Previous AAPD Paul G. Hearne Emerging Leader Award Recipients
Through the AAPD Paul G. Hearne Emerging Leader Award, the AAPD recognizes outstanding emerging leaders with disabilities who exemplify leadership, advocacy, and dedication to the broader cross-disability community.
Past Award Recipients
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. 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 Freitas, Quiana Mayo, Sierra Scott, and Jossie Torres – Proud Parents
Mary Lou (Lu) Freitas (Advisor)
Lu (she/her) 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)
Quiana (she/her) 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)
Sierra (she/her) 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 (she/her) 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.
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. KiAnna was diagnosed with a severe nut allergy at 18 months old and by age 2 learned how to recognize her allergens on a label. She believes in the power of film, television, and storytelling broadly as a means of food allergy awareness and education.
KiAnna aims to share underrepresented stories, hopefully as a producer or showrunner in the scripted television space. Through her experiences producing her award-winning first short film, and through several very meaningful internships, KiAnna has learned the intersectionality of disabilities and how to be an ally to those with a different disability than hers. She has had the opportunity to apply a lens of cross-disability intersectionality in a range of professional settings, from working in production settings to bringing disability perspectives to workplace diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts.
With the 2022 Paul G. Hearne Emerging Leader Award, KiAnna will create an animated film, Food Friendly, based on her experience living with nut allergies in elementary school. The main character learns to embrace her allergy after meeting a friend at the nut-free table. She eventually plans to collaborate with others, including the disability community and school nurses, to release a self-advocacy curriculum in conjunction with the film. KiAnna works to share her own moving story and continues to uplift underrepresented stories and perspectives in media.
Nate Tilton and Chun Yu (Chris) Wan, Veteran’s Independent Research Organization (VIRO)
Nate Tilton (he/him) and Chun Yu (Chris) Wan (he/him) are researchers with and cofounders of the Veteran’s Independent Research Organization (VIRO). In 2020, Nate felt frustrated after experiencing medical gaslighting at the Department of Veterans Affairs. He reached out to Chris and Mike Flores, two fellow disabled veterans . Together, they founded VIRO for disabled veterans as an alternative to the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) research. VIRO conducts advocacy and community outreach to support veteran communities in both accessing and experiencing equitable treatment from the VA. VIRO’s work specifically aims to relieve the weight of substantial and chronic staffing issues and under-resourcing on the Guam VA medical system for disabled Guamanian veterans.
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. Nate currently studies intersections of institutions, disability, community, care, colonization, and veteran health. Through Nate’s research, he aims to understand how eugenics serves as a framework for ableist institutional policies and structures, as well as a series aims to understand the ways in which Pacific Islander veterans from U.S. territories like Guam experience exclusion from veterans’ benefits such as medical care. His advocacy has ranged from serving on both University task forces and the VA Advisory Committee on Minority Veterans, to advocating before his Board of Regents and The United States Congress. Nate was initially a high school dropout, who worked his way through college and advancing advocacy experiences in both higher education and with the federal government.
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. When seeking care for his family members, there were often miscommunications between Chris’s family and the care team due to the language barrier. These negative encounters led his family to perceive that they would not receive adequate care, and withdrew from seeking the care they needed. In 2006, Chris enlisted in the California Army National Guard as a Healthcare Specialist, more commonly known as a Medic. Then, during his time earning his undergraduate degree at the University of California, Berkeley, Chris worked as a Student Veteran Peer Advisor, and quickly noticed the burdens accrued by veterans seeking to apply for benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs. His experiences as an Iraq Campaign veteran and a Student Veteran Peer Advisor, as well as personally witnessing multiple unjust instances of barriers to healthcare access, ultimately resulted in his interest in providing and improving veteran health and access (specifically and vitally, culturally competent veteran health).
With funding from the 2022 AAPD Paul G. Hearne Emerging Leader Award, both Chris and Nate will be able to fund initiatives they are working on at VIRO.
VIRO will start a scholarship and mentorship program to assist talented Guamanians on their journey of becoming physicians by providing scholarship funds and mentorship throughout the entire application process from undergraduate level, including preparation for the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT). By reducing barriers of entry to medical school for underrepresented students, this program can help relieve the chronic lack of physicians in Guam while also serving disabled veteran population when they first return from service, as well as the greater community of disabled people living in Guam.
The 2022 Paul G. Hearne Emerging Leader Award will also support VIRO in providing technological support for hybrid community care sessions ,and a Go-Pro exchange network to disabled veterans in and around Guam who are isolated by geography and infrastructure to foster communities of care. VIRO’s work has created networks on Guam and the outlying islands for first generation, low income Guamanians who plan to return to Guam after completing their education. By encouraging young Guamanians to become medical professionals and researchers who will practice medicine and conduct research on Guam, VIRO can address the root causes of lack of healthcare access for disabled veterans in Guam.
Elijah Armstrong is an activist from Jacksonville, Florida, who received his Bachelor of Science in Education and Public Policy from Penn State in 2019, and his Master of Education Policy and Management from the Harvard Graduate School of Education in 2020. With the funds from the 2021 Paul G. Hearne Emerging Leader Award, Elijah is going to start the Judy Heumann Award for Education Activism. This will give monetary awards to students who have experienced ableism in education, while also driving a conversation around ableism in education that is centered around the experience of students with disabilities.
Elijah is an epileptic who was denied accommodations in high school and was thus motivated to prevent the same thing from happening to other students. He founded Equal Opportunities for Students in 2015 and published pieces in Education Post and Faces of Education. He can be heard telling his story through his Ted Talk or his interviews with NPR. Elijah was an AAPD intern in 2018 in the office of Senator Bob Casey (D-PA). He served on the DREAM (Disability Rights, Education Activism, and Mentoring) National Student Advisory board for three years, and also branched out into other forms of activism while at Penn State, helping to plan a multi-day program around sexual assault prevention and cofounding No Hate Penn State with three other students. In his time at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Elijah was president of the Black Student Union.
Elijah enjoys performing arts like comedy clubs or live music in his spare time, but the pandemic has brought him back to his deep love for reality television. During the pandemic, he has taken the time to watch old seasons of The Bachelor while loom-knitting blankets. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram @elijahsaprophet, and connect with him on LinkedIn.
Noor Pervez is a queer, Muslim disability activist and community organizer working at the intersection of faith, disability, race, LGBT+ issues, reproductive justice, and eating disorders. His project aims to start the creation of an English-language Easy Read translation of the Holy Qu’ran. This translation aims to provide all Muslims with intellectual disabilities access to the original holy text, nuances and all, and help them participate fully in their community’s discussions about it. The end product will also be a helpful reference for non-Muslim people with intellectual disabilities who want to better understand the Holy Qu’ran, as well as for English language learners and people with other disabilities that benefit from Easy Read. Noor is employed as the community engagement coordinator for the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN). Noor is a student organizer turned broader community activist and takes pride in learning much of his original advocacy skills from other trans people raised in the southern US. Noor has bylines at Disability Visibility Project and Rooted in Rights, and has presented at a variety of conferences and universities on the intersections of the communities he is a part of and works alongside. You can follow Noor on Twitter: @snoringdoggo.
Tara Ahern is a disability advocate and photography business owner from Evanston, IL with degrees from New York University (B.A.) and DePaul University (M.S.). Her passion for disability rights stems from her own experiences living and loving with mobility and mental health disabilities as well as wanting to live in a world where disability is no longer a barrier to inclusion and equality. Tara is the Project Director for The IL Self Advocacy Alliance, a statewide entity that empowers people with disabilities to become advocates through education, cross-disability trainings and individualized mentoring. In addition to supporting their 37 member group chapters, Tara and her team engage in local, state and national advocacy and organize around important disability issues. In 2016, Tara created Alliance Ambassadors, an immersive 5 month leadership training program for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. By May 2020, the program will have graduated 70 individuals. She currently serves as co-chair for IL Imagines Chicago, a project to improve services for people with disabilities who are survivors of sexual violence as well as consults on disability and sexuality based projects and facilitates activities at Center for Independent Futures in Evanston, IL. Tara is a 2019 graduate of the Office for Victims of Crime Training and Technical Assistance Center’s Leadership Institute and completed a 40 hour sexual assault training through ICASA (IL Coalition Against Sexual Assault). She now teaches healthy sexuality and abuse prevention classes to disability groups, rape crisis centers and presents on the topic at conferences and service provider agencies. In her spare time, Tara participates on the Miss Amazing Inc. advisory board and is the national pageant judges coordinator. For the last 6 years, she has blended her worlds together, working on a photography project called Tres Fridas, where she and two other disabled artists recreate famous works of art and pop culture featuring people with disabilities as the subjects. Each recreation touches on an issue that the disability community faces while also showcasing the stories of successful Chicago artists. Their 16 piece traveling exhibition have garnered worldwide attention and various press features in the Chicago Tribune, NPR, ABC and Univision. With the 2020 Paul G. Hearne Emerging Leader Award, Tara focused on the important intersection between sexual violence and disability in Illinois. Building upon the work of IL Imagines, Tara engaged survivors with disabilities, rape crisis centers and service providers in doing collaborative regional and statewide work aimed at improving services, policies and opportunities for people with disabilities. She worked with local teams to organize around this intersection, facilitate trainings and supporting the creation of advocacy empowerment groups. Watch a video about Tara and her work here.
Sneha a senior at Indiana University majoring in chronic illness advocacy as well as journalism. She created the Health Advocacy Summit and its program of Crohn’s and Colitis Young Adults Network which major funding from Helmsley Charitable Trust and Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, to create more support systems for young adults and adolescents with chronic and rare illnesses across the U.S. and internationally. She is proud to have these organizations transparent and independent from the pharmaceutical industry. Sneha has completed a research fellowship in health policy at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, where she is continuing research as an undergraduate. She has also interned at the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation Headquarters and Pfizer Global Headquarters in health economics and outcomes research for Inflammation and Immunology. Sneha has spoken on Capitol Hill, featured nationally on C-SPAN, is a past contributor for U.S. News and World Report, and has put in considerable time and effort in D.C. advocating for better access to health care for people with chronic illnesses. She also created and chairs the first disability caucus in Indiana, and has served on the Democratic National Committee Disability Policy Subcommittee and Women’s March Disability Caucus. Sneha was awarded two academic fellowships with the Association of Health Care Journalists. She was previously a national policy fellow and now serves as the youngest director on the board for the national nonprofit. Sneha has spoken at Stanford Medicine X, at the Harvard Youth and Public Health Summit, the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine and other major avenues. She is also a national ambassador for the Invisible Disabilities Association and Lyfebulb. In her free time, she enjoys climbing, hiking, and reading all things health-related. Most of all, she is incredibly grateful for all the people she gets to work with and those that have overcome barriers in their life to continue thriving with a chronic illness. She has proudly lived in Indiana most of her life, is an advocate for women supporting women, is passionate about advancing health care in rural communities, and is an ardent supporter of more transparency in patient advocacy space. You can follow her @snehadave98 on Twitter and Instagram or connect with her on LinkedIn. With the 2020 Paul G. Hearne Emerging Leader Award, Sneha created more Summits and year long programs for adolescents and young adults with chronic and rare illnesses. Watch a video about Sneha and her work here.
Sarah Blahovec is a chronically ill disability advocate. Diagnosed with severe Crohn’s Disease at age 15, Sarah has always had a passion for politics and focuses her advocacy on civic engagement and issues that intersect the chronic illness and disability communities. She graduated from American University in 2014 with a bachelor’s degree in International Studies, and after struggling to find mentors with disabilities in her field, began blogging about disability rights for the Huffington Post. Sarah is currently the Disability Vote Organizer for the National Council on Independent Living, where she advocates for greater accessibility in elections; educates the disability community on voting rights and works to energize a disability voting bloc; and addresses barriers to running for office for people with disabilities. As part of her work, she created “Including People with Disabilities in Your Political Campaign: A Guide for Campaign Staff,” which was used widely by campaigns and existing run for office training organizations in 2018. Sarah is also a founding board member, former Access and Inclusion Chair, and current Communications Chair of New Leaders Council of Virginia, which equips diverse Millennial leaders in Virginia with the skills to impact progressive change in their communities.
With the 2019 Paul G. Hearne Emerging Leader Award, Sarah established the first campaign training curriculum for people with disabilities who want to run for elected office. While this online campaign training course will be open to all, it will specifically focus on bringing together trainers from marginalized communities and multi-marginalized people with disabilities who have run for office in the past to teach essential skills on running for office from an intersectional perspective, and to intentionally uplift prospective disabled candidates of color, women, religious minorities, and/or members of the LGBTQIA+ community. Watch a video about Sarah and her work here.
Dustin Gibson is a community builder who develops he[art]work to expand the collective consciousness of marginalized communities and address the nexus between race, class, and disability. He works across classrooms, neighborhoods, kid jails, and adult prisons to support individuals in finding home and engage in creating a world without jails and prisons. Dustin works beside community members and grassroots organizations to lead campaigns and build coalitions to eliminate police violence, address community needs, end the criminalization of students – specifically black disabled students – and advocate for the implementation of policy and legislation to reduce harm. He has worked with all three Centers for Independent Living in the Pittsburgh region and has held positions with national independent living organizations. He co-founded Disability Advocates for Rights and Transition, an organization led by disabled people that works to end forced institutionalization of disabled people and assist them in navigating systems to live in the community of their choosing with the dignity of risk. As a founding member of the Harriet Tubman Collective and co-creator of We Can’t Breathe: The Deaf & Disabled Margin of Police Brutality Project, Dustin travels across the United States to build collective power within multiply-marginalized communities and construct alternatives to systems of policing and imprisonment. With the 2019 Paul G. Hearne Emerging Leader Award, Dustin worked alongside youth who are or have been incarcerated to build a critical disability lens, gain historical context to current systems, and provide resources to assist them in thinking through issues and strategizing points of advocacy to organize themselves. Watch a video about Dustin and his work here.
Lydia X. Z. Brown
Lydia X. Z. Brown is an advocate, organizer, and writer whose work has largely focused on violence against multiply-marginalized disabled people, especially institutionalization, incarceration, and policing. They have worked to advance transformative change through organizing in the streets, writing legislation, conducting anti-ableism workshops, testifying at regulatory and policy hearings, and disrupting institutional complacency everywhere from the academy to state agencies and the nonprofit-industrial complex.
At present, Lydia serves as founding board member of the Alliance for Citizen-Directed Services, a member of the National Disability Leadership Alliance’s task force on racism in disability advocacy, stakeholder representative to the Massachusetts One Care Implementation Council overseeing health care for Medicaid/Medicare dually-eligible individuals, and board member of the Autism Women’s Network. In collaboration with E. Ashkenazy and Morénike Giwa-Onaiwu, Lydia is the lead editor and visionary behind All the Weight of Our Dreams, the first-ever anthology of writings and artwork by autistic people of color, published by the Autism Women’s Network in June 2017. Most recently, Lydia has designed and teaches a course on critical disability theory, public policy, and intersectional social movements as a Visiting Lecturer at Tufts University’s Experimental College, beginning in Fall 2016.
Lydia is a past Holley Law Fellow at the National LGBTQ Task Force, where they focused on reproductive justice and disability rights policy issues, and past Patricia Morrissey Disability Policy Fellow at the Institute for Educational Leadership, where they focused on employment opportunities for people with significant disabilities. Lydia also worked for the Autistic Self Advocacy Network for several years as part of the national public policy team, where Lydia worked on various issues relating to criminal justice and disability, healthcare disparities and service delivery models, and research and employment disparities. From 2015-2017, Lydia also served as Chairperson of the Massachusetts Developmental Disabilities Council, and from 2014-2016, as Co-President of TASH New England. In 2014, Lydia also co-founded the Washington Metro Disabled Students Collective, an all-grassroots, cross-disability organization committed to intersectional peer education, support, and political organizing. Lydia has been honored by the White House, the Washington Peace Center, the National Council on Independent Living, the Disability Policy Consortium of Massachusetts, and the National Association for Law Placement/Public Service Jobs Directory. In 2015, Pacific Standard named Lydia a Top 30 Thinker under 30, and Mic named Lydia to its inaugural list of 50 impactful leaders, cultural influencers, and breakthrough innovators. Their work has been featured in various places, including Addressing Ableism: Philosophical Meditations via Disability Studies; Religion, Disability, and Interpersonal Violence; Barriers & Belonging: Personal Narratives of Disability; The Asian American Literary Review; Feminist Perspectives on Orange is the New Black; Criptiques; Torture in Healthcare Settings; QDA: A Queer Disability Anthology; Films for the Feminist Classroom; Tikkun; Disability Intersections; Black Girl Dangerous; hardboiled magazine; POOR Magazine; The Washington Post; Sojourners; and The Establishment.
Lydia is now a Public Interest Law Scholar at Northeastern University School of Law, and occasionally blogs at Autistic Hoya. Lydia is also a past participant in AAPD’s Summer Internship Program, class of 2013, through which they interned at the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia. With the 2018 AAPD Paul G. Hearne Emerging Leader Award, Lydia plans to establish a community/peer empowerment fund in partnership with the Autism Women’s Network to award micro-grants to autistic people of color seeking support for education, professional development, art, health and safety, and community organizing.
Emily Ladau is a passionate disability rights activist, writer, speaker, and digital communications consultant whose career began at the age of 10, when she appeared on several episodes of Sesame Street to educate children about her life with a physical disability. A native of Long Island, New York, Emily graduated with a B.A. in English from Adelphi University in 2013. In 2017, she was named as one of Adelphi’s 10 Under 10 Young Alumni, which recognizes alumni who have achieved exceptional career and personal accomplishments before even celebrating their 10-year Adelphi reunion. She is dedicated to harnessing the powers of communication and social media as tools for people of all abilities to become informed and engaged about disability and social justice issues.
Emily works with Concepts, Inc., supporting key U.S. Department of Labor Office of Disability Employment Policy initiatives. She is also the Editor in Chief of the Rooted in Rights Blog, a platform focused on amplifying authentic stories and perspectives on disability rights issues. Additionally, she runs a business through which she both manages and provides consultation services regarding online presence and communications for disability-related organizations. Her writing has been published on websites including The New York Times, SELF, Salon, Vice, and Huffington Post, and much of her work can be found on her website, Words I Wheel By. Emily serves as the first Youth-at-Large Member of the National Council on Independent Living board. She was also a former intern in AAPD’s 2013 Summer Internship Program, through which she interned at the Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD). All of Emily’s activism is driven by her firm belief that if we want the world to be accessible to people with all types of disabilities, we must make ideas and concepts surrounding disability accessible to the world. Follow her on Twitter at @emily_ladau. With the 2018 AAPD Paul G. Hearne Emerging Leader Award, Emily plans to establish a Disabled Writers Fellowship through Rooted in Rights to provide mentorship opportunities for emerging writers with disabilities that will empower them to hone their writing skills and contribute their work to the disability rights movement. Watch a video about Emily and her work.
Ola Ojewumi | Founder, Project ASCEND Founder, Sacred Hearts Children’s Transplant Foundation
Ola Ojewumi is an activist, journalist, and a community organizer based in Washington, DC. She founded two nonprofits, Sacred Hearts Children’s Transplant Foundation and Project ASCEND. These organizations provide college scholarships to low-income students, funding for women’s education programs, support for global mentorship groups and literacy programs, and distributes teddy bears and books to children awaiting organ transplants across the United States. These initiatives have reached hundreds of young people living in Washington, D.C., West Africa, and Central America. Ola initiated these charitable efforts after receiving a lifesaving heart and kidney transplant, which inspired her to begin giving back to her community. The Clinton Global Initiative, MTV, Intel, Glamour Magazine, and The Huffington Post have praised her initiatives. Presently, she works as a contract specialist for the federal government and works as a freelancer having written for CNN and The Huffington Post. In addition, she’s served on boards for nonprofit organizations created by General Colin Powell and musician Lady Gaga. As an advocate, she has advised the Obama Administration on policies to advance the lives of people living with disabilities and held internships in the White House and with Leader Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic National Committee, and Congressman Albert R. Wynn. Her overall aspiration is to use public policy, journalism, and activism to change the world for disadvantaged populations. Project ASCEND is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that sponsors college scholarship and community grant programs that equip youth with civic engagement opportunities. Project ASCEND was founded in 2011; our mission is to create higher education opportunities for marginalized and disadvantaged young people across the globe. We provide college scholarships to low-income and disabled youth, funding for women’s education programs, support for mentorship groups and literacy programs. Our initiatives have reached hundreds of young people living in Washington, D.C., West Africa, and Central America. Watch a video about Ola and her work.
Katherine Perez | Founding Member, National Coalition for Latinxs with Disabilities
Katherine Perez is a scholar and activist from La Mirada, California. She graduated from UCLA School of Law in 2013 and is currently a PhD Candidate in Disability Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Her scholarship engages critical legal and historical analyses of disability laws and policies. She presents on various topics including the Disability Rights Movement (DRM) and is interested in building bridges between Latinx and disability organizations as the DRM progresses. Prior to law school, Katherine served in the Peace Corps in Peru and as a Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute Fellow in Washington, DC. She is the proud granddaughter of Mexican immigrants and openly identifies as having a psychiatric disability. Katherine believes it is time that we shut down the stigma, recognize, accept, and celebrate difference. As a disabled advocate, she also challenges the community to think about how racism and ableism function together to oppress disabled people of color. The mission of the National Coalition for Latinxs with Disabilities is to work toward a society in which the human rights of Latinxs with disabilities are upheld and all their intersecting identities embraced. Katherine founded the coalition with a group of professionals and scholars across the nation who are committed to celebrating and empowering Latinxs with disabilities and their allies through community building, advocacy, protection of rights, resources, and education. As a new organization, they have organized several efforts including their upcoming second annual conference and a national research study that will take place in various cities across the U.S. in 2017. Watch a video about Katherine and her work.
Robyn M. Powell is Principal of Robyn Powell Consulting, LLC, a disability law and policy consulting firm. As a disabled woman, Ms. Powell has dedicated her career to advancing the rights of people with disabilities. Most recently, Ms. Powell served as an Attorney Advisor at the National Council on Disability (NCD), an independent federal agency that advises the President and Congress on matters concerning people with disabilities.
The overall mission of the Disabled Parenting Project (DPP) is to leverage technology to create opportunities for parents with disabilities to interact and use social media to share information relevant to the disabled parenting community. The DPP seeks to inform social policy through the development of resources, created by and for the disabled parenting community, as well as to promote social justice for disabled families.
Alice Wong is a Staff Research Associate and part of the research team for the Community Living Policy Center (CLPC), a Rehabilitation Research and Training Center funded by the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living and Rehabilitation Research and the Administration for Community Living.
In 2014, Ms. Wong launched the Disability Visibility Project (DVP), an online community dedicated to recording, amplifying, and sharing disability stories and culture. In partnership with StoryCorps, a national oral history non-profit dedicated to recording the stories of all Americans, the DVP allows people to tell their stories on their own terms with StoryCorps archiving them for posterity. The DVP aims to collect the diverse voices of people in the disability community and preserve their history for all, especially underrepresented groups.
Andrés J. Gallegos, Esq.
Andrés is a shareholder at Robbins, Salomon & Patt, Ltd. in Chicago, Illinois, where he focuses his practice on disability rights and healthcare law. Andrés is a strong advocate for the rights of persons with disabilities. Andrés founded and spearheads the law firm’s 4-year old initiative to improve access to healthcare and wellness programs for persons across all types of disabilities. Through Andrés’ direction and leadership, a three prong approach of education (for consumers and providers), advocacy, and, when required, litigation, is used to effectuate systemic change. Andrés provides advice and counsel to healthcare and other entities on compliance matters relating to the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act and other state and local human and civil rights laws, ordinances and regulations. Andrés also represents individuals, and classes of individuals, with disabilities to address violations of those civil and human rights laws.
Keith R. Nolan
Keith, with the support of his family and the community, has been working with Congress, the White House, and the Pentagon for the past four years. After countless of meetings and emails, two identical Congressional bills were introduced last year, S. 1864 and H.R. 5296, which proposed to have a demonstration program for deaf and hard of hearing Americans to receive training to become officers in the Air Force. Keith believes that the accession into the military services of deaf and hard of hearing members can help the military save on force attrition, retention, and replacement. While Keith continues to advocate for the said demonstration program, he teaches history and government to high school students at Maryland School for the Deaf in Frederick. He also serves as the chairman of the Frederick County Commission on Disabilities. His TEDxIslay presentation on the deaf in the military has garnered his advocacy several national and international media articles. He has also received various recognitions including awards from the Young and Powerful for Obama Rising Star and the National Disability Employment Awareness Observance at Fort Detrick.
Talila A. Lewis is the Founder and President of Helping Educate to Advance the Rights of the Deaf (“HEARD”), an all-volunteer nonprofit organization that promotes equal access to the legal system for individuals who are deaf and hard of hearing. HEARD is the only organization in the nation that focuses on correcting and preventing deaf wrongful convictions, ending deaf prisoner abuse, decreasing recidivism rates for deaf returned citizens, and on increasing representation of the deaf in the legal profession. Through Talila’s leadership, and with the support of the community, HEARD has—with no office, no employees, and a miniscule budget—considerably advanced the rights of the deaf in the legal and corrections settings.
Jason is a filmmaker and founder of the non-profit AXS Lab which is dedicated to telling stories about the disability experience. His most recent film, When I Walk, premiered at Sundance Film Festival 2013, is a New York Times and Village Voice Critics’ Pick, and will broadcast as the opening film for the PBS/POV 2014 Season. In 2013, his short opinion documentary, ‘The Long Wait’ was published by the New York Times. In 2012, DaSilva also launched AXS Map (pronounced ‘access map’) a digital project to help people with disabilities find accessible businesses and places. His first film, Olivia’s Puzzle (2003, 12 min.), screened at more than 30 festivals including Sundance, received an Oscar qualification and was broadcast on HBO and PBS/POV in 2004. His second film, A Song for Daniel (2005, 10 min.) screened on PBS/POV in 2005. His short film, Twins of Mankala (2006, 10 min.) aired on PBS/POV in 2006. Jason has an MFA in Media from Emily Carr University.
Paralympic Medalist Anjali Forber-Pratt became Dr. Anjali Forber-Pratt earning a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Human Resource Education with a concentration in Human Resource Development. The degree was completed within the College of Education at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. She was presented the Emerging Scholar Award for her dissertation at the AERA conference in Vancouver. Anjali completed her undergraduate and master’s degrees also at the University of Illinois, graduating in the top 3% of her class. Anjali enjoys traveling for speaking engagements around the country and volunteering with local organizations for kids with disabilities. Forber-Pratt co-authored an educational children’s coloring book about disabled sports, Color Learn & Play: All About Sports for Athletes with Physical Disabilities. Aimed at educating young aspiring Paralympians on the variety of sports they can play, she often shares the book with her school-age audiences at her motivational talks hopefully teaching young children that disabled people can play sports too!
George Gallego is the Founder and CEO of Wheels of Progress, a 501C3 nonprofit organization which focuses on creating housing for young people with disabilities who are currently living in nursing homes or are at risk of being institutionalized because their homes are not accessible. He completed a BS in Organizational Management, an MS in Organizational Leadership and has also earned a Professional Certification in Not-for-Profit Management from Fordham University Graduate Schools of Social Service and Business Administration. For the past 4 years, George has been a world-class athlete competing in triathlons and marathons around the world. The “twist of fate” in this brief bio is that in 1992 George had a work-related accident and sustained a permanent spinal cord injury that left him a paraplegic. Only after years of coming to grips with his disability did George become a mentor to men and women who are newly injured and embark on the creation of his non-profit organization, complete his education, and compete in athletic competitions.
Amber Smock is the Director of Advocacy at Access Living, a Chicago-based, nationally prominent Center for Independent Living. As Director of Advocacy, Smock oversees both public policy and organizing activities that include systems advocacy for funding and access at the local, state and national levels, and leadership development of people with disabilities of all ages. Smock is also the Media Chair for National ADAPT, and a co-founder of Feminist Response in Disability Activism (FRIDA). Watch a video about Amber.
Mark Barlet is the co-founder and current President of the AbleGamers Foundation, which serves the disability community by advocating for greater accessibility of digital media and developing equipment, programs, and services for people with disabilities. As a service-disabled Air Force veteran himself, Barlet and the AbleGamers crew draw upon their personal experiences with disability to connect with the people they serve. Watch a video about Mark.
Catharine McNally is the co-founder and creative director for Keen Guides, a mobile application that provides accessible video tours of museums, colleges, and public venues to help produce cultural experiences that appeal to everyone. Watch a video about Catherine.
Jessica Lehman is the Lead Community Organizer for Community Resources for Independent Living (CRIL), a peer-led organization based in Hayward, CA. Watch a video about Jessica.
Don Dew works through his organization, ReachOut USA, to ensure full equality for the four million Americans who have a disability and are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT). ReachOut USA works to make LGBT groups more responsive to people who have disabilities and at the same time make disability groups more responsive to the LGBT community. “This award has strengthened my determination to continue to represent and serve all people with all disabilities or chronic illnesses and to obtain the goal of outreach and collaboration between the disability and LGBT communities to achieve full independence and inclusion for everyone,” Dew explains. Watch a video about Don.
After several years spent working in the animal protection community, Lawrence Carter-Long moved over to the Disabilities Network of NYC, an organization that brings people, organizations, government and industry together to find solutions to the problems faced by New Yorkers with physical, visual and hearing disabilities, and works for full inclusion of people with disabilities into the vast civic, social and economic life of New York City. Carter-Long eventually became Executive director of the organization. “Five years ago when I left my previous career to focus primarily on disability rights, I was determined to use the skills I’d developed to further access and inclusion for everyone. Winning AAPD’s Hearne award affirms that decision, and holds me accountable to it. I am grateful–and eager to utilize the opportunities the Hearne award provides to take my advocacy efforts to the next level,” Carter-Long said. Watch a video about Lawrence.
Maureen McKinnon-Tucker began sailing when she was 20. She won a gold medal for sailing at the 2008 Paralympic games as the first woman to represent the U.S. in sailing at the games. McKinnon-Tucker works as an adaptive sailing coordinator at Piers Park Sailing Center in East Boston and is a six-time member of the US Disabled Sailing Team. She wants to increase accessibility to sailing recreation for both disabled children and adults.
Stephanie Enyart found her passion for disability law after reading a newspaper article that chronicled the denial of reasonable accommodations for California high school students with disabilities. Enyart decided to enroll in law school, eventually choosing the University of California at Los Angeles, where she became a founding member and president of the National Association of Law Students with Disabilities. Enyart, who graduated in December, plans to practice disability law and launch a national organization for lawyers with disabilities.
Victor Pineda is the founder and president of The Victor Pineda Foundation: an educational nonprofit that promotes the rights of young people with disabilities while focusing on using media to educate, inspire and inform young people with disabilities. Pineda’s is the project manager of The Disability Media Initiative, which will create a web-based, accessible interactive history of the disability community.
Brett Eisenberg is Disability Coordinator at American International Group (AIG) in Manhattan. In this capacity, he leads the corporation’s Disability Initiative programs in various areas, including recruitment and retention, corporate affairs, assistive technology, and products and services. He has created programs whereby AIG is able to focus on the disability population to better serve their needs as well as the needs of AIG. As a graduate of the renowned Henry Viscardi School in Albertson, New York, Eisenberg joined AIG in 2006 as an Analyst in the Human Resources Corporate Staffing division. He was responsible for preparing all reports regarding hiring activity and cost per hire worldwide in addition to assisting in all aspects of the budget process for five different departments. Eisenberg now serves on the AIG Corporate Diversity Council but his extensive involvement and outreach to assist people with disabilities in finding employment goes beyond his daily work at AIG. Eisenberg contributes his time, talent and energy as a member of five Business Advisory Councils, including Abilities, Inc., Just One Break, Inc. (JOB), and Fedcap. In addition, he is the founder and Director of the New York chapter of the Osteogenesis Imperfecta Foundation. While in college, Eisenberg worked at Merrill Lynch in various areas including Private Wealth Management, Global Philanthropy, and the Office of General Counsel and Litigation Department. Eisenberg was awarded a Bachelor of Science degree in Accounting, with a concentration in Management, from Nova Southeastern University in Florida. He also attended Adelphi University and Baruch College. Watch a video about Brett.
Rahnee K. Patrick
Rahnee Patrick joined Access Living, a leading disability advocacy organization run by people with disabilities, in Chicago, Illinois in 2002, and since mid-2004 has been the organization’s Youth and Education Team Leader. In this capacity, she addresses equal educational access for students with disabilities in Chicago Public Schools and the holistic well being of youth with disabilities which include their self-esteem, sexual health, and the development of leadership and self-advocacy. Patrick came to Chicago from northern Indiana, where she was highly involved in the disability rights movement. In 1992, she was a disabled student leader for Students Together Able and Respected (STAAR) at Indiana University South Bend, where she earned her Bachelor of Arts degree with a minor in Women’s Studies. In 2006, Patrick organized the first national ADAPT Youth Summit, an initiative to ensure youth with disabilities use direct action tactics and to keep ADAPT alive in the next generations of disability rights. Patrick currently serves as the co-leader of Chicago ADAPT, is an active member of Not Dead Yet, and co-founder of Feminist Response in Disability Activism (FRIDA). She is an award-winning writer with her literary interestes surrounding disability, race, and women’s issues. She also is a graduate of Partners in Policymaking (1997) and the New Leadership Development Advocacy Training (1999). Patrick is the oldest of four children, the daughter of a Thai immigrant and a Vietnam Veteran. On Labor Day weekend 2006, she married Mike Ervin and they live in downtown Chicago. Watch a video about Rahnee.
John Register is a veteran of the Gulf War, a silver-medalist in the Paralympic Games, and a former Olympic Trials athlete. While he was training for the 1996 Olympics, Register landed incorrectly after clearing a hurdle and severed a major artery in his left leg. As a result, his leg was amputated. Since then, Register has been a strong disability rights advocate who believes that participation in sports can enrich the lives of people with disabilities and change public attitudes towards the disability community. As Associate Director of Development and Outreach for the U.S Paralympics, Register was instrumental in the launch of the U.S. Paralympic Academy in 2003, which exposes youth and young adults to a variety of Paralympic sports. The interaction with other physically disabled peers challenges the students to learn as much from each other as from the sports they play. Register also conceived of the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) Paralympic Military Program, which shows military personnel the powerful role that sports could play in rehabilitation. As a member of the State Department’s Advisory Committee on People with Disabilities, Register is working to foster positive relations with other governments and help them adopt progressive disability initiatives worldwide. It is his goal to grow the Paralympic sports programs by connecting state agencies, schools, businesses and community organizations, to touch the lives of youths in more than 40 states. He also hopes to make the use of recreational therapy a standard part of the military rehabilitation program. Watch a video about John.
TyKiah R. Wright
TyKiah Wright used her personal experience and entrepreneurial skills to establish WrightChoice, Inc. in Ohio: a nonprofit group that prepares under-represented individuals with the resources needed to be successful and productive in the workplace. Wright grew up with Charcot-Marie Tooth disease: a hereditary neurological disorder that affects the lower leg and arm muscles. After receiving a Masters of Business Administration degree, she found herself unemployed. This experience motivated her to help other high school and college graduates with disabilities strengthen their career development skills and successfully find jobs and internships. WrightChoice, Inc. helps build bridges between college students with disabilities and the workforce, complementing their educational experience with on-the-job training. It also addresses diversity related training needs for employers, offering seminars focused on disability awareness, the use of technology in the workplace, and leadership. Wright’s belief in economic empowerment for people with disabilities has lead to many honors, including being named one of Ebony Magazine’s “2006 Young Leader of the Future.” Her top priorities for the next three years include connecting more companies with qualified college graduates and exploring the concept of e-internships for individuals who face transportation barriers. Watch a video about TyKiah.
As a recognized expert on asset building for people with disabilities, Megan O’Neil is the Access to Assets Project Coordinator at the World Institute on Disability (WID) in Oakland, California. WID strives to expand the capacity of lending institutions, asset building programs, and disability organizations to increase the inclusion of people with disabilities in poverty reduction programs. O’Neil is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin. She became a paraplegic in 1995 as the result of a car accident and it was her own experience as a disabled person that led to her advocacy and activism. For O’Neil, life on Supplemental Security Income (SSI) made her realize that she wanted more from life and from herself. In 2004, she sought to gain experience in the area of asset development, choosing to postpone graduate school. Megan has since become a strong advocate for people with disabilities in the acquisition of capital and assets. She explains that poverty is endemic to the disability community, and life on public benefits ensures subsistence, thus resulting in complacency and endangering our future. Megan is building bridges between the asset building and disability communities, providing information on how best to serve people with disabilities at all the major asset building conferences. WID executive director, Kathy Martinez, explains, “In her short career as a disability advocate/activist, Megan has become a powerful force in the struggle to reduce poverty within the disability population by breaking down the walls of myth, misconception, and ignorance that prevent disabled people from being considered good loan risks or entrepreneurs.” Megan is highly-regarded by the disability community on asset development issues, presenting to many groups, including the Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Advisory Panel. It is Megan’s goal within five years to eliminate asset tests on structured savings vehicles and to exclude all savings accounts with limited access (penalties occur with early withdrawal) from SSI asset calculations. She emphasizes the necessity for increased advocacy and awareness, and more interaction with high-level policymakers. Watch a video about Megan.
Anisha Imhoff-Keer is a young advocate who is striving to reduce stigma in the educational community in order to make it easier for people with disabilities to get a meaningful education. She is a full-time student at Albuquerque Technical Vocational Institute, where she is pursuing a double-major in political science and psychology. Imhoff-Kerr was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the age of eleven and through her experiences as a college student she began advocating for ways to educate educators on how to deal with students with disabilities. Imhoff-Kerr created a Forum for educators on students with mental health issues, which was held in April 2005. Most recently, she surveyed 450 students and 30 teachers about their knowledge of mental health topics, special services, etc., finding that there was very little knowledge in this area. Imhoff-Kerr intends to fold the findings from this survey into the expansion of the Forum. Imhoff-Kerr uses her own experiences to help others by presenting workshops at conferences, and through State of Mine: a nonprofit youth-run advocacy organization she created. Through State of Mine, Imhoff-Kerr produced a video, entitled Bipolar Unmasked, which illustrates what it is like to live a normal life with bipolar disorder as a teenager. She also coordinated an art show, “Visions,” which displayed art created by teenagers with disabilities expressing what it is like to live with a disability. In 2004, Imhoff-Kerr was awarded the Amy Biehl Youth Spirit Award in recognition of her work with State of Mine and in the community promoting mental health awareness. After receiving a grant, Imhoff-Kerr started a high school health class program that discusses behavioral health topics. Imhoff-Kerr, who also works full-time for the New Mexico state government in the Children’s Cabinet, envisions law school in her future. She would like to widen the work she’s done for college mental health awareness, and recruit other youth advocates to continue to expand upon the work she is doing. Watch a video about Anisha.
Berhanu Joffe Deboch, a student at Portland State University and a political refugee, has committed himself to working to eradicate the many barriers that people with disabilities face. His work work has been rooted in advocacy for neglected, marginalized and disadvantaged individuals. According to one of his current professors, Deboch possesses strong leadership skills in teaching his peers about national activities for blind people and for raising their collective consciousness. Deboch is originally from Ethiopia. While a student at the University of Addis Ababa, he was elected to serve as a Public and Recruitment Officer for the Ethiopian National Organization of the Blind (ENOB), and served in that capacity for four years. He explains that this service afforded him the chance to work with community members and to increase awareness of the impact of blindness on a person’s experiences. After graduation, Deboch worked at the Ministry of Urban Development and Housing as a Junior Expert Housing Specialist. In that role, he organized neighborhood cooperatives to build housing for low-income people. He has often pointed to the work with the disability community there as his proudest accomplishment, where he was able to obtain major funding and develop housing cooperatives for hundreds of people with disabilities. This particular project, according to Deboch, not only enabled families to build their own homes, but also illustrated the resourcefulness and capabilities of individuals with disabilities. In South Africa, he worked for refugees with the United Nations Higher Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) as an interpreter, HIV counselor, and representative of refugees in court. From that, Deboch emerged as a strong, vocal advocate for HIV infected people denied resettlement in developed countries. In 1995, Deboch became a refugee, living in camps in Kenya and Mozambique. While a refugee, he worked tirelessly to organize advocacy groups within the camps. He is proud that, despite his blindness, he was elected as the spokesperson for individuals who were voiceless and powerless. He came to Oregon as a political refugee, and began his adjustment to blindness training while also adjusting to life in the U.S. He immediately started volunteer work at Portland’s Refugee Center, where he was able to utilize the leadership skills that had proved effective during his work in refugee camps in Kenya and Mozambique. Deboch now speaks about the two most serious barriers that he believes people with disabilities face: a lack of awareness among non-disabled people about how disability affects a person’s life, and a lack of access to education for low-income people with disabilities. Toward that end, his personal leadership goals for the next five years are to continue to advocate as a social worker for voiceless people with disabilities, as well as children and women at risk, in addition to continuing his work and research on behalf of people living with HIV. He also wishes to delve further into the problems that HIV-positive people have and why they are denied resettlement in developed countries. Deboch has said that winning a Paul G. Hearne AAPD Leadership Award will enable him to complete his Master’s degree in Social Work at Portland State University, while also continuing to participate in national disability conferences and conduct international research. Watch a video about Berhanu.
Alan D. Muir
Alan Muir co-founded and continues to serve as Executive Director of Career Opportunities for Students with Disabilities (COSD) in Knoxville, Tennessee. He is committed to working to enhance and improve the career opportunities of college students with disabilities through his work with universities and employers to ensure students with disabilities receive preparation and training. Muir was also appointed, four years ago, by the Governor of Tennessee to serve on the Tennessee Council on Developmental Disabilities. He started his advocacy efforts on behalf of the disability community when he personally faced attitudinal barriers and experienced firsthand the value of self-advocacy. Muir’s professional career began in the banking industry where he had a sixteen-year commercial banking career in New York. As Muir sees it, the most serious barrier for people with disabilities is securing career employment in their fields of choice, but also that a lack of self-advocacy skills and knowledge further increase the employment problem among people with disabilities, particularly apparent with college graduates with disabilities. Believing that his personal experiences could directly benefit young people with disabilities searching out their career paths, Muir changed careers. Muir met Dr. Robert Greenberg, Director of Career Services at the University of Tennessee, and together they recognized that there was an opportunity to make a difference for students with disabilities in terms of training and preparing them for career exploration and their exposure to the employer market. They conducted research that identified a nationwide problem of a lack of collaboration between Disability Services and Career Services offices on college campuses. Students with disabilities were getting neither the critical training in career planning they needed nor taking advantage of experiential education opportunities. Consequently, they are nearly invisible to employers during on-campus recruiting efforts and programs. Based on this research and these observations, Muir attained funding from the Tennessee Division of Rehabilitation Services to create the Disability Careers Office, which is a liaison office between Career Services and Disability Services. This office is now a national example for other universities to emulate. In 2001, Muir and Greenberg co-founded COSD with a grant from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy. With that, Muir began his full-time work leading COSD. In this capacity, Muir works to fulfill an additional need, which is close collaboration between Career Services, Disability Services, and employers nationally. Under his guidance and leadership, COSD has expanded its membership to 400 entities. As COSD’s Executive Director, Muir works to actively promote the idea of improving career employment prospects for students with disabilities to employers and organizations. He has successfully organized and attained necessary funding for annual COSD conferences, and conducts workshops to universities and employers around the country that highlight issues faced by students with disabilities during their job searches. Muir has identified three leadership goals for next five years: to develop a two-credit distance-education course for college students with disabilities that teaches career search skills; to create a Technical Assistance Center to conduct research on practical solutions for COSD member institutions and employers in working with students with disabilities; and to bring people with disabilities into leadership positions at COSD as a means of further highlighting the abilities of people with disabilities. Muir explains that being a Paul G. Hearne AAPD Leadership Award recipient will lend increased credibility to his work at COSD. Additionally, the funds will help to expand COSD’s reach to greater numbers of higher education institutions and employers. He believes that recognition of his work with COSD by way of this award will also further affirm that career employment for people with disabilities is vital and that COSD assistance in this arena impacts all sectors of the disability community. Watch a video about Alan.
Cheri Blauwet was born and raised on a farm near the small town of Larchwood, Iowa. She sustained a spinal cord injury in a farming accident as a child but was immediately encouraged to be active, involved, and to see disability as simply another way of living rather than as an impairment. Upon entering high school, her track coach encouraged her to join the track team when he learned that Iowa held sanctioned wheelchair events at the state finals. By her sophomore year she had set records at the state level and began competing nationally. In the fall of 1998 Blauwet began her academic and racing career at The University of Arizona. She became the captain of the wheelchair track and road racing team and continued to realize her athletic potential. In 2000, she became a name on the international scene, bringing home 1 silver and 3 bronze medals from the 2000 Paralympic Games in Sydney, Australia. Since then, she has achieved resounding success on the international elite racing circuit. Some of her outstanding finishes include:
- Winner, 2003 and 2004 New York City Marathon
- Winner, 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2008 Los Angeles Marathon
- Winner, 2004 and 2005 Boston Marathon
- Gold Medal, 2004 Athens Paralympic Games: 800 meters
- Bronze Medals, 2004 Athens Paralympic Games: 5000 meters and Marathon
As a result of these wins, she was nominated for the 2003 Women’s Sports Foundation Sportswoman of the Year, in addition to two consecutive nominations for the ESPY (2004, 2005) award in the category Best Athlete with a Disability. Blauwet was also a nominee for the 2005 Laureus World Sport Award within the category “World Sportsperson of the Year with a Disability.” Ultimately, Blauwet sees sports as one platform through which she can promote disability rights and empowerment at an international level. She has worked on the International Paralympic Committee, promoting international sporting opportunities and a mechanism for international development, and with Rehabilitation International, a large multilateral disability rights member organization with both governmental and non-governmental representatives. She is a published author on the topic of The Paralympic Movement: Promoting Health and Human Rights through Sport. Currently, Blauwet is a resident in Internal Medicine at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Her ultimate goal is to pursue the specialty of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and to promote the health and social empowerment of people with a disability, particularly in low-resource settings. Watch a video about Cheri.
Alison A. Hillman de Velásquez
Alison A. Hillman de Velásquez is the program officer of the Disability Rights Initiative at the Open Society Institute (OSI). Hillman manages a global grant making and advocacy program focused on promoting the ratification and implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Prior to joining OSI, Hillman de Velásquez was director of the Americas Programs at Mental Disability Rights International where she advocated for the rights of persons with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities (persons diagnosed with mental illness), monitoring conditions and treatment in psychiatric institutions, orphanages, social care homes and forensic penal units. In collaboration with attorneys from the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL), she presented the first petition in the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) challenging on-going abuses in a psychiatric institution. She is the primary author of Ruined Lives: Segregation in Argentina’s Psychiatric Asylums (2007) and Human Rights & Mental Health in Peru (2004). Hillman de Velásquez has received awards at international disability film festivals in Canada (2005) and Italy (2007) for her documentary depicting abuses in a psychiatric institution. In 2003, she received the Paul G. Hearne AAPD Leadership Award as an emerging leader in the disability field. She sits on the Board of Directors of the American Association of People with Disabilities and is chair of the Board of Directors of Ensaaf. Hillman de Velásquez holds a law degree with a focus in international human rights law from the Washington College of Law, American University. She received her BA in government with a concentration in U.S.-Latin American relations from Cornell University. Watch a video about Alison.
Albert Cheong is recognized nationally as being a strong advocate for minorities with disabilities and for bringing the voice of Chinese people with disabilities to legislators. He lost his sight at the age of 13 and in 1992, at the age of 25, with no knowledge of the English language, he moved to the United States. Because of both the language barrier and cultural differences, he encountered difficulty in assimilating into the American society and in finding a job, even in the Chinese community, because of the belief that if he could not see, then he could not work. Because of this, Cheong was inspired to work to assist other Chinese-Americans with disabilities. Since 1996, Cheong has been the Chinese Community Services Coordinator at the Independent Living Resource Center San Francisco (ILRC), having been hired with limited advocacy, public education and public policy experience. He directs ILRC’s Chinese Community outreach efforts and under his oversight, the program had an immediate and positive impact on the community. In 1998, Cheong advocated to bring the voice of the Chinese people with disabilities to legislators at the National Council on Disability (NCD) hearing on minorities with disabilities in San Francisco. His efforts resulted in the largest consumer showing ever at an NCD public hearing. In 2000, he was invited to join a Steering Committee for a Wellness Guide for California, and a California Board of Directors for Protection & Advocacy. He is also currently on the National Technical Assistance Advisory Board of Asian outreach at Hawaii University. Cheong is the first person in the U.S. to conduct workshops in Chinese on public benefits, employment rights, and U.S. citizenship for people with disabilities. And because of his efforts, the local Chinese language media wil cover disability issues for the first time. Cheong participates in a Chinese language radio show, as well as a newspaper column that is acknowledged as the most popular weekly column in the country’s largest Chinese language newspaper. Cheong’s leadership goals include enabling Chinese people with disabilities to understand their rights to get an education, and to improve the quality of life for all people living with disabilities in the U.S. He plans to use his Paul G. Hearne AAPD Leadership Award to make an informational video in Chinese and English, delivering a message to the world that Chinese people with disabilities have many abilities and, if provided the training and afforded the chance, can be strong community assets.
Claudia Gordon is the first Black deaf female attorney in the U.S. and has been an advocate for people with disabilities since high school. It was her desire to address societal barriers faced by people with disabilities that motivated her to pursue a legal education and career. Since graduating from law school and being admitted to the Maryland Bar, Gordon has conducted numerous empowerment and legal education outreach efforts and training sessions to communities and organizations in both the U.S. and St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. “Being hailed as the first Black deaf female attorney in the U.S. has evidentially been an inspiration to members of this community, especially the youth, in setting high goals for themselves,” Gordon explains. Gordon worked for two years at the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) Law Center, where on behalf of persons experiencing discrimination on the basis of deafness, she provided legal advocacy through direct legal representation in civil cases, technical assistance, training and outreach. Gordon is the current Vice-President of the National Black Deaf Advocates Association (NBDA) and has been a member since 1989. She has also provided advocacy leadership at the National Association of the Deaf Law Center, the Civil Practice Clinic at the Washington College of Law, Washington, DC Public Defender Service-Mental Health Division, the Black Law Students Association, the National Black Deaf Advocates Association, and the Consumer Action Network. Additionally, Gordon has chaired a number of disability-oriented committees, participated in a number of advisory groups on disability and cultural diversity-related issues, and presented at a wide array of disability conferences and meetings. Her writings on disability policy have appeared in various organizational newsletters. Currently, she is an independent consultant to the National Council on Disability (NCD). Gordon wishes to continue to advocate for the rights and quality of life of individuals with disabilities, on both a national and grassroots level, as well as to establish a direct service foundation for the deaf in Washington, DC, in order to provide a variety of services to the under-served and un-served segments of the city’s deaf community.
Carrie D. Griffin
Carrie Griffin is the creator of Women Without Barriers: a mentoring program for high school-aged girls with disabilities that not only established one-on-one connections, but also a larger community complete with workshops on topics ranging from sexuality to careers, and advocacy to independent living. The recipient of scholarships from the Truman and ELA Foundations for her commitment to public service and disability rights, Carrie attended Harvard Law School, where she became involved in the employment rights of people with disabilities. She was convinced that the largest psychological, economic, socio-cultural, and personal barriers of the women she met resulted in their own disenfranchisement from gainful employment opportunities. As she conveys, “I was motivated to preserve my interest, yet become skilled in legal approaches, and combine both in order to enable people with disabilities to access employment opportunities of their choosing.” After graduating from Harvard Law School, Carrie worked as a research assistant to Professor Sam Bagenstos, a Supreme Court advocate for the Echazabal case. She has served as an editor to the author of a plaintiff-side guide to disability rights litigation, and spent a summer as an Honors Intern in the Department of Justice’s Disability Rights Section. Currently, she is serving a clerkship with Judge Neal Kravitz of the District of Columbia Superior Court. Carrie has also created an online organization of lawyers and law students with disabilities (Disabled Lawyering Alliance) to provide mentoring, networking and job opportunities. In less than one year, it has generated several hundred e-mail discussions, the exchange of job leads, and the building of lasting relationships. She now proposes to expand this Alliance to include other professions, as a way of expanding employment opportunities for people with disabilities. Carrie’s ultimate goal is to create a national organization committed to the professional development of people with disabilities.
Peter Cody Hunt
Peter Hunt has been interested in working on disability-related issues since acquiring his disability in college. His focus is primarily on disability research and policy at the academic institution and federal government level. Hunt believes that while the ADA has significantly improved the quality of life of people with disabilities, the impact of the disability rights movement and the ADA legislation have not yet reached or benefited the minority communities in this country and that cultural and social stigma against people with disabilities still pose significant barriers. Hunt’s interest in working at the grassroots level developed when he moved to Pittsburgh to pursue graduate studies. He noticed a large Asian community with disabilities that appeared to be isolated and disenfranchised. With a personal commitment to educating the Asian community about disability issues, Hunt served as a volunteer at the Three Rivers Center for Independent Living (TRCIL), first as an outreach liaison for the local Asian community and later as a Board member. Shortly thereafter, Hunt and a fellow TRCIL Board member mobilized the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation and Life’s Work (Vocational Rehabilitation Center) to develop programs culturally appropriate to serve Asians with disabilities. Hunt is also a network member for the Center on disability Studies at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. He recently authored a monograph, Providing Rehabilitation Services to Vietnamese with Disabilities: Information for U.S. Providers, as part of the Center for International Rehabilitation Research Information and Exchange monograph series to educate U.S. rehabilitation service providers to better serve people with disabilities born in foreign countries. For the coming year, Hunt strives to work with his Paul G. Hearne AAPD Leadership Award mentor, William Chrisner III, CRC/CRA, President and Executive Director of TRCIL, to develop a model program to serve Asians with disabilities in small and rural communities. He plans to complete his doctoral studies in rehabilitation science and technology in 2003 and will seek a position in a national disability organization after he completes the program.
Sarah Louise Triano
Sarah Louise Triano has dedicated her life to promoting a culture that teaches new values and beliefs, acknowledges the dignity and worth of all people, and to mentoring children with disabilities in order to ensure they do not grow up feeling ashamed of their disabilities. “We must take back the definition of disability and proclaim that shame will no longer be the basis for out identity,” she explains. Triano’s advocacy began in 1992 when, at the age of 17, when she participated in the nation’s first Youth Leadership Forum for High School Students with Disabilities in California. Subsequent to that, she went on to assist in the replication of this model youth leadership forum throughout the U.S. She received her Bachelor of Arts degree in History of Public Policy from the University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB), graduating valedictorian, summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa. After graduation, Triano assisted the National Council on Disability (NCD) in the creation of the National Youth Leadership Development Conference in Washington, DC. In 2001, Triano co-founded the National Disabled Students Union. Currently, Triano is the Director of the nation’s first locally-based leadership and organizing training program for disabled youth, Y.I.E.L.D. the Power to the Youth, at Access Living in Chicago, IL. She has published articles and given speeches that directly attack existing definitions of disability in the dominant culture and has attempted to awaken the consciousness of disabled people. These include an NCD report, Lift Every Voice: Modernizing Disability Policies and Programs to Serve a Diverse Nation, and Coming Home to Disabled Country, which was distributed in 2001 through the Justice For All (JFA) national e-mail network. Triano believes that the “cultural homicide” that Dr. Martin Luther King considered to be one of the most serious barriers for black people in American society continues 35 years later, and is particularly apparent among people with disabilities. In the coming year, and with inspiration from Justin Dart’s work across the country in 1989 and 1990, Triano plans to do a National Disability Pride Tour. She will visit several states and conduct two-day disability-pride forums in local communities that will be designed to unite people with disabilities by focusing the establishment of disability pride as a common cause. Triano articulates her goals as follows: 1) to teach people with disabilities lacking access to a university about disability history in order to bring disability history to the people; 2) to develop a sense of dignity and worth among people with disabilities nationally through disability consciousness-raising groups; and 3) to mobilize and organize fragmented groups of people with disabilities at the local level and strengthen their collective capacity to bring about social change through targeted political education.
At the age of 26, Alicia Contreras was invited to come from Mexico to the United States to participate in a one-month leadership training sponsored by Mobility International USA (MIUSA). In addition to learning that she could set and reach her own goals, she learned from other disabled women that with a wheelchair she could play sports, dance, and have a happy and independent life. In 1994, Contreras completed a one-year internship with MIUSA. In 1996, she founded CEVIMUDI (Independent Living Center for Women with Disabilities) in San Luis Potosi, Mexico. She started by assisting one woman who had never left her house. CEVIMUDI’s biggest achievement was presenting their play “Proudly Disabled Women” to 600 people who learned about the real issues of their lives. After three years atCEVIMUDI, Contreras became the first Program Coordinator for People with Disabilities of San Luis Potosi. They started the first accessible taxi-van service in the state, gave more than 700 scholarships to disabled people, and provided over 1,000 hearing aids and 300 wheelchairs. Through her work in San Luis Potosi, Contreras met Whirlwind Women, an international organization that teaches women with disabilities how to build appropriate-technology wheelchairs for themselves and others. In November 2000, Contreras became Whirlwind Women’s Program Director in San Francisco, CA. Contreras believes the amount of knowledge she will acquire from disability leaders she will meet as a result of being selected as a Paul G. Hearne AAPD Leadership awardee is immeasurable.
Daniel Davis is a college student who has experienced discrimination and witnessed the rollback of many fundamental rights of people with disabilities by recent Supreme Court decisions. These challenges motivated him to become a disability rights organizer and advocate, both at college and nationally. He serves as the Vice President of the Disabled Student Union of UC Berkeley. In this position he has facilitated surveys, organized forums, networked with students, lawyers and administrators in order to identify problems, bring parties together and develop mutually agreeable solutions. Davis served as a research assistant for the Historians’ and Scholars’ Amicus Brief in the Garrett case. He also organized, produced and publicized a prestigious panel discussion entitled “The Teach-In for Justice” to educate the public about the Garrett case and its ramifications. Although his work did not change the adverse outcome of the Garrett case, his efforts prepared him to become a member of ADA-Watch (an umbrella group that is researching, strategizing and making legislative visits to educate the Senate Judiciary Committee members about the threats that states’ rights nominees pose). Along with a fellow university student, Davis formed the National Disabled Students Union (NDSU) to organize, mobilize and network with peers at schools across the country. They have developed a listserv, set up a website and organized a National Campaign for Equal Justice. The Paul G. Hearne AAPD Leadership Award will provide resources to further develop NDSU’s capabilities.
Ann Forts is a motivational speaker and self-advocate for people with Down syndrome. She refers to her disability as “UP” rather than “Down” syndrome because she believes “Down” sounds too negative. In addition to her speaking and self-advocacy work, Forts has spearheaded 2 fundraising efforts to provide financial assistance to less fortunate people with Down syndrome. Fort’s “UP” fund has donated over $20,000 in profits from the sales of items (T-shirts, caps, etc.) with the “UP” syndrome logo to the National Down Syndrome Congress to help needy families. Forts started The Annie Forts “UP” Syndrome Fund 4 years ago and has raised over $180,000 towards her goal of one million dollars to provide assistance to people with Down Syndrome and provide scholarship money for people who plan a career in special education. Forts believes the recognition she will receive as a result of being selected as a Paul G. Hearne AAPD Leadership awardee will lead to more speaking engagements where she can share her thoughts on the barriers to community acceptance for those with disabilities.
N. Linn Hendershot
Linn Hendershot was elected to the City Council of Hagerstown, MD. He is the first 100 percent ventilator dependent elected official in Maryland. As a result of his new status, accessibility modifications to accommodate his wheelchair are quickly being made in City Hall. Although born in the Maryland area, Hendershot spent most of his adult life working as a sports public relations and marketing specialist. Due to his failing health as a result of post-polio syndrome, Hendershot returned to Maryland in 1997 after working with the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games for four years in preparation for the Centennial Games in Atlanta in 1996. Linn is becoming recognized as a Maryland community leader championing the rights of disabled people. He has been Chairman of the Disability Advisory Committee of Washington County, Maryland. He also was the founder of “Empowerment 2000” which works to improve disability awareness in the county. In 1999, Hendershot was hired by the Western Maryland Hospital Center (where he had spent two years) to assist patients to learn computer skills and to advocate on their behalf. He leads a group of disabled persons in doing graphics and creative services, brochures, newsletters and teaching aides at the Hospital Center. Hendershot has also developed an in-house television station maintained by the WMHC.
Kristen Jones coordinated the first ever “Disability Mentoring Day” in Houston, Texas last year. This event coincided with “National Disability Employment Awareness Month.” The Houston Disability Mentoring Day 2000 model program Jones coordinated involved the participation of area public and private businesses, city government and area college counselors working in partnership with college students with disabilities. These young men and women had an opportunity to gain insight into career options. College age men and women spent the day in the workplace matched to the area of their own career interest “shadowing” and being mentored by an employee on the job. In addition to her work coordinating “Disability Mentoring Day,” Jones was one of the first persons with a disability to serve recently in the White House Intern Program in the Office of Public Liaison, Disability Outreach. In addition, she currently serves as an appointed official on the Houston Commission on Disability. Jones has also worked on the Executive Planning Committee of a week long Youth Leadership Conference in Washington, DC, sponsored by federal government agencies. Jones believes receiving the Paul G. Hearne/AAPD Leadership Award will allow her to develop a more comprehensive “Disability Mentoring Day” Program in Houston and Texas. She also looks forward to meeting national disability leaders from whom she can learn and receive support.
Frances Priester is working to dispel the myths about mental illness and advocating for decent, safe and affordable housing for disabled Americans. In April of 1985, a year after receiving a law degree from the University of Buckingham at Buckingham, England, Priester was hospitalized at St. Pancreas Hospital in London, England for a psychiatric disability. She believes her advocacy efforts are the result of having to face her own psychiatric disability. In the summer of 1988, Priester lived on the streets of Chicago for two weeks before going to a United Methodist Shelter. After months of intensive therapy and new medications as well as a new diagnosis, Frances was employed part-time by the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. It is here that her advocacy work began. In 1995, Priester became the Program Administrator of Deborah’s Place Emergency Shelter. This program serves homeless, single adult women (70% of whom have a mental illness). Priester has served on numerous committees and boards that work to increase awareness and understanding of discrimination in housing experienced by all disability groups. She has worked with Access Living, an independent living center, to promote enforcement of the Fair Housing Act. Priester has also given motivational presentations on recovery, initiated and organized a voter registration drive in five counties in Southern Illinois, and organized the Consumer Leadership Council. She is currently the Consumer Specialist at Elgin Mental Health Center’s Forensic Treatment Program. Priester believes that being selected as a Paul G. Hearne AAPD Leadership Awardee will give her a stronger voice in her advocacy efforts for all disability groups. Her exposure to national leaders with disabilities will enable her to gain knowledge on housing and employment policies nationwide and to increase awareness of the needs of people with psychiatric disabilities.
Gerard White is the Co-founder and Executive Director of Landmine Survivors Network (LSN), former Board Chair for the American Coalition of Amputees, Chair of the US Campaign to Ban Landmines, and a driving force of the 1997 Recipient of The Nobel Prize for Peace, The International Campaign to Ban Landmines. White lost his right leg below the knee to a landmine that had laid in the ground from a war that ended a decade before. In 1996,White and another American landmine survivor, founded the Landmine Survivors Network. LSN is the only international organization created by and for landmine survivors to assist mine victims and their families worldwide to recover, heal and reclaim their lives. White’s vision and leadership of the organization has led to over 1,200 families from Bosnia to El Salvador being impacted by LSN’s work. White’s commitment to build an effective and efficient institution to address humanitarian relief for landmine victims is part of a bigger vision to combat the stigmas and prejudice that people with disabilities face in the United States and internationally. He believes the recognition coming from being selected as a Paul G. Hearne AAPD Leadership Awardee will enhance his capabilities to achieve LSN’s goals and achieve his vision.
Olegario Cantos is planning to create an outreach internship program with the Paul G. Hearne AAPD Leadership Award. He believes that strong leadership is the ability to connect with other people and instill in them a commitment and drive to make a difference. He plans to mentor others to establish a Disability Rights Clearinghouse, place an interactive disability rights training online, and lay the foundation for a united voice to address disability-related issues.
Matthew Cavedon believes that the most serious barrier for children with disabilities is the lack of opportunities to interact with other kids. He has worked as the spokesperson for Boundless Playgrounds, a non-profit organization that promotes universal access in playgrounds, so that all children can play together. The Paul G. Hearne AAPD Leadership Award will help him continue his work, and the support of a mentor will help him with public speaking.
Robert E. Coward, Jr.
Robert Coward is dedicated to full societal integration for people with disabilities, and recognizes that lack of education and employment are two serious barriers to achieving integration. The Paul G. Hearne AAPD Leadership Award will support his activities as Chairperson of Capitol Area ADAPT, which is working to change a system that supports segregation in nursing homes rather than providing home and community based services.
Tamar Michai Freeman
Tamar Freeman recently founded a non-profit organization called Glad To Be Here, dedicated to personal empowerment of women with disabilities. The Hearne Award will support the work of this growing organization which places a strong emphasis on motivating women with disabilities to live life developing who they are, what they want to become and leadership skills through example and service.
Kyle Glozier believes that the greatest barriers for people with disabilities are segregated classrooms and lack of jobs, noting that kids without education end up in group homes, nursing homes, and sheltered workshops. An eloquent speaker, he has testified before Congress, spoken at the Democratic National Convention, and will continue to speak about policy changes needed in education, community based services, and employment.
James Sato Harrold
James Harrold is a writer who has published stories and articles about mental illness in newspapers, periodicals, and most notably a memoir of his experience with schizophrenia titled, The Dream Eater. The Hearne Award will support his efforts to produce a children’s book and other activities related to promoting the art form of the written word and dispelling myths surrounding people with mental illness.
Tim Holmes views himself as a bridge and role model between cultures, and is committed to focusing on disability rights in Native American communities. He will continue in his many activities, including increasing public awareness of disability issues and promoting the Native American Vocational Rehabilitation program. The Award will be used to fund peer advocacy groups in un-served areas.
James R. Meadours
James Meadours is a pioneer in the self-advocacy movement, and seeks to change public policy and attitudes so that people with developmental disabilities have real choices to live and work and be integrated into the community. He will use the Paul G. Hearne AAPD Leadership Award to support regional Self-Advocates Becoming Empowered (SABE) groups, and a Louisiana People First Group, as well as a mentoring program in his state.
Sharon Lynn Nguyen
Sharon Nguyen recognizes that in her life, the most serious barrier has been the experience of negative attitudes towards disability. She has sought to change people’s perception both in her Vietnamese community and the community at large. The Paul G. Hearne AAPD Leadership Award will allow her to carry this torch, and work towards improving the lives of many people with disabilities both locally and nationally, as well as within her Asian culture.
Lauren Teruel recognizes two serious barriers for the Deaf, despite new technology and accommodation laws: lack of awareness and lack of adequate literacy for people who are Deaf. She is dedicated to improving the quality of education for Deaf students, increasing job opportunities for Deaf people and improving access in public places. Seeking a graduate degree in journalism, her goal is to write about her many experiences.
Sabrina Marie Wilson
Sabrina Wilson is the founder and director of H.E.A.R.T. (Helping to Encourage Abilities and Recognizing Talents) serving people with disabilities in the Washington Metropolitan community. Her focus has been on teaching minority youth and young adults with disabilities about their role as citizens of their communities.