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Announcing the 2020 AAPD Paul G. Hearne Emerging Leader Award Recipients

by | Feb 11, 2020 | Press Release

February 11, 2020

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 individuals each receive $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.

AAPD is proud to recognize Tara Ahern and Sneha Dave as the recipients of the 2020 AAPD Paul G. Hearne Emerging Leader Award.

Tara Ahern

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.). 

Tara’s passion for disability rights stems from her own experiences of living with Muscular Dystrophy, (a degenerative neurological disease), major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety as well as wanting to live in a world where disability is no longer a barrier to inclusion and equality. You can follow Tara on her personal Instagram. 

Tara is a 2019 graduate of the Office for Victims of Crime Training and Technical Assistance Center’s Leadership Institute. She currently serves as co-chair for the IL Imagines Chicago team, a project to improve services for people with disabilities who are survivors of sexual violence in collaboration with self advocates, disability service providers and rape crisis centers. She completed a 40 hour sexual assault training through ICASA (IL Coalition Against Sexual Assault and now teaches healthy sexuality and abuse prevention classes to disability groups, a unit on the abuse of people with disabilities for 40 and 60 hour trainings at Chicagoland area rape crisis centers and presents on the topic at conferences and service provider agencies. 

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 is a senior at Indiana University majoring in chronic illness advocacy as well as journalism. She created the Health Advocacy Summit (HAS) and its program of Crohn’s and Colitis Young Adults Network, largely funded by the 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 in their funding sources and independent from receiving money from the pharmaceutical industry. She was chosen as one of the most influential teens globally in 2018 by the We Are Family Foundation. You can follow Sneha on her personal Twitter, HAS Twitter, HAS Instagram, and HAS Facebook.

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 in health care related to young adults. 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, been 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 RespectAbility, a nonprofit fighting stigma and advancing opportunities for people with disabilities. 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.

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.

“Though the scope of their work is very different, at the core of Sneha’s and Tara’s advocacy is the insistence upon dignity, self determination, and peer-supports for people with disabilities,” said Maria Town, AAPD’s President and CEO. “The cross-disability community has already benefited greatly from Sneha and Tara’s leadership, and AAPD is proud to support their efforts to make healthcare and sexual violence survivor services more accessible.”

The recipients of the AAPD Paul G. Hearne Emerging Leader Awards will be honored at the upcoming AAPD Leadership Awards Gala in Washington, DC on March 10, 2020. You can learn more about this year’s award recipients on the AAPD website. Please join us in congratulating Tara and Sneha on their accomplishments and leadership.


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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 rights organization, AAPD advocates for full civil rights for the over 60 million Americans with disabilities by advancing equal opportunity, economic power, independent living, and political participation.