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AAPD Gala Produces United Goal of Inclusiveness

John Williams
John M. Williams

Disability 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 American society.”

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 bi-partisan support.”

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.

Rewarding Leaders

One of the evening’s highlights was the presentation of the Henry B. Betts Award to former U.S. Attorney

General Richard Thornburgh and his wife Ginny.

As 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 disabilities.

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 disabilities.

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 newspaper column.

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 Virgin Islands.

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 with disabilities.

"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."

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