you, but it feels good when success comes; it’ll be worth it.”

Stephanie Woodward is an attorney and Executive Director of Disability EmpowHer Network, a nonprofit dedicated to empowering girls and women with disabilities. Stephanie is passionate about seeking justice for marginalized communities - and has an arrest record to show for it. As a proud disabled woman and civil rights activist, Stephanie is committed to bringing more women and girls with disabilities to the forefront through mentoring and activism.

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.