Oh, Your Shelter Isn’t Accessible? – And Other Reasons Women with Disabilities Experiencing Violence Cannot or Do Not Seek Help.

This article was written by attorney and advocate Stephanie Woodward. It was originally posted on her blog Ms. Wheelchair Florida 2014 on July 23, 2014. It has been reposted here with her permission.

 


In my last post I wrote about how society’s treatment of women and girls with disabilities can contribute to the domestic violence we experience. Essentially, when you treat us like we’re a burden or like we’re worth less than other women, we start to believe it ourselves. I wrote about this to raise awareness about not only domestic violence against women with disabilities, but also to raise awareness of how society views and treats women with disabilities.

Many women and men with disabilities lauded my post and thanked me for finally talking about this issue. Many women and men without disabilities thanked me for bringing this issue to their attention and truly reflected on their actions and how they could help make a change in how society treats women with disabilities. Unfortunately, some people took this as an opportunity to question and challenge both the domestic violence women with disabilities experience and the societal treatment of women with disabilities. They demanded evidence of the domestic violence rates for women with disabilities and proclaimed that it’s not just women with disabilities that experience such violence.

Well, duh. Obviously others experience this violence, but the point is that women with disabilities experience it at much higher rates. If you want evidence, go to google. The statistics and facts I give you are not from secret sources. They’re from the DOJ, they’re from national and international organizations that spend large parts of their budgets doing research on this issue, and they’re from real women who experience the abuse.

The point is women with disabilities experience much higher rates of violence (Want proof? Check out the DOJ’s Bureau of Justice Statistics that show in 2011 women with disabilities were THREE TIMES as likely to be victims of violent crimes than women without disabilities).

There are many reasons that women with disabilities who experience violence don’t seek help. Sometimes there are physical or systematic barriers that prevent a person from seeking help. Sometimes it’s societal issues, like the self-esteem issue I wrote about last time.

I chose to write about the self-esteem problem last time because that is what I know best. I feel that before articulating stories about other women I needed to share my own, after all, my story is mine to tell. The experiences that other women have gone through are not my own, therefore they are not my stories to tell. However, in order to end violence against women with disabilities, society needs to learn about the problem. We can’t stop a problem that we don’t know exists.

For this reason I am providing you a list of why some women with different disabilities cannot or do not seek help. This list is by no means comprehensive. The examples I have included are real examples from real women who experienced real abuse. I have not included their names or any other identifying information.

Poverty

Many women with disabilities have fewer economic resources, thereby increasing their inability to seek help. Poverty is a factor that prevents many people without disabilities from seeking help. For women with disabilities, it’s a bit different.

Imagine you are a woman living in poverty and you are being abused.  You may not seek help because you fear that you will not be able to afford your own home, food, transportation, and other living expenses without your abusers financial assistance. You may have kids too. How will you be able to support them as well? These are real concerns that people with and without disabilities face.

With disability it goes a step further. Imagine you are a wheelchair user. You live in a rural area with no bus stop in your area. No paratransit either. You certainly don’t have a wheelchair accessible van because those things are ridiculously expensive and you can barely afford to pay your rent. How will you get out of your house to go to a shelter or any other place to seek help? Accessible taxi? Ha. They’re still fighting like hell to get accessible taxis in NYC, they certainly don’t have them in your neighborhood.

Fear

All people who experience abuse struggle to leave because of fear. Every person is different and fears different things, but people with disabilities have fears that people without disabilities don’t usually even think of.

Fear of losing assistance or being institutionalized

Say you’re a person with a disability that requires assistance from a personal care attendant, but your attendant is abusing you. Your attendant started off fine, helped you shower and get dressed, but eventually she became controlling. She started becoming more aggressive when helping you shower and dress. Then she started hitting you when you took too long to put your pants on. A few times when she got really angry she would put her cigarettes out on your legs. You want the abuse to stop, but if you report your attendant then you won’t have anyone to help you shower and get dressed every day. How will you get out of bed in the morning? If you go without an attendant for too long, insurance will deem that it is “unsafe” for you to live in the community without support so you will be sent to an institution. An institution where you lay in bed all day, eat whatever gross food they put in front of you, never go outside, and possibly experience more abuse. What do you do?

Fear that you will get in trouble

Now let’s say you’re a person with an intellectual disability. You live in a group home and one of the employees is sexually abusing you. You know what is happening is wrong, but when the employee touches you sometimes it feels good to you. You’re afraid to tell because you know what is happening is wrong, but you think you might get in trouble because it felt good to you. So you don’t tell because you don’t want to get in trouble.

Fear of Not being Believed

What if you’re a woman with a mental health disability? Maybe you have anxiety or depression or a personality disorder or maybe PTSD. You are being abused by your partner or your parent or someone else close to you. You want to tell someone about the abuse, but you fear no one will believe you because everything thinks you’re “crazy” already.

Fear of Further Abuse

You’re a woman with a disability that lives in the community and your attendant is abusing you. She hits you occasionally when she gets angry, she leaves you sitting in the same position for hours which causes you to get bedsores that become infected, and sometimes she thinks it’s funny to refuse to help you with your toileting needs and you end up sitting in your own feces for hours. If you tell someone, maybe your attendant will find out and make things even worse on you. Right now she only hits you sometimes and neglects you, but if you tell she might start hitting you more or worse. Maybe it’s better if you just suck it up and don’t tell anyone so things don’t get worse.

Inaccessibility

Physical Inaccessibility of Shelters

You use a wheelchair and your husband is beating the crap out of you all the time. You’re fed up. You know you shouldn’t have to take this. You find a way to get to your local women’s shelter to seek help when your husband is out of town for the weekend. You get to the front door of the shelter and you only see stairs. You can’t get in. So you call the shelter while you sit outside, staring at the steps that are preventing you from seeking help. They come out and agree to carry you and your chair inside. It’s humiliating, but you take it because it’s your only way to get away from the abuse. Once you’re inside you try to go into an office to talk to an employee, but the doorway is too small and you can’t get in. They come out and you meet in another area and then show you around the shelter. You try to get in the bathroom, but it’s completely inaccessible. The bed is so low that you can’t independently transfer yourself from your chair to the bed. So you can’t sleep there or go to the bathroom there or even get in and out of the door without others carrying you, how could you possibly stay?

Programatic/Systematic Inaccessibility of Shelters

You have multiple sclerosis. It’s hard for you to walk, but you make it to the shelter and decide you want to stay there to get away from your abusive partner. The shelter says you can stay but has a no narcotics rule. You take prescribed narcotics to treat the extreme pain you experience from your MS. They refuse to make a reasonable modification to their rules for you. So you can get away from abusive partner or you can treat your MS, but not both.

Inaccessible information

You’re blind and your boyfriend is verbally and physically abusive as well as completely controlling. He does not let you have a phone and sometimes he doesn’t even let you go to class. On a day he does allow you to go to school, you talk about domestic violence in one of your classes and different options victims have to seek help but you can’t read any of the handouts. You want to seek help from a shelter, so you skip your next class to go to the school library to google your local shelter before your boyfriend comes to pick you up. Unfortunately the website isn’t accessible so the screen reader can’t read any of the information. You don’t exactly want to ask the librarian to read the information to you either. Why is it so hard for you to seek help?

Communication Barriers

You’re Deaf and you use TTY to call your local shelter. When the person at the shelter answers, they don’t want to deal with TTY communication, so they hang up. You’re upset because you feel rejected when it took you so much courage to finally seek help, but you won’t give up. The next day you go to the shelter for help, but they refuse to get an interpreter so you can communicate with them. You demand an interpreter because you know your rights. You tell them the ADA requires them to provide an interpreter as an accommodation. They finally agree to provide an interpreter during meetings and therapy, but for the other 22 hours of the day you have no access to communication with others. No one else in the shelter knows sign language. You feel so isolated and alone. Maybe it’s better to go back to your partner. After all, he knows sign language. He communicates with you. And he doesn’t always hurt you. Maybe if you go back things will get better? At least you know you won’t be so alone.

Or maybe you have a speech disability. Your speech is difficult for others to understand and often people need to ask you to repeat yourself multiple times in order to get what you’re saying. You don’t mind repeating yourself but most people don’t have the patience to listen to you. Your attendant understands your speech, but your attendant is the one who abuses you. You try to tell others when your attendant is around, but everyone just smiles and nods, pretending to understand you. Will anyone ever listen?

Of course, what if you’re completely nonverbal?

Lack of Understanding

You Don’t Understand That You’re Experiencing Abuse

You have an intellectual disability. Your mom hugs you and kisses and feeds you, but she also yells at you, hits you, and controls everything you do. You know your mom loves you and you don’t like when she hits you and yells at you, but she tells you that she has to yell at you and hit you because you’re a bad girl and she needs to teach you a lesson. You don’t understand that she is being abusive, so you never seek help.

You Don’t Realize Specific Actions Are Abusive

Your husband loves you and he would never hit you. He’s never laid a hand on you. But, sometimes when he’s mad he refuses to let you have your wheelchair. He takes it away from you so you can’t reach it. You end up lying in bed for days sometimes – laying in your own urine because you can’t get to the bathroom. Sometimes you get bed sores from laying so much and twice the bedsores have gotten infected causing you to be hospitalized for days. But that’s not really abuse, right? He loves you. He’s usually very good to you, he just gets frustrated sometimes. It seems like an insult to women who experience real abuse to say that this is abuse. It’s fine.

 


For additional information, please see our article Domestic Violence Support For Women with Disabilities.

Going to College with a Disability

 

by Eva Sweeney, Hannah Langlie, Julie McGinnity and GimpGirl Community

Transitioning from adolescence to college (or university) life is scary at times for most students. However, being a college student with a disability definitely comes with its own unique challenges. This article explores many of the common pitfalls experienced by students, and how individuals successfully addressed these barriers.

Although high schools in some countries (such as the United States) are required to assist young adults with disabilities transitioning to a successful adulthood, many of these programs aren’t designed for a transition to college. These programs are often built around the false assumptions that disabled students are not going to attend college, or have aspirations beyond menial jobs and living at home (or in a group home). These programs are also staffed by adult, able-bodied professionals who do not have first-hand experience with living as a disabled person, and role models who have experience are rarely introduced.

As a high school student, these well-meaning programs can be a tremendously disempowering experience. Individual needs can get lost in a sea of bureaucracy and paperwork, and are often not addressed in meaningful ways. The system is not designed to give students all the tools needed to take charge of their lives and truly live independently.

Not surprisingly, in the United States only 53% of students with disabilities have completed a degree or vocational program, as opposed to 64% of their nondisabled peers (Cole, pg. 2). Students with disabilities don’t finish for many reasons, including lack of educational programs, not having access to funding, problems with coordinating support services like personal care attendants (PCAs) and medical care, unexpected medical complications, geographical access barriers like snow or long commutes, and physical access barriers like inaccessible classrooms or student housing.

We have put together a list of helpful tips for navigating the confusing landscape of college life. These tips are taken from our own experiences, as women with various disabilities, and should in no way be taken to represent all access needs. Eva attended a small, liberal arts college in Los Angeles. She uses a wheelchair to get around and speaks with a letter board since she is non-verbal. Hannah is currently a third-year college student in Seattle studying journalism. She uses a power chair most of the time and lives on campus. Julie is a master’s degree student studying music, and utilizes Braille and readers.

Balancing Academics and Practical Needs

Managing practical needs (such as personal care or navigating between classes) is critical to succeeding in college, so it is important to know what supports and accommodations are available. It is important to remember that every situation is a little different, depending on your personal needs and the college you choose. The quotes below relate each of our personal experiences.

Coordinating Disability Services

The vast majority of post-secondary schools (in the United States and other countries) have a disability services office that is suppose to coordinate all of the support services and accommodations needed by students to be successful. However, the responsiveness of the staff and quality of the services provided in each disability services office varies widely. We had very different experiences:

“My college’s disability services person was god awful. All my professors trusted me, so when I needed more time for tests, I just took the test in the cafeteria. I also couldn’t stay in the same room since my aide voiced what I’d be spelling out on my letter board and therefore, giving everyone my answers. My professors knew I wouldn’t cheat or copy the test for others. When I was done, I would just drop it off in their office. If I had used disability services, it would have been tons of unnecessary paperwork and time for each test. When I started each semester, I would email my professors and introduce myself. I would briefly explain cerebral palsy and that I would have an aide accompany me to class. I would also troubleshoot any potential issues. For example, my Human Anatomy class did a lot of work handling model bones. I can’t use my hands so instead, my professor would explain where certain bones are in my body. When I took painting, my professor was worried at first about how I would participate. But with an explanation and one or two classes, she quickly got it and I became one of her favorite students.” — Eva

“I choose to meet with each of my professors that I don’t already know before the quarter starts to go over my accommodations. Although I do use disability services, I don’t always use the accommodations for every class, I am able to customize them for what classes I need. Usually, a face-to-face meeting will help offset any anxiety that a professor might have. Because I use dictation software to write most of my papers and tests, I have a similar situation that I can’t be in the class with all of the other students, so sometimes I have to work this out, depending on what the test entails.” — Hannah

“I have always used disability services. Since I don’t have the time or energy to scan my books into accessible formats, I find them useful for this purpose. I have also worked with them to get Braille, which is very important to me. Since the college is obligated to pay for Braille, I prefer to go through them rather than trying to pay for it on my own. I try not to take tests through Disability Services though. It is much easier to arrange to take a test with a reader in a professor’s office or just take the test with the rest of the class.” — Julie

Continue Reading Going to College with a Disability

When to Say Goodbye to an Aide

 

In a previous article, we talked about how to find and hire an aide. Now, we’re going to discuss when and how to end that relationship when it has reached a natural conclusion. Knowing when to end a good working relationship can be tricky.

Being an aide should be really fun — and professional — for both you and your employee. However, there is an arc that most working relationships follow. If you hire people who are right out of college, they will inevitably want to leave to pursue their careers. Even aides who have been in the industry may need to move on for various reasons.

If they are having a good time at work and have a steady job, an aide may not know how to voice their desires to leave. Here are some changes to watch for that may indicate an aide needs to move on:

Lack of Energy. Everyone has days where they feel tired, but if your aide starts coming to work on a regular basis without enough energy or zest for the job, it could be a sign that its time to move on. This is especially true if he or she had a lot of energy and then suddenly doesn’t.
Moodiness. If your aide suddenly gets annoyed at little things, it’s a sign that they are not happy at the job.
Calling Out Sick More. Again, everyone gets sick once in awhile. If your helper starts calling in a lot (especially with no particular health reason), that is not a good sign.

How do you address this? It’s not fair (especially if you and your aide have had a good working relationship) to fire her or him without discussing your concerns. Your employee might have a legitimate reason for his or her change in attitude that is unrelated to your working relationship.

Here’s an example of a conversation you might have with your aide to voice your concerns:

You: Hey, so I want to talk about our working relationship. I have noticed you might not be as into the job.
Aide: What do you mean?
You: I have noticed your energy at work has not been as much as it previously was. I don’t know if you are having extra stress outside of work or something, but I just wanted to bring it to your attention.
Aide: Yeah, I’m a little more stressed. I’ll make sure it doesn’t bleed into my work now. Thanks for bringing it up.

It’s up to you if you want to give them another chance. If you enjoy the working relationship, its worth giving him or her a week or two to see if he or she improves, especially after you voice your concern. If he or she doesn’t improve (or only improves for a few days), its time to part ways.

Here are a few tips for how to bring up that you need to part ways:

Be Honest! Explain what you are seeing and how you think it shows that he or she needs to move on.
Use “I” Statements. This sounds cliché, but people will listen to your concerns better if you don’t say “you are.” Observations are better phrased starting with “I feel” sentiments such as: “I feel like our working relationship has changed.” This helps avoid hurt feelings and keep the conversation professional.
Use Email (if possible). That way, you can get everything out without being interrupted. Once your aide reads and digests the email, you two can have a discussion.
Remember, It’s Ultimately Your Decision. If you still feel like its time for her or him to move on, say it! You are the boss, and if you feel like the job is not being done correctly, you should fix it.
Share Positive Feedback. Be sure to praise her or him for the history of good work and assure him or her that it’s not personal. People might feel you just don’t enjoy spending time with them anymore and you should emphasize that is not the case.

Here’s an example of a conversation you might have when you have to let him or her go:

You: So I know I gave you two more weeks to improve your work performance, but I feel its time to part ways. I feel that this job is not the right fit for you anymore. I really enjoyed working with you and I think you are an awesome person. I will of course give you a glowing recommendation for your future employers. This is not personal and I really thank you for all the work you have done.
Aide: I’m sorry to hear that, but I understand. Do you want me to help you transition to a new aide?
You: That would be awesome, thanks!

(Note: Not all conversations will go as smoothly, so be aware of that)

If you do let them go, you should be prepared if he or she doesn’t want to help you transition to a new aide. Firing can be hard to take, especially when you have to work so closely with your boss, so have a back-up plan for help so you don’t get stranded. Hopefully, your aide will understand and help you transition to a new one.

Also, be sure to mention that you would provide references for them and how awesome they have been. These kinds of conversation are inherently awkward and uncomfortable, but it gets easier the more you do it.

Do you have any other suggestions on when and how to say goodbye to an aide? Feel free to comment below!

Hiring Aides

by Eva Sweeney and GimpGirl Community

Regardless of how many hours you need, finding an aide can be daunting. Aides, personal care assistants, carers and helpers are all titles for people you hire to help you. Some of us just need help getting up in the morning and getting in bed at night. Some of us need twenty-four hour assistance.

In a previous article, we discussed balancing relationships and aides. You need to find someone who can do all the tasks you need, but also respect you. You need to be comfortable with this person in your home. However, getting started on the hiring process can be overwhelming to beginners.

Here’s a list of tips to help you find a good aide:

  • If you’re putting an ad on Craigslist, in your local paper or with local college job boards, consider not only writing what the job entails, but also include a little bit about yourself. This lets people know a little bit about who you are, and if your personality will match. Have people email you rather than call– what they write will tell you a lot. If they just write “I need a job” then you know they’re not particularly interested in working for you. Likewise, if they tell you their whole life story, you should probably avoid interviewing them.

  • Sometimes less experience is better! If you feel confident training someone on how to do tasks, you might consider hiring someone with zero experience. People who have done this work before often have preconceived notions about how to do certain tasks or how to act. You don’t have to “retrain” people who haven’t done the job before.

  • When people email you and sound like a possible candidate, you might want to send them a list of pre-interview questions to answer. Such questions can be, “What about this job appeals to you?” and “Do you have any back problems?” Having this pre-interview definitely weeds out people who won’t be a good fit– and saves you time and energy.

  • Interview, interview, interview! (And interview in-person!) You might consider having another person with you while you interview. This helps you get a second opinion on the interviewee. Even if you work through an agency, it is your right to interview a person before saying yes to them.  You might have to explain to your agency why you would like to interview people before you say yes.  But if you do it in a calm, rational manner agencies are likely to understand.

  • Have a list of questions ready. Questions can range from “Can you lift and do personal care?” to “What are your hobbies?” Preparing questions beforehand makes the interview go smoothly. Asking a potential employee about hobbies might seem weird, but it’s a good way to see what their personality is like and if  they’re a good fit for you.

  • Ask what questions the person may have. If they ask about pay and nothing else, it’s probably not a good sign. If they ask about you or the duties of the job, it shows they’re thinking seriously about the job.

  • Watch them! If they don’t look directly at you or they seem uncomfortable, it’s probably not a good fit. But remember interviews are nerve-wracking, so the person might be a little nervous.  Try to casually talk with the person to see if they open up and relax a little.

  • Outline in detail the duties of the job. This ensures you and the person that you are interviewing that you are both on the same page about what the job entails. Ask if they’re uncomfortable with any aspect of the job.  If so, try to alleviate their concerns.

  • Suggest the person take a day to see if they really want this job. Most people are excited in the interview, but they don’t take the time to consider if they are really fit for the job. This cuts down on people starting work and then later realizing they are not up for it and then leaving.

  • Consider a time commitment. It is reasonable to ask people to stay for 3, 6, or 12 months. This cuts down on the turnaround that is common in these jobs.

  • Possibly do a second interview where you and the person just chat and get to know each other. This shows if you two get along or if they annoy you. If the latter happens it’s probably not wise to hire them.

  • Consider making the first month a trial period for both of you. That way if you don’t find your personalities meshing well, or your new hire doesn’t feel comfortable with any of the tasks, you both can say, “It’s not working out” without feeling like you’re breaking the time commitment.

  • Think about writing a training manual for your new hires. Describe in detail how you would like each task to be performed. When you hire someone, you can email them the manual but remember to say that they don’t have to memorize it.

  • If possible, have one of your past aides help you train your new one. Explaining things in words is great, but having someone show them what to do makes everything go more smoothly. Also for things like lifting, you probably have a limited understanding since you haven’t lifted yourself.

Here is an example of a job posting for hiring an aide:


Title: Live-in Secondary Caregiver (Independent Provider)

Start Date: June 15, 2012

Length of Job: Summer/2.5 Months (approximately)

Wage/Compensation: $XXXX/month (approximately, can vary) + free rent (furnished room) [Note: This could include anything given in exchange for aide services.]

Job Contact: First Name, Email Address

Requirements:

  • I am a relatively quiet, involved, intellectual woman with a physical disability who is highly involved in various community projects. I am also a cultural anthropology student. I will treat you as a capable, equal human being and I expect the same treatment in return. As we will be both working and living together for a period of time, we will need to have compatible personalities. I encourage you to share your unique personality with me in every contact, as it is more important to me than anything else in the hiring process for this particular position.

  • You must be registered as an independent provider through the State of XXXX prior to the start date, and follow-up with required state training sessions in order to get paid. This process can be started after the interview process and should not take long. The process requires a background check, legal identification and authorization to work in the United States. [Note: Licensing requirements differ in different states and countries. If you rely on government funding, be sure to educate yourself on what local process an aide may need to go through in order to get paid.]

  • No other training or experience is required other than the ability (physical and otherwise) and willingness to learn basic caregiving duties.

  • Any gender is welcome to apply.

  • References are required and will be checked.

  • Valid drivers license is preferable, though not explicitly required.

Job Duties:

  • You will be responsible for relatively light caregiving duties on nights and weekends for the duration of the job. Duties generally include: occasional cooking, feeding, and toileting; bedtime routine; overnight monitoring in case of emergency.

  • Even though I am an extremely busy woman, I enjoy getting out of the house every now and then to have fun on the weekends. On these occasions, you would be responsible for getting me dressed and accompanying me on the trip. If you have a valid drivers license, you would be driving my wheelchair accessible minivan.

  • You will also be responsible for emergency backup duties if the regular daytime caregiver is unable to carry out their duties. The regular daytime caregiver is through an agency, so backup duties should be relatively rare as the agency is responsible for finding coverage for those hours.

Note:

Hours and responsibilities are somewhat negotiable, depending on our compatibility and your availability. Even though you would be hired as a live-in caregiver, there are generally long periods of time (up to 4 hours or more at a time during the day) when I will not actively need your help. This would be the perfect situation for someone who needs to take summer classes, or has an internship or day job during the week. Hours can be slightly adjusted to accommodate such schedules, and you will have plenty of time to study or meet friends for a meal in between duties. Any adjustments may affect your compensation.


Even if you have lots of experience, hiring an aide is always a gamble. Some working relationships work out wonderfully, and others don’t. Learning to manage aides is a process, and we all have negative experiences along the way. Hopefully these tips will guide you through getting started on the process.

Lets hear from you! Do you have any have any great tips on how to hire an aide or an experience you’d like to share?

The New Year

When most people think of New Year’s resolutions, they picture easily made and easily broken promises. I like to think of the New Year as a time for reflection and self-guidance — a time to look back on the year behind us and what we have learned from those experiences, and a time to look forward into the new year to see how we can use those lessons to get closer to our goals.

Most of the GimpGirl regulars know that, for me, the last year has been one filled with a great deal of difficulty. The summer saw a sudden end to my long-term relationship, which sparked an interstate move and an endless cascade of problems with arranging social services and dealing with various other issues, on top of continuing school and my work here at GimpGirl. It has not been easy, to say the least. At times it looked as if I would end up in a group or nursing home on a long-term basis, something I fight very hard to avoid. It has been soul crushing, heartbreaking, and has tested every ounce of my somewhat renown tenacity.

As a disabled disability advocate, I feel it is important to share this experience. Sharing experience is a big part of how our community learns from each other. I often encounter assumptions that advocates don’t experience the same kinds of struggles and barriers that many other people do. We do, and it is just as difficult for us. We also know that what we do for ourselves affects those that come after us.

I have learned so much in the last six months. More than I ever thought possible. I have learned even more about navigating the system, what housing options are available to people with disabilities, what specific terminology to use when being assessed for caregiver funding, federal laws and statutes, and a multitude of other things. What I was reminded of more than anything was to stick by who I am as an individual. I am worthy, and the goals I set for myself are worthy. It was a reminder to not let anyone change me, because who I am is pretty awesome even if not everyone thinks so. It was also a reminder of how vitally important having a community is. Without my GimpGirl family – all of you amazing women who understand what facing these struggles is like – all of this would have been unbearable. When I was tired, these reminders would echo through my mind, keeping me from giving up when everything was telling me to.

As I go forward into the new year, I will take those lessons with me into my own life and in my work with GimpGirl. I am already seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, but I know that in order to fully realize what I want from my own life I will face many obstacles in the months to come. However, having looked back at the previous year, I know that I can face it. I know that the struggle is worth it. I know that I am worth every bit of energy I put into myself and my dreams. I believe in myself, probably more than I ever have after facing all of this.

I look forward to the year ahead. I look forward to working with other volunteers to make GimpGirl an even better community, with more community-created content and outreach. As we begin our 14th year together, I look forward to getting to know all of you even more. I am grateful for every one of you.

— in solidarity… Jennifer Cole