“Oscars of the disability world.”
During the six years I served as AARP’s disability community liaison, I enjoyed the opportunity to serve on the American Association of People with Disabilities Leadership Awards Gala Steering Committee. I was mightily impressed by the team that annually worked to raise six – and then seven – figures in donations that became the core of the national nonprofit group’s annual operating budget. The event itself has always been the leading cross-disability event in the DC region. I’ve heard it called the “Oscars of the disability world” and that’s a fair summary. Lots of the big names in our field attend, and the host venue always has a swanky aura. The awards are central to the event and the winners are always impressive.
This year’s winners included International Ally Award winner Sweden, and Corporate Leaders Procter & Gamble and Google, Inc. The prestigious Paul G. Hearne Leadership Awards were presented to Claudia Gordon, from the White House Office of Public Engagement; HEARD founder Talila Lewis, who has focused on the rights of prisoners who are deaf; and AXS Lab Founder Jason DaSilva. Jenni Gold, producer of the new film Cinemability, received the AAPD Image Award.
Another joy each year at AAPD is the chance to catch up with old friends in this glamorous setting. I enjoyed seeing my former National Organization on Disability colleague Ginny Thornburgh, and her husband Dick, the one-time U.S. Attorney General and Pennsylvania Governor. AAPD Board Member Cheryl Sensenbrenner kept remarking on how my look had changed – maybe she just isn’t used to seeing me in a suit. I also was glad to pass my new business card to ADA author and former California Congressman Tony Coelho; years before I had the chance to work with Tony in person, he was a role model to me. He was diagnosed with epilepsy at the same age I was, faced many roadblocks as a result, but never stopped pursuing opportunities to be a leader and support the rights of other people with disabilities. And it was good to catch up with Curt Decker, the National Disability Rights Network head who attended the same tiny upstate New York college I did (albeit a couple of decades ahead of me). As usual, the ushers were “ushing” us out long before I had a chance to say hi to everyone I would have liked.
I was proud to attend this year’s gala along with eight ECNV colleagues and three members of our Board of Directors. We were among the best-represented organizations there. And we were all taking notes, since AAPD’s Gala gives us inspiration as we prepare for ECNV’s own upcoming fundraiser, which will be held June 11 at the Clarendon Ballroom in Arlington. We are fortunate to have several veterans of the AAPD Gala beyond myself, including our Board member Helena Berger who was the longtime AAPD Chief Operating Officer and consultants Jason Mida and Zach Baldwin of Mida & Associates, helping us build our event. AAPD knows what they’re doing and they do it mighty well.