Home > All Categories > Press Release > Announcing the 2021 Paul G. Hearne Emerging Leader Award Recipients

Announcing the 2021 Paul G. Hearne Emerging Leader Award Recipients

by | Feb 12, 2021 | Press Release

For Immediate Release: February 12, 2021

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 Elijah Armstrong and Noor Pervez as the recipients of the 2021 AAPD Paul G. Hearne Emerging Leader Awards. AAPD’s President and CEO Maria Town stated, “We are incredibly excited to support Elijah and Noor’s transformational projects. In recognizing Elijah and Noor, AAPD is not only honoring Paul Hearne’s legacy, we are supporting work that will have ripple effects for generations to come.”

Elijah Armstrong

Pronouns: He/him

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. “Disabled students must often expend significant labor to access the rights to which they are entitled under decades-old civil rights laws. Elijah’s Hearne project seeks to ensure that inclusive education is available to everyone, not only those with the resources to navigate institutional bureaucracy,” said Town.  

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.

In his spare time, Elijah enjoys performing arts like comedy clubs or live music, but the pandemic has brought him back to his deep love for reality television. He has taken the time during the pandemic 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.

Noor Pervez

Pronouns: He/him

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. The goal of this translation is 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’s project teaches that faith, like disability, is often a common thread amongst people of different backgrounds, and yet high barriers remain for disabled people to fully participate in their religious communities. By creating a plain language version of the first chapter of the Qu’ran, Noor’s project centers people with intellectual disabilities whom both the disability and Muslim communities have overlooked for far too long,” said Town. 

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.


This award is named in honor of one of AAPD’s founders, Paul G. Hearne. He was a passionate advocate for the 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. One of Paul’s core passions was cultivating l leaders to advance  the disability rights movement. The AAPD Paul G. Hearne Leadership Awards were established in 1999 to honor his lifetime of leadership and advocacy through  supporting emerging leaders with disabilities.

The recipients of the 2021 AAPD Paul G. Hearne Emerging Leader Awards will be honored at the 2021 virtual AAPD Leadership Awards Gala on April 28, 2021. You can learn more about this year’s award recipients and previous awardees on the AAPD website. Please join us in congratulating Elijah and Noor on their accomplishments and leadership.

# # #

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 56 million Americans with disabilities by promoting equal opportunity, economic power, independent living, and political participation. To learn more, visit the AAPD Web site: www.aapd.com.