Powerful women changing the world and championing disability rights

Inspiring women around the world advocate for human rights and for just, inclusive societies. They also speak with courage about the rights of people with disabilities. We honor five brave voices during Women’s History Month and every month:

Simone Biles, American Olympian

Simone Biles with arms spread and lights shining down (© Ashley Landis/AP Images)
Simone Biles trains on vault for artistic gymnastics July 22, 2021, in Tokyo. (© Ashley Landis/AP Images)

The most decorated American gymnast in history, Simone Biles was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) as a child. She has taken a bold stand against ADHD stigma and in support of athletes’ mental and emotional health. “Having ADHD and taking medicine for it is nothing to be ashamed of, nothing that I’m afraid to let people know.”

Biles, only 25 years old, has won 32 Olympic and World Championship medals.

She credits her success to hard work, determination and the strong support of her family and friends. She aims to show the world that people with disabilities not only are capable of doing great work, but also possess unique talents.

Greta Thunberg, Swedish environmental activist

Greta Thunberg speaking into hand-held microphone with arm raised in front of banner and other activists (© Antonio Calanni/AP Images)
Greta Thunberg delivers a speech October 1, 2021, during a Fridays for Future demonstration in Milan. (© Antonio Calanni/AP Images)

Teenage activist Greta Thunberg calls living with Asperger’s syndrome — a condition on the autism spectrum — her “superpower.”

Thunberg said: “When haters go after your looks and differences, it means they have nowhere left to go. And then you know you’re winning! I have Asperger’s, and that means I’m sometimes a bit different from the norm. And — given the right circumstances — being different is a superpower.”

At age 15, Thunberg began petitioning the Swedish government for stronger action on climate change. She addressed the 2018 United Nations Climate Change Conference and has continued to speak internationally and lead protests calling attention to the climate crisis. She has inspired students and people worldwide to join the cause.

Tanni Grey-Thompson, British athlete and politician

Tanni Grey-Thompson racing in wheelchair (© Gareth Copley/PA Images/Getty Images)
Great Britain’s Tanni Grey-Thompson races during the heats of the women’s 400 meters T53 at the Paralympic Games September 25, 2004, in Athens. (© Gareth Copley/PA Images/Getty Images)

Tanni Grey-Thompson is a member of the United Kingdom’s House of Lords, a successful athlete and a passionate television and radio sports commentator. Born with spina bifida, Grey-Thompson set and achieved high standards in her career. She has won more than 20 medals for the United Kingdom in the Paralympic Games and the World Para Athletics Championships as a wheelchair racer. In her political position today, she advocates for welfare reform, equality and accessibility.

Janina Ochojska, Polish humanitarian

Janina Ochojska smiling, with hands clasped in front of her face (© Artur Widak/NurPhoto/Getty Images)
Janina Ochojska, a member of the European Parliament and the founder of Polish Humanitarian Action, speaks October 13, 2019, during the Civic Coalition election campaign convention in Kraków, Poland. (© Artur Widak/NurPhoto/Getty Images)

Janina Ochojska is a Polish astronomer and award-winning social activist who currently serves as a member of the European Parliament. Born in Gdańsk, she contracted polio in early childhood. After receiving lifesaving surgery and medical treatment, she began volunteering for humanitarian organizations offering aid to children in Poland. Ochojska then founded Polish Humanitarian Action, an international NGO that helps people in crisis situations. Over 25 years, her foundation has provided assistance to nearly 10 million people in 44 countries, building 58 schools and 943 water systems to create better sanitary and living conditions.

Now Ochojska is focused on providing direct support on the ground to those affected by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. More than 2 million refugees have crossed into her native Poland since Russia further invaded Ukraine on February 24.  In a recent speech to the European Parliament, Ochojska said: “It is NGOs and local authorities who are coordinating this enormous help and volunteers who are present wherever someone is in need.”

Aaron Rose Philip, Antiguan American model and human rights advocate

Aaron Rose Philip, shown from waist up in wheelchair, looking into camera (© Anthony Tudisco)
Model Aaron Rose Philip uses her platform to push the fashion industry toward more inclusive practices. (© Anthony Tudisco)

In 2018, Aaron Rose Philip became the first Black, transgender and wheelchair-using model to be represented by a major modeling agency. Philip uses her platform to push the fashion industry toward more inclusive practices. Born in Antigua and Barbuda, she has lived in New York City since she was 3. She began modeling as a teenager, frustrated that she never saw anyone who looked like her in the fashion industry.

“I’d look at all the shows, and it was surprising to see just how many people really don’t think that disabled people also like to get dressed and feel good,” Philip said in an interview with Vogue magazine. She is proud of her hard work and achievements, declaring: “I am a talented model who has a disability, who also happens to be a Black trans woman. I want to have the same level of success and opportunities that my peers have.”