Disabled Women Make History: Jenny Border

Posted by Stephanie Woodward in Life After Paralysis on August 15, 2022 # Disabled Women Make History

Jenny“I knew that I would figure out a way to get the chair I needed, but I absolutely needed to do something to make sure others didn’t have to fight as hard as I did. That’s when my advocacy journey began.”

Jenny Border on advocacy, complex rehab technology, and mentoring the next generation of leaders.

“Technically, I started getting involved in advocating in the complex rehab technology world when I was 8 years old trying to get my second power chair that had the ability to go the ground. It was, of course, denied,” said Jenny Border, a complex rehab technology (CRT) advocate from Columbus, Ohio who grew up in a small country town in Michigan with her 13 siblings. “The next thing I knew, my mom and my physical therapist sent them a picture of me in my very small, always breaking wheelchair that went to the ground by our gardens. Then they put me on the phone with a few people and I explained to them that I needed to be able to get on the ground and back up by myself to help my mom in the garden just like my siblings and to be able to pick flowers and veggies. Then a few months later, I received my new chair.”

This moment of advocating for the wheelchair that she needed was a pivotal moment for Jenny, and it helped pave a path of CRT advocacy for the rest of her life. As Jenny grew to adulthood, insurance companies continued to deny her the wheelchairs and accessories that she needed to live in the community - and Jenny refused to accept those denials.

In 2012, Jenny was ready for a new wheelchair once again, and it was continuously denied. First her insurance company denied her power wheelchair over her ability to walk a little. Then her insurance approved the wheelchair base, but without any back or the correct joystick for her to use.

“Their reasoning was a mix between claiming I just needed to try harder to walk and/or use alternative assistive devices, especially ones that require upper limb use. I was in utter disbelief and angry because I’ve had a powerchair since I was 4 years old and my arms are literally permanently fused in a bent position!” Jenny explained. “In the midst of my frustration and anger, I reached out to Permobil, my wheelchair manufacturer and said that I knew that I would figure out a way to get the chair I needed, but I absolutely needed to do something to make sure others didn’t have to fight as hard as I did. That’s when my advocacy journey began.”

JennyToday Jenny is a CRT powerhouse. Not only is she an active member on Numotion's Consumer Advisory Board and a Consumer Advocate for Permobil, but Jenny also serves as a voting member on the Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America (RESNA) Professional Standards Board, as well as their Complaints Review Committee.

“On the NuMotion Advisory Board, I work with the Service and Repair Committee where we discuss ways that service and repair can be improved. In my role at Permobil, I often interact with other users at expo’s and share how I use my chair and what it means to me. In addition, I go to Capitol Hill to advocate with legislators about the importance of our custom wheelchairs and why some options are true necessities and not luxuries.”

When Jenny is not working to advocate for access to CRT, you can often find her tinkering. She’s a self-proclaimed nerd who loves research and experimenting with different ideas. She frequently tinkers to adapt something on her chair to help her be even more independent. Additionally, over the past year, Jenny has found a passion for mentoring. “I have found through Disability EmpowHer Network that I love working with young disabled people on their journey and helping them hone their own unique voice. It is so beautiful to see these individuals gradually take ownership and then pride of who they are and what they believe in.”

Mentoring to Jenny is important in part because she did not have any disabled women role models growing up. In fact, even though she and all of her 13 siblings were all adopted and all had disabilities, Jenny did not have any adults with disabilities to mentor her during her youth. “I just remember there was a paraprofessional at my preschool who was an elbow level amputee and she was able to do all of the physical care of all the kids at the school and that she had her own children. From her and my family, I always knew that if I wanted to become a parent or take care of children, that I was fully capable.”

Now, as Jenny serves as a mentor to the next generation of disabled women leaders, she has identified two obstacles that many disabled women leaders face: (1) not being certain if or where we want to lead and (2) feeling like we are not making a difference. Jenny also has wisdom to share regarding both of these: “For the first obstacle, I tell disabled women to search deep for what they are most passionate about and what they feel really needs to change. For the second obstacle, I personally go by the belief that if I am really adamant about a topic and feel I need to do something, I have to just “put my big girl panties” on and just do it. Regardless of the outcome, doing something is valuable.”

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.