“Honoring Advocates in America” By Keith Landry

03-02-cover (This was originally published on March 2002) The arrival of spring brings warmth, renewed energy and optimism to all of us. The disability rights movement in America is also springing forward these days, bursting open with hope like a bright, April blossom. The renewed sense of spirit and commitment to a brighter future still thrive, after disability rights leaders gathered in our nation’s capital and honored leading advocates from across America. For the past three years, AAPD has hosted the annual Paul G. Hearne Leadership Awards, honoring emerging leaders in the disability community with $10,000 to help them spring forward with their efforts to help others. This year, AAPD took the awards ceremony to a new level with a “Who’s Who in Washington” guest list in an elaborate, evening gala. The Honorable Tony Coelho was the Master of Ceremonies. More than 400 people attended the first-ever AAPD Leadership Gala at the Washington Court Hotel on February 27th. The event recognized emerging leaders and honored those who have been leading the way for many years. Senator Edward Kennedy attended the pre-Gala Sponsor Reception. He talked about years of progress and the impressive leaders focusing on the future. Raymond Oglethorpe, President of AOL, welcomed people to the Sponsor Reception. It was underwritten by AOL Time Warner. Oglethorpe shared some personal insights, like the fact that his daughter is a graduate of Gallaudet University. Alvenia Rhea Albright, Director of Diverse Business Partnerships-Global at American Express, gave the opening remarks at the Gala. American Express was the title sponsor of the Gala. The February 27 event really marked a milestone for AAPD and for disability-run organizations in general,” said Andrew J. Imparato, AAPD President. “To have corporate leaders like the President of America Online Ray Oglethorpe, three U.S. Senators and nine House members from across the political spectrum, and the broad range of sponsors from American Express to Disney to American Airlines not only contribute money but send top people to the event- all of this is a sign that the disability rights movement is gaining clout and recognition outside our traditional circles of support. And this is good not just for AAPD, but for the movement as a whole.” Congressman James Langevin of Rhode Island joined several other members of Congress to present this year’s awards. Claude Allen, Deputy Secretary for HHS, read a letter from President Bush praising the disability rights movement. It was clear, some big power brokers in the nation’s capital didn’t want to miss this event or the potential to strengthen political ties with a constituency, which gains more political clout each year. But the names, which stand out most on this year’s guest list, are not the ones with the strongest political ties. They’re the ones with the strongest record of accomplishment at the grass roots level. The winners of the 2002 AAPD/Paul G. Hearne Leadership Awards come from all across America. Here they are: Alicia Contreras (San Francisco, CA), Daniel Davis (Berkeley, CA), Ann Forts (Center Harbor, NH), N. Linn Hendershot (Hagerstown, MD), Kristen Jones (Houston, TX), Frances Priester (Elgin, IL), and Gerard White (Washington,DC). EnabledOnline congratulates each of them for making a difference each day and for inspiring all of us to do more. AAPD also teamed up with the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago February 27th to present another prestigious award. The Rehabiliation Institute of Chicago established the Henry B. Betts Award in 1989 with the Prince Charitable Trusts. Mary Lou Breslin is Co-Founder of the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund and a respected advocate and archivist of the disability rights movement for 25 years. Breslin accepted this year’s Henry B. Betts Award and $50,000 dollars to continue her work. “Mary Lou Breslin exemplifies the mission of the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, which is, in part, to improve the quality of life for people with physical disabilities through education and advocacy,” said Wayne M. Lerner, President and CEO of the Institute. “She sets an example for others of what can be achieved through hard work and determination.” The Hearne Leadership Award honorees follow a long legacy of leadership. Paul G. Hearne was a tireless advocate and visionary leader. He was a lawyer, nonprofit executive, foundation president, federal agency director, and mentor to many people with disabilities. Paul opened doors through his leadership of Just One Break, an employment agency for people with disabilities in New York City, and The Dole Foundation for Employment of People with Disabilities in Washington, DC. Hearne devoted himself to create a national association to give people with disabilities more consumer power and a stronger public voice. He also worked to cultivate potential leaders for the future. Paul achieved his first goal during his lifetime with the creation of the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD). The Directors of the Milbank Foundation for Rehabilitation established The Paul G. Hearne Leadership Awards in 1999 to realize Paul’s second goal by helping to find and support emerging leaders with disabilities. Please keep reading the following profiles to learn more about this year’s award recipients and their inspirational accomplishments. Alicia Contreras, San Francisco, CA At the age of 26, Ms. 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 Alicia 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 of unpaid work at CEVIMUDI, Ms. Contreras was hired as the first Program Coordinator for People with Disabilities of San Luis Potosi. They started the first accessible taxivan 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, Alicia met Whirlwind Women, an international organization that teaches women with disabilities how to build appropriate-technology wheelchairs for themselves and others. In November 2000, Ms. Contreras was hired as Whirlwind Women’s Program Director in San Francisco, CA. Ms. 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, Berkeley, CA Mr. 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. Mr. 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, Mr. 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, Center Harbor, NH Ms. 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, Ann has spearheaded 2 fundraising efforts to provide financial assistance to less fortunate people with Down syndrome. Ann’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. Ann 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. Ms. 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, Hagerstown, MD Mr. 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, Linn 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, Linn 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, Linn 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. Linn has also developed an in-house television station maintained by the WMHC. As a Paul G. Hearne/AAPD Leadership awardee, Mr. Hendershot will continue his advocacy work. Kristen Jones, Houston, TX Kristen 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 Ms. 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” Kristen 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. Ms. Jones has also worked on the Executive Planning Committee of a week long Youth Leadership Conference in Washington, DC, sponsored by federal government agencies. Ms. 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, Elgin, IL Ms. 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, Ms. 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, Frances 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, Ms. 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). Ms. 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. Ms. 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. Ms. 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, Washington, DC Mr. White is the Cofounder and Executive Director of Land mine Survivors Network (LSN), former Board Chair for the American Coalition of Amputees, Chair of the US Campaign to Ban Land mines, and a driving force of the 1997 Recipient of The Nobel Prize for Peace, The International Campaign to Ban Land mines. Mr. White lost his right leg below the knee to a land mine that had laid in the ground from a war that ended a decade before. In 1996, Mr. White and another American land mine survivor, founded the Land mine Survivors Network. LSN is the only international organization created by and for land mine survivors to assist mine victims and their families worldwide to recover, heal and reclaim their lives. Mr. 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. Mr. White’s commitment to build an effective and efficient institution to address humanitarian relief for land mine 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. Mary Lou Breslin- Henry B. Betts Award Winner Mary Lou Breslin is a co-founder of the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF) and a passionate advocate on behalf of people with disabilities for more than 25 years. Breslin pioneered efforts to promote disability civil rights back in the 1970s. In 1978, Breslin headed the 504 Training Project at the Disability Law Resource Center, which is DREDF’s organizational predecessor. She trained thousands of disability advocates in what the new federal requirements meant and how to advocate for their effective implementation and enforcement. Breslin co-founded DREDF in 1979, trying to alter our country’s disability rights landscape. She subsequently served as DREDF’s deputy director and executive director, as well as its president and chair of the board of directors. She worked there for several years without accepting pay, just working to make a difference. In 1993, Breslin founded the DREDF Development Partnership, a corporation that is dedicated to supporting DREDF programs. Breslin’s tireless efforts have led to the enactment of many laws that improve the quality of life of people living with disabilities, most notably, the passage in 1990 of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Breslin’s colleagues single out her ability to rally, organize and inspire other advocates in the disability community and broader civil rights community. “She has all the qualities of the general and all the qualities of the soldier; she blazes the trail and maintains it; and she can persuade through forceful advocacy or quiet diplomacy,” explains Arlene B. Mayerson, Directing Attorney for DREDF. The Prince Charitable Trusts and the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago established the Henry B. Betts Award in 1989, to annually acknowledge the work of one individual who has made extraordinary contributions to the quality of life of people with disabilities. The award is named in honor of Henry B. Betts, M.D., a pioneer in the field of rehabilitation medicine who started his career with the Institute in 1964. Betts made it the base for his career as an advocate for people with physical disabilities and as a leader in the field of rehabilitation medicine. Visit http://www.aapd-dc.org for more information about AAPD.

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