Disabled Women Make History: Yen Hoang

Posted by Stephanie Woodward in Life After Paralysis on November 03, 2021 # Disabled Women Make History

Yen with her older sister, AnhTo celebrate the achievements of women with disabilities, the Disabled Women Make History blog series is based on interviews with passionate, determined, and talented women with paralysis. Join us monthly as we celebrate these women and acknowledge the complexities, struggles, and accomplishments of women with disabilities.

"I think it's important for people with disabilities to be represented in all fields."

Yen Hoang on athletics, accounting, and disability representation.

Yen Hoang is not your average accountant. For instance, this past summer Yen took a hiatus from her international accounting job to compete in the Paralympic Games, and her aspirations for the future include rescuing all the dogs that she can.

Born in Vietnam, Yen immigrated to the United States with her family when she was three years old and became paralyzed just one year later. Yen grew up in Washington state, where she began participating in adaptive sports when she was 12.

"Physical therapists always pushed me to try out sports, but I didn't want to," Yen explained. "What got me into sports was in middle school, a newly injured quadriplegic came to give a speech. The way he talked about his injury and how rugby helped him regain independence and confidence, it sparked a curiosity in me. He invited me out to try rugby; I had a lot of fun. However, since I'm not a quadriplegic, I couldn't play rugby competitively, so I joined Adaptive Sports NW's junior basketball team."

Yen played on the team for five years but openly admits that she was not very good at wheelchair basketball. "I made one free throw in my entire basketball career," Yen shared with a laugh.

Yen in her first racing chairWhile shooting hoops wasn't her strength, speed was. In fact, some of Yen's friends who participated in wheelchair racing encouraged her to give it a shot, so when she was 13, she traveled down to Eugene, Oregon and got her first racing chair. She would go back to Eugene once a month to practice, but she also joined her high school's track team so that she could practice with them daily. Her hard work paid off and she made the Para Pan Am team in 2015.

Her love for the sport led her to apply to attend college at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign because her friends told her that it was the best college for wheelchair racing.

"I never even visited my freshman dorm, campus, or even Illinois before moving to Champaign for college," Yen said. "I knew I wanted to train with the best, so all the other factors didn't matter."

While at Urbana-Champaign, Yen also earned a bachelor's and master's in accounting, but that wasn't always the plan. In fact, Yen entered college as an undecided major, and at one point, she decided she would pursue a degree in Kinesiology. However, during a camping trip, she was playing a game of Monopoly with friends where she was serving as the banker. Every time someone was about to make an investment, Yen would advise them on whether or not it was a good decision. Her friend, getting fed up with Yen's constant advice, blurted out, "You be a financial advisor, Yen, since you like to tell people what to do with their money so much."

While she did not follow the financial advisor path, this experience did get Yen thinking about pursuing a business degree, and she eventually landed on accounting as her major. Yen was in luck too, because it just so happens that Urbana-Champaign has one of the nation's best accounting programs.

Now Yen serves as an international tax associate at KPMG, one of the Big Four accounting firms. In her day-to-day work, Yen assists clients with various international tax policies. However, since joining the firm in January of 2021, Yen's day-to-day schedule has been anything but average. In fact, Yen worked remotely and part-time for KPMG leading up to the Paralympics to allow her to train. Now that she's back from Tokyo, Yen works 40+ hours a week and still finds time to work out six times a week, so she's ready for a few of the World Major marathons that she plans to participate in, including New York City, Chicago, and Boston.

Yen counts herself lucky to work for a firm that has been so accommodating of her schedule to allow her to compete on a national stage. Prior to Tokyo, Yen had never competed in the Paralympics – she narrowly missed the 2016 Games in Rio Paralympics, but she knew that if she kept working hard, then her time would come, and it did.

Yen at Tokyo ParalympicsPrior to taking off for Tokyo, Yen was most looking forward to the great cuisine that Japan has to offer, but it turns out that the food was not her favorite part of the Paralympic Games – it was meeting the Vietnamese Delegation.

"My favorite moment in Tokyo, besides competing on the largest stage and against the best, was chit-chatting with the Vietnam team before Opening Ceremony," Yen recounted. "Like I said above, my family and I immigrated to America when I was three, and I got paralyzed when I was four. I know I would not have gotten the same opportunities as a disabled individual in Vietnam as I have gotten in America. Vietnam is not accessible, there are steps to every store and home, and the majority of toilets are holes in the ground. Obviously, I would have adapted to my environment and especially if it's all I knew – but I'm extremely grateful for the opportunity to come to a developed country because it does make living with a disability easier."

Another aspect of the Paralympics that Yen reflected on was the lack of women with disabilities in her sport. In her classification (T53 - paraplegic with little to no core strength) only had 11 women competing. She attributes this to a lack of information and representation.

"Exposure to adaptive sports and activities is still a barrier to entry for kids. If they or their parents don't know about these adaptive opportunities, how are they supposed to get involved? That's why mentors are necessary to show kids and parents the resources available."

It's not just athletics and recreational activities that Yen is concerned about – she wants to ensure there is representation everywhere, even in accounting.

"I think it's important for people with disabilities to be represented in all fields, including in the public accounting sector. You never know who is observing you throughout your daily life or has read an article about you – maybe there's some kid out there that's like, 'Look at her! I want to be an accountant and be in the corporate world, too.'" Yen then added with a laugh, "Okay, maybe no kid ever said that."

In addition to emphasizing the importance of disability representation, Yen also shared some advice for young people with disabilities: "Keep your goals in mind and prioritize what's important to you because there is only so much time in a day. Also, be patient with yourself in any transition in life or when trying to learn any skill, such as balance."

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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