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Celebrating Disability Pride Month: 10 Disability Activists Who Are Former Debaters

Collage of Disability Activist Debaters

The Minnesota Urban Debate League celebrates Disability Pride Month this July, marked to honor the anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). These great former debaters put their advocacy skills in action to pave the path for a more equitable, inclusive world. Do you know other former debaters whose work you want us to honor? Email mnudl@augsburg.edu to let us know.


Ady Barkan

Ady Barkan

Ady Barkan is a lawyer, active advocate for Medicaid for All, and an organizer for the Center for Popular Democracy. He was a former HS debater. (Source)

Alexis Wineman

Alexis Wineman

Alexis Wineman was the first known autistic contestant to compete in Miss America as Miss Montana. She received the pageant’s People’s Choice Award in 2012, and continues to use her platform for autism awareness. She found friends on her speech and debate team in high school. (Spectrum Magazine)

AnnMarie Baines

AnnMarie Baines

She is a long-term speech and debate coach and founder of The Practice Space, a nonprofit organization which provides public speaking training for people of all ages. (The Practice Space)

Clarence Page

Clarence Page

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist for the Chicago Tribune, Clarence Page, competed in speech and debate as a high school student. He speaks out about the experiences of people who stutter.

“I signed up for speech contests; original oratory and extemporaneous. I joined my high school’s debate team. I lost a lot. But I persevered. Now, thanks to years of therapy and a lot of wonderful, encouraging grown-ups who believed in me, hardly anyone can shut me up.” (Clarence Page, Chicago Tribune)

Daniel Inouye

Daniel Inouye

Daniel Inouye was a United States Representative from 1959–1963 and a United States Senator from 1963–2012. He was strong proponent of the DC Metrorail, advocating for disability access to the system. He was an active member of the debate team in high school. (Wonkette)

Hallie Hovey-Murray

Hallie Hovey Murray

Former debate team president, Hallie Hovey Murray, became the first autistic Miss Virginia. She started the Autism Success Foundation and consults with businesses, nonprofits, and governmental organizations to make their work more inclusive. (Southern Methodist University)

James Earl Jones

James Earl Jones

EGOT James Earl Jones, competed in oratorical contests and forensics during high school. He speaks out about his experiences with stuttering and is a supporter of the Stuttering Foundation.

Jessica Gimeno

Jessica Gimeno

Jessica Gimeno, who was an active speech and debate competitor throughout college, uses her public speaking skills to address disability. Her blog, Fashionably Ill, and viral Ted Talk, describe living with bipolar disorder and chronic illness.

Kitty Cone

Kitty Cone

She was the only girl on her debate team and a self-described “fierce debater.” She went on to become a disability rights activist and staff member of the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund. She was one of the leading members of a 25-day sit-in in a San Francisco federal building, helping begin the public disability rights movement. (Disability Rights and Independent Living Movement Oral History Series)

Richard Pimentel

Richard Pimentel

In high school, he was a dedicated debate team member. After experiencing hearing loss in the Vietnam War, he returned home to fight for admission to Portland State University. He became an internationally recognized public speaker and advocate for the Americans with Disabilities Act. The film Music Within was based upon his experience. (NY Sun)


Inspired by their work? 

Check out these self-advocacy resources: