2004 Paul G. Hearne AAPD Leadership Award Winners
Berhanu Joffe Deboch
Berhanu Joffe Deboch, a student at Portland State University and a political refugee, has committed himself to working to eradicate the many barriers that people with disabilities face. His work work has been rooted in advocacy for neglected, marginalized and disadvantaged individuals. According to one of his current professors, Deboch possesses strong leadership skills in teaching his peers about national activities for blind people and for raising their collective consciousness.
Deboch is origionally from Ethiopia. While a student at the University of Addis Ababa, he was elected to serve as a Public and Recruitment Officer for the Ethiopian National Organization of the Blind (ENOB), and served in that capacity for four years. He explains that this service afforded him the chance to work with community members and to increase awareness of the impact of blindness on a person’s experiences.
After graduation, Deboch worked at the Ministry of Urban Development and Housing as a Junior Expert Housing Specialist. In that role, he organized neighborhood cooperatives to build housing for low-income people. He has often pointed to the work with the disability community there as his proudest accomplishment, where he was able to obtain major funding and develop housing cooperatives for hundreds of people with disabilities. This particular project, according to Deboch, not only enabled families to build their own homes, but also illustrated the resourcefulness and capabilities of individuals with disabilities.
In South Africa, he worked for refugees with the United Nations Higher Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) as an interpreter, HIV counselor, and representative of refugees in court. From that, Deboch emerged as a strong, vocal advocate for HIV infected people denied resettlement in developed countries.
In 1995, Deboch became a refugee, living in camps in Kenya and Mozambique. While a refugee, he worked tirelessly to organize advocacy groups within the camps. He is proud that, despite his blindness, he was elected as the spokesperson for individuals who were voiceless and powerless.
He came to Oregon as a political refugee, and began his adjustment to blindness training while also adjusting to life in the U.S. He immediately started volunteer work at Portland’s Refugee Center, where he was able to utilize the leadership skills that had proved effective during his work in refugee camps in Kenya and Mozambique.
Deboch now speaks about the two most serious barriers that he believes people with disabilities face: a lack of awareness among non-disabled people about how disability affects a person’s life, and a lack of access to education for low-income people with disabilities. Toward that end, his personal leadership goals for the next five years are to continue to advocate as a social worker for voiceless people with disabilities, as well as children and women at risk, in addition to continuing his work and research on behalf of people living with HIV. He also wishes to delve further into the problems that HIV-positive people have and why they are denied resettlement in developed countries.
Deboch has said that winning a Paul G. Hearne AAPD Leadership Award will enable him to complete his Master’s degree in Social Work at Portland State University, while also continuing to participate in national disability conferences and conduct international research.
Alan D. Muir
Alan Muir co-founded and continues to serve as Executive Director of Career Opportunities for Students with Disabilities (COSD) in Knoxville, Tennessee. He is committed to working to enhance and improve the career opportunities of college students with disabilities through his work with universities and employers to ensure students with disabilities receive preparation and training.
Muir was also appointed, four years ago, by the Governor of Tennessee to serve on the Tennessee Council on Developmental Disabilities. He started his advocacy efforts on behalf of the disability community when he personally faced attitudinal barriers and experienced firsthand the value of self-advocacy. Muir's professional career began in the banking industry where he had a sixteen-year commercial banking career in New York.
As Muir sees it, the most serious barrier for people with disabilities is securing career employment in their fields of choice, but also that a lack of self-advocacy skills and knowledge further increase the employment problem amongst people with disabilities, particularly apparent with college graduates with disabilities. Believing that his personal experiences could directly benefit young people with disabilities searching out their career paths, Muir changed careers.
Muir met Dr. Robert Greenberg, Director of Career Services at the University of Tennessee, and together they recognized that there was an opportunity to make a difference for students with disabilities in terms of training and preparing them for career exploration and their exposure to the employer market. They conducted research that identified a nationwide problem of a lack of collaboration between Disability Services and Career Services offices on college campuses. Students with disabilities were getting neither the critical training in career planning they needed nor taking advantage of experiential education opportunities. Consequently, they are nearly invisible to employers during on-campus recruiting efforts and programs.
Based on this research and these observations, Muir attained funding from the Tennessee Division of Rehabilitation Services to create the Disability Careers Office, which is a liaison office between Career Services and Disability Services. This office is now a national example for other universities to emulate.
In 2001, Muir and Greenberg co-founded COSD with a grant from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy. WIth that, Muir began his fulltime work leading COSD. In this capacity, Muir works to fulfill an additional need, which is close collaboration between Career Services, Disability Services, and employers nationally.
Under his guidance and leadership, COSD has expanded its membership to 400 entities. As COSD’s Executive Director, Muir works to actively promote the idea of improving career employment prospects for students with disabilities to employers and organizations. He has successfully organized and attained necessary funding for annual COSD conferences, and conducts workshops to universities and employers around the country that highlight issues faced by students with disabilities during their job searches.
Muir has identified three leadership goals for next five years: to develop a two-credit distance-education course for college students with disabilities that teaches career search skills; to create a Technical Assistance Center to conduct research on practical solutions for COSD member institutions and employers in working with students with disabilities; and to bring people with disabilities into leadership positions at COSD as a means of further highlighting the abilities of people with disabilities.
Muir explains that being a Paul G. Hearne AAPD Leadership Award recipient will lend increased credibility to his work at COSD. Additionally, the funds will help to expand COSD’s reach to greater numbers of higher education institutions and employers. He believes that recognition of his work with COSD by way of this award will also further affirm that career employment for people with disabilities is vital and that COSD assistance in this arena impacts all sectors of the disability community.
Elise C. Roy
Elise Roy is a two-sport varsity athlete, lawyer, and tireless advocate on the national and international levels who works to increase awareness of the importance of ensuring recreational and athletic opportunities for people with disabilities. Roy is the co-founder of Ready-Set-Go in Washington, DC, and is gaining recognition as an emerging leader among the young Deaf lawyers in America.
Roy, who progressively lost her hearing since age ten, has fought injustices that discrimination has cost the disability community. She believes that discriminatory attitudes prevail around the world, and that for people with disabilities, these attitudes transcend into our barriers. She also believes that history has proven that attitudes can be changed.
Relaying her personal story, Roy explains that people did not believe she could attend an Ivy League college, but she went on to graduate from Brown University. While at Brown, she coordinated a group of upperclassmen who served as mentors to incoming students with disabilities through the BearAble mentor program. This group’s efforts and activities resulted in a more active and visible community of students with disabilities on the campus. Also while at Brown, Roy created the first website for the school’s Disability Support Services Center. She was invited to address Brown’s Board of Directors, with the goal of advocating for more services and funding for students with disabilities on campus.
Roy subsequently received her law degree from Northeastern University School of Law. While there, she participated in the United Nations Convention process of an international treaty on the rights of people with disabilities. Additionally and in conjunction with the Center for Sport and Society and the Landmine Survivors Network, she began advocating for an article that would enable people with disabilities the right to be viewed as athletic individuals and to participate equally in sport and recreation.
This past June 2004, Roy assembled and led a panel at the United Nations to brief delegates on the importance of including a sports and recreation provision in the proposed treaty. She has also been invited to serve as a delegate at the Oslo World Congress, where she met and shared ideas with disability advocates and academicians from around the world. She was recently appointed to serve as a representative for the United Nations Disability Caucus, and asked to lead Rehabilitation International’s Sports and Recreation Committee.
The past year, Roy worked at the Washington Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights as a disability rights litigator, through the Women’s Law and Public Policy Fellowship Program. She feels that this experience gave her critical connections to advocates from various fields.
Roy has explained that the Paul G. Hearne AAPD Leadership Award will support her continued advocacy initiatives through an organization she recently co-founded, Ready-Set-Go. That organization provides a foundation to advance her goals of creating sport, recreation and play programming for children with disabilities and utilizing the unique setting of sport to disseminate HIV/AIDS and human rights education to vulnerable communities.
Roy's two goals are to develop a Declaration of Rights for Athletes with Disabilities, and to continue to advocate on a multi-lateral level for children with disabilities.
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