January is National Mentoring Month! Every year, I like to take time to reflect on a woman who has helped shape my life. This year, the person who immediately came to my mind was Yoshiko Dart. Yoshiko is a Disability Rights activist who was instrumental in the passage of the ADA. Now, she is committed to supporting and mentoring young people with disabilities.
The Life of Yoshiko Dart
After graduating at the top of her class in 1963 from Aoyama Gakuin University in Tokyo, Japan, Yoshiko began looking for a job. When she saw a newspaper ad seeking positive women to sell Tupperware, she decided to learn more. When she went to the interview, she was interviewed by Justin Dart, Jr., the president of Tupperware Japan. He was the first person she’d ever seen who used a wheelchair. Yoshiko was hired and because of her hard work, she eventually became a regional manager, and then oversaw half of Japan. She eventually became Justin Dart’s executive assistant. Later, Yoshiko married Justin. They lived together in Japan and later moved to the United States.
The Birth of the ADA
In the U.S., Yoshiko and Justin traveled to every state multiple times and hosted gatherings where people with disabilities would tell their stories of discrimination, segregation, and inequality. These stories, called The ADA Diaries, were used to help convince legislators that a national law to protect the rights of people with disabilities was necessary. From this, the text of the Americans with Disabilities Act was born.
Since the passage of the ADA, Yoshiko had zealously fought for enforcement and expansion of Disability Rights in the U.S. and abroad. She has also served as a mentor and friend to so many people in the Disability Rights movement, with an emphasis on helping young people with disabilities to become leaders.
How Yoshiko Shaped My Life
I count myself very lucky to be one of the many people that she has mentored throughout the years. I first met Yoshiko in 2009 when I was a young college student interning with Senator Tom Harkin in Washington, D.C. I asked Yoshiko if we could go to lunch so that I could learn more from her. Since then, she has been a guiding force in my life. She has gone beyond mentoring me and has truly sponsored me. By that I mean that Yoshiko does not just provide feedback and advice like a traditional sponsor, but she believes in my talents and skills, she lifts me up in her network, and she actively includes me in opportunities that she thinks will help me advance in my career and in my goals. I am so thankful to have Yoshiko in my life and am blessed to call her my mentor and my friend.
About Stephanie Woodward: Stephanie is a brand ambassador advisor for Quantum Rehab® and works as a disability rights activist. She has received many awards for helping communities become more accessible, as well as for her actions in fighting for the rights of disabled individuals as it relates to Medicaid and other support services. Click here to learn more about Stephanie.