Laura Hershey (August 11, 1962 – November 26, 2010) was a poet, a journalist, a popular speaker, a feminist, and a disability rights activist and consultant. Known to have parked her wheelchair in front of buses, Hershey was one of the leaders of a protest against the paternalistic attitudes and images of people with disabilities inherent to Jerry Lewis's MDA Telethon. She was a regular columnist for the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, and on her own website, Crip Commentary, and was published in a variety of magazines and websites. She was admired for her wit, her ability to structure strong arguments in the service of justice, and her spirited refusal to let social responses to her spinal muscular atrophy define the parameters of her life as anything less than a full human existence. She was also the mother of an adopted daughter.
Education and Activism
Hershey earned a BA in History in 1983 from Colorado College, where a number of classes had to be relocated so she could attend them because some of their buildings were not accessible. On her graduation, she received a Watson Fellowship, which allowed her to travel and write and led to her involvement in the global disability rights movement. She went on to get an MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University Los Angeles.
She twice attended United Nations conferences on women's rights, one in Nairobi, Kenya, and one in Beijing, China. Her activism included campaigns to remove Social Security work disincentives, to challenge the negative images of the Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon, to increase visibility of LGBTQ people with disabilities, to improve Medicaid home and community-based services, and to promote the rights of home care workers. She was active in many committees, and organizations ADAPT, Not Dead Yet, and the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition, among others.
Colorado College awarded Hershey an honorary doctorate in recognition of her achievements in 1993.
- “Rights, Realities, and Issues of Women with Disabilities,” chapter in Sisterhood Is Forever: The Women's Anthology for a New Millennium, ed. by Robin Morgan (Washington Square Press, 2003)
- Survival Strategies for Going Abroad: A Guide for People with Disabilities (Mobility International USA, 2005)
- 1993 From Poster Child to Protester
- Aug 25, 2010 Independence and Interdependence: Equally Important Values, Huffington Post
- Nov 24, 2010 The Good and Bad of Gratitude
- "Welcome", "Honor", "The Prostitutes of Nairobi", in On the Lawn: Poems from the Nairobi Women's Conference (chapbook, 1987)
- "In the Way", "Petunias", "You Get Proud By Practicing", in In the Way: ADAPT Poems (chapbook, 1991)
- "You Get Proud By Practicing" was also published as a poster illustrated by Dan Wilkins
- "Reading to the Cooks", "Note from Oregon", "August", in Dreams of a Different Woman (chapbook, 1992)
- "Belly of the Bus", "Flights", "Culture Shock, Crip-Style", in Flights: Poems from the Beijing Women's Conference (chapbook, 1995)
- "Adopting a Fourteen-Year-Old in the 21st Century" (2010)
- Spark Before Dark, a collection of poems (Finishing Line Press, upcoming in June 2011)
Other of her poems appear in:
- Fire in the Soul: 100 Poems for Human Rights
- Bigger Than the Sky: Disabled Women on Parenting
- Pushing the Limits: Disabled Dykes Produce Culture
- 1998 President’s Award from the President’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities
- 2010 Lambda Poetry Fellowship
The Laura Hershey Memorial Disability Benefits Support Program was created in 2011 by the Colorado State Legislature to "provide education, direct assistance and advocacy for people with disabilities eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance, Supplemental Security Income and Long-Term Medicaid".
Born in Colorado, Hershey used a manual wheelchair and later a power chair, and was a poster child for Jerry Lewis's Muscular Dystrophy Association when young. She grew up to protest the MDA's telethons, arguing they projected an image of people with muscular dystrophy as pitiful people whose lives are not worth living.
Hershey and her partner of 20 years, Robin Stephens, had adopted a 14-year-old daughter. Hershey died November 26, 2010, after a short illness.
- Ingold, John (2010-11-28). "Laura Hershey, 48, championed disability rights". Denver Post. Retrieved 2010-11-30.
- Laura Hershey, renowned disability rights activist, writer and consultant, dies, by Beth Haller, November 27, 2010
- Laura Hershey (1962-2010), by Cory Silverberg, November 29, 2010
- Success: Laura Hershey cached copy from Nov 17, 2010
- Remembering Laura Hershey, from Lambda Literary Foundation, November 30, 2010
- "New Program Honors Hershey". New Mobility. May 2011. Retrieved 2013-08-27.
- Laura Hershey, 48, championed disability rights, By John Ingold, The Denver Post