Women’s Equality in an Unequal World

Posted by Reeve Staff in Life After Paralysis on August 26, 2021 # Community Education

Two women talking near the water.

With Women's Equality Day comes a rush of statistics and infographics that show how undervalued women can still be in our homes and workplaces, unveiling the disparities that still exist in our society. Women are still underpaid, underrepresented in public office and media, as well as having to suffer sexual harassment and sexual assault at a rate far higher than their male counterparts. With all of these issues persisting, pursuing equality for women is more important than ever.

As able-bodied women face these challenges on a daily basis, disabled women are subject to even more harsh societal discrimination through de facto sentiments and de jure laws. There have been many studies and articles written on this matter. In Powell's article, she points out that able-bodied women are paid 80 cents for every dollar an able-bodied man makes. For disabled women, the gap is even more severe, as disabled women only make 72 cents for every dollar made by a man with a disability. A study from the American Institutes for Research found that disabled individuals earn 37% less on average when compared to their able-bodied counterparts. Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act still allows for employers to pay disabled employees subminimum wages (below minimum wage) for their work. This appalling law is a prime example of obsolete legislation that is abused to the detriment of our disabled community and the women within it. This trend of economic discrimination persisting within the disabled and paralyzed community truly shows just how far we are from complete equality.

Media representation of disabled women, or lack thereof, is another contributor to the discrepancy of representation and equality that disabled women experience. Having role models for one to identify themselves with is extremely important in building confidence and can help individuals realize that there are no limitations to their potential. Target, the country-wide retailer, recently broke the standard mold by running a Lilly Pulitzer ad that featured a woman in a wheelchair. What many do not realize is the impact that this ad carries. This type of representation is so empowering to disabled women who are not used to having this visibility. As disabled women are some of the most underrepresented individuals in mainstream media and pop culture, it is incredibly important for disabled women to see themselves on TV, in movies, and in advertisements like the Lilly Pulitzer Target ad. How can we foster an equal world for disabled women if we are unwilling to show them in our art and culture?

Financial discrepancies and media representations are not the only ways in which disabled and paralyzed women are deemed lesser by societal standards. Through the National Council for Independent Living (NCIL), it is recorded that throughout the entire United States, only twenty-two elected officials identify as having a disability. Only five of those elected officials are women who have a disability that is related to mobility impairments such as paralysis. Despite the fact that 25% of the U.S population has a disability, disabled individuals and women are sorely underrepresented in their local, state, and federal government. With such a lack of representation in our government, how can the issues that affect disabled women the most be addressed adequately without the insider knowledge that other officials are elected for? If we are going to continue to elect individuals based on their experience in finance, oil, and war to address those respective topics, we need to begin electing female officials that have experience working and living in the disabled community to create an equal world.

Malala Yousafzai was quoted saying:

"I raise my voice not so I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard. We cannot succeed when half of us are held back."

Here at the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, we are dedicated to giving women with paralysis and related disabilities a voice. The Reeve Foundation provides countless resources for people with paralysis, mobility impairments, and other related disabilities through our National Paralysis Resource Center. For more information and resources, please see our Women with Disabilities factsheet. It provides useful health information, information for online communities and support systems, and more videos and articles on women with disabilities. Our booklet on Self Advocacy is also a great resource that gives tips and tricks on how to better advocate for yourself and your individualized needs. You can check out those resources and much more at the Reeve Foundation

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.