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Katie Mayo: How Books Bridge the Gap

Books are more than collections of words and pages. They are powerful tools for sharing ideas, inspiring change, and opening the doors to new worlds of possibility. Katie Mayo (California Delta chapter of Pi Beta Phi) understands this power firsthand. Before graduating high school, Katie wrote and published “ABCs for Including Those with Special Needs”—a children’s book that moves through the alphabet teaching kids how to make every child feel included, cared for and accepted.

“ABCs for Including Those with Special Needs”

For Katie, books—especially children’s books—are the best way to make meaningful changes in the disability rights movement. “If you can influence kids and get them engaged at a young age, it will help erase the stereotypes of disabilities.”

Katie’s passion for supporting individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) began in sixth grade when she was placed in a physical education class for kids with special needs. As the only student without an IDD, Katie admits she experienced frustration, which became the starting point for her desire to change these attitudes—in herself and in others. She soon found herself wanting to see her classmates learn and succeed and saw her own perceptions of her peers start to change.

“I surprised myself with my ability to connect with my peers—students who I initially felt were vastly different from me,” she says. “I noticed there was a gap between those with and without disabilities. So, I wanted to start by making our school and classroom more inclusive and then, hopefully, spur change in the community.”

Katie (right) with her Best Buddy Guillermo (middle) after winning Best Buddies Chapter of the Year

What started as a class placement became an entry point to a passion which changed Katie’s life. Since sixth grade, Katie’s passion for helping students with disabilities has only grown. In high school, she founded her school’s chapter of Best Buddies—a program aimed at connecting abled students and those with intellectual and developmental disabilities through forming friendships and fostering individual growth.

Katie continued her involvement with the organization and was recently selected to serve as a Best Buddies Ambassador for the state of California. However, it was her time on Best Buddies Young Leaders Council (YLC) which made the biggest impact.

After a rigorous application process, Katie was selected as one of only 15 students across the U.S. and Canada to serve on the YLC where she helped bridge the gap between the student perspective and the staff experience for Best Buddies International initiatives. “Being on the YLC inspired me to be more active and engaged in the disability rights movement,” Katie says. “When it became time to apply to college, that was the number one thing I was looking for.”

Katie was eager to transition her experience from high school to college, and the academic offerings at The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) seemed to be the best way to do so. “I came to UCLA already having some background in disability activism, but I realized there was so much more to learn,” she says.

During her freshman year, Katie got involved with All Brains—a student-led program at UCLA focused on advocating for neurodiverse students on campus—where she creates presentations explaining neurodiversity and provides resources for clubs, staff members, and local organizations. Katie’s involvement with All Brains also led her to connect with IGNITE Collective, Inc., an organization that provides individualized support to teens and adults living with developmental disabilities. Katie’s experience at All Brains and IGNITE Collective Inc. expanded on her already existing advocacy and networking skills and helped her to become better versed in the disability movement. Today, Katie continues to expand her skills and knowledge, following her passion with great enthusiasm.

“If we can influence kids and get them engaged at a young age, it will help erase the stereotype of disabilities.”

Looking back at what initially seemed like a mistaken class placement, Katie realizes how much she needed to grow—and how much she has grown from her connections to people with different abilities. “I hope my involvement in disability activism enables others to grow closer to, and gain more understanding of, people in their lives with IDDs,” she says. “It is up to each of us to find ways to bridge the gap with the tools we have at our disposal.”

The ability to read opens the door to education and a world of opportunity. Katie published her children’s book with the goal of ending intolerance and discrimination on the basis of disability and providing young children with the lessons she learned as a teenager. Books like Katie’s educate, influence, and inspire—leaving an impact on the world for years to come.

Special thanks to Pi Beta Phi for providing this article. Visit Pi Beta Phi’s website to learn more about the organization.

Emma Austin

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