Berkeley to honor disability rights activist, Shira Leeder

Shira Leeder/Courtesy

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After winning the 2012 Ms. Wheelchair California Pageant, longtime local disability rights activist Shira Leeder will be honored by the city of Berkeley next Tuesday.

Leeder first earned recognition for her work last September, when she won the Ms. Wheelchair California Pageant, a contest awarding the most accomplished and articulate spokesperson for Americans with disabilities. Since then, Leeder has been traveling around the state to communicate the needs and accomplishments of the disabled community to the general public, business communities and Legislature.

“I think that (the honor) is wonderful,”  said Ruthee Goldkorn, executive director of the Ms. Wheelchair California Pageant and a longtime friend of Leeder. “She is very deserving of it because of the title and all of the work that she does for the disabled community.”

Her journey for disability advocacy began in 1999, when she was selected as the youth participant for the Youth with Disabilities Conference in Washington, D.C.

After graduating from UC Berkeley with a degree in American studies and an emphasis on disability studies, Leeder started working with the Friends of Kenney Cottage Garden, a community project that aims to make the garden a unique ecologically sustainable public space, in 2010.

Leeder was responsible for making the garden a place where people with disabilities can meet their neighbors and participate in community events.

Additionally, Leeder has devoted her time to various disability issues, like volunteering at the Center for Independent Living, a Berkeley services and advocacy organization run by and for people with disabilities.

“Leeder is a real go-getter,” said Gary Cromp, Leeder’s boyfriend and the president of Friends of Kenney Cottage Garden. “There is nothing that can stop her.”

The next project on Leeder’s agenda involves hosting a benefit event in March featuring some disabled celebrities at the Ed Roberts Campus, a nonprofit center that fosters and improves services for people with disabilities, said Cromp.

Following this event, Leeder will be hosting an additional benefit at the South Bay Independent Living Center, a nonprofit that supports people with disabilities seeking to live independent lives.

Leeder said she feels so blessed to be honored by the city and will use the recognition to further improve the lives of the disabled.

“This honor will help me gain more respect among public officials and the public in my community, city of Berkeley, the state of California and nationwide to effectively … make life better with people with disabilities,” Leeder said in an email.

The city proclamation will be presented to Leeder on Jan. 29 at 7 p.m. at Old City Hall.

Alyssa Neumann covers city government. Contact her at [email protected].