By Conner Cummings
Photograph by Conner Cummings
This issue of Zoom was created by a number of amazing experiences.
My mom and I attended a movie screening Iron Jaws, which is a movie about the strong women who fought for the women’s vote and women’s rights. The movie was part of a campaign in the state of Virginia to try and pass the Equal Rights Amendment and be the 38th state to pass it, which would allow the amendment to go back to Congress. This made us think about women with disabilities. We want to ensure that women with disabilities are included any time a women’s group has a gathering or a discussion. Not at the end not as an afterthought but at the very beginning and a key part of the conversation.
When I was diagnosed with autism at the age of 2, autism was thought of as a diagnosis for boys only. They did not realize that a girl could even be autistic. I am only 26 – that was not a long time ago. We realize the struggles that we all have as autistics and recognize that autistic women are even more invisible. I started reading more on powerful women and what they have accomplished, but nothing was ever mentioned about women with disabilities and their accomplishments. I am very lucky to be surrounded by many powerful women, including my mom. My mom is with me every step of the way – not only on this issue, but she supports me every step of the way in my life.
I also know so many powerful women that are either autistic or who have other disabilities and see their accomplishments every day, yet they are not at the table.
We also saw Alyssa Milano speak at an event and liked what she had to say.
I told my mom she has a following of people that we can reach to educate if we can get her involved. Mom loved the idea. My mom and I spoke briefly to her after the event. I used my words the best that I could, and asked my mom to add. I told her how women with disabilities are getting lost in the system and I wanted to help with Zoom. We only had a couple of minutes with her, but her publicists gave us their card and said they are interested to hear more and to get in touch. I took a picture with Alyssa, and soon after she left. We followed up and spoke via email quite a few times and learned she would be back in the D.C. area several times for events related to the Equal Rights Amendment. We were able to schedule the photo shoot during one of those times.
Alyssa seemed to really have fun with our three cover women during the shoot.
They laughed and talked the entire time. That sometimes made it harder to take pictures, but it was okay because they were relaxed and being who they are. I wanted the pictures to capture who they are. I used words while I was taking pictures because they inspired me. I used words such as “gorgeous,” “powerful,” “picture perfect,” “doing great,” and other words that just kept coming to me. Alyssa was only scheduled for 15 minutes and she stayed for over 30 minutes posing for individual pictures as well.
Next, we had Delegate Hala Ayala from Virginia, who drove over two hours from Richmond to meet us and pose for pictures as well. Delegate Ayala is one of the sponsors in Virginia to get the ERA amendment passed and wanted to meet the women on our cover and show her support. Delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy could not make it as her committee ran over. Again, they all posed for pictures and talked and laughed getting to know each other. Delegate Ayala discussed bills she is working on that affect people with disabilities and how they can all work together. This made my mom and I happy as Delegate Ayala has become a friend of ours, and I know that the power of these women together ignited the room.
I am so proud and honored that these amazing and strong women allowed me the opportunity to be their photographer. They put their trust in me.
Thank you to Gracie Withers, my photography teacher. Thank you to the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Washington, D.C. for allowing us to use their Presidential Suite for the photo shoot. The hotel is breathtaking and the view from the room was extraordinary. Even the D.C. traffic looked pretty from our view. The staff could not have been nicer and easier to work with. They said they were very happy to support women with disability and our goal.
I also want to thank Julia Bascom, Sharon da Vanport and Mia Ives-Rublee for agreeing to be our cover women and for their confidence in us. I am so lucky that I now have three women that I can reach out to for advice with no judgement.
We reached out to Haley Moss to be our Guest Editor for the issue that we were hoping would be about powerful women.
I explained this to her in written words the best I could. Haley was excited about the idea and immediately had ideas and direction for the issue. We knew she was perfect. Haley is her own powerful woman that we have never met personally, but connected online first through our common like of Disney, and expanded to me being so impressed with her talents for drawing, her writing capabilities and her advocating. Haley was just recently admitted to the Florida Bar. She is an attorney. Haley interviewed and wrote the cover story as well as chose the other writers who are sharing in their stories, and edited this issue into the powerful moving publication it deserves to be.
I am learning so much from reading every article from the amazing women writers who contributed and shared their powerful stories. Not only do you get to learn about the powerful three women who are featured on our cover, and our own Haley Moss that is our Guest Editor, but we have so many other strong women who are writing articles as well. ‘The View From Here’ is featuring Anita Lesko who you will read created a path that you will be looking forward to following. You will also get to catch up on Jacob Fuentes and his college decisions (proud to say he has many) and Carly Fulgham. Hopefully we get to see an adorable picture of her son and hear more about her juggles between motherhood, working, and advocating.
Finally, I want to acknowledge every woman who is reading this to recognize that you may not be on the cover or featured in this issue, but that does not mean that you are not powerful too.
Each and every one of you is powerful for being who you are and that is never less than anyone else! I learn from each person I meet, and I read their words and I take ‘my learn’ to take a new step in my journey or to be a better person. Some people you meet or read their words you choose not to follow. “You choose” are the magic words – wear yourself proud!
Conner Cummings is a professional photographer in the Metro DC area and our Zoom Autism Ambassador and Photographer. Conner speaks his written words at local and national conferences, town halls, corporations and churches. As an autistic self-advocate Conner changed a law in the state of Virginia. He is the 2015 Autism Society of America’s ‘Advocate of the Year’. Conner and his mother worked diligently to have Conner’s Law passed which would replace a poorly written child support law that provided a loop hole for adults with special needs and other disabilities over the age of 18. The law passed unanimously in 2015. A week after its passing, at least six families have used Conner’s Law in court and won. The Virginia House and Senate both voted to give Conner a Commendation Award as a sign of admiration for his advocacy. He is the first autistic individual to receive this honor in VA. The mother and son team are continuing their advocacy by working on taking Conner’s Law state-by-state. Conner also enjoys writing for his popular Facebook page Conquer for Conner.
READ MORE ARTICLES:
Editor’s Letter: In this Issue: Fierce Advocates for Women and Autistic Rights
Powerful Women Cover Story Interviews
- Alyssa Milano Speaks Out for a Better World for All Women
- Julia Bascom on the Amazing, Vibrant and Resilient Autistic Community
- Sharon daVanport Finds Power in Her Joy
- Mia Ives-Rublee: Stop Listening to the Naysayers & Fight for What You Believe
- Hala Ayala: Seeking Out and Learning from Diverse Voices
- Senator Duckworth: A Lifelong Mission of Supporting, Protecting and Keeping Promises
- From Feeling Powerless to Owning My Power by Morénike Giwa Onaiwu
- Advocating for Others by Advocating for Myself by Chana Bennett-Rumley
- Facing the Music and Changing My Life by Michelle DeVos, Esq.
- The Three Amigas: An Unexpected Friendship by Dani Bowman
In Every Issue
- #AskingAutistics: Have You Ever Been Accused of Acting MORE Autistic? by Christa Holmans
- Don’t Get Me Down: Fighting Autistic Inertia by Becca Lory Hector
- The View from Here: Starring in the Real-Life Drama as “The Good Anesthetist” by Anita Lesko
With Updates from Jacob Fuentes and Carly Fulgham at end of article
Big Question: What Advice Would You Give to Your Younger Self?
Discover more Zoom Issues:
- Issue 13: Family
- Issue 14: Trailblazers
- Issue 15: Powerful Women
- Archived issues on the Zoom Home Page