Female trailblazers: Maryann "Miki" Gudermuth

Monday, November 15, 2010
SADI Executive Director MaryAnn "Miki" Gudermuth in her Cape Girardeau office Friday, November 5, 2010. (Laura Simon)

Maryann "Miki" Gudermuth

Executive director/founder of SEMO Alliance for Disability Independence

1. What's your passion in life?

To provide the necessary services to enable people with disabilities to live and be active in their home and community. This is what drives me as a baby boomer living with a disability. I have been deeply blessed and want to make a difference in the lives of others.

2. It's been 90 years since women earned the right to vote. How have the lives of women changed in your lifetime, and what do you see for women in the future?

When I was growing up in the '50s and '60s, "Leave it to Beaver's" mom was a role model for women. In the workforce, there were few high-profile women. Since the '70s, more women work as equals alongside men, fight as soldiers in battle, run large corporations, hold political office and have tremendous earning power. I don't see us moving backward.

3. With your background at SADI, what do you see as women's biggest concerns?

Much has been written about women's issues in general; however, as a woman with a disability, I see relatively little being written about the characteristics and experiences of girls and young women with disabilities. The field of health promotion has yet to acknowledge the unique needs of women with disabilities, a population representing approximately one of five women in the United States. Women with disabilities have historically been one of the most vulnerable and marginalized groups in today's society and are doubly disadvantaged in the workplace as well. They experience lower incomes than nondisabled women, and men with and without disabilities. Little is being done to prepare young women with and without disabilities for science, math and technology-related careers. We have come a long way since the nifty '50s, but more needs to be done to address these issues, along with improving health care and wellness access to low-income women with disabilities and those living in poverty.

4. What are you doing to address these concerns?

I look at peer mentoring and serious outreach as a force to improve the lives and life chances of women with and without disabilities. Individually and cooperatively, I am striving to educate and encourage an attitude of self-advocacy and self-efficacy through our programs. Our center uses the many tools at our disposal to create a place for discourse, humor, art, research, resources, and most of all, community. It is important for women to know they are not alone in this world, and to understand that supports do exist to help them work through life's issues. I am committed to promoting and advancing the human rights and fundamental freedoms of women with and without disabilities. I feel our nonresidential independent living programs are enhanced by the fact that over 51 percent of SADI staff and board of directors have some type of disability – and they develop and administer our programs.

5. How is Southeast Missouri doing well when it comes to quality of life for women? Where are we falling short?

Approximately 26 percent of women living in rural areas have disabilities. In urban areas, coordination among various health care and social service agencies is necessary to see that sufficient food, strong social networks and good health is provided. This is especially important in rural communities, where services and providers are limited in numbers. I am proud to be able to say that in Southeast Missouri, and especially in Cape Girardeau, service providers often make alliances with one another and exhibit extraordinary resourcefulness and resilience in addressing the needs of women in general. Not many areas can boast of this.

I believe Southeast Missouri is not unlike other areas of the state, where the economy has shortchanged its citizens by cutting vital mental health and other related services.

6. What advice would you give to young women who are just starting their careers?

I have interviewed many young women with a degree and a little work experience, but who come in expecting to start at the top, with high salary and benefits. My advice for you is to: 1. Be patient on getting to the top. Plan to work and build your career over time. 2. Be humble, as nobody likes a know-it-all. 3. Praise or compliment co-workers often. Treat them as you want to be treated. 4. Join organizations and build relationships. Volunteer often. 5. Respect for others builds respect from others, so be a team player. 6. Look for the good in others and never carry a grudge. 7. Do more than is expected of you.

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