Wednesday, March 08, 2006

2006 Paul G. Hearne/AAPD Leadership Awards WINNERS!!!

It is my pleasure to provide you with the information on this year's Paul G. Hearne/AAPD Leadership Award Winners. No, I did not win, this year, but will apply again next year. AND, if anyone out there has been assisted by anything you have read here, and would like to comment, please do so.

At any rate, please see what these folks are doing -IN SPITE of their disabilities. What can YOU DO if you put your mind to it????

Biographies of the 2006 Paul G. Hearne/AAPD Leadership Award Recipients
Megan O’Neil is a recognized expert on asset building for people with disabilities. She is the Access to Assets Project Coordinator at the World Institute on Disability (WID) in Oakland, California, which strives to expand the capacity of lending institutions, asset building programs and disability organizations to increase the inclusion of people with disabilities in poverty reduction programs.
A graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, she became a paraplegic in 1995 as the result of a car accident. It was her own experience as a disabled person that led to her advocacy and activism, and she has said that life on Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is what made her realize that she wanted more from life and from herself. In 2004, she sought to gain experience in the area of asset development, choosing as well to postpone graduate school.
Megan has since become a strong advocate for people with disabilities in the acquisition of capital and assets, explaining that poverty is endemic to the disability community and life on public benefits ensures subsistence, thus resulting in complacency and endangering our future. Megan is building bridges between the assets building and disability communities, providing information on how best to serve people with disabilities at all the major asset building conferences.
Explains Kathy Martinez, WID executive director, “In her short career as a disability advocate/activist, Megan has become a powerful force in the struggle to reduce poverty within the disability population by breaking down the walls of myth, misconception and ignorance that prevent disabled people from being considered good loan risks or entrepreneurs.” Megan is highly-regarded by the disability community on asset development issues, presenting to many groups, including the Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Advisory Panel.
It is Megan’s goal within five years to eliminate asset tests on structured savings vehicles and to exclude all savings accounts with limited access (penalties occur with early withdrawal) from SSI asset calculations. She emphasizes the necessity for increased advocacy and awareness, and more interaction with high-level policymakers.

Anisha Imhoff-Kerr is a young advocate who is striving to reduce stigma in the educational community in order to make it easier for people with disabilities to get a meaningful education. A full-time student at Albuquerque Technical Vocational Institute, where she is pursuing a double-major in political science and psychology, Anisha was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the age of eleven. It is through her own experience as a college student, and her teachers’ limited experience in dealing with disabled students, that she began advocating for ways to educate educators on how to deal with students with disabilities.
Anisha created a Forum for educators on students with mental health issues, which was held April 2005. Most recently, she formulated a student survey and a list of questions for faculty and student interviews; she surveyed 450 students and 30 teachers about their knowledge of mental health topics, special services, etc., finding that there was very little knowledge in this area. Anisha intends to fold the findings from this survey into the expansion of the Forum.
She also uses her own experiences to help others by presenting workshops at conferences, and through State of Mine, a nonprofit youth-run advocacy organization she created. Through State of Mine, Anisha produced a video entitled Bipolar Unmasked, which illustrates what it is like to live a normal life with bipolar disorder as a teenager. She subsequently coordinated an art show, Visions, which displayed art created by teenagers with disabilities expressing what it is like to live with a disability.
In 2004, Anisha was awarded the Amy Biehl Youth Spirit Award in recognition of her work with State of Mine and in the community promoting mental health awareness. She received a grant to continue those initiatives, with which she started a high school health class program that discusses behavioral health topics.
Anisha, who also works fulltime for the New Mexico state government in the Children’s Cabinet, envisions law school in her future. She would like to widen the work she’s done for college mental health awareness, and recruit other youth advocates to continue and expand upon the work she is doing.

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