Stephanie Woodward is a feisty disability rights attorney who is willing to go to the extremes to fight for the rights of people with disabilities. Born with Spina Bifida, Stephanie has always been interested in helping people with disabilities. When she was younger she wanted to be a business owner and employ people with disabilities, but as she grew older she encountered a lot of discrimination in school and learned to advocate for herself.
When she was 19, Woodward wanted to learn more about other people with disabilities, so she became a volunteer for the Center for Disability Rights (CDR). This was Stephanie's first encounter with the disability community. While Stephanie had always been proud of herself, she had not been very proud of her disability identity. Working at CDR with people with disabilities who were strong leaders and incredible role models made her feel proud of her disability identity and led her to take ownership of her disability and take action within the disability community.
Stephanie soon became immersed in the Disability Rights Movement. She was hired by CDR to work on ending discriminatory practices in public transportation, she joined the grassroots disability rights group ADAPT and began participating in direct actions and protests for disability rights, and she interned with Senator Tom Harkin for a summer. These experiences revealed to her that although the U.S. has many great disability rights laws, many people with disabilities are still being discriminated against because there is not enough enforcement of the laws. That is when she decided to go to law school.
While Stephanie has been very fortunate to have benefited from the mentoring and inspiration of many key disability civil rights leaders, she credits her father’s uncompromising expectations to the path she is on. “He never let me use my disability as an excuse and he never coddled me because of my disability…my dad had the highest expectations for me and never sheltered me. This helped me to become a strong and independent woman and to always set high expectations for myself.”
In May 2013, Stephanie graduated in the top 10% of her law school class and in August 2013 she joined the Disability Independence Group, a legal advocacy center with the mission of expanding opportunities for participation, education, employment, and acceptance of persons with disabilities through advocacy, litigation, education, and training.
As Ms. Wheelchair Florida 2014 Stephanie will focus her efforts on ending domestic violence against women with disabilities. Women with disabilities are at least twice as likely to become victims of sexual assault and domestic violence as women without disabilities. Often these women are unable or unwilling to seek help because of physical, systematic, and attitudinal barriers. Stephanie will work with women with disabilities to educate them about options for seeking help and young girls with disabilities to teach them about empowerment and self esteem. She also plans to work with domestic violence service providers to implement plans for identifying and assisting victims with disabilities.