Meet Christine Liao: AAPD’s Program Manager

November 21, 2019 | Christine Liao, Programs Manager

Christine Liao is the Programs Manager at the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD). She coordinates and implements all of AAPD’s national programs, including the Summer Internship ProgramDisability Mentoring DayAAPD Paul G. Hearne Leadership AwardsDisability Rights Storytellers Fellowship, and NBCUniversal Tony Coelho Media Scholarship. These duties will help support AAPD’s mission to serve as a convener, connector, and catalyst for change, increasing the political and economic power of people with disabilities. Please see below to learn more about Christine.

Head shot of Christine Liao smiling.
Christine Liao

AAPD is excited to announce Christine Liao as their new Programs Manager! In this role, she will coordinate and implement all of AAPD’s national programming. Some of Christine’s priorities include diversity and inclusion, intersectionality, and empowering the next generation of leaders. In the past six years, Christine has been dedicated to creating programmatic opportunities and spaces for emerging leaders to explore their leadership with a disability framework. Since starting her new role in the beginning of November 2019, Christine shares, “I’m excited to be at AAPD not just because of their work of changing systems to be more inclusive, but because they empower emerging leaders with disabilities to lead the change.”

Prior to joining AAPD, Christine worked at the Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD). She collaborated with diverse stakeholders to rebrand and strengthen the infrastructure of the AUCD Emerging Leaders Community, an initiative that serves as a professional home to thousands of current and former trainees and early career professionals. She also provided technical assistance to 64 federally-funded interdisciplinary training programs aimed to enhance the clinical and leadership skills of professionals who serve children with disabilities and their families.

Christine has extensive experience serving the deaf and disability communities in mental health, health care, academic, and community settings in both of her native languages, American Sign Language and English. She has supported deaf refugees through a global non-governmental organization, deaf children and adults with developmental and other disabilities, and adults who became deaf due to brain and/or physical injury. Through these activities, Christine gained experienced in universal design, program planning, community outreach, and community organizing; she also developed expertise in disseminating information using technology accessible to a variety of audiences. 

Christine earned her MSW from Arizona State University’s School of Social Work, with an emphasis on policy, planning and community organizing. She holds a BS degree in Psychology with a minor in American Sign Language from the University of Washington.

AAPD Intern to Entrepreneur

June 6, 2019

Daman Wandke
AbiliTrek / Access Travel LLC

My name is Daman Wandke, and I am an accessible technology consultant, national disability advocate, and the founder and Chief Executive Officer of AbiliTrek, an accessibility consulting company. You might ask, what led me to starting AbiliTrek?

I studied Management Information Systems at Western Washington University. During my time as an undergrad student, I was extremely active on campus, especially regarding disability advocacy. Within my first week on campus, I started the first disability-oriented club and continued to make accessibility changes as well as spread disability awareness. However, my advocacy work did not stop on campus.

I received an internship through the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) at the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). During my internship, I learned a lot about web accessibility such as learning how to make PDFs Section 508 compliant. Section 508 is an amendment to the Rehabilitation Act that requires electronic documents and communication technology to be accessible to people with disabilities. 

My summer internship turned into a long-term virtual internship where I continued to work remotely for the USDA from school for the next three years. I also continued to gain career support from my AAPD mentor, Matthew McCollough who is the Director of the DC Office of Disability Rights. During this time, I refined my skills in making PDFs accessible. I also had the opportunity to learn about project management and team leadership. This internship introduced me to my career.

I took the foundation that I learned at the USDA and broadened my web accessibility skills in my next two jobs. I worked at the Federal Housing Finance Agency coordinating 508 compliance agency-wide and then as an Accessibility Analyst at SSB BART Group (now Level Access), consulting large organizations on how to make their websites and other Information Technology (IT), accessible.

I then began on a path of entrepreneurship is where my path led. Over time, I built up a diverse amount of experience that became my foundation and leverage for my company. I used all of my experience to create AbiliTrek. AbiliTrek assists businesses via a plethora of disability advocacy and awareness services, including our Search and Review Platform, speaking engagements as well as providing IT accessibility consulting.

Our Platform allows people to innovatively search and review locations based on their personal accessibility needs, reflecting that accessibility is not “one-size-fits-all”. We desire for our platform to indicate where your items are–and are not–accessible to everyone as well as bring awareness to the growing accessibility needs.

Regarding consulting, AbiliTrek provides technical and functional web testing as well as web development to ensure access to all via assistive technology compatibility. If websites and apps are not compatible with assistive technology then those assistive Technologies are rendered useless.

Overall, AbiliTrek strives to create an inclusive environment so everyone has access to equal opportunities.

Action Alert: Raise the Wage Bill National Call-In Day, March 26!

March 25, 2019

Senators Bernie Sanders (VT) and Patty Murray (WA), Representatives Robert “Bobby” Scott (VA), Mark Pocan (WI) and Stephanie Murphy (FL) have introduced the Raise the Wage Act in Congress to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour and to phase out subminimum wage practices. Subminimum wage (Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act) allows employers to pay as little as $1 per hour, or less, to workers with disabilities if they are considered less capable than a person who is not disabled. We need your help to pass this Act and get Americans with disabilities paid a fair wage. 

On March 26, call your Senators and Representative on national call-in day and ask them to support the Raise the Wage Act and eliminate the sub-minimum wage for disabled workers. If enacted, this legislation would:

  • Sunset the much-criticized ability of employers to pay workers with disabilities a subminimum wage through certificates issued by DOL;
  • Raise the federal minimum wage to $8.55 this year and increase it over the next five years until it reaches $15 an hour in 2024;
  • After 2024, adjust the minimum wage each year to keep pace with growth in the typical worker’s wages;
  • Phase out the outdated subminimum wage for tipped workers, which has been frozen at a meager $2.13 since 1991; and,
  • Phase out the subminimum wage for workers under the age of 20.

Call your Member of Congress and request that they co-sponsor and vote to pass the Raise the Wage Act (S.150H.R.582)!

Take Action

Call your Members of Congress

Call the Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121 or (202) 224-3091 (TTY) and ask to be connected to your Senators or Representative. Once connected, make sure you give them your name and identify that you are a constituent. Below is a sample script for your calls. 

Sample Call Script: 

Hello, this is [Name]. I’m a resident of [Town, State].  I am calling to express my support for the Raise the Wage Act. Raising the minimum wage to $15/hr and ending subminimum wage practices is a win-win for workers AND the economy. Eliminating the sub-minimum wage for disabled workers is long over due in achieving real justice and economic security.  I am asking [Member of Congress’ Name] to cosponsor the Raise the Wage Act and vote YES to ending the sub-minimum wage and raising the minimum wage to $15/hr. Thank you for taking my call! [IF LEAVING A VOICEMAIL: please leave your full street address and zip code to ensure your call is tallied]

[Optional Add On]

Personal stories are the most effective form of advocacy. Talk about why ending subminimum wage and raising the minimum wage is important for you or someone you know and love.  

Email your Members of Congress

Contacting Congress provides unique links to email your Senators and Representative directly. 

Tweet your Members of Congress

Twitter has become a powerful tool to communicate with elected officials directly. Find your Senators and Representative on Twitter and tell them to co-sponsor the DIA!

Additional Resources:  

Helping Untapped Talent Pool Rejoin the Workforce: Good for Workers, Businesses, and Economy

February 22, 2019

The current strong job market could be even stronger if the untapped talent pool of people with disabilities gets tapped! Americans with disabilities, many of whom worked before their illnesses or injuries, are often eager to return to work, but are overwhelmed by the process. That’s why AAPD has joined with other disability advocates and organizations to form the Secure Work Coalition (SWC).

The Coalition aims to help disabled individuals who want to get back into the workforce. The good news is there are many resources available, though underutilized. The Coalition is particularly focused on increasing awareness and utilization of the Ticket to Work program for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) beneficiaries. The challenge is making sure those who need the help know it’s available to them.

AAPD has always worked to advance disability inclusion in the workplace and eliminate systemic and attitudinal barriers to ensure more people with disabilities are entering and re-entering the workforce. The SWC, our summer internship and mentor programs, as well as our Disability Equality Index are just a few examples of how we work to achieve these objectives. Recently, we co-produced a report by Accenture, “Getting to Equal: The Disability Inclusion Advantage,” which found there are 15.1 million people of working age living with disabilities in the U.S. The research suggests that if companies embrace disability inclusion, they will gain access to a new talent pool of more than 10.7 million people.

And yet, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities is more than double the national average for those without disabilities, 9 percent versus to 4.2 percent in January 2019.

According to a survey by Allsup, another Coalition member, 52 percent of SSDI beneficiaries say they want to work. Unfortunately, the Social Security Administration (SSA) found that only 30 percent of disability beneficiaries even know the Ticket to Work program is available to help them make the transition back to work and maintain their benefits as they do so.

If you are not familiar with the Ticket to Work and other work incentive programs, know that it provides a wide range of return to work assistance at no cost. This includes benefits and career counseling, vocational rehabilitation, and job placement services and training from SSA-authorized service providers. These providers include Employment Networks (ENs), Workforce Employment Networks (WFs), and State Vocational Rehabilitation (VRs) agencies. These entities partner with the federal government to give program participants individualized assistance as they navigate the process to return to work.

According to the Accenture report, “U.S. organizations are successfully employing persons with disabilities and initiating and developing their disability inclusion programs.” A recent Wall Street Journal article, America’s Hidden Workforce Returns, spotlighted this trend.

Both workers and their employers win when disabled individuals go back to work. The benefits include increased productivity in the workforce, additional revenues to shore up the disability benefits system and, of course, the personal and professional fulfillment of returning to a job. More can and should be done to make programs like Ticket to Work known to those who could use the assistance. SWC believes that helping potential workers return to the workforce should be a top priority at every level of government.


AAPD is a member of the the Secure Work Coalition, which aims to protect and improve work incentive and benefits counseling programs within Social Security such as Ticket to Work (TTW) that help beneficiaries of Social Security disability programs to return to work.

An Open Internet Empowers People with Disabilities

February 22, 2019 | Susan Diegelman, AAPD Board Member

The internet revolution has been particularly transformative for people with disabilities. The internet has enabled, and continues to enable, remarkable innovation in accessibility technology, including:

  • A cane integrated with sensors for functionalities such as fall detection, SOS voice calls, gait measuring and other mobility tracking.
  • Services that bring eyes to the visually impaired through instant wireless connections and artificial intelligence.
  • A connected prosthetic limb that enables its manufacturer to, through data collection and analysis of user behavior, extend clinical expertise into patients’ daily lives. 

The internet together with broadband access is continuing to improve our daily lives and empower independent living for people with disabilities. Last year, broadband providers led all other industries by investing $66 billion to expand the availability of, and improve, high-speed broadband service – more than any other industry. Sustaining this investment is critical for the disability community as it ultimately leads to more ubiquitous access to innovations in every aspect of life; from simple hands-free automation of household tasks to remote delivery of complex healthcare services.

Internet users expect an open and innovative internet. That means no blocking websites, no censoring online content and no throttling or unfair discrimination based on content. Period.

AT&T has publicly committed to these principles for more than a decade and we will continue abiding by them. Other broadband ISPs have made similar commitments. But it is not enough for only ISPs to make this promise. Internet users can only truly be protected when they know these same core principles apply across their entire internet experience and all companies on the internet are held to the same standard. This is especially critical for members of the disability community, which rely on a combination of broadband service, devices and apps to deliver accessible experiences.

Faster network speeds, augmented reality, virtual reality and other technologies will bring the world much closer to people with disabilities and change the delivery of healthcare in ways we have yet to even imagine. These technologies offer the prospect of a smarter, more mobile and more inclusive vision of society for the lives of people with disabilities.

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Susan Diegelman is the Director of Public Affairs at AT&T and Secretary of the AAPD Board of Directors. She works with advocates across all areas of disability to understand how technology can support independent living and improve lives.

Meet Keri Gray: AAPD’s Senior Director of Stakeholder Engagement and Strategic Communications

February 21, 2019 | Keri Gray, Senior Director of Stakeholder Engagement and Strategic Communications

Keri Gray of Longview, Texas is the new Senior Director of Stakeholder Engagement and Strategic Communications at the American Association of People with Disabilities. Starting on Feb 25th, Gray will work with AAPD to manage external partnerships, socially and politically mobilize people with disabilities, and engage constituents through a variety of communications platforms. These duties will help support AAPD’s mission to serve as a convener, connector, and catalyst for change, increasing the political and economic power of people with disabilities. Please see below to learn more about Keri Gray.

Photo of Keri Gray seated wearing a red dress and black boots
Keri Gray

For most of my life I identified as a strong black woman with many ambitions of making a significant impact. I have repeatedly fallen in love with Black culture over the years. But to be honest my love for the disability community was a journey. I was diagnosed with osteosarcoma bone cancer at 8 years old, and it had a big impact on the things that I did as a child. A lot of kids have energy for days. But it wasn’t the same for me. I had to learn how to just keep up.

One of my biggest lessons was learning how to embrace multiple cultures at the same time (blackness + womanhood + disability). I began to embrace having disabilities after participating in the American Association of People with Disabilities summer internship program. That summer, I not only learned a lot professionally but for the very first time I was exposed to the disability community. And it was EVERYTHING.

Since that time, I have worked passionately and diligently to impact our societal diversity & inclusion practices. Prior to AAPD, I worked as the Director of NextGen Initiatives at Disability:IN. I had the pleasure of creatively designing programs for approximately 1,000 young professionals. These programs collaborated with over 95 global fortune 500 companies to connect diverse talent to opportunities in the private sector. I’ve also worked with the National Council on Independent Living and consulted with many organizations and institutions of higher education.

Starting next week, I am extremely excited to work for AAPD as their new Senior Director of Stakeholder Engagement and Strategic Communications! This is an organization that clearly has had an impact on me and countless others. I plan to utilize all my experience thus far and the framework of intersectionality to contribute towards the advancement of people with disabilities and AAPD’s mission.

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