AAPD Awards Gala 2013 Remarks

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I had the incredible honor of being recognized at the 2013 American Association of Persons with Disabilities Gala as one of the recipients of the Paul G. Hearne Leadership Award. Congratulations to my fellow award winner, George Gallego. Read more about him and his efforts here: Wheels of Progress Being a part of this event was truly incredible. I have to admit, I was overwhelmed with emotions. It is such an honor.

Here is a copy of my remarks that I shared with those in attendance this past week in Washington D.C.:

Being the academy awards of the disability movement, I have to say, I am grateful to not pull a Jennifer Lawrence on my way to the stage! Thank you so much to the American Association of Persons with Disabilities, the Board members – our own MC John Register, my Illinois contingent – Jean Driscoll, Steven Aragon, Karrie Shogren, all of the sponsors, each of you in this room for believing in me and a particular shout out to Darden Restaurants for this huge honor.

As I look at the list of past recipients, I am truly humbled to be among this prestigious group of movers and shakers. I am so proud to have my name included with these outstanding individuals, who personify leadership, advocacy, and dedication to and for persons with disabilities.

While I did not have the privilege of knowing or meeting Paul G. Hearne, I have heard countless stories of his determination, spirit and sense of humor. I believe we would have hit it off. In your program book there’s a story of Paul G Hearne that resonated with me – he too was once told he could not achieve an education.

As long as I can remember, I have had my disability. This means that for as long as I can remember, I have also been an advocate. Whether it was being a 7 yr old going up to the middle school with my brother to educate people about how I participate in sports, or being 14 and hiring my own lawyer to take on my school district in federal courts because I was told by a teacher – its not like you can go to college anyway. . . I gained firsthand experience of what it meant to be an advocate very early on. Coupled with my passion to make a difference, these experiences formed the foundation for my platform to become an advocate of change worldwide.

I enjoy speaking at schools, organizations, community events, and corporations; sharing my message to motivate children and/or employees. I share my story, inform others about disability culture, and teach about the ways in which we can provide better access and better interactions with members of a disability group. I look forward to being able to take my mission of promoting: Dream. Drive. Do. to the next level with this support from AAPD.

I believe there is a responsibility, as an engaged citizen with a disability, to leave a legacy. My motto is really about how I wanted to leave my mark on the world. To me, it is not about “overcoming my disability” rather, it is about educating other’s about disability and leading by example to show how my disability is an integral part of my identity.

Looking ahead, my priorities are to continue to help create a world that is physically/socially accessible and accepting of all individuals with disabilities, across all domains of life including education, sport, healthcare and employment – oh hey and to get a job myself!

I vow to continue to approach life with gusto and to help others reach their fullest potential. I plan to continue my mission and help to make life easier for those with disabilities while living my motto, “Dream. Drive. Do.” I am honored to continue the legacy set forth by Paul G. Hearne. I will happily carry the torch and follow in the footsteps of past recipients of this prestigious award. Thank you for recognizing me as a leader in the disability community and let’s all continue to cultivate future leaders and advocates.


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