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 2021 AAPD Paul G. Hearne Emerging Leader Awards will be honored among national disability leaders at the 2021 AAPD Leadership Awards Gala which will be held virtually in Spring of 2021.

Applications for the 2021 Paul G. Hearne Emerging Leader Awards are now closed. Please come back in the Fall of 2021. 

Below outlines Paul G. Hearne’s legacy and the application process. AAPD hosted a Zoom webinar for any interested applicants to review the information below and answered general questions. You can view the recording of the webinar here, which includes captioning and ASL interpreters. We also have provided the transcript, and PowerPoint slides.

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.

AAPD Paul G. Hearne Emerging Leader Award Application Process


Any person who self-identifies as an emerging leader with a disability is invited to apply. Emerging leader is not necessarily tied to age, education status, employment, or specific experience or involvement in the disability community.

You will not be required to disclose your specific disability; however, your application for this award will signify that you consider yourself a person with a disability.

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.

You can view the application in a Word document format: 2021 PGH Award Application. In addition, AAPD has developed a document with suggestions and guidelines for your application process. View the 2021 Paul G. Hearne Award application tips and guideline document: 2021 PGH Application Tips.

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, 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 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 by January 2021.

Awardee Requirements

Recipients of the 2021 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 in Spring 2021
  • 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

2020 AAPD Paul G. Hearne Emerging Leader Award Recipients

Tara Ahern

Woman with blonde hair and light skin smiling

Tara Ahern, recipient of a 2020 AAPD Paul G. Hearne Emerging Leader Award.

Tara Ahern is a disability advocate and photography business owner from Evanston, IL with degrees from New York University (B.A.) and DePaul University (M.S.).

Her passion for disability rights stems from her own experiences living and loving with mobility and mental health disabilities as well as wanting to live in a world where disability is no longer a barrier to inclusion and equality.

Tara is the Project Director for The IL Self Advocacy Alliance, a statewide entity that empowers people with disabilities to become advocates through education, cross-disability trainings and individualized mentoring. In addition to supporting their 37 member group chapters, Tara and her team engage in local, state and national advocacy and organize around important disability issues. In 2016, Tara created Alliance Ambassadors, an immersive 5 month leadership training program for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. By May 2020, the program will have graduated 70 individuals.

She currently serves as co-chair for IL Imagines Chicago, a project to improve services for people with disabilities who are survivors of sexual violence as well as consults on disability and sexuality based projects and facilitates activities at Center for Independent Futures in Evanston, IL. Tara is a 2019 graduate of the Office for Victims of Crime Training and Technical Assistance Center’s Leadership Institute and completed a 40 hour sexual assault training through ICASA (IL Coalition Against Sexual Assault). She now teaches healthy sexuality and abuse prevention classes to disability groups, rape crisis centers and presents on the topic at conferences and service provider agencies.

In her spare time, Tara participates on the Miss Amazing Inc. advisory board and is the national pageant judges coordinator. For the last 6 years, she has blended her worlds together, working on a photography project called Tres Fridas, where she and two other disabled artists recreate famous works of art and pop culture featuring people with disabilities as the subjects. Each recreation touches on an issue that the disability community faces while also showcasing the stories of successful Chicago artists. Their 16 piece traveling exhibition have garnered worldwide attention and various press features in the Chicago Tribune, NPR, ABC and Univision.

With the 2020 Paul G. Hearne Emerging Leader Award, Tara will focus on the important intersection between sexual violence and disability in Illinois. Building upon the work of IL Imagines, Tara will engage survivors with disabilities, rape crisis centers and service providers in doing collaborative regional and statewide work aimed at improving services, policies and opportunities for people with disabilities. She will work with local teams to organize around this intersection, facilitate trainings and supporting the creation of advocacy empowerment groups

Sneha Dave

Sneha, a 21-year-old Indian woman with black is hair is smiling toward the camera inside. She is wearing a black blazer.

Sneha Dave, recipient of a 2020 AAPD Paul G. Hearne Emerging Leader Award.

Sneha a senior at Indiana University majoring in chronic illness advocacy as well as journalism. She created the Health Advocacy Summit and its program of Crohn’s and Colitis Young Adults Network which major funding from Helmsley Charitable Trust and Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, to create more support systems for young adults and adolescents with chronic and rare illnesses across the U.S. and internationally. She is proud to have these organizations transparent and independent from the pharmaceutical industry. 

Sneha has completed a research fellowship in health policy at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, where she is continuing research as an undergraduate. She has also interned at the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation Headquarters and Pfizer Global Headquarters in health economics and outcomes research for Inflammation and Immunology. Sneha has spoken on Capitol Hill, featured nationally on C-SPAN, is a past contributor for U.S. News and World Report, and has put in considerable time and effort in D.C. advocating for better access to health care for people with chronic illnesses. She also created and chairs the first disability caucus in Indiana, and has served on the Democratic National Committee Disability Policy Subcommittee and Women’s March Disability Caucus. Sneha was awarded two academic fellowships with the Association of Health Care Journalists. She was previously a national policy fellow and now serves as the youngest director on the board for the national nonprofit. Sneha has spoken at Stanford Medicine X, at the Harvard Youth and Public Health Summit, the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine and other major avenues. She is also a national ambassador for the Invisible Disabilities Association and Lyfebulb.

In her free time, she enjoys climbing, hiking, and reading all things health-related. Most of all, she is incredibly grateful for all the people she gets to work with and those that have overcome barriers in their life to continue thriving with a chronic illness. She has proudly lived in Indiana most of her life, is an advocate for women supporting women, is passionate about advancing health care in rural communities, and is an ardent supporter of more transparency in patient advocacy space. You can follow her @snehadave98 on Twitter and Instagram or connect with her on LinkedIn.

With the 2020 Paul G. Hearne Emerging Leader Award, Sneha plans to create more Summits and year long programs for adolescents and young adults with chronic and rare illnesses.

AAPD founder Paul G. Hearne was 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.

Previous AAPD Paul G. Hearne Emerging Leader Award Recipients

Contact Information

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

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