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AAPD Announces the 2024 Recipients of the AAPD Paul G. Hearne Emerging Leader Awards

by | Mar 19, 2024 | Press Release

For Immediate Release: March 19, 2024

Contact: Jess Davidson at jdavidson@aapd.com; 202-975-0960 

Christine Liao at cliao@aapd.com; 202-521-4302

WASHINGTON, DC – The American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) is thrilled to announce the recipients of its 2024 Paul G. Hearne Emerging Leader Awards, an award given to emerging leaders with disabilities who exemplify leadership, advocacy, and dedication to the broader cross-disability community. 

Paul G. Hearne was one of AAPD’s founders who was passionate about cultivating leaders to advance the disability rights movement. Through the award, AAPD has continued Hearne’s legacy by recognizing nearly 70 individuals over 25 years in his honor. The funding provided by this award has supported advocacy, education, skill building, organizational infrastructure, and more.  

AAPD proudly recognizes Valois Vera and the Medical Students with Disability and Chronic Illness (MSDCI) team, Zainub Dhanani, Nora Newcomb, and Ifeoma Ikedionwu, as the 2024 recipients of the Paul G. Hearne Emerging Leaders Award.

The AAPD Paul G. Hearne Emerging Leader Awards are given to two recipients – recipients can be an individual or group – of people with disabilities who identify as an emerging leader. Since disability identity and pride look different for everyone and anyone can become disabled at any time, the designation of “emerging leader” is not tied to age, education status, employment, or specific experience in the disability community. Our awardees are chosen based on their vision and desire for developing their leadership and their project’s impact on our movement.

Each individual or team granted a Hearne Emerging Leader Award receives a total of $10,000. They will use $7,500 for their initiative that will increase the economic and political power of people with disabilities. The remaining $2,500 goes to the recipient directly in recognition of their meaningful contributions to the disability community. Payments are broken up throughout the year to ensure the award would not have a negative impact on disability benefits for any award recipient. All awardees will be honored at AAPD’s virtual National Community Event on April 23, 2024.

“We are incredibly excited to recognize Valois, Zainub, Nora, and Ifeoma as this year’s Paul G. Hearne Emerging Leader Award winners. Their work has already created vital opportunities for community in spaces where disabled people are too frequently excluded,” said Maria Town, AAPD President & CEO.

Susan Diegelman, Chair of the AAPD Board of Directors, said, “Paul G. Hearne understood that investing in emerging and upcoming leaders in the disability community is critical to sustain movements that advance equity and equal rights. AAPD is proud to continue his legacy by supporting the work and development of these emerging leaders. We are excited to watch their work grow.” 

Learn more about this year’s recipients: 

Valois Vera (he/they)

Valois J. Vera, aka “Crip Lyrical”, is a Disabled Revolutionary, Author, Poet/Spoken Word Artist, and Activist based out of Denton, TX. Well noted for his work in disability culture and liberation, Valois is a public speaker and has served as guest lecturer at a variety of colleges and universities including the University of North Texas, Fordham University, Azusa Pacific University, and the University of California-Berkeley. His journalism work can be found in New Mobility Magazine, Latino Rebels, and Rooted in Rights, and their poetry has been published by Spoonie Press, Mollyhouse, and the anthology American Graveyard: Calls to End Gun Violence, Volume I (Read or Green Books). Their debut collection Crip Lyrics: the Unapologetic Poetry of Disability (POOR Press) is an illustrated collection of liberation verses guided by lived experiences and self-reflection. His second collection, I, The Revolution serves as both a manifesto that uplifts and amplifies community and as an indictment against systems of oppression. He is the Founder of Thunder and Lightning Poetry Collective and is the recipient of the 2023 Art Spark Texas Lynn Marie Johnson Media Arts Award.

With the 2024 Paul G. Hearne Emerging Leader Award project funds, Valois will strengthen and sustain his organization’s operations, Thunder and Lightning Poetry Collective (TLPC). The Collective is exclusively operated by and for disabled Black, Indigenous, and People of Color and disabled Queer poets. TLPC offers a virtual space for creatives through workshops, open mics, book launch events, and more. Valois hopes to offer more events with accessibility, a website to increase visibility of TLPC, and publish a series of work by the creatives in the Collective. 


Medical Students with Disability and Chronic Illness (MSDCI)

As a group recipient of the 2024 Paul G. Hearne Emerging Leader Award, Medical Students with Disability and Chronic Illness (MSDCI) intends to launch a mentorship program for trainees across the medical education pipeline, expand event and website accessibility, and conduct focused scholarly work on disability training and competency in medical education. MSDCI believes in mentorship as a powerful tool to create a supportive community that encourages and guides aspiring medical professionals with disabilities. By bridging pre-medical students, current trainees, and practicing physicians with disabilities, they will break down barriers and pave the way for more individuals to pursue careers in medicine. By improving physician training and clinical practice, MSDCI can combat ableism, reduce mistreatment, and comprehensively address health inequities. AAPD is pleased to honor Zainub Dhanani, Nora Newcomb, and Ifeoma Ikedionwu as the MSDCI team.

Zainub Dhanani, MS (she/her) 

Zainub Dhanani is the Founder, Executive Director Emeritus, and Board Chairwoman of Medical Students with Disability and Chronic Illness (MSDCI). She is a medical student at Stanford University School of Medicine and will graduate in 2025, after which she intends to pursue a career in Diagnostic Radiology. Zainub completed her Master’s of Science in Health Policy and holds an Honors Certificate in Health Professions Education and Scholarship, both from Stanford University School of Medicine. She is the founder of the Annual Stanford Conference on Disability in Healthcare and Medicine and has been an invited speaker at disability conferences and seminars nationally and internationally. She has keen interest in the equitable design of health systems and in wellness and belonging amongst healthcare professionals and trainees. Her research focuses on the disability inclusion in medical education, healthcare experiences and access for people with disabilities, the use of digital and telehealth interventions in improving access to care for vulnerable populations, and health equity in radiology education and imaging practices. Zainub was inducted into the Gold Humanism Honor Society in 2022, was a 2022 American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) SciTech and Human Rights FutureGen Scholar and was a 2020 Building the Next Generation of Academic Physicians (BNGAP) Academic Medicine Writing Fellow. Outside of academia, Zainub is an avid baker and reader, and enjoys spending time in nature. 

Nora Newcomb (she/her)

Nora Newcob is the Executive Director of MSDCI. She is a medical student at the University of South Florida Health Morsani College of Medicine, Class of 2025, in a track focusing on leadership, healthcare systems and values-based patient-centered care. Her scholarly work, within MSDCI and beyond, focuses on the inclusion of students with disability and chronic illness in undergraduate medical education and development of disability-focused curricular interventions in medical education. As a former American Medical Women’s Association Anne C. Carter Global Health Fellow, Nora has a strong interest in global health and has presented internationally on disability-related topics. She is a member of the International Society of Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine (ISPRM), Task Force on Physical Activity for Persons with Disabilities, and the ISPRM-World Health Organization Liaison Committee.  Outside of medicine and advocacy, Nora is an avid podcast enthusiast and loves to travel. She intends to pursue a career in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.

Ifeoma Ikedionwu (she/her)

Ifeoma Ikedionwu is an Associate Director of MSDCI. She attends the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine and is a member of the class of 2025. Ifeoma is interested in equity and advocacy across multiple disciplines, including disability, sexual medicine, psychiatry, ethics, and education. She has been able to delve into these varied interests through being the former co-leader of Pritzker’s disability organization, an American Psychiatry Association Helping Hand Grant co-recipient, a Hyde Park Institute Scholar in Ethics and Medicine. She also developed a first year co-curricular through the Alpha Omega Alpha Medical Student Service Leadership Grant. During her free time, she likes doing jigsaw puzzles and playing with her red-eared slider turtle named Henry. Ifeoma plans on applying into psychiatry or a primary care focused specialty.


The recipients of the 2024 AAPD Paul G. Hearne Emerging Leader Awards will be honored at AAPD’s National Community Event on April 23, 2024. You can learn more about this year’s award recipients and previous awardees on the AAPD website. Please join us in congratulating Valois, Zainub, Nora, and Ifeoma on their accomplishments and leadership.