Mason sociology student advocates for those with disabilities

Charlotte holds an honor society certificate
Charlotte Woodward plans to graduate in May. Photo provided

Name: Charlotte Woodward

Year: Senior

Major: Sociology with a concentration in Inequality and Social Change 

Hometown: Fairfax, Virginia

George Mason University sociology student Charlotte Woodward has tirelessly advocated for the rights of people with disabilities—and she is being recognized for her efforts. In December 2021, U.S. Senators Maggie Hassan (D-NH) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) introduced a federal legislation named for her: the Charlotte Woodward Organ Transplant Discrimination Prevention Act (S.3301), designed to prevent discrimination by health care providers against people with disabilities who need organ transplants.

CREDIT WHERE CREDIT IS DUE: In their statement, the senators noted, “The bill is named after Charlotte Woodward, an advocate with Down syndrome who received a heart transplant nine years ago and has fought to raise the issue of organ transplant discrimination in various states, including her home state of Virginia.”

FACING THE CHALLENGE: More than 25 states currently prohibit organ transplantation discrimination, but discrepancies exist across state laws, and delays in delivering relief to patients has made enforcement difficult. Woodward's February 2020 testimony before the Virginia General Assembly was an important step in seeing state legislation passed—unanimously—that prevents disability-based discrimination against people who need life-saving organ transplants.

Charlotte with colleagues
Charlotte Woodward after appearing before with General Assembly with Virginia Senator Todd Pillion and NDSS colleagues Matteo Lieb and Ashley Helsing. Photo provided

QUEEN OF HEARTS: Born with Down syndrome and a congenital heart defect, Woodward underwent four surgeries as a child and received a heart transplant in 2012. She celebrated her 10-year “Heart​iversy” in January of this year. Since her lifesaving heart transplant, she has advocated for persons with disabilities to receive equal access to similar opportunities. “I’ve been an advocate my entire life, and I’m always looking for the opportunity to help other people.”

NOW IT'S HER JOB: She works for the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS), a human rights organization that supports and advocates for the Down syndrome community. As the community outreach associate, she has met with legislators, taken part in numerous advocacy events, served as editor in chief for an upcoming NDSS magazine, and has starred in several TikTok videos, one of which has had 4.4 million views.

ON A MISSION: In her advocacy for equal rights for the disabled community, Woodward is working on issues ranging from helping people with disabilities move into community employment settings to protection of federal benefits for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities who wish to marry. “I want society to be aware of the lived experiences of people with disabilities, as well as the abilities that they bring to the world, even though they were born into a world that wasn't made for them.”

WHAT SHE DOES FOR FUN: An enthusiastic baseball fan, Woodward enjoys following the Washington Nationals. She is learning how to play electric guitar and has participated in the Global Down Syndrome Foundation fashion show, Be Beautiful Be Yourself.