Member Spotlight: Making Strides in Disability Advocacy

By: Monica Wiley

My name is Monica Wiley, but many know me as Ms. Mo, and I’m a new member of the Junior League of Washington. It is my honor to bring awareness to the 33rd Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the recent observance of the National Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Month in September. National Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Month honors the courage of those with spinal cord injuries (SCI) and their families, and aims to educate the public about SCI to build support for those with SCI. SCI is often caused by trauma to the spinal cord due to motor vehicle accidents, falls, sports and recreational injuries, acts of violence, or surgical complications.

My connection to National Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Month is personal – I am a woman with an incomplete spinal cord injury caused by a drunk driver. When I was nine-years old, a driver hit our family car plunging us over a 150-ft bridge and which left us buried a foot and a half deep in the ground. I lost my entire family and was the only survivor of this tragedy. Doctors thought I would be a paraplegic for the rest of my life. However, I beat the odds and was able to walk again with rehabilitation. I’m classified at Children Hospital of Richmond, Virginia as the ‘Miracle Child’.

When I became a member of the disability community in 1989, people with disabilities did not have many civil rights protections. The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is a federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in programs overseen by federal agencies, programs receiving federal financial assistance, federal employment, and in the employment practices of federal contractors. Then, protections did not exist to prohibit people with disabilities from social, economic, or academic discrimination. On July 26, 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed. The ADA is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all places open to the general public. These laws have helped me, and others like me, to overcome many societal barriers.

I am a relentless disability advocate, policy maker, and change agent with over 15 years of experience as a Disability adviser and an Organizational and Relationship Manager in the public and private sector. I have worked for notable leaders in state government and federal agencies to protect and advance the rights of people with disabilities and other underrepresented communities. Additionally, I currently work at the National Disability Rights as their voter engagement point of contact. I was crowned the first Black Ms. Maryland USA Success, Leadership, Integrity, Character and Confidence (SLICC) Ambassador 2023. I currently serve as Vice Chair of the United Spinal Association Chapter of Washington, D.C., was unanimously elected to the Board of Directors to United Spinal Association, appointed to the Maryland Statewide Independent Living Council Board to serve in Governor Moore’s administration; and recently received the Presidential Service Award and a letter signed by President Biden. These are just a few examples of the ways that I can use my voice to make change for my community including establishing curbside voting for people with disabilities in Virginia. 

I am thankful for the JLW and its commitment to acknowledging and amplifying the stories of all of its members. I have been given a platform to share my story with the JLW community and with that, the ability to advance the rights and social justice for people with disabilities.