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Announcing the 2023 Recipients of the AAPD Paul G. Hearne Emerging Leader Awards

by | Feb 23, 2023 | Press Release

Contact: Christine Liao, programs@aapd.com

WASHINGTON, DC – The American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) is thrilled to recognize the 2023 emerging leaders with disabilities who exemplify leadership, advocacy, and dedication to the broader cross-disability community with its AAPD Paul G. Hearne Emerging Leader Awards.

Since 1999, AAPD has awarded individuals in honor of one its founders, Paul G. Hearne. Paul was a passionate advocate for the increased employment of people with disabilities through his leadership of Just One Break, an employment agency for people with disabilities in New York City, and his leadership of the Dole Foundation for Employment of People with Disabilities in Washington, DC. Through the award, AAPD continues his passion of cultivating leadership to advance the disability rights movement.

For 2023, AAPD recognizes Jennifer Lee and the team of Proud Parents, co-led by Mary Lou Freitas, Quiana Mayo, Sierra Scott, and Jossie Torres, as recipients of the Paul G. Hearne Emerging Leader Awards.

Each recipient will be given a total of $10,000. They will be able to use $7,500 to further their work that increases the political and economic power of people with disabilities and $2,500 in recognition of their outstanding contributions to the disability community. They will be honored at the AAPD Leadership Awards Gala on April 20, 2023.

AAPD President and CEO Maria Town stated, “In naming these impressive honorees, we not only commend their work, but we also emphasize the importance of the creation of culturally and linguistically competent resources that support the increasing agency of our diverse disability community.”

“The Paul G. Hearne award celebrates self-advocacy and the fearless leadership that’s so needed in the disability community. I am proud to congratulate this year’s recipients and recognize their work to support, uplift and strengthen our community for the better,” said Susan Diegelman, Chair of the AAPD Board of Directors.

Jennifer Lee (she/her)

Jennifer Lee is the Founder of the Asian Americans with Disabilities Initiative (AADI), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that amplifies the voices of disabled Asian Americans nationwide. Jennifer is particularly passionate about the role intersectionality and inclusion play in disability justice, and serves as a 2022 ‘Youth to the Front Fund’ Frontliner from the We Are Family Foundation, 2022 Coelho Law Fellow at Loyola Law School, and 2021 Heumann-Armstrong Education Award recipient. After completing her undergraduate studies in public policy at Princeton University, she will attend Harvard Law School, where she intends to specialize in disability and civil rights law.

With the 2023 Paul G. Hearne Emerging Leader Award project funds, Jennifer will be expanding two existing initiatives within AADI. Last year in 2022, AADI published a resource guide of 80+ pages created to combat ableism within the disabled Asian American community through first-person testimonials, comprehensive peer-reviewed research, and briefs from AADI events. Jennifer wants to expand on the resource guide by collaborating with others to conduct original research on what it means to be a disabled Asian American. She also plans on expanding community engagement efforts through launching a robust set of speaker events to highlight the diversity within the disabled Asian communities, as well as building partnerships with other organizations.

Mary Lou (Lu) Freitas (Advisor) (she/her)

Lu is a proud mom and foster mom. She has spent her entire life supporting and advocating for people with all types of different abilities and challenges and loves every minute of it. She promotes empowerment, independence and relationships. She wants everyone to feel included, safe, and respected with a sense of belonging and purpose.

Quiana Mayo (Co-Chair and Co-Grant Leader) (she/her)

Quiana is the proud mother of 2 young men. Quiana is a strong advocate for disability rights. She sits at many tables in order to make positive changes. She is on the board of The Association of Successful Parenting (TASP). She works on making public documents easy to read so they are accessible to everyone.

Sierra Scott (Legislative Liaison, Co-Grant Leader, and Peer Support Specialist) (she/her)

Sierra is the proud mother of 2 boys. Sierra has a passion for advocacy, especially the Department of Children and Families (DCF) systems change. Her hope is to end stigma and discrimination towards individuals who have DCF involvement. Sierra is also a Certified Recovery Support Specialist, a graduate of Partners in Policymaking, and a member of several Connecticut advocacy groups.

Jossie Torres (Co-Chair, Co-Grant Leader, Website Developer) (she/her)

Jossie is a proud mom of 3. Jossie is a Self-Advocate Coordinator for the Department of Developmental Services. She has been an officer and member of many strong advocacy groups for many years, including President of People First Connecticut. She wants all people to receive fairness and equal rights. Jossie is bi-lingual in English and Spanish and translates Proud Parents materials.

As a group recipient of the 2023 Paul G. Hearne Emerging Leader Award, Proud Parents aim to help all parents with disabilities fight discrimination and keep families together. They are a group of parents with disabilities based in Connecticut. With their project funds, they plan to make some of the Department of Children and Family services’ training and materials accessible in plain language, illustrations, and videos.

The recipients of the 2023 AAPD Paul G. Hearne Emerging Leader Awards will be honored at the 2023 virtual AAPD Leadership Awards Gala on April 20. You can learn more about this year’s award recipients and previous awardees on the AAPD website. Please join us in congratulating Jennifer Lee and Proud Parents 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 61 million Americans with disabilities by promoting equal opportunity, economic power, independent living, and political participation. To learn more, visit the AAPD website: www.aapd.com.