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 or groups 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 2022 AAPD Paul G. Hearne Emerging Leader Awards will be honored among national disability leaders at the 2022 AAPD Leadership Awards Gala which will be held on March 9, 2022.

The applications for the 2022 Paul G. Hearne Emerging Leader Awards are closed. Please check back early Fall 2022 for the 2023 cycle.

AAPD hosted a Zoom webinar in 2021 for any interested applicants to review the information below and answer any questions you have and hear from two past Hearne Awardees for advice and tips. View the recording on YouTube, PowerPoint Slides, and transcript.

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 and catalyzing 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.

AAPD Paul G. Hearne Emerging Leader Award Application Process

Eligibility (Who Can Apply)

Any person who self-identifies as an emerging leader with a disability is invited to apply, regardless of U.S. citizenship, incarceration status, or age. We especially encourage people who have experienced intersecting forms of discrimination and from historically excluded backgrounds, rural areas, and U.S. territories to apply. The applicant’s project or initiative should have ties to U.S. or U.S. territories. 

An applicant’s status as an emerging leader is not necessarily tied to age, education status, employment, or specific experience or involvement in the disability community. 

Applicants will not be required to disclose their specific disability; however, the application for the award will signify that the applicant considers themself a person with a disability. AAPD defines disability broadly, including people without a formal diagnosis but experience disability, chronic medical conditions, and will not request proof of disability at any point during the application or interview process. 

While the Paul G. Hearne Emerging Leader Awards have previously recognized only two individuals, we are expanding the eligibility status that groups of people working on an initiative can apply for the award. Everyone in the group applying for the award must identify as an emerging leader with a disability. Individuals or groups will receive the $10,000 award ($7,500 for the project and $2,500 scholarship left to the discretion of the individual/group).

Application Guidelines and Procedures

Candidates for the AAPD Paul G. Hearne Emerging Leadership Award must submit all of the following required documentation through the online application portal:

  1. Applicant Information
  2. Project information
  3. A current resume
  4. Two (2) letters of support. It is strongly recommended the letter of support is from people who will support and/or collaborate with you on your project. If submitting a group application, applicants are not allowed to write letters of recommendation for each other in the group.

You can view the application in the Google Application document. In addition, AAPD has developed a document with suggestions and guidelines for your application process. View the 2022 Paul G. Hearne Award application tips and guideline Google document.

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 to prevent loss of information while applying. Incomplete or late submissions will not be considered. We will not consider any materials in excess of the stated requirements. 

Recipients chosen for the AAPD Paul G. Hearne Emerging Leader Award release all information contained in their application for use on the AAPD website and in public press releases, including releases to the program funders, and potential employers.

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, 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 video conference (or another accessible format). The finalists will be recommended to the AAPD Paul G. Hearne Leadership Awards Selection Committee (comprised of AAPD Board members, staff, previous Hearne Awardees, and other partners), who will then select the two award recipients.

All applicants will be notified of a decision on their application by January 2022.

Awardee Requirements

The project year will be from March 2022 through December 2022. Recipients of the 2022 AAPD Paul G. Hearne Leadership Award will have several responsibilities, including but not limited to the following:

  • Attend the AAPD Leadership Awards Gala on March 9, 2022
  • Complete quarterly reports and calls with AAPD staff regarding the status of their initiative
  • Submit a final report detailing the outcomes of their initiative, including an accounting of all expenditures
  • Present their final report to AAPD Paul G. Hearne Leadership Awards Selection Committee
  • 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


2021 AAPD Paul G. Hearne Emerging Leader Award Recipients


Elijah Armstrong

Headshot of a young Black male with small freeform dreadlocks, wearing a beige suit jacket, brown shirt, and bright yellow tie. He is smiling and facing the camera.
Elijah Armstrong, recipient of 2021 AAPD Paul G. Hearne Emerging Leader Award

Elijah Armstrong 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. With the funds from the 2021 Paul G. Hearne Emerging Leader Award, Elijah is going to start the Judy Heumann Award for Education Activism. This will give monetary awards to 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.

Elijah is an epileptic who was denied accommodations in high school and was thus motivated to prevent the same thing from happening to other students. He founded Equal Opportunities for Students in 2015 and published pieces in Education Post and Faces of Education. He can be heard telling his story through his Ted Talk or his interviews with NPR. Elijah was an AAPD intern in 2018 in the office of Senator Bob Casey (D-PA). He served on the DREAM (Disability Rights, Education Activism, and Mentoring) National Student Advisory board for three years, and also branched out into other forms of activism while at Penn State, helping to plan a multi-day program around sexual assault prevention and cofounding No Hate Penn State with three other students. In his time at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Elijah was president of the Black Student Union.

Elijah enjoys performing arts like comedy clubs or live music in his spare time, but the pandemic has brought him back to his deep love for reality television. During the pandemic, he has taken the time to watch old seasons of The Bachelor while loom-knitting blankets. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram @elijahsaprophet, and connect with him on LinkedIn.
Learn more about Elijah and his work here.

Noor Pervez

A South Asian non-binary person tilts their head. They are wearing a black floral dress and gold jhumka earrings.
Noor Pervez, a recipient of 2021 AAPD Paul G. Hearne Emerging Leader Award

Noor Pervez is a queer, Muslim disability activist and community organizer working at the intersection of faith, disability, race, LGBT+ issues, reproductive justice, and eating disorders. His project aims to start the creation of an English-language Easy Read translation of the Holy Qu’ran. This translation aims to provide all Muslims with intellectual disabilities access to the original holy text, nuances and all, and help them participate fully in their community’s discussions about it. The end product will also be a helpful reference for non-Muslim people with intellectual disabilities who want to better understand the Holy Qu’ran, as well as for English language learners and people with other disabilities that benefit from Easy Read.

Noor is employed as the community engagement coordinator for the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN). Noor is a student organizer turned broader community activist and takes pride in learning much of his original advocacy skills from other trans people raised in the southern US. Noor has bylines at Disability Visibility Project and Rooted in Rights, and has presented at a variety of conferences and universities on the intersections of the communities he is a part of and works alongside. You can follow Noor on Twitter: @snoringdoggo.
Learn more about Noor and his work here. 

Previous AAPD Paul G. Hearne Emerging Leader Award Recipients


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

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