AAPD Paul G. Hearne Leadership Awards

Through the AAPD Paul G. Hearne Leadership Awards, the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) recognizes outstanding emerging leaders with disabilities who exemplify leadership, advocacy, and dedication to the broader cross-disability community. Two individuals will each receive $2,500 in recognition of their outstanding contributions and $7,500 to further a new or existing initiative that increases the political and economic power of people with disabilities. The recipients of the AAPD Paul G. Hearne Leadership Awards are honored among national disability leaders each year at the AAPD Leadership Awards Gala in Washington, DC.


Paul G. Hearne: A Legacy of Leadership

The award is named in honor of Paul G. Hearne, an advocate and visionary leader with a lifelong disability who achieved success as a nonprofit executive, foundation president, federal agency director, and mentor to countless people with disabilities. A passionate advocate for increased employment of people with disabilities, Paul opened doors for thousands through his leadership of Just One Break, an employment agency for people with disabilities in New York City, and The Dole Foundation for Employment of People with Disabilities in Washington, DC.

Until his passing in 1998, Paul was driven by two burning passions: 1) to create a national association to give people with disabilities more consumer power and a stronger public voice, and 2) to cultivate potential leaders to carry on the disability rights movement. Paul achieved his first goal during his lifetime with the 1995 creation of AAPD, now recognized as a powerful force for organizing the disability community to be catalysts for change while also cultivating the next generation of leaders. The AAPD Paul G. Hearne Leadership Awards were established in 1999, not only as a way to honor his lifetime of leadership and advocacy, but to help realize Paul’s second goal by finding and supporting emerging leaders with disabilities. AAPD Paul G. Hearne Leadership Award recipients are his living legacy.


2018 AAPD Paul G. Hearne Leadership Awards Application

The 2018 application has closed.


Application Guidelines and Procedures

Candidates for the AAPD Paul G. Hearne Leadership Award must submit all required documentation through the online application. Candidates must complete and submit:

  • The application information section
  • Three (3) essay questions
  • Two (2) letters of support (one (1) letter of commitment from the mentor who is prepared to work with the applicant in pursuing their leadership goals, and one (1) letter of professional recommendation)
  • A copy of their current resume.

It is recommended that you complete the essay questions in a separate word processing program and then copy and paste them into the online form so that it can be submitted in one sitting.

Incomplete or late submissions will not be considered. We will not be able to consider any materials in excess of the stated requirements. Any U.S. resident who self-identifies as an individual with any type of disability is invited to apply. AAPD encourages emerging leaders with disabilities of any age to apply.


Conflicts of Interest

Please note that to avoid conflicts of interest, applications will not be accepted if the mentor or supportive colleague is a member of the AAPD Board of Directors or is an AAPD staff member (or a relative of any of these individuals). View a list of AAPD Board and Staff.


Selection Process

An AAPD internal review team will evaluate all eligible applications. The review team will identify the finalists who will be interviewed via phone or video conference (or another accessible formats). The finalists will be recommended to the AAPD Paul G. Hearne Leadership Awards Selection Committee, who will select the two awardees.


Awardee Requirements

Recipients of the 2018 AAPD Hearne Award must meet the following obligations:

  • Attend the 2018 AAPD Leadership Awards Gala in Washington, DC on March 13, 2018 (travel and lodging accommodations will be provided as necessary);
  • Submit periodic reports on the status of your project or initiative;
  • Submit a final report detailing the outcomes of your project or initiative, including an accounting of all expenditures;
  • Present your work to the 2018 AAPD Summer Internship Program class;
  • Actively promote the AAPD Paul G. Hearne Leadership Awards program as well as other AAPD programs (Disability Equality Index, Disability Mentoring Day, Summer Internship Program, REV UP Campaign, and NBCUniversal Tony Coelho Media Scholarship) to help grow the strength and outreach of AAPD nationally; and
  • Contribute to AAPD’s social media and other communication channels to amplify and elevate your work and the work of AAPD.


Contact Information

If you have any questions please contact AAPD at awards@aapd.com or at (202) 521-4316.


The 2018 application has closed.


2017 AAPD Paul G. Hearne Leadership Award Recipients


Ola Ojewumi

Profile photo of Ola Ojewumi smiling

Ola Ojewumi, 2017 AAPD Paul G. Hearne Leadership Award recipient

Founder, Project ASCEND
Founder, Sacred Hearts Children’s Transplant Foundation

Ola Ojewumi is an activist, journalist, and a community organizer based in Washington, DC. She founded two nonprofits, Sacred Hearts Children’s Transplant Foundation and Project ASCEND. These organizations provide college scholarships to low-income students, funding for women’s education programs, support for global mentorship groups and literacy programs, and distributes teddy bears and books to children awaiting organ transplants across the United States. These initiatives have reached hundreds of young people living in Washington, D.C., West Africa, and Central America.

Ola initiated these charitable efforts after receiving a lifesaving heart and kidney transplant, which inspired her to begin giving back to her community. The Clinton Global Initiative, MTV, Intel, Glamour Magazine, and The Huffington Post have praised her initiatives. Presently, she works as a contract specialist for the federal government and works as a freelancer having written for CNN and The Huffington Post. In addition, she’s served on boards for nonprofit organizations created by General Colin Powell and musician Lady Gaga. As an advocate, she has advised the Obama Administration on policies to advance the lives of people living with disabilities and held internships in the White House and with Leader Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic National Committee, and Congressman Albert R. Wynn. Her overall aspiration is to use public policy, journalism, and activism to change the world for disadvantaged populations.

Project ASCEND is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that sponsors college scholarship and community grant programs that equip youth with civic engagement opportunities. Project ASCEND was founded in 2011; our mission is to create higher education opportunities for marginalized and disadvantaged young people across the globe. We provide college scholarships to low-income and disabled youth, funding for women’s education programs, support for mentorship groups and literacy programs. Our initiatives have reached hundreds of young people living in Washington, D.C., West Africa, and Central America.

Watch a video about Ola and her work.


Katherine Perez

Profile photo of Katherine Perez smiling

Katherine Perez, 2017 AAPD Paul G. Hearne Leadership Award recipient

Founding Member, National Coalition for Latinxs with Disabilities

Katherine Perez is a scholar and activist from La Mirada, California. She graduated from UCLA School of Law in 2013 and is currently a PhD Candidate in Disability Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Her scholarship engages critical legal and historical analyses of disability laws and policies. She presents on various topics including the Disability Rights Movement (DRM) and is interested in building bridges between Latinx and disability organizations as the DRM progresses. Prior to law school, Katherine served in the Peace Corps in Peru and as a Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute Fellow in Washington, DC.

She is the proud granddaughter of Mexican immigrants and openly identifies as having a psychiatric disability. Katherine believes it is time that we shut down the stigma, recognize, accept, and celebrate difference. As a disabled advocate, she also challenges the community to think about how racism and ableism function together to oppress disabled people of color.

The mission of the National Coalition for Latinxs with Disabilities is to work toward a society in which the human rights of Latinxs with disabilities are upheld and all their intersecting identities embraced. Katherine founded the coalition with a group of professionals and scholars across the nation who are committed to celebrating and empowering Latinxs with disabilities and their allies through community building, advocacy, protection of rights, resources, and education. As a new organization, they have organized several efforts including their upcoming second annual conference and a national research study that will take place in various cities across the U.S. in 2017.

Watch a video about Katherine and her work.


Previous AAPD Paul G. Hearne Award Recipients


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