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.

The applications for 2023 are closed. Please check back in Fall 2023 for the next application cycle. If you have any questions, please email

Two (2) individuals or groups 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 2023 AAPD Paul G. Hearne Emerging Leader Awards will be honored among national disability leaders at the 2023 AAPD Leadership Awards Gala.

Meet the 2022 Award Winners

KiAnna Dorsey, a winner of the 2022 Paul G Hearne Emerging Leader Award

KiAnna Dorsey

KiAnna Dorsey (she/her) is a junior at the University of Miami, majoring in Motion Pictures Production with a minor in Creative Advertising. She has a strong passion for diversity and accurate representation on screen, and advancing opportunities for people with disabilities in film/television.

man with long hair smiling at camera wearing a white shirt and jacket sitting next to dog

Nate Tilton (VIRO)

Nate Tilton, a neurodivergent, chair user, service dog handler, disabled parent, anthropologist, and veteran from Bay Point, California, is currently a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley, where he also works and studies in the Berkeley Disability Lab.

Chun Yu (Chris) Wan (VIRO)

Chris Wan, a third-year medical student at the University of Washington School of Medicine, was born in Hong Kong and immigrated to the United States with his family in 2000. He developed an interest in immigrant health during his early interactions with the U.S. healthcare system as someone who had limited English proficiency.

AAPD hosted a Zoom webinar in 2023 for any interested applicants to review the information below and answer any questions you have and hear from past Hearne Awardees for advice and tips.

View the recording on YouTube, PowerPoint Slides, and transcript.

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 AAPD Paul G. Hearne Emerging Leader Award
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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

Eligibility (Who Can Apply)

Any person who self-identifies as an emerging leader with a disability is invited 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 applicant’s project or initiative should have ties to U.S. or U.S. territories.

An applicant’s status as an emerging leader is not necessarily tied to age, education status, employment, or specific experience or involvement in the disability community.

Applicants will not be required to disclose their specific disability; however, the application for the award will signify that the applicant considers themself a person with a disability. AAPD defines disability broadly, including people without a formal diagnosis but experience disability, chronic medical conditions, and will not request proof of disability at any point during the application or interview process.

While the Paul G. Hearne Emerging Leader Awards have previously recognized only two individuals, we are expanding the eligibility status that groups of people working on an initiative can apply for the award. 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).

Application Guidelines and Procedures

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. A current resume
  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, applicants 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 2023 Paul G. Hearne Award application tips and guideline Google document.

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, AAPD staff member, or a relative of any of these individuals. View a list of AAPD Board and Staff.

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 2023.

Awardee Requirements

The project year will be from March 2023 through December 2023. Recipients of the 2023 AAPD Paul G. Hearne Leadership Award will have several responsibilities, including but not limited to the following:

  • Attend the AAPD Leadership Awards Gala in March 2023
  • 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.