Program Profile

Feature Issue on Disability Rights, Disability Justice

In Crisis, Justice


Peyton “Ace” Douglas-Doran , of Vancouver, Washington, participated in the EmpowHer Camp beginning in summer 2022.

Abby Ritter , an autistic music therapist and activist, is a board member of the Disability EmpowHer Network and served as Ace’s EmpowHer Camp mentor.

A person in a magenta jacket and gray cap pulled down packs up camping equipment with other campers.

Ace Douglas-Doran at EmpowHer Camp. Photo courtesy of Disability EmpowHer Network

Editor’s note: Impact invited Ace, a recent EmpowHer Camp participant, and Abby Ritter, her mentor, to talk about their camp experiences. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.

Ace: EmpowHer Camp was fun. I remember sitting around a campfire and not being nervous to be there. I’m never nervous. I also remember when you became my mentor. We like to hang out a lot and talk about the play Hamilton, and when they announced us and all the other mentor/mentee teams, everybody was cheering and clapping for each other and “Eye of the Tiger” was playing over a speaker. We met in the middle and danced up the aisle.

Abby: That was fun. And then we got to work on our project, which was almost a play but ended up being a comic book called Wind Man v. The Hurricane. All of the projects were based on disaster preparedness for people with disabilities who are nonbinary, and our comic book uses storytelling to advocate for creating more accessible shelter facilities, including adding more outlets for powering mobility, medical, and communication devices; sensory-friendly spaces; gender-neutral bathrooms; and comfort or stim objects.

Ace: It’s about keeping people safe. We gave the book to our congressional office and sent it to the Red Cross. I’m famous now. I like being a leader.

Abby: You bring a lot of excitement wherever you go, and you have a way of making people open up to you. I admire that about you. I remember I talked to you and your mom when you got home from camp. We had downloaded a bunch of movies for the plane ride home, but you ended up sharing headphones and watching different movies the whole way home with a total stranger on the plane. You brought people together at camp in the same way. Others get nervous doing that, but you plow right in and are ready to be friends with everybody.

Ace: That’s because I pretty much like everybody. It felt good to think about doing things together. I’m 19, and I don’t like when people tell me what to do, but I might ask a friend or family member for help making my decisions sometimes.

A person with short hair wears a colorful, flowered blouse.

Ace Douglas-Doran

Abby: Yes, that’s another big thing we talk about at camp, interdependence. EmpowHer is about, well, empowering young women to be strong and independent, and also to know about the concept of interdependence to work together to get what we need and to find justice.

[Hearing the word “justice,” Ace raises a fist in the air.]

Ace: Justice is a word for a hero, like in my comic book. Justice is about leading others, not just yourself.

Abby: Exactly, and what’s wonderful about our programs is that they are about building independence, interdependence, and self-advocacy while also creating community. We bring these groups of eight or 10 people together to create this camaraderie and build a network of people who understand they are able to affect the world around them by using their strengths. Folks who come through the camp are often multiply marginalized, but here we work together to live and support each other to have the best experience possible. We build relationships and use them to make change.

Ace: In my book, we broke the fourth wall, talking directly to readers. I wanted to do that because [disaster preparedness for nonbinary people with disabilities] is so important. At the end of the story, the Hurricane, who is the villain, gets knocked out and everyone is safe. In real life, [this experience] gave me confidence to promote justice and not settle for what other people want.