2021 Paul G. Hearne Awardee: Elijah Armstrong

Elijah Armstrong is one of the recipients of AAPD’s 2021 Paul G. Hearne Emerging Leader Awards. Elijah is an activist from Jacksonville, Florida, who received his Bachelor of Science in Education and Public Policy from Penn State in 2019, and his Master of Education Policy and Management from the Harvard Graduate School of Education in 2020. He has created the Heumann-Armstrong Award with the funds from the Paul G Hearne award. The Heumann-Armstrong Award is dedicated toward students who have experienced ableism in education, while also driving a conversation around ableism in education that is centered around the experience of students with disabilities. Learn more about Elijah’s journey and the Heumann-Armstrong Award through the 2021 AAPD Leadership Awards Gala video and Elijah’s blog below: 

In His Own Words: The Heumann-Armstrong Awards Project | Elijah Armstrong | June 2021

On May 19th, we officially opened the applications for the first annual Heumann-Armstrong Awards. More specifically, we opened applications for the older section of the award, which will be giving out $1000 prizes to students in the 6th grade and higher (including higher education) who have experienced and are fighting against ableism in schools. Our unveiling came with a video that was kindly translated into ASL by Kyle Duarte and has open captions. Once our applications were made public, we immediately received a tremendous outpouring of support from the disability community helping us spread the word. Over the first three weeks, we received almost 90 applications!

Our applications close on July 14th, and we’re aiming to announce the winners of this award in August, so while our review committee hasn’t gone over all the applicants yet, I can say from what I’ve seen so far, we have an overabundance of candidates deserving of this award. I have also been moved by the level of care everyone has put into their applications. Our data shows it takes the average candidate more than an hour to complete the application, even though the application itself is short. People are taking their time to thoughtfully answer each question as best they can. I also want to add that almost every submitted application came with an expression of gratitude for us taking this project on; people very rarely make education awards for the disability community specifically, and people are immensely grateful to have this opportunity. A number of schools, districts, higher learning institutions, and other education organizations have already reached out to us expressing interest in the interviews we are going to be producing with the six winners of the older elementary school awards. To this point, the Heumann-Armstrong award is proving to not only support students who fight ableism in education but also provide them an opportunity to have their voices heard and experiences considered in spaces that traditionally overlook, if not deliberately exclude, the voices of disabled students.

We are still working in partnership with The Coelho Center for Disability Law, Policy, and Innovation on the elementary school portion of the Heumann-Armstrong awards. We are developing the application process for the elementary school awards, as well as developing relationships with book vendors, technology companies, and schools and districts so we can properly roll out these awards in early September when schools open back up. The Heumann-Armstrong award opening has been tremendously successful so far, and I’m deeply thankful to AAPD, The Coelho Center, and the many other activists and organizations who helped to promote this project. I’m looking forward to introducing you all to our winners soon because they’re all going to be great!


The Heumann-Armstrong Award is sponsored by the American Association for People with Disabilities, The Coelho Center, and Equal Opportunities for Students. All recipients of this award must be in the sixth grade or older, and we are including students in higher education. Applications have closed for the current cycle. You can see who the inaugural winners are here.

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