Laura Hershey (1962 - 2010)
Hershey, a lesbian, was born and raised in Littleton. She was diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) as a toddler. When she was 11 years-old, Hershey was recruited by the Muscular Dystrophy (a disease related to SMA) Association to be Colorado’s poster child. Eventually she came to resent this role as she believed that it encouraged society to pity disabled people. Her early experiences ignited her lifelong commitment to show disabled individuals as empowered citizens deserving of equal treatment. Hershey graduated with honors from Colorado College and won a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship that enabled her to travel to Britain in the early 1980s. Her passion for traveling and activism continued when she attended two United Nations World Conference on Women, one in Nairobi, Kenya and the other in Beijing, China. These experiences inspired her to write the book, Survival Strategies for Going Abroad: A Guide for People with Disabilities.
She was also inspired by and involved with ADAPT. Her activism included campaigns to remove Social Security work disincentives, challenge the negative images of the Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon, improve Medicaid home and community-based services, and promote the rights of home care workers. Her disability work intersected with other groups as Hershey directed Denver’s Commission for People with Disabilities; led the Disability Center for Independent Living; co-founded the Domestic Violence Initiative; and consulted with Denver regional municipalities assisting with ADA implementation and LGBTQ inclusion. Hershey was also involved with other activist organizations like Not Dead Yet and the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition. Hershey worked on many projects with her long-time partner, Robin Stephens, who is also disabled. The couple also adopted a daughter together. Hershey received her Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from Antioch University as well as an honorary doctorate from Colorado College. She was also a published poet, and one of her most well- known poems, “You Get Proud by Practicing,” continues to inspire today.