Disabled Women Make History: Amie Richards

Posted by Stephanie Woodward in Life After Paralysis on May 23, 2022 # Disabled Women Make History

SBAGNE“While I knew that other people with disabilities were out there, I didn't see anyone whose disability presented like mine, and that felt very isolating.”

Amie Richards talks about mentoring, motherhood, and finding her identity in the Disability Community.

“It took until I was in my mid-twenties to become interested in associating myself with the Disability Community. Before that, I had held onto the belief that if I just tried hard enough, I could hide that part of me and only then would I be accepted and loved,” said Amie Richards, the 32-year-old Massachusetts native and new mom who now serves as the Chair of the Board for the Spina Bifida Association of Greater New England (SBAGNE).

Though she actively avoided identifying with the Disability Community for many years, Amie is quick to admit that her beliefs about the Disability Community were misguided and in a few short years, she’s not only immersed herself in the Disability Community, she’s emerging as a true leader. “I was obviously way off-base and misinformed. While at one of my last visits to Children's Hospital before aging out, the Spina Bifida Clinic Coordinator approached me about a mentoring event for teens that SBAGNE was holding,” Amie explained. “Now, six years later, I’ve served as ‘lead mentor’ more than once, as well as on the planning committee and as a facilitator of this event. Additionally, in 2019, I joined the Board of Directors for SBAGNE, and now I serve as the Chair of the Board. This progression into leadership has unfolded in a surprising but also kind of natural way. I've grown more and more passionate about this community.”

Amie and her sonAs Chair of the Board, Amie works closely with the Executive Director and the Board of Directors to ensure the success of SBAGNE, and her impact has been substantial. When Amie first joined the board, she was one of only three or four adults with spina bifida serving as a Director. Now, under Amie’s leadership, there are eight board members with spina bifida, making up more than half of the board. Notably, the entire Executive Committee (Chair, Vice-Chair, Treasurer, and Secretary) are all adults with spina bifida - a first in the organization’s history.

“I feel that my leadership role will have a strong impact on the younger members because they will see themselves in me. They will know that they not only have this community to be a part of, but they can also lead that community. That's a powerful thing,” Amie emphasized. “I want them to know that they too are capable of becoming a mentor, a professional, a leader, and a role model.”

For Amie, being a role model is important, especially because she did not have any successful disabled role models when she was younger.

“I didn't meet adults with disabilities in a meaningful way until I was an adult myself, and I always felt very alone and even a bit invisible with my disability. From a young age, I was indirectly taught that my disability was not something to be discussed outside of my family, but it was not exactly a welcome topic of conversation within my family either,” Amie shared frankly. “While I knew that other people with disabilities were out there, I didn't see anyone whose disability presented like mine and that felt very isolating. Because I didn't require the use of a wheelchair full-time, I didn't feel like I fit into the Disability Community and I certainly did not feel that I fit into the non-disabled world. Without the ability to talk to other people with any sort of similar disability, I didn't learn how to deal with that and I didn't have a good picture of what my future might look like. This is why I value being a mentor today. I want to be who I needed when I was younger.”

When it comes to being a role model, Amie is not just a great role model for youth with disabilities who want to become leaders, she’s also a great role model for disabled women mothers and disabled women who want to become mothers. Not only has Amie navigated pregnancy and childbirth as a woman with a disability - but she did it during the height of the pandemic which was difficult and heartbreaking for many reasons.

Amie's family

“In January of 2020, we found out that I was pregnant with my son, Oliver. For about a year, we had done careful planning and preparation with my team of doctors, and I had to work really hard at mentally preparing myself to be a disabled, pregnant woman. It was something that I was really nervous about,” Amie explained. “In the end, I was forced to spend nearly my entire pregnancy in quarantine and was stripped of the opportunity to show the world how proud I was of my disabled body for growing and carrying a human life. I hope to have that opportunity again.”

Now that Oliver is here, Amie is continuing to lead SBAGNE while juggling pandemic safety precautions for her son and herself, she’s showing up for meetings with her toddler in tow, and she’s working to find balance in her life for her mental and physical health, as well as finding balance for her friendships and marriage. “I’m trying to figure out my new identity as a mother and how to reconcile that with who I was before having a baby and who I want to be going forward… It's been difficult to say the least. I'm most certainly a work-in-progress at the moment and slowly figuring things out.”

As Amie continues to work on herself and grow as a leader, she has advice for other girls and women with disabilities who are on a similar journey:

“I honestly still struggle to see myself as a leader. Imposter syndrome and a lifetime of low self-esteem try really hard to hold me back from seeing my own potential. I'd like others to know that even if you have that little voice in your head that questions you and your worth, you don't need to listen to it. You are capable, you have a voice that deserves to be heard, and you have good ideas that you can put into action.”

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.