AAPD Paul G. Hearne Emerging Leader Awards

Through the AAPD Paul G. Hearne Emerging Leader 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 (2) individuals will each receive $2,500 in recognition of their outstanding contributions and $7,500 to further a new or existing project or initiative that increases opportunities for people with disabilities. The recipients of the 2020 AAPD Paul G. Hearne Emerging Leader Awards will be honored among national disability leaders at the AAPD Leadership Awards Gala in Washington, DC.


Paul G. Hearne: A Legacy of Leadership

This 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 pursued two core passions: 1) to create a national association that gave 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 as catalysts for change. 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 highlighting and supporting emerging leaders with disabilities.

2019 AAPD Paul G. Hearne Emerging Leader Award Recipients

Sarah Blahovec

Photo of Sarah Blahovec with brown hair in an updo, wearing a black v-neck blouse

Sarah Blahovec, recipient of a 2019 AAPD Paul G. Hearne Emerging Leader Award.

Sarah Blahovec is a chronically ill disability advocate. Diagnosed with severe Crohn’s Disease at age 15, Sarah has always had a passion for politics and focuses her advocacy on civic engagement and issues that intersect the chronic illness and disability communities. She graduated from American University in 2014 with a bachelor’s degree in International Studies, and after struggling to find mentors with disabilities in her field, began blogging about disability rights for the Huffington Post. Sarah is currently the Disability Vote Organizer for the National Council on Independent Living, where she advocates for greater accessibility in elections; educates the disability community on voting rights and works to energize a disability voting bloc; and addresses barriers to running for office for people with disabilities. As part of her work, she created “Including People with Disabilities in Your Political Campaign: A Guide for Campaign Staff,” which was used widely by campaigns and existing run for office training organizations in 2018. Sarah is also a founding board member, former Access and Inclusion Chair, and current Communications Chair of New Leaders Council of Virginia, which equips diverse Millennial leaders in Virginia with the skills to impact progressive change in their communities.

With the 2019 Paul G. Hearne Emerging Leader Award, Sarah is thrilled to establish the first campaign training curriculum for people with disabilities who want to run for elected office. While this online campaign training course will be open to all, it will specifically focus on bringing together trainers from marginalized communities and multi-marginalized people with disabilities who have run for office in the past to teach essential skills on running for office from an intersectional perspective, and to intentionally uplift prospective disabled candidates of color, women, religious minorities, and/or members of the LGBTQIA+ community.

Dustin Gibson

Photo of Dustin Gibson in black and white, with short hair and full beard, wearing a black round neck shirt

Dustin Gibson, recipient of a 2019 AAPD Paul G. Hearne Emerging Leader Award.

Dustin Gibson is a community builder who develops he[art]work to expand the collective consciousness of marginalized communities and address the nexus between race, class, and disability. He works across classrooms, neighborhoods, kid jails, and adult prisons to support individuals in finding home and engage in creating a world without jails and prisons.

Dustin works beside community members and grassroots organizations to lead campaigns and build coalitions to eliminate police violence, address community needs, end the criminalization of students – specifically black disabled students – and advocate for the implementation of policy and legislation to reduce harm.

He has worked with all three Centers for Independent Living in the Pittsburgh region and has held positions with national independent living organizations. He co-founded Disability Advocates for Rights and Transition, an organization led by disabled people that works to end forced institutionalization of disabled people and assist them in navigating systems to live in the community of their choosing with the dignity of risk.

As a founding member of the Harriet Tubman Collective and co-creator of We Can’t Breathe: The Deaf & Disabled Margin of Police Brutality Project, Dustin travels across the United States to build collective power within multiply-marginalized communities and construct alternatives to systems of policing and imprisonment.

With the 2019 Paul G. Hearne Emerging Leader Award, Dustin will work alongside youth who are or have been incarcerated to build a critical disability lens, gain historical context to current systems, and provide resources to assist them in thinking through issues and strategizing points of advocacy to organize themselves.

Previous AAPD Paul G. Hearne Emerging Leader Award Recipients

AAPD Paul G. Hearne Emerging Leader Award Application Process

Applications are now open for the 2020 AAPD Paul G Hearne Emerging Leader Award! Apply through this link: https://aapd1995.wufoo.com/forms/z1elxqu90x6qy55/. The application deadline is October 2, 2019.

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
  • A copy of their current resume
  • Answers to three (3) essay questions
  • Two (2) letters of support. (These letters can come from professors, employers, colleagues, coaches, counselors, or other individuals who know the applicant well. They should speak to the applicant’s experience, work ethic, and leadership.)

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 a letter of support is written by a member of the AAPD Board of Directors, 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 format). The finalists will be recommended to the AAPD Paul G. Hearne Leadership Awards Selection Committee, who will then select the two award recipients.

Awardee Requirements

Recipients of the 2020 AAPD Paul G. Hearne Leadership Award will have a number of responsibilities, including but not limited to the following:

  • Attend the AAPD Leadership Awards Gala on March 10, 2020 in Washington, DC (travel accommodations will be provided as necessary)
  • Submit periodic reports on the status of their project or initiative
  • Submit a final report detailing the outcomes of their project or initiative, including an accounting of all expenditures
  • Discuss their work and career path with AAPD’s Summer Internship Program class
  • Actively promote the AAPD Paul G. Hearne Leadership Awards program as well as other AAPD programs—such as the REV UP Campaign, Disability Equality Index (in collaboration with Disability: IN), Disability Mentoring Day, and the Summer Internship Program—to help grow the strength and outreach of AAPD nationally
  • Contribute to AAPD’s social media and other communication channels to amplify and elevate their work and the work of AAPD

Contact Information

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

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