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American Association of People with Disabilities Honors Disability Rights Leaders at Annual Awards Gala

by | Mar 9, 2018 | Press Release

For Immediate Release
March 9, 2018

Contact: Zach Baldwin




WASHINGTON, DC – The American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) will host its annual Leadership Awards Gala at the Washington Hilton in Washington, DC on March 13. The Gala provides a unique opportunity for AAPD’s partners, supporters, and colleagues to show their support of disability rights and inclusion for all Americans with disabilities, while bringing together the disability community with business and government leaders for one night each year.

“AAPD is so proud and honored to recognize this year’s leadership awardees,” said Helena Berger, President and CEO of AAPD. “The leadership and commitment over the decades from our honorees Dick Thornburgh and the Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation to advance disability rights and inclusion have paved the way for our emerging leader awardees, Emily Ladau and Lydia Brown, to strongly, boldly, and so ably help lead the disability rights movement, and with a fierce commitment to leaving no one behind.”

The theme of the 2018 Leadership Awards Gala is “Empowering Today’s Youth, Driving Tomorrow’s Progress.” The event will highlight AAPD’s Summer Internship Program and other leadership development initiatives.

This year, AAPD is recognizing a number of outstanding leaders:

AAPD will recognize the Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation with the AAPD Catalyst Award for its efforts to promote the full inclusion of youth with disabilities in society. Founded in 1991, Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation is the corporate foundation of the Mitsubishi Electric group companies in the United States. With the generous (and continued) support of the foundation, AAPD established its flagship AAPD Summer Internship Program, which is now in its 17th year. Congressman Alan Lowenthal (D-CA) will present Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation with its award.

“The Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation (MEAF) is honored to receive the AAPD Catalyst Award,” said Mr. Keijiro “Kent” Hora, Chief Representative of Mitsubishi Electric Corporation in the Americas and President of the Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation. “MEAF invests in innovative strategies – like the AAPD Summer Internship Program – to empower youth with disabilities to lead productive lives. We are proud of our catalyzing role to launch the program back in 2002 as well as our role today to grow the Washington, DC program while simultaneously expanding to Atlanta, GA with a state capital pilot program.”

AAPD will also recognize former US Attorney General Dick Thornburgh with the AAPD Leadership Award for his leading role in the enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act and lifelong commitment to the civil rights of people with disabilities. Identified by Washingtonian magazine as one of “ten legendary Washington lawyers who will forever leave their mark on the District’s legal landscape,” Thornburgh is currently counsel to the international law firm of K&L Gates LLP in its Pittsburgh office. He previously served as Governor of Pennsylvania, Attorney General of the United States under Presidents Reagan and George H. W. Bush, and Under-Secretary General of the United Nations during a public career spanning over 25 years. US Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) will present former Attorney General Thornburgh with his award.

“I am honored to receive the Leadership Award from the American Association of People with Disabilities in recognition of my role in the enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act,” said Dick Thornburgh. “It was a privilege to work with both Republican and Democratic colleagues to help pass this bipartisan legislation, signed into law by President George H.W. Bush on July 26, 1990. Nearly 28 years later, the ADA remains a critically important civil rights law for all Americans with disabilities which must be protected from current threats to weaken its intent.”

Last but not least, AAPD will recognize two young leaders with disabilities with the AAPD Paul G. Hearne Emerging Leader Award. This award recognizes outstanding emerging leaders with disabilities who are exemplary in their advocacy and dedication to the broader cross-disability community. Each Hearne Award winner receives $2,500 in recognition of their outstanding contributions and $7,500 to further a new or existing initiative that increases the political and economic power of people with disabilities. In 2018, AAPD is proud to recognize Lydia Brown and Emily Ladau with this award.

Broadway performer Ali Stroker will provide the evening’s musical entertainment. Stroker made history as the first actor in a wheelchair to appear on Broadway when she starred in Deaf West Theatre’s acclaimed 2015 revival of Spring Awakening. She has starred on both The Glee Project and Glee, guest starred on Fox’s Lethal Weapon and CBS’ Instinct, and recently recurred alongside Kyra Sedgwick on the ABC drama Ten Days in the Valley. Stroker’s remarkable ability to improve the lives of others through the arts is captured in her personal motto: “Making Your Limitations Your Opportunities.”

Follow AAPD on Twitter at @AAPD and #AAPDGala for updates from the event, and check AAPD’s Facebook page for photos from the evening later this month.



The American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) is a convener, connector, and catalyst for change, increasing the political and economic power of people with disabilities. As a national cross-disability organization, AAPD advocates for full recognition of the rights of 57 million Americans with disabilities. To learn more, visit www.aapd.com.