Disabled Women Make History: Representative Jennifer Longdon

Posted by Stephanie Woodward in Life After Paralysis on June 30, 2022 # Advocacy and Policy, Disabled Women Make History

Jennifer Longdon“I invested countless hours advocating for gun violence prevention and disability rights across the nation. As my voice grew locally and nationally, I was encouraged to run for elected office – and I did.”

Representative Jennifer Longdon on thriving after her traumatic spinal cord injury, advocating for her community, and representing the people of Arizona.

“On November 15, 2004, my fiancé and I had just returned from our dream trip to Fiji. We were on our way to pick up drive-through tacos for dinner when five shots rang out – changing the trajectory of our lives in an instant. My fiancé was shot in the head, severing his optic and olfactory nerves. He now lives with a traumatic brain injury, and I was paralyzed by the last bullet fired,” Representative Jennifer Longdon casually explained, clearly having recounted these details more times than she can count.

Today, you can find Representative Longdon rolling on the floor of the Arizona House of Representatives or in meetings to push forward policies for the benefit of all Arizonans before she drives her big truck home to watch hockey, drink wine, and hang out with her two very large dogs: Kuma and Porter.

However, life after her injury was not always so easy. “While I lay in a coma, my health insurance company canceled my insurance coverage and, when I woke up, I confronted homelessness and poverty head-on,” Representative Longdon recounted. “While undergoing physical and financial recovery, I saw how easily someone can fall through the cracks, and quickly learned the accessibility barriers that persist today.”

After her recovery in the hospital, Representative Longdon returned to living in the community and began working with local leaders at City Hall to advocate for accessibility and dismantle barriers that she encountered as a newly disabled person. Her advocacy resulted in real change, and these victories helped Representative Longdon to gain more confidence, and she found her voice on disability rights growing.

She also began working on issues of equity and fairness to improve the lives of all people in her community. One of her first actions was to organize 14,000 volunteer hours out of her home to pass the Affordable Health Care Act. Her community organizing did not end there either - “I invested countless hours advocating for gun violence prevention and disability rights across the nation,” Representative Longdon shared. “As my voice grew locally and nationally, I was encouraged to run for elected office – and I did.”

In 2018, Representative Longdon ran for and was elected to the Arizona House of Representatives, and after her election, she was appointed to chair the Ad Hoc Committee on Abuse and Neglect of Vulnerable Adults, becoming the first Democrat appointed to chair such a committee in more than 50 years. That work has already produced laws that increase protections for people living in care facilities, and several additional bills are currently pending.

Representative Longdon demonstrated that she is a capable leader who is well-respected by her colleagues, and after she was re-elected in 2020, she was elected by her peers in the Arizona House to serve as Assistant Democratic Leader. Under her leadership, 17 bills introduced by Democrats were signed into law in 2021– more than in the last six years combined! Moreover, three of Representative Longdon’s bills centered on improving the lives of people with disabilities and benefiting all Arizonans have been signed into law.

Passing disability-centric bills are just one way that Representative Longdon is making a positive impact as a disabled woman in the Arizona House of Representatives - but it doesn’t end there. Having a disabled woman in this important elected position has resulted in important changes that will have a lasting impact on generations to come. For example, for the first time in the 60-year history of the building, there’s a wheelchair ramp to the Speaker’s dais.

When asked about her leadership as a disabled woman, Representative Longdon was clear: “The fact I’ve been honored to serve as the first Democrat appointed to an ad hoc committee in more than 55 years of Republican-dominated legislatures, combined with the fact that my Democratic peers elected me last session to serve as Assistant Leader demonstrates that women with disabilities can – and DO – lead.”

As a strong disabled woman leader, Representative Longdon has had to navigate many frustrating barriers throughout her career, and for her, the most frustrating is the persistent bias and discrimination that continues to pervade our lives even today - especially when it comes from those who call themselves allies. For example, an “ally” organization once explained to Representative Longdon that “at this time, disability is not part of our diversity agenda.”

However, Representative Longdon knows better. Not only does she know that disability is diversity, she also knows that intersectional work is critically important - and some of her proudest achievements have been centered around such work. In 2013, as Chair of the Phoenix Mayor’s Commission on Disability Issues, she helped shepherd the expansion of Phoenix’s non-discrimination ordinance to protect her LGBTQ+ neighbors from discrimination in housing and employment based on sexual orientation or gender identity while also updating language referencing “handicap” discrimination. More recently, Representative Longdon served as Amicus Curiae with other disability and reproductive rights advocates supporting plaintiffs in an amicus brief filed in December 2021 in the case Isaacson et al. v. Brnovich et al. This lawsuit was filed in response to the 2021 passage of SB1457, which purports to criminalize abortion based on genetic anomalies, and it brought front and center the importance of intersectional work on reproductive justice.

Representative Longdon has accomplished many things during her tenure with the Arizona House of Representatives, but she knows the work is not done yet, which is why she’s running for reelection this year. We’re wishing her the best of luck because, as Rep. Longdon aptly put it, “Disabled women can – and SHOULD – lead.”

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.

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