On Wednesday, March 23, 2016, the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) held its annual Leadership Awards Gala in Washington, DC.  The gala is widely considered to be a premier event for the national disability community.  AAPD is the largest cross-disability membership organization in the United States.  AAPD promotes equal opportunity, economic power, independent living, and political participation for people with disabilities. 

A highlight of the evening was the recognition of Ms. Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor to the President and assistant to the President for Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs, with the 2016 Disability Catalyst Award. Ms. Jarrett received the award for championing to secure changes to the regulations implementing Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.  This legislation requires federal contractors to maintain a 7% participation rate of employees with disabilities across all job groups.  Enforcing these regulations will ultimately result in thousands of people with disabilities joining the labor force. 

Bender Consulting was pleased to participate in recognition of Ms. Jarrett, with Joyce and the Honorable Tony Coelho opening presentation of the award.  Bender’s own Christopher Varmecky provided introductory remarks for Ms. Jarrett.  Christopher serves as an associate IT technical analyst with HM Health Solutions, a Highmark Health company.  Christopher joined HM Health Solutions as a participant in Bender’s Careers2B Program in June 2014.  Careers2B aligns candidates with a year of paid work experience, after which they can pursue opportunities in the open marketplace.  Due to his strong performance, Christopher was offered a full-time career opportunity with HM Health Solutions in January 2015.  Christopher is part of a team responsible for applications that address privacy breaches, auditing, fraud, and Medicare matters.  He tests application functionality and handles the corporate releases for software and applications.  Christopher shared his personal story of his career search and the inclusive nature of the Highmark Health culture, based on a longstanding commitment to disability employment.

Each year two Paul G. Hearne Leadership Awards are presented.  These awards recognize outstanding emerging leaders with disabilities who exemplify leadership, advocacy, and dedication to the broader cross-disability community. This year’s recipients were Robyn Powell, of the Disabled Parent Project (DPP), and Alice Wong, of the Disability Visibility Project (DVP).  DPP leverages technology to create opportunities for parents and prospective parents with disabilities to connect and interact, while serving as a clearinghouse for relevant information about adaptive parenting.  The DPP informs social policy through the development of resources and promotes social justice for disabled families. The DPP includes video interviews where parents are invited to tell their stories or upload videos and digital photos demonstrating adaptive techniques for childrearing. The DPP offers a place for parents to buy, sell, and trade their adaptive parenting equipment.

The DVP is an online community dedicated to recording, amplifying, and sharing disability stories and culture. Partnering with StoryCorps, a national oral history non-profit dedicated to recording the stories of all Americans, the DVP allows people to tell their stories while having them archived for posterity. Social media amplifies these stories and builds community. The DVP aims to collect the diverse voices of people in the disability community and preserve their history for all, especially underrepresented groups such as people of color, immigrants, veterans, and LGBT people with disabilities. To date, the DVP has recorded over 100 oral histories.  The DVP also hosts Twitter chats on issues such as emergency preparedness, employment for youth with disabilities, pop culture, and storytelling.

Source: Information on the award recipients is provided on the AAPD website (www.aapd.com.)  Learn more by visiting the organization websites linked within this blog.

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