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 Virtual National Community Event on April 23 at 6:30pm.

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

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

Meet the 2024 Award Winners

Valois Vera

Valois Vera


Valois J. Vera, aka “Crip Lyrical”, is a Disabled Revolutionary, Author, Poet/Spoken Word Artist, and Activist based out of Denton, TX. Well noted for his work in disability culture and liberation, Valois is a public speaker and has served as guest lecturer at a variety of colleges and universities including the University of North Texas, Fordham University, Azusa Pacific University, and the University of California-Berkeley. His journalism work can be found in New Mobility Magazine, Latino Rebels, and Rooted in Rights, and their poetry has been published by Spoonie Press, Mollyhouse, and the anthology American Graveyard: Calls to End Gun Violence, Volume I (Read or Green Books). Their debut collection Crip Lyrics: the Unapologetic Poetry of Disability (POOR Press) is an illustrated collection of liberation verses guided by lived experiences and self-reflection. His second collection, I, The Revolution serves as both a manifesto that uplifts and amplifies community and as an indictment against systems of oppression. He is the Founder of Thunder and Lightning Poetry Collective and is the recipient of the 2023 Art Spark Texas Lynn Marie Johnson Media Arts Award.

Zainub Dhanani, MS

Zainub Dhanani, MS


Zainub Dhanani is the Founder, Executive Director Emeritus, and Board Chairwoman of Medical Students with Disability and Chronic Illness (MDSCI). She is a medical student at Stanford University School of Medicine and will graduate in 2025, after which she intends to pursue a career in Diagnostic Radiology. Zainub completed her Master’s of Science in Health Policy and holds an Honors Certificate in Health Professions Education and Scholarship, both from Stanford University School of Medicine. She is the founder of the Annual Stanford Conference on Disability in Healthcare and Medicine and has been an invited speaker at disability conferences and seminars nationally and internationally. She has keen interest in the equitable design of health systems and in wellness and belonging amongst healthcare professionals and trainees. Her research focuses on the disability inclusion in medical education, healthcare experiences and access for people with disabilities, the use of digital and telehealth interventions in improving access to care for vulnerable populations, and health equity in radiology education and imaging practices. Zainub was inducted into the Gold Humanism Honor Society in 2022, was a 2022 American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) SciTech and Human Rights FutureGen Scholar and was a 2020 Building the Next Generation of Academic Physicians (BNGAP) Academic Medicine Writing Fellow. Outside of academia, Zainub is an avid baker and reader, and enjoys spending time in nature.

Nora Newcomb

Nora Newcomb


Nora Newcob is the Executive Director of MSDCI. She is a medical student at the University of South Florida Health Morsani College of Medicine, Class of 2025, in a track focusing on leadership, healthcare systems and values-based patient-centered care. Her scholarly work, within MSDCI and beyond, focuses on the inclusion of students with disability and chronic illness in undergraduate medical education and development of disability-focused curricular interventions in medical education. As a former American Medical Women’s Association Anne C. Carter Global Health Fellow, Nora has a strong interest in global health and has presented internationally on disability-related topics. She is a member of the International Society of Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine (ISPRM), Task Force on Physical Activity for Persons with Disabilities, and the ISPRM-World Health Organization Liaison Committee.  Outside of medicine and advocacy, Nora is an avid podcast enthusiast and loves to travel. She intends to pursue a career in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.

Ifeoma Ikedionwu

Ifeoma Ikedionwu


Ifeoma Ikedionwu is an Associate Director of MSDCI. She attends the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine and is a member of the class of 2025. Ifeoma is interested in equity and advocacy across multiple disciplines, including disability, sexual medicine, psychiatry, ethics, and education. She has been able to delve into these varied interests through being the former co-leader of Pritzker’s disability organization, an American Psychiatry Association Helping Hand Grant co-recipient, a Hyde Park Institute Scholar in Ethics and Medicine. She also developed a first year co-curricular through the Alpha Omega Alpha Medical Student Service Leadership Grant. During her free time, she likes doing jigsaw puzzles and playing with her red-eared slider turtle named Henry. Ifeoma plans on applying into psychiatry or a primary care focused specialty.

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.