2006 Paul G. Hearne AAPD Leadership Award Winners
As a recognized expert on asset building for people with disabilities, Megan O'Neil is the Access to Assets Project Coordinator at the World Institute on Disability (WID) in Oakland, California. WID strives to expand the capacity of lending institutions, asset building programs, and disability organizations to increase the inclusion of people with disabilities in poverty reduction programs.
O'Neil is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin. She became a paraplegic in 1995 as the result of a car accident and it was her own experience as a disabled person that led to her advocacy and activism. For O'Neil, life on Supplemental Security Income (SSI) made her realize that she wanted more from life and from herself. In 2004, she sought to gain experience in the area of asset development, choosing to postpone graduate school. Megan has since become a strong advocate for people with disabilities in the acquisition of capital and assets. She explains that poverty is endemic to the disability community, and life on public benefits ensures subsistence, thus resulting in complacency and endangering our future. Megan is building bridges between the asset building and disability communities, providing information on how best to serve people with disabilities at all the major asset building conferences.
WID executive director, Kathy Martinez, explains, "In her short career as a disability advocate/activist, Megan has become a powerful force in the struggle to reduce poverty within the disability population by breaking down the walls of myth, misconception, and ignorance that prevent disabled people from being considered good loan risks or entrepreneurs.” Megan is highly-regarded by the disability community on asset development issues, presenting to many groups, including the Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Advisory Panel.
It is Megan’s goal within five years to eliminate asset tests on structured savings vehicles and to exclude all savings accounts with limited access (penalties occur with early withdrawal) from SSI asset calculations. She emphasizes the necessity for increased advocacy and awareness, and more interaction with high-level policymakers.
Anisha Imhoff-Keer is a young advocate who is striving to reduce stigma in the educational community in order to make it easier for people with disabilities to get a meaningful education. She is a full-time student at Albuquerque Technical Vocational Institute, where she is pursuing a double-major in political science and psychology. Imhoff-Kerr was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the age of eleven and through her experiences as a college student she began advocating for ways to educate educators on how to deal with students with disabilities. Imhoff-Kerr created a Forum for educators on students with mental health issues, which was held in April 2005. Most recently, she surveyed 450 students and 30 teachers about their knowledge of mental health topics, special services, etc., finding that there was very little knowledge in this area. Imhoff-Kerr intends to fold the findings from this survey into the expansion of the Forum.
Imhoff-Kerr uses her own experiences to help others by presenting workshops at conferences, and through State of Mine: a nonprofit youth-run advocacy organization she created. Through State of Mine, Imhoff-Kerr produced a video, entitled Bipolar Unmasked, which illustrates what it is like to live a normal life with bipolar disorder as a teenager. She also coordinated an art show, "Visions," which displayed art created by teenagers with disabilities expressing what it is like to live with a disability. In 2004, Imhoff-Kerr was awarded the Amy Biehl Youth Spirit Award in recognition of her work with State of Mine and in the community promoting mental health awareness. After receiving a grant, Imhoff-Kerr started a high school health class program that discusses behavioral health topics. Imhoff-Kerr, who also works fulltime for the New Mexico state government in the Children’s Cabinet, envisions law school in her future. She would like to widen the work she’s done for college mental health awareness, and recruit other youth advocates to continue to expand upon the work she is doing.
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