Laura Hershey was a writer whose poetry, prose, and journalism challenged and changed society’s perception of disability, while firmly demanding a place for disabled people in all aspects of society. Born and raised in Colorado, she fostered lifelong ties to local and global disability communities through her writings and leadership. Her workshops, speeches, poetry readings, trainings, and other presentations offered opportunities for disability scholarship in a wide range of professional and community organizations. It has been through these media that she mentored disability activists around the world to demand participation in every aspect of their lives.
Hershey directed Denver’s Commission for People with Disabilities; led the Disability Center for Independent Living; co-founded the Domestic Violence Initiative; consulted with Denver regional municipalities assisting with ADA implementation and LGBT inclusion; wrote an ongoing disability-themed column for the Denver Post; blogged for the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation’s website; and worked with local municipalities to ensure mandated access policies were applied.
One of her most famous works is a poem called You Get Proud By Practicing. It has been translated into Spanish and French; set to music by the Minnesota Women’s Consortium; performed by the Matrix Theater Justin D’Artists. The poem has been the topic of social justice conferences, published in numerous poetry and disability-themed anthologies; made into a poster and set to music by two LGBT choirs.
Hershey elevated the status of women with disabilities by demonstrating that a woman with the most significant disability could have a successful career, enjoy a fulfilling family and home life, and travel the world. Hershey was very open about her own disability, and she devoted herself to breaking down barriers and building bridges so that society could understand disability as a natural part of life rather than as a burden. By taking the social justice perspective, she was able to communicate her ideas on a political level, de-emphasizing the pity, fear, and shame she was confronted with as a child on the MDA Telethon. Accomplishing all of this, she changed the paradigm and instilled a pride in a disability that had been unthinkable previously.