Alum addresses disability-related questions through new children’s book

4 – minute read

Lauren Horowitz has cerebral palsy. She wears a leg brace, and the fingers on her right hand sometimes tighten up and spasm. Navigating life with a disability is challenging, but for Horowitz it’s an opportunity to create community, find solutions and pursue a path of advocacy in fun and innovative ways. Like writing a children’s book that is synchronized with an animatronic puppet to bring an interactive story time experience to the classroom. 


“I wanted to give back to my special needs community and be a part of something,” she says.


Horowitz, who graduated from Florida Gulf Coast University with a child and youth studies degree in 2013, now works as an aftercare teacher in Broward County. Her third-graders often ask questions about people they see using wheelchairs, hearing aids or braille. Their questions inspired her to write a children’s book introducing Sarah, a character with a physical disability.


“Sarah Finds Her Way” follows an 8-year-old girl with cerebral palsy as she navigates a new school. Horowitz wrote the book to be interactive. It includes a song to sing along with and keywords that cue animatronic “Sarah” to help tell the story and also sing along at presentations to students.

FGCU grad
Lauren Horowitz with Sarah.

“We do a Q&A after the book so they can ask any question under the sun,” she says.


In 2023, Horowitz gave eight presentations to students, and this year she has a presentation scheduled with the residency program at the Memorial Division of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation in Hollywood, Florida.


She’s hoping to reach more medical programs in the future with the goal of helping medical professionals better understand how to work with people with disabilities. Horowitz’s advocacy is no surprise to some of the faculty at FGCU who knew her during her days as a student.


“Boy, has she made us proud,” says Emily Vallier, an instructor at FGCU.


Vallier and Horowitz met the summer Horowitz started at FGCU and worked together throughout her college career.


“She had so many unforeseen challenges,” Vallier says, “like when she went to get fingerprinted for an internship — it’s very difficult to fingerprint her right hand. Little things like that are so ableist that we don’t think of them as challenges.”

FGCU grad in classrooom
Children’s questions inspired Horowitz to write a book introducing Sarah, a character with a physical disability.

Vallier’s work with Horowitz helped Vallier notice other challenges faced by students with physical disabilities.


For example, how does a student majoring in child and youth studies hold a book, turn the pages and read to children using just one hand? Or how can that same student hold a cafeteria tray while also placing food on it at SoVi?


“Lauren had such a traditional, full college experience,” Vallier says.


“But the layers of extra work she put into that wasn’t obvious to everybody. For people to understand those visible and invisible challenges — that’s where her advocacy is really strong.”


FGCU’s Office of Adaptive Services, led by Cori Bright-Kerrigan, works to make campus more accessible for every student, including addressing some of those seemingly invisible challenges.

FGCU grad
FGCU faculty and students created a special cage attachment for Horowitz’s wakeboard so that she could enjoy the sport one-handed.

After 22 years at FGCU, Bright-Kerrigan says she is proud of the steps the university has taken to make the campus more accessible. These include wider doors and furniture in Academic Building 9, which are easier to navigate for someone in a wheelchair than standard doors and desks that are connected to chairs. Additionally, an accessibility checklist is now given to student groups and faculty planning events.


“We’re encouraging the rest of campus to always have the accessibility mindset, so it’s not always a reactive thing but proactive,” Bright-Kerrigan says.


A few years after Horowitz graduated, FGCU helped her with a unique accessibility issue: how to wakeboard with one hand.


Horowitz was wakeboarding with a starter kit from Ann’s Angels, a nonprofit that hosts water skiing and wakeboarding events for people with disabilities. She first learned about the organization at an FGCU Adaptive Sports Day.

“Because I’m only able to use one hand, there was no way for me to have a quick-release system that I could access,” Horowitz explains. “It came to the point where I needed to find something that was safe.”


Two FGCU professors and their students came to the rescue. Derek Lura led engineering students and Ed Myers led occupational therapy students through a project to create a special cage attachment for Horowitz’s wakeboard so that she could enjoy the sport safely. Horowitz is an avid wakeboarder. She loves the sport and the opportunity it gives to generate conversation, inspire people to seek innovative solutions and bring awareness for the special needs community, she says.


To contact Horowitz or learn more about “Sarah Finds Her Way,” visit

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