LAURA HERSHEY PAPERS
Scope and Contents
The Laura Ann Hershey papers document her personal and professional life from 1904 to 2016 with the bulk of the papers dating from 1962-2010. The collection is divided into fifteen series: Personal, Professional, Independent Living, Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA), Women and LGBT, International, Americans with Disabilities Act , Activism, Disability Culture and Studies, Biographical files, Robin Stephens, Ephemera, Publications, Audio-Visual and Oversize. Materials include Hershey’s poetry and writing, photos, audio tapes, protest signs, research material, biographical files, publications, correspondence, reports, ephemera from the MDA, protest and conference material, disability rights t-shirts, and Robin Stephens’ papers. There is some crossover of content between the different series. Laura Hershey and Robin Stephens worked together on many projects, so some papers of Robin Stephen’s were integrated in subject series and not separated into Stephens’ own series. Materials added in 2023 were integrated into the existing series.
The personal series is arranged chronologically. The series begins with materials related to Hershey’s childhood including her involvement in the MDA telethon, Faye Hershey’s advocacy for Laura’s education, artwork and photographs. Materials related to her education at Heritage High School and Colorado College include some of her early writing, school work and activities, and involvement in school newspapers including the Catalyst. The series concludes with her adult life and contains photos, artwork, awards, arrest record, resume, articles about Hershey, and her obituary.
Papers documenting Laura Hershey’s professional life as a writer, poet, and consultant compose this series. The series is arranged chronologically into subseries that define the different areas of her work: poetry, prose, Master of Fine Arts, correspondence and contracts, workshops, speeches and lectures, trainings, and organizations and consulting. The writing subseries includes published work and drafts of her poetry and articles, as well as publisher correspondence and contracts and material related to her Master of Fine Arts Degree from Antioch University. The organizations subseries contains papers from organizations in which she was active, including Holistic Approaches to Independent Living, Inc. (HAIL), Denver Commission for People with Disabilities, Denver Center for Independent Living (DCIL), and AssisTeam Consultants.
The Independent Living series contains research material arranged chronologically into sub-series. This research material was used by Laura Hershey in her writing and professional work including reports, clippings, correspondence, brochures, newsletters, articles, fliers, legislation, presentations, and guides. The subseries include: healthcare and long term care, right to die, employment, education, travel and transportation, technology, housing, parenting, and voting access.
This series is arranged chronologically and includes materials about the MDA such as tax returns, newsletters, correspondence, advertisements, and information about Jerry Lewis. Material related to the MDA Telethon protests includes information about the Tune Out Jerry Coalition, clippings, articles, correspondence, Jerry Lewis cartoons, play, and articles written by Hershey.
Materials in this series are arranged chronologically into the following subseries: history, organizations, activism, sexual abuse, and sexuality/reproductive rights. Hershey’s activity in the feminist and LGBT community are documented through articles, fliers, clippings, brochures, reports, conference materials, meeting minutes and agendas, newsletters, protest information, correspondence, and ephemera.
The International series is arranged chronologically by subseries, including materials related to the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship (London, England); United Nations (UN) Decade for Women (Nairobi, Kenya); UN Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO) Forum Fourth World Conference on Women (Beijing, China); UN Comprehensive and Integral International Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights and Dignity of Persons with Disabilities Ad Hoc Committee; organizations and conferences; and disability issues by country. Materials include correspondence, conference materials, agendas and meeting minutes, articles, clippings, legislation, directories, fliers, brochures, magazines, newsletters, press releases, reports, ephemera, photographs, and position papers.
The ADA series is arranged chronologically by subseries: history and legislation, consulting, and by the three titles of the ADA: employment, state and local government, and public accommodations. Information includes clippings, legislation, reports, lawsuits, Federal Register, articles, brochures, guidelines, transition plans, newsletters, correspondence, a ticket to the ADA signing ceremony, photographs, protest fliers, curb cut information, and conference materials.
Materials in this series are arranged chronologically by subseries and reflect Hershey’s activism in the community. Most of the series concentrates on the American Disabled for Attendant Programs Today (ADAPT) with materials related to Atlantis Community Inc., ADAPT chapters, and organizations/government agencies in which ADAPT actively engaged with during protests. There is also a small subseries dedicated to other protests and issues that Hershey advocated against such as the Persian Gulf War, National Multiple Sclerosis Society, and the film United States of Leland. Materials include correspondence, newsletters, fliers, clippings, petitions, articles, ADAPT member updates, speeches, dedication invitations, information about Wade Blank, protest chants, and lawsuits.
The Disability Culture series is arranged chronologically and features materials related to the arts, sports, and religion. Materials include brochures, newsletters, a songbook, cartoons, a comic book, correspondence, fliers, poems, and programs. The disability studies material is arranged chronologically and contains information about disability studies programs and conferences, articles, publication catalogs, a disability history timeline, brochures, and newsletters.
Materials in this series are arranged alphabetically by name and include clippings, eulogies, obituaries, articles, programs, and transcripts.
This series is arranged chronologically and reflects Stephens’ work in Albany, New York, Portland, Oregon; and for the State of Washington. Her work in Colorado is represented in papers from Atlantis Community Inc., Colorado Developmental Disabilities Planning Council, and Fox and Robertson P.C. Other items include her resume, arrest record, conference material, and a children’s book illustrated by her brother Dave Stephens.
The ephemera is arranged chronologically. General ephemera includes awards, protest signs, bumper stickers, Heritage High School letter, graduation tassel, debate pins, MDA poster child button, signature stamp, conference pins, ADAPT buttons, and a Jerry Lewis “Oscar.” The clothing subseries contains disability rights themed shirts, and ADAPT t-shirts and baseball caps.
Publications are arranged by title. The publications are not complete runs of the serials, but provide context for the collection and for further research.
The Audio-Visual series is arranged chronologically or alphabetically, depending on the sub-series. Most of the series contains audio cassettes of Hershey reading her poetry and writing, conference presentations, radio programs, audio related to ADAPT and protests, and interviews she conducted for research purposes. The Varied Voices Disability Community Survey sub-series is arranged by focus groups by date, focus groups by subject, and by interviews by date. Some additional material includes press releases, fliers and order forms to purchase her poetry tapes, a VHS of the Jerry Lewis Telethon in 2005, and an interview with Jerry Lewis on Larry King Live. Later additions are listed at item level by format or topic.
This series is arranged chronologically according to the series established in the collection: personal, professional, international, independent living, Muscular Dystrophy Association, Americans with Disabilities Act, disability culture, and one additional subseries: protest signs. Materials include a childhood scrapbook, Catalyst scrapbook, photographs, certificates, posters, calendars, reports, artwork, “You Get Proud by Practicing” posters, and protest signs.
Conditions Governing Access
The collection is open for research.
Literary and copyrights - as appropriate have been assigned to the Denver Public Library.
All requests for permission to publish, reproduce, or quote from material in the collection should be discussed with the appropriate librarian or archivist. Permission for publication may be given on behalf of the Denver Public Library as the owner of the physical item. It is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which also must be obtained by the customer. The Library does not assume any responsibility for infringement of copyright or publication rights of the manuscript held by the writer, heirs, donors, or executors. Reproduction restrictions are decided on a case-by-case basis.
Biographical / Historical
Laura Ann Hershey was a Colorado-based writer, poet, activist, and consultant. She was born on August 11, 1962, in Littleton, Colorado, where she grew up with her parents, Richard and Faye Hershey, and younger brother John. When she was a toddler, she was diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA). Similar to Muscular Dystrophy, SMA is a condition that in most cases causes significant disability due to muscle weakness that progresses over time. Hershey used a motorized wheelchair for mobility, and was an early adopter of Dragon voice recognition software which enabled her to write and research independently.
As the Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy Telethon was gaining in popularity in the early 1970s, Colorado’s local chapter discovered Hershey’s poise and intelligence. The Hershey family became involved in the group’s fundraising activities, with Laura Hershey serving as Colorado’s poster child. She described this experience in her later essay, From Poster Child to Protester. “At the age of eleven, I was enlisted into this role of cheerful victim.” While she enjoyed some fame around these events, she was treated as a victim of a tragedy, as someone to be pitied. This experience began her path to disability awareness. Faye Hershey was actively involved in her daughter’s education, advocating for inclusion not only for Laura, but of all disabled children, in regular classroom instruction. This advocacy, coupled with Laura’s treatment at telethon events, inspired Hershey’s activism to integrate issues of access, dignity, and equality for disabled people, living “intersectionality” before the term was widely used.
Hershey attended Heritage High School (1975-1979), where she was active on the debate team and the school newspaper. She focused her studies on history, which became a serious topic for her while at Colorado College (CC) in Colorado Springs. She graduated with honors from CC in 1983, earning her Bachelor of Arts in History. The same year she was awarded a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship that allowed her to travel to England and begin networking with disability activists on a global scale. Her findings about disability rights in England resonated with Colorado’s struggles. This connection led CC to recognize her achievements with an Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters in 1992. Later in life, she decided to pursue creative nonfiction writing, earning a Master of Fine Arts from Antioch University in Los Angeles in 2008.
Hershey’s prolific writing career included a variety of styles and genres. Her poems and essays explore diverse topics including the body, nature, community, activism, and social justice. She is the author of Strategies for Going Abroad: A Guide for People with Disabilities, a 2005 book offering stories and advice about international travel, published by Mobility International USA. Over 100 of her articles and essays have been published in journals, anthologies, websites, and magazines including Waccamaw Journal, U.S. News & World Report, National Parks, Ms. Magazine, Topic, off our backs, New Mobility, Mouth magazine, DisabilityWorld.org, Disaboom.com, and thenation.com. Her poems have appeared in numerous published anthologies, literary journals, and websites. An unpublished children’s manuscript entitled "Our House Needs a Ramp" describes accessible housing and shows inclusion in a family setting. Hershey was a 2010 Lambda Fellow in Poetry.
One of Hershey’s most famous works is a poem called “You Get Proud By Practicing.” It has been translated into Spanish and French, set to music by the Minnesota Women’s Consortium, performed by the Matrix Theater Justin D’Artists, and has been the topic of conferences, published in numerous poetry and disability anthologies, and was made into a poster. In addition to her own blog (www.laurahershey.com) and column in the Denver Post, Hershey wrote a blog called Life Support for the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation’s website, and was a regular contributor to Huffington Post Denver. Hershey also offered workshops, speeches, readings, trainings and other presentations for a wide range of professional and community organizations. Her work has inspired disability activists around the world..
Hershey’s research included networking with disabled women at two international conferences, the United Nations Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO) Forum on Women in Nairobi, Kenya, in 1985, and the NGO Forum on Women in Beijing, China, in 1995. She networked with disabled women exploring ideas of leadership in politics and grassroots settings in the global disability community. She integrated her findings in her work connecting U.S. foreign policy with global implications for disabled people. Her report, Leadership Development Strategies for Women with Disabilities: A Cross-Cultural Survey, funded by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research, and her article China Diary, both furthered international understanding of the importance of independence and education for disabled people. Her reports called attention to and condemned the hurdles that women and girls with disabilities face internationally, including forced sterilization, physical and sexual abuse, and isolation from family life.
Hershey’s professional work included consulting to ensure accessibility and inclusion for people with disabilities. She worked for the cities of Arvada, Lakewood, and Denver to help them implement federally mandated Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards. Her work with Denver’s Commission for People with Disabilities included educating developers and property owners about accessible housing. She wrote access guides for Elitch Gardens, the Arvada Center, and AssisTech Advocates, enabling more disabled people to participate in the community. On a national level, she was involved in policy review and analysis. She pressured the Social Security Administration to issue more user-friendly rules allowing disabled people to work. She reviewed policies for the U.S. Department of Education to ensure accessibility and inclusion in public schools.
Hershey is nationally recognized for her activism and advocacy on a wide range of disability rights and social justice issues. She served on several committees related to health care policy; she was a grant administrator for Colorado’s Department of Health Care Policy and Financing; she collaborated with American Friends Service Committee on disability community outreach; she challenged editors to increase coverage of disability rights issues; she lectured at the University of Denver; and she engaged in ongoing grassroots activism with groups such as ADAPT (American Disabled for Attendant Programs Today, formerly known as the American Disabled for Accessible Public Transit), Not Dead Yet, and the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition. Hershey also led campaigns to remove Social Security work disincentives, to challenge the negative images of the Jerry Lewis Telethon, to increase visibility of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) people with disabilities, to improve Medicaid home and community-based services, and to promote the rights of home care workers. In recognition of her activism, Hershey received the 1998 President’s Award from President Clinton’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities.
Hershey and her partner, Robin Stephens, participated in Norwest Bank’s Disabled Community Home Ownership Program (DCHOP), which enabled them to purchase their home in Denver. They were active in Colorado’s LGBT community, attending social gatherings and educating about disability inclusion. They were both active in their families, celebrating milestones with parents and siblings, traveling together and enjoying destination holidays. Stephens and Hershey adopted a teenager named Shannon in 2010, after two years of fostering. Hershey passed away on November 26, 2010, after a short illness.
Robin Stephens is a Colorado-based lawyer, activist, writer and consultant. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Political Science/Psychology from Linfield College in 1981, and a Masters of Urban Studies from Portland State University in 1984. In 2002, she received her Juris Doctor from the University of Denver, College of Law. During her career, she worked in Portland, Oregon, as the Project Director at the Educational Equity Network and the Employability Support Network. In Albany, New York she served as the Manager of Programs and Services at the Capital District Center for Independence. For the State of Washington, she was the Program Coordinator for the Governor's Committee on Disability Issues. When she moved to Denver, she worked as the Program Director for AssisTech Advocates and as an advocate at Atlantis Community, Inc. As a lawyer, she worked at Fox & Robertson, P.C., and at the Colorado Cross Disability Coalition. She has also been a community organizer for ADAPT and Not Dead Yet and remains active in the LGBT community.
33 Boxes (32.25 linear feet)
4 oversize boxes
3 oversize folders
16 audiovisual boxes
Language of Materials
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Gift, Robin Stephens, 2013, 2016, and 2023. Transfer, Hugh C. Fowler Papers (WH1996), 2023.
Several serials have been separated from the collection and cataloged separately: Incitement, Incitement, Incitement; Disability Rag; Mouth; The Ragged Edge; New Mobility
Laura Hershey's book: Strategies for Going Abroad: A Guide for People with Disabilities, C910.202087 H439su 2005
Cara Jean Reimann and Jamie Seemiller
August 2016, revised 2023
- American Disabled For Accessible Public Transportation -- Archival Resources.
- DVDs Subject Source: Art & Architecture Thesaurus
- Ephemera (general object genre) Subject Source: Art & Architecture Thesaurus
- Feminists -- Colorado -- Biography. Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Hershey, Laura A., 1962-2010 -- Archives.
- Lesbian Activists -- Colorado -- Biography. Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- People With Disabilities -- United States -- History. Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Personal papers Subject Source: Art & Architecture Thesaurus
- Stephens, Robin, 1959- -- Archives.
- Women Political Activists -- United States -- History. Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Women With Disabilities -- Colorado -- Biography. Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- LAURA HERSHEY PAPERS
- Cara Jean Reimann and Jamie Seemiller
- SEPTEMBER 2016, revised March 2023
- Language of description
- Script of description