Women Leading Together: Four Women Share their Stories

Community Inclusion
2 min readJul 31


Women Leading Together: Solidarity in Storytelling Story Jam was a 9-week online program for Japanese and American women to explore experiences, learn leadership skills, and build community with each other through digital storytelling. Each woman shared a personal story about their unique experience with marginalization.


In Rachel Bookman’s story, “Big Brother”, Rachel tells about how she and her older brother were deeply connected through their shared disability, despite living across the world from each other. Rachel leaned on her brother for guidance and encouragement and admired his commitment to advocacy.

“When I started using a wheelchair, I asked Mark how to deal with people staring. He said, ‘have fun with it” and so we did.”


Heather Emper shares about how she built her life back after a traumatic brain injury in her story, “From Recovery to Finding Myself”. Heather experienced discrimination at work. With the support of family and friends, Heather gained the confidence to find a new job where she felt appreciated.

“The idea of needing to look for a new job was scary, because I didn’t remember how to. What if I can’t find another job? What if I get treated like that again? They supported me. They calmed me down. They helped me get through it.”


In Esperanza Padilla’s story, “Through the Looking Glass”, she shares her journey as a disabled graduate student. Even when an academic counselor sowed doubt about Esperanza’s prospects, Esperanza did not give up. She was reminded of her own work as an advocate, and how she inspired other students to advocate for themselves.

“Instead of falling into despair, I reached out to a former graduate student mentor of mine. He told me, ‘Your research actually helped me advocate for my needs as a graduate student at Berkeley with a disability’. I thought, ‘Wow! I had no idea I’d helped him!’ His words created a glimmer of hope in my heart.”


Kazue Kiyono describes her experience as an aspiring singer in her story, “Applause”. As a young woman, Kazue experienced abuse from a singing teacher who tried to change her voice and appearance. Kazue had to learn to love herself to find her voice again.

“I don’t remember if the audience was pleased with my performance…Applause from myself, that’s what I wanted more than anything else.”



Community Inclusion

The Institute for Community Inclusion (ICI) promotes the inclusion of people with disabilities in school, work, health care and community activities.