Paul G. Hearne Emerging Leaders Award

The AAPD Paul G. Hearne Emerging Leader Awards recognizes outstanding emerging leaders with disabilities who exemplify leadership, advocacy, and dedication to the broader cross-disability community.

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 (2) individuals or groups will each receive $2,500 in recognition of their outstanding contributions and $7,500 to further a new or existing project or initiative that increases opportunities for people with disabilities. The recipients of the 2024 AAPD Paul G. Hearne Emerging Leader Awards will be honored among national disability leaders at the 2024 AAPD Leadership Awards Gala in the Spring.

The 2024 Paul G. Hearne Emerging Leaders Award application is now closed. Please check back late next summer for the 2025 cycle.

AAPD Paul G. Hearne Award 2024 Webinar Recording and Resources

Previous AAPD Paul G. Hearne Emerging Leader Award Recipients
Tips for applying for the AAPD Paul G. Hearne Emerging Leader Award
Questions & Answers about the 2024 Paul G. Hearne Emerging Leader Award
black and white photo of white male weraing suit and tie

Paul G. Hearne: A Legacy of Leadership

This award is named in honor of Paul G. Hearne, an advocate and visionary leader with a lifelong disability who achieved success as a nonprofit executive, foundation president, federal agency director, and mentor to countless people with disabilities. 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. Until his passing in 1998, Paul pursued two core passions: 1) to create a national association that gave people with disabilities more consumer power and a stronger public voice, and 2) to cultivate potential leaders to carry on the disability rights movement. Paul achieved his first goal during his lifetime with the 1995 creation of AAPD, now recognized as a powerful force for organizing the disability community and catalyzing change. The AAPD Paul G. Hearne Leadership Awards were established in 1999, not only as a way to honor his lifetime of leadership and advocacy, but to help realize Paul’s second goal by highlighting and supporting emerging leaders with disabilities.

AAPD Paul G. Hearne Emerging Leader Award Application Process

Who can apply?

In order to apply for the Paul G. Hearne Emerging Leader Award, you must self-identify as an emerging leader with a disability.


We often get questions on some of the definitions, so below is some additional information:

  • Applicants will not be required to disclose their specific disability. However, by filling out an application, you agree you are a person with a disability. AAPD defines disability broadly, including people without a formal diagnosis but experience disability, chronic medical conditions (including long COVID), and will not request proof of disability.
  • Emerging leaders are not tied to age, education status, employment, or specific experience or involvement in the disability community.
  • We encourage you to apply regardless of U.S. citizenship, incarceration status, or age. We especially encourage people who have experienced intersecting forms of discrimination and from historically excluded backgrounds, rural areas, and U.S. territories to apply. The proposed project or initiative should have ties to U.S. or U.S. territories.


When applying for the Paul G. Hearne Emerging Leader Award, you can either apply as an individual or as a group. If you are applying as a group, only up to four (4) people can be recognized in the award even if the group is larger than four people. Everyone in the group applying for the award must identify as an emerging leader with a disability.


Individuals or groups will receive the $10,000 award ($7,500 for the project and $2,500 scholarship left to the discretion of the individual/group).

How do I apply?

Candidates for the AAPD Paul G. Hearne Emerging Leadership Award must submit all of the following required documentation through the online application portal:

  1. Applicant Information
  2. Project information
  3. Current resume(s)
  4. Two (2) letters of support. It is strongly recommended the letter of support is from people who will support and/or collaborate with you on your project. If submitting a group application, group members are not allowed to write letters of recommendation for each other in the group.


You can view the application in the Google Application document. In addition, AAPD has developed a document with suggestions and guidelines for your application process. View the 2024 Paul G. Hearne Award application tips Google document. If the online portal or Google document is not accessible or you would like to request a disability accommodation to fill out the application, please email


It is recommended that you complete the essay questions in a separate word processing program and then copy and paste them into the online form to prevent loss of information while applying. Incomplete or late submissions will not be considered. We will not consider any materials in excess of the stated requirements. 


Recipients chosen for the AAPD Paul G. Hearne Emerging Leader Award release all information contained in their application for use on the AAPD website and in public press releases, including releases to the program funders, and potential employers.

Conflicts of Interest

Please note that to avoid conflicts of interest, applications will not be accepted if a letter of support is written by a member of the AAPD Board of Directors, an AAPD staff member, or a relative of any of these individuals. View a list of AAPD Board and Staff. If applying as a group, group members cannot write a letter of support for each other.

Selection Process

An AAPD internal review team will evaluate all eligible applications. The review team will identify the finalists who will be interviewed via video conference or another accessible format. The finalists will be recommended to the AAPD Paul G. Hearne Leadership Awards Selection Committee (comprised of AAPD Board members, staff, previous Hearne Awardees, and other partners), who will then select the two award recipients.


All applicants will be notified of a decision on their application by January 2024.

Awardee Requirements

The project year will be from March 2024 through December 2024. Recipients of the 2024 AAPD Paul G. Hearne Leadership Award will have several responsibilities, including but not limited to the following:

  • Attend the AAPD Leadership Awards Gala in Spring 2024
  • Complete quarterly reports and calls with AAPD staff regarding the status of their initiative
  • Submit a final report detailing the outcomes of their initiative, including an accounting of all expenditures
  • Present their final report to AAPD Paul G. Hearne Leadership Awards Selection Committee
  • Discuss their work and career path with AAPD’s Summer Internship Program class
  • Actively promote the AAPD Paul G. Hearne Leadership Awards program as well as other AAPD programs—such as the REV UP Campaign, Disability Equality Index (in collaboration with Disability: IN), Disability Mentoring Day, and the Summer Internship Program—to help grow the strength and outreach of AAPD nationally
  • Contribute to AAPD’s social media and other communication channels to amplify and elevate their work and the work of AAPD

If you have any questions please contact AAPD at or at (202) 521-4316.

Meet the 2023 Award Winners

Headshot of Jennifer Lee. Jennifer is an Asian woman with long black hair wearing a cream blouse with sheer sleeves. Jennifer is in front of a brick building with bright orange flowers behind her.

Jennifer Lee

Jennifer Lee (she/her) 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. She is particularly passionate about the role intersectionality and inclusion play in disability justice.

Jennifer 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 is a 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.

Photo of four women. On the top left is Mary Lou "Lu" Freitas, a white woman with long curly blond hair wearing a pearl necklace. On the top right is Quiana Mayo, a Black woman with long straight black hair wearing a tan scarf. On the bottom left is Sierra Scott, a Black woman medium straight black hair wearing hoop earrings and a yellow top. On the bottom right is Jossie Torres, a Latina woman with long curly black hair and long nails.

Proud Parents, Co-Led by Mary Lou Freitas, Quiana Mayo, Sierra Scott, and Jossie Torres

Mary Lou (Lu) Freitas is the Advisor of Proud Parents. Lu is a proud mom and foster mom. She has spent her entire life supporting and advocating for people with all types of disabilities. She promotes empowerment, independence, and relationships.

Quiana Mayo is one of the Co-Chairs of Proud Parents. Quiana is the proud mother of 2 young men. She is a strong advocate for disability rights. She is on the board of The Assocation of Successful Parenting (TASP). She works on making public documents easy to read so they are accessible to everyone.

Sierra Scott is Legislative Liaison and Peer Support Specialist for Proud Parents. 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.

Jossie Torres is one of the Co-Chairs and Website Developer for Proud Parents. Jossie is a Self-Advocate Coordinator for the Department of Developmental Services. She wants all people ot receive fairness and equal rights. Jossie is bi-lingual in English and Spanish and translates Proud Parents materials.