John M. Williams
advocates, politicians and corporate executive repeatedly
echoed the same message at the Second Annual AAPD Leadership
Gala held in Washington, DC last week.
Headquartered in Washington, DC, the American Association
of People with Disabilities the country’s largest
cross-disability membership organization.
From one conversation to next, from one leader to the next
leader, and from one Paul Hearne award recipient to the
next, the message of more than 500 attendees was loud and
clear: “Fully include people with disabilities into
Showing that corporations understand the rightness of inclusion
for people with disabilities and the empowering benefits
to the country, William R. McDermott, Chief Executive Officer
and President, SAP America, Inc., embodied the evening’s
unity when he said, “SAP is fully committed to making
accessibility and integral part of its standard product
development culture through innovations such as Braille,
screen readers, voice recognition systems and language language
barriers. This commitment reflects our belief that everybody,
including people with disabilities, should have the opportunity
to achieve his or her fullest potential.”
SAP was the lead sponsor for the event.
Other corporate sponsors included Hewlett Packard, Independence
Technology, Microsoft, American Airlines, AOL Time Warner,
Pfizer, United Technologies, AT&T, SBC, Bell South,
Macromedia, Cingular Wireless, Sprint, Rehabilitation Institute
of Chicago, Sun Trust, Sequoia Voting Systems, Verizon,
Bristol –Myers Squibb Company, The Walt Disney Company
and Darden Restaurants.
Hundreds of thousands of dollars were raised at the event.
The festive evening showed a philosophical harmony unique
to Washington, DC during this era of political party polarization.
Mr. Republican and former U.S. Senator Bob Dole, said, “We
are all Americans and entitled to every opportunity the
country offers in education, jobs and other areas.”
Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) said, “Achieving equality
for Americans with Disabilities and protecting the integrity
and principles of the Americans with Disabilities Act has
Advocate Jim Ward, ADA Watch, Washington, DC, said, “Everyone
here recognizes the importance of achieving the goals of
AAPD which are ensuring economic self-sufficiency and political
empowerment for the more than 56 million Americans with
disabilities and for the full implementation and enforcement
of disability nondiscrimination laws, particularly the Americans
with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 and the Rehabilitation
Act of 1973.”
Still, there were dissidents whose flashes of anger at President
Bush’s policies toward disabled people were evident.
“President Bush’s nomination of Jeffrey Sutton
to the U.S. Court of Appeals is a direct slap in the face
to people with disabilities who supported him and wanted
to believe in him,” said an attendee who did not wish
to be identified for fear of political retribution.
An Ohio lawyer, Sutton, nominated last year to the U.S.
Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, has been a leader
in the effort to limit congressional power to enact laws
protecting civil rights. Sutton prevailed in a series of
5-4 cases before the Supreme Court that have curtailed civil
rights, including the Board of Trustees of Alabama v. Garrett,
which successfully challenged the constitutionality of applying
the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 to states as
employers. Sutton argued that the protections of the ADA
were "not needed" to remedy discrimination by
states against people with disabilities. This decision prevents
persons with disabilities from collecting monetary damages
from state employers.
One of the evening’s highlights was the presentation
of the Henry B. Betts Award to former U.S. Attorney
Richard Thornburgh and his wife Ginny.
Governor of Pennsylvania, Dick Thornburgh served on the
U.S. Council for the International Year of Disabled Persons
(1981). He then became a founding Director of the National
Organization on Disability (N.O.D). As U.S. Attorney General
in the Reagan Administration and the first Bush Administration
he worked tirelessly to bring the Americans with Disabilities
Act (ADA) into law, and played a major role in the 1990
enactment of that monumental legislation, which he has often
referred to as one of his proudest moments.
Mrs. Thornburgh founded and for 14 years has directed the
National Organization on Disability’s Religion and
Disability program, making congregations and seminaries
of all faiths accessible and welcoming to people with disabilities.
NOD.'s interfaith Accessible Congregations Campaign has
enrolled more than 2,100 congregations
who have identified and removed barriers preventing the
full participation of people with disabilities.
The Thornburgh's son, Peter, suffered a serious brain injury
in a 1960 car accident. He lives and works in Harrisburg,
PA and inspired his parents' advocacy for all people with
The Henry B. Betts Award, which includes a crystal piece
of art and a $50,000 cash grant, is sponsored by the Prince
Charitable Trusts and administered by AAPD. The award honors
Henry B. Betts, M.D., a pioneer in the field of rehabilitation
medicine who started his career with the Institute in 1964,
making it the base for his advocacy for people with physical
Additionaly, AAPD recognize five leaders in the disability
community and presented each of them with a Paul G. Hearne/AAPD
Leadership Award of $10,000.
The recipients were Albert Cheong, San Francisco, CA; Claudia
Gordon and Carrie D. Griffin, Washington, DC; Peter Cody
Hunt, Pittsburgh, PA and Sarah Louise Triano, Chicago, IL.
The Milbank Foundation for Rehabilitation established The
Paul G. Hearne Leadership Awards for Disabilities program
in 1999 to recognize and carry on the work of Paul G. Hearne,
a renowned leader in the national disability community and
AAPD's founder, as well as to realize his goal of cultivating
potential leaders to carry on the disability movement.
Cheong, blind, 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 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, due He does
a Chinese language radio show and writes a Chinese language
Gordon, the first Black deaf female attorney in the U.S.,
has been an advocate for people with disabilities since
high school. Since graduating from law school and being
admitted to the Maryland Bar, she has conducted empowerment
and legal education outreach and training to communities
and organizations in the U.S. and St. Thomas Island in the
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.
She created an online organization of lawyers and law students
with disabilities, the Disabled Lawyering Alliance, to provide
mentoring, networking and job opportunities. Her ultimate
goal is to create a national organization committed to the
professional development of people with disabilities.
Hunt has been interested in working on disability-related
issues since acquiring his disability in college, due to
a spinal cord injury, and he focuses primarily on disability
research and policy at the academic institution and federal
government level. His belief is 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, where cultural
and social stigmas against people with disabilities still
pose significant barriers.
Triano has dedicated her life to promoting a culture that
teaches new values and beliefs and 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. Sarah's advocacy began in
1992 when, at the age of 17, she participated in the nation's
first Youth Leadership Forum for High School Students with
Disabilities in California.
Music filled the air and honored the recipients as six-time
Grammy winner Jose Feliciano performed. He is blind and
is the embodiment of AAPD’s goals of empowering people
"Jose Feliciano is a phenomenal recording artist, leader
and bridge builder. AAPD was
extremely honored to have him associated with our efforts,"
commented AAPD President and CEO Andrew J. Imparato. "His
determination, his work ethic and his exhibited compassion
for others are examples we all should follow. His participation
in our Leadership Gala elevated the event and underscored
the importance of cultivating and recognizing leaders in
the disability community."