Katie Horan ’25 and Jennifer Lee ’23 are both undergraduate students here at Princeton. Over their time as students, both have founded initiatives that advocate for and create space for individuals with disabilities. In the summer of 2022, Horan founded All Bodies, All Brides (ABAB) and in the summer of 2021, Lee founded Asian Americans with Disabilities Initiative (AADI). Today, Daybreak sits down with them both to learn more about their activism to tackle misconceptions about disability and create accommodating spaces.
You can view the transcript for the episode below.
EDEN TESHOME, HOST: For The Daily Princetonian, I’m Eden Teshome. You’re listening to Daybreak.
Today, Daybreak sits down with two current undergrad disability activists on their initiatives in honor of Disability Awareness Month. It’s Friday, Mar. 31.
KATIE HORAN: My name is Katie Horan. I’m a second year student here at Princeton University.
JENNIFER LEE: My name is Jennifer. You can call me Jen. I’m a senior in the School of Public International Affairs, and I use she/her pronouns.
TESHOME: Katie Horan, Class of ’25 and Jen Lee, Class of ’23, are both undergraduate students here at Princeton. Over their time as students, both have founded initiatives that advocate for and create space for individuals with disabilities. In the summer of 2022, Katie founded All Bodies, All Brides, or ABAB, and in the summer of 2021, Jen founded the Asian Americans with Disabilities Initiative, or AADI. Here are both of them on their respective organizations.
LEE: The Asian Americans with Disabilities Initiative, or AADI, as I like to call it, is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, and we’ve been around for almost two years now. And our mission is to equip the next generation of disabled Asian leaders with the resources and infrastructure necessary to tackle ableism and anti-Asian hate in their local communities. And this is just one of the many ways in which we’re trying to make a difference in the world. And so by publishing a resource guide, by hosting speaker panels with disabled Asian changemakers, and being able to produce outreach and bringing together a community of young people, we want a new generation of people to know that there are disabled Asian Americans at the table — that our voices deserve to be heard. And we’ve been putting forth that message through working with the Ford Foundation, Victoria’s Secret Pink, LinkedIn, and the Biden-Harris administration and their Office of Public Engagement.
HORAN: All Bodies, All Brides is an initiative that I started last summer, thanks to funding from the Pace Center, that aims to make the bridal industry more accessible, inclusive, and exceptional. I started working in bridal in 2019, but have been passionate about disability justice for as long as I can remember. All Bodies, All Brides, also known as ABAB, is the product of me merging these interests together. I focused primarily on consulting with bridal companies or designers who are interested in learning how to better support and welcome people with disabilities into their space through a training protocol that I was really fortunate to develop in partnership with the Alliance of Disability Advocates in North Carolina. This has, and can be, in person, virtual, or both via hybrid setup. Together, we concur four main subjects: We start with how to talk about disability, which is followed by training modules on sensory sensitivity, physical disabilities, and hearing or visual impairments.
TESHOME: For both of them, their source of inspiration hits close to home.
HORAN: My older brother, Mark, is my number one supporter and my biggest fan. He’s also one of my closest friends, and he’s on the autism spectrum. And I think growing up, he’s much older than I am, so I watched him navigate entering the workforce, trying to make adult friends, and I really just noticed that society does not treat people with disabilities with the respect that they deserve — that they’re entitled to as human beings. And I knew I wanted to make a difference. I really didn’t expect to like bridal that much! In 2019, I was 16, and I took a job working at a local bridal store (shoutout to Simply Blush Bridal and their amazing owners, Tracy and Amy). And I kind of fell in love with being part of a moment that’s so monumental for people, right?
Most of us hope that we’re only going to get married once, and so the excitement really cultivates in selecting a dress if you identify as a bride or someone who wants to wear a wedding gown. And that experience should be exceptional for everyone. That includes people of all races, all body sizes, and all ability levels. And so All Bodies, All Brides really emerged to bridge the gap between who is currently able to have an exceptional, amazing, perfect, dreamy experience finding their wedding dress and the rest of the population, so that everyone can experience it. I applied for the Bogle fellowship through the Pace Center, have to give a huge shout out to Gray. They’re no longer with the center but they were essential in getting my application off the ground and funding me in order to go back home to the bridal store that I started at and train their staff as the first store to receive their ABAB certification, just meaning that they’ve completed their training with me and that they’re prepared to offer an accessible experience to anyone who walks through the door.
LEE: I think for me, we can bring it back to a pretty marked turning point in my Princeton career, it was around June 2020, right after my freshman year when I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, which is a form of inflammatory bowel disease. It’s a chronic illness, and this happened right in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, which means while I was in isolation, I was also battling this autoimmune chronic condition, and kind of reconfiguring what it meant to live with a disability. I think that there was a lot of stigma that came with being disabled. And when I came back to campus, or at least revisiting Princeton through a virtual semester, I ended up joining a lot of disability advocacy groups on campus. And so I had joined the Disability Collective, which is a student-run support group for people with disabilities, as well as the Undergraduate Student Government's Disability Task Force. And this was a fantastic way to become more involved with disability awareness, largely because I believe disability is a universal issue. It’s something that we should all care about, because it impacts every single one of us. And with knowing that one in four Americans identify as someone with a disability, that should be something that’s a public health concern, and something that we should all pay more attention to, in terms of making the world a more inclusive and accessible space.
And, when I had been diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, I joined a lot of different support groups for people with chronic illnesses. But what I noticed is that I was almost always the only Asian American in any of those rooms. And sometimes I was the only person of color. And it seemed as though the foundations and the different support groups that I was working with, weren’t interested in diversifying that group, but rather they wanted to show and tokenize some of the few members of color that were there in the chronic illness space. I had joined the American Association of People with Disabilities or AAPD, as a summer intern in 2021. And it was there that I met other disabled Asian Americans that looked like me and shared my story, but also were so different from me, I think recognizing that chronic illness is not the only spectrum of disability. But meeting people who are amputees, those who are blind, deaf, autistic, it really just spanned all sorts of disabilities. And I realized that there could be a community for people that were like me that this intersection truly mattered. I think right now, what we’re trying to do as an organization is tackle that stigma around what it means to be Asian American, to be an immigrant in the United States today, and to also talk about disability and what it means to be disabled in the 21st century.
TESHOME: Through their initiatives and lived experiences, both Jen and Katie have picked up on some misconceptions that work against tackling stigma.
LEE: Trying to fight for accommodations here at Princeton, and working with other disabled students has been so eye-opening in terms of how much work there needs to be done on an institutional level, to make sure that radical access is then normalized. I think part of what we’re trying to put forth is that every room, every space that we enter, should be thinking about accommodations, care, and access needs, before any student even steps foot in there. I think whether it’s a physical mobility aid, whether it’s having ASL interpretation, or captioners, we should be creating a community that, above all, it welcomes anyone that’s there. And so, we create a level playing field for any student who wants to learn, and who wants to become an advocate or a leader in their own right. I think one of the philosophies that has been most rapidly gaining traction within disability justice has been the idea that the future is disabled. And it’s a pretty radical thought, thinking that one day, disability will be so pervasive and mainstream, that we can talk about it without the stigma that currently exists. I think I imagine a world where accessibility and inclusion are given and are something that everyone thinks about, regardless of whether they have a medical condition or disability laid out. If there’s one thing I think that I would want every Princeton student to know, it’s that “disabled” is not a bad word.
I think being able to say the word disabled and talk about disability fluidly, and to be able to incorporate that rhetoric into everyday conversation, is the first step in normalizing disability, and realizing that it is just one of the many ways that we find difference within the ways that we gather community together. And recognizing that there’s so much change happening right now in the chronic illness space, I think that our generation is on the cusp of a total revolution around how we think about chronic illness, especially with the onset of long COVID. And I think that we should all be a bit more amenable to questioning what it means to be “able-bodied,” as people say, because health is something that is quite temporary. If anyone’s been sick, if anyone has had an injury, for any athlete that has had temporary concussions or injuries to suffer from. I think this is something where we can see how widespread disability is and how everybody can make use of accommodations and accessibility in their everyday lives. And so especially no matter what field you’re in, whether it’s tech, and thinking about AI and how that’s going to be accessible for people with disabilities, whether it’s thinking about policy and thinking about governance, around legislation, there are ways for people to include disability advocacy in their everyday lives. And I would encourage people to educate themselves and to create space for the disabled voices in their lives.
HORAN: I would say there are two main misconceptions I hope to tackle through ABAB. The first is that disability should be hidden, or that disability is the antithesis of beautiful. All bodies are beautiful, and that includes disabled bodies. Wheelchairs are empowering, colostomy bags are beautiful, walkers can be sexy, sign language is fluid and complex. Everyone deserves to access spaces without fear that others are going to stigmatize them. I would say that this is especially true for the moments surrounding a person’s wedding day, because of that experience of shopping for a wedding dress or an equivalent outfit and how we really build it up — that should be special, and uplifting. It’s something that a lot of people, you know, including myself in some ways, have dreamt up since they were little.
So by making your space accessible, whether you’re a bridal store, a teacher, a student and you’re thinking about your dorm, both in terms of physical accessibility and emotional accessibility of the space, you’re placing the dream of a bride, the hopes of a student, the endeavors of a future business person, closer within reach, making a difference to unpack what society has unjustly set the stage for. The second misconception I want to challenge through my work falls under the charity model of disability. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with what that means. But this model kind of encourages people without disabilities to think that they need to help, or support, or provide charity to those with disabilities, right you see a video on Facebook that has seven million likes of a person who uses a wheelchair, walking down the aisle on their wedding day and all the comments are so inspiring. You’re so strong, whatever. Wheeling down the aisle is beautiful too. People with disabilities don’t need our help, or our saving, as the non-disabled population. In that same logical direction, those with disabilities are not inspiring just for living their life. Either mindset really marginalizes, fetishizes, and infantilizes people with disabilities in a way I’m not really willing to put up with or give in to in my work.
LEE: I’d say for any Princeton students listening in, there are so many resources here that not everyone knows about. I think if you haven’t already, I would check out the Disability Collective or as we call ourselves, DisCo, if you need any sort of support on campus, navigating accommodations or just finding community. I think if you’re looking for more policy-oriented action, finding us at USG’s Disability Task Force, and even just working with the Office of Disability Services and their accessibility fellows, there are so many ways to get involved with the disability community. And I’d also encourage people to not be shy about navigating the identity of being disabled. I’ve often had students ask whether their conditions, whether it’s having a chronic illness, whether it’s having a medical condition, or even psychiatric conditions or mental illness, whether that qualifies as a disability. And I would say that the way in which we draw the boundaries in our community are quite flexible. And so people are disabled at multiple points in their lives, and what’s so fascinating is that you can become disabled any day. You could become disabled tomorrow. And so there’s no point in being scared around talking about disability and rather just diving in headfirst and learning from people who are living that experience and really centering that and honoring that, and so excited to be celebrating Disability Awareness Month and very, very excited for the future to come.
HORAN: Next Thursday, Apr. 6 at 12:30, we’re gonna have an awesome chat with the Accessibility Center here on campus that you should definitely check out if you’re able to go. I also have some really cool creative endeavors coming up in terms of breaking into design, thinking about couture, and of course we’ll continue to offer trainings to stores, both in the domestic US and internationally, all around the world. So be sure to follow us at All Bodies, All Brides on Instagram, or you can connect with us on LinkedIn if networking is more your thing.
TESHOME: You can check out both ABAB and AADI at the links in the description below. That's all for Daybreak today.
Today’s episode was written by me, sound engineered by me, and produced under the 147th Managing Board of the “Prince.” Lina Kim helped with reporting for this episode and Theo Wells-Spackman transcribed the episode. Our theme was composed by Ed Horan ’22. For the Daily Princetonian, I’m Eden Teshome. Have a wonderful day.