Disabled Girls Run the World

Posted by EmpowHer Stories in Life After Paralysis on February 20, 2023 # EmpowHer Stories

“She’s into accessible playgrounds. You NEED to come to the EmpowHer Camp and meet this kid”. These were the introductory words that Stephanie Woodward (EmpowHer Executive Director) excitedly shouted to me over the phone about my now mentee, Riley Hurt. Inclusive playgrounds being a rather niche corner of access, happen to be both my passion and my career. So obviously, besides knowing nothing else about her, I was determined to become this kid’s best friend, whether she wanted me to or not.

Fortunately, I was given the task of picking Riley up from the airport and bringing her to the inaugural Disability EmpowHer Camp in the Adirondacks. While we had loads of time to get to know each other over the three-hour drive from Vermont to John Dillon Park, the real icebreaker came when I fell out of my wheelchair at a Dunkin Donuts within the first ten minutes of meeting. At that moment, we learned that our brand of humor was a carbon copy of one another.

Upon arriving at camp, many of us felt nervous. Meeting new people can be intimidating for anyone. I hadn’t been camping before, and I had certainly never mentored a group of teenage girls. A week of camping in the woods with a group of disabled women wasn’t always the easiest excursion. It rained…a lot. Yet this group of incredible people, from all corners of the country, began to connect over anything and everything. What started as task delegation became extraordinary acts of independence and interdependence. Prepping meals became a time of collaboration to ensure that everyone got the food and support they needed. Singing by campfires became a love of shared music. In short, we formed a family.

As part of the EmpowHer Camp experience, the girls were tasked with coming up with a project related to disability and emergency preparedness. When Riley rattled off her first idea, creating access to medication and supplies for disabled people in the event of an emergency, I looked around, positively wide-eyed, wondering how in the world I was going to keep up with this teenager, as nobody covered that topic in playground school. An incredibly valuable part of EmpowHer Camp is the opportunity to collaborate with each other and camp leadership to take a big project idea and dissect what we need to do to get started. Riley set a year-long goal to learn more about disability emergency management in her state and identify existing gaps. She changed her goal to creating a Core Advisory Group that would connect the Disability Community with the local emergency management organizations.

I was constantly in awe as Riley worked through her project. We stayed in contact throughout as I offered support. Sometimes, support looked like teaching her how to manage a spreadsheet or draft an email. Other times, it was being a friend during a rough week. We spent time editing her resume, and we shared video games that we loved. The role of mentor became just as valuable as the role of friend, and the incredible part is that it was not only isolated to us. We both got to share the unique experience of developing a network of strong disabled women that we had never had before. I never had a disabled woman mentor growing up, and suddenly I have sixteen people in my corner that relate to the experience of being a proud disabled woman. The feeling of being connected to this squad is exclusive to the Disability EmpowHer Network experience. Riley, and all these incredible women, are stuck with me for life. They’re my team, my mentors, my mentees, and my friends. I am immensely honored that I have a spot in their corner as we grow and shine together. Because, as Beyoncé once said, and as we continued to proudly sing at camp for the entire rainy week: “Who run the world? Girls.”

Jill Moore joined Disability EmpowHer Network as a mentor for the inaugural class in 2021, and has been thrilled to stay connected ever since. She works as an Inclusive Play Specialist for Minnesota based playground manufacturer, Landscape Structures, to ensure equitable access to play for all.

This blog is a part of the Disability EmpowHer Network and the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation collaborative blogging program, which uplifts the voices of women and girls with spinal cord disabilities.

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.