​Disabled Women Make History (and Art)

Posted by Stephanie Woodward in Life After Paralysis on June 29, 2022 # Disabled Women Make History

EmpowHer Network TeamThis June marks the 23rd anniversary of the Olmstead Decision, a landmark Supreme Court case that found unjustified segregation of persons with disabilities constitutes discrimination in violation of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

This is an incredibly important court case that has impacted the Disability Community across the nation and has allowed many people with disabilities to access home and community-based services instead of being forced into a nursing home or other institution.

What many people do not know is that this case was brought by two women with disabilities from Georgia, Lois Curtis and Elaine Wilson. If not for these two women plaintiffs, we may not have the right to live in the most integrated setting. They truly made history and changed the country for all of us.

To celebrate the 23rd anniversary of Olmstead, I called up my friend Katie Shelley who is the Manager of Access Initiatives at the Toledo Museum of Art and asked her if she wanted to team up with Disability EmpowHer Network to host an event to celebrate Olmstead. Without hesitation, Katie said yes, and we got to work! Katie also got the Ohio Olmstead Task Force on board, and together we created a fantastic event - Disabled Women Make History (and Art).

The entire focus of our event was to celebrate the Olmstead Decision and disabled women artists! Lois Curtis, one of the Olmstead plaintiffs, is an artist, and we screened her documentary The Art of Being L.C. We also invited other disabled women artists to submit their artwork for consideration to be displayed during the event, and we received an overwhelming number of submissions! It was amazing to see all of the variety in the art pieces submitted, and it was difficult to choose which pieces would be selected for the event.

In the end, we selected seventeen pieces to feature and many of the artists joined us in person for the event! We had artists as young as 16 displaying their pieces, and for many, this was the first time they've ever shown their art publicly! Art ranged from scenic to ceramic to artistic activism and more. We also had one young high school student perform poetry at the event! It was especially meaningful to have the artists join us for the event because guests were able to meet with the artists and engage with them about their pieces to learn about what inspires them, the meaning behind their pieces, and more.

An unexpected benefit of this event was that for many of the artists, this was their first time engaging with other disabled women artists - and for some, it was their first time engaging with the Disability Community at all. For example, we met one young woman who had not met other women with her disability before, but at our event she met at least three women with the same disability and not only did she get to ask them about their art, but she was also able to ask them about how they adapted their cars to drive because her goal is to drive too! The women shared advice with each other, supported each other, and connected on a deeper level. Many said they felt inspired to make more art and connect with each other to help each other reach their goals!

This was the first event of its kind and hopefully it will not be the last! We had almost 100 people attend the event and the responses have been overwhelmingly enthusiastic and positive. We are looking forward to planning another great event next year!

Stephanie Woodward is an attorney and Executive Director of Disability EmpowHer Network, a nonprofit dedicated to empowering girls and women with disabilities. 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.