Archived: Nine Extraordinary Leaders in the Global Disability Community Receive the 2013 Henry Viscardi Achievement Award

For Immediate Release:

March 4, 2013


Kim Brussell




Committee chaired by Sen. Robert Dole, actress Marlee Matlin and Ambassador Luis Gallegos

honor notable figures on 80th Anniversary of FDR inaugural.

Albertson, NY – The Viscardi Center today announced the recipients of a new international Award designed to identify and honor people living with disabilities for their work and influence on the global disability community of more than one billion people.

The Henry Viscardi Achievement Awards bear the name and honors the vision of Dr. Henry Viscardi, Jr., who was one of the world’s leading advocates for people with disabilities.

The announcement coincides with the 80th anniversary of the inauguration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who as a member of the disability community was among the most influential figures of the 20th century. President Roosevelt was one of eight presidents whom Dr. Viscardi advised during his lifetime. Dr. Viscardi wore prosthetic legs and died in 2004 at the age of 91.

“I am proud to join The Viscardi Center and my fellow committee members in announcing this outstanding group of Henry Viscardi Achievement Award recipients,” said former U.S. Sen. Robert Dole, Selection Committee co-chair. “All of them are champions for people with disabilities around the world. In turn, their work, and the stories of their lives, are important and set the bar high for the next generation of innovators, activists and leaders.”

The Awards drew nominations from seven nations and cities throughout the U.S. In addition to Senator Dole, the Selection Committee was co-chaired by Academy Award-winning actress Marlee Matlin and U.N Representative Luis Gallegos.

The recipients are:

  • Laurie Ahern, President, Disability Rights International, Washington, D.C.
  • Rosangela Berman Bieler, Senior Advisor on Children with Disabilities, UNICEF, New York City
  • Tony Coelho, former U.S. Rep. from California, primary sponsor of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990
  • Lex Frieden, Professor, The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston School of Biomedical Informatics; Director of the Independent Living Research Utilization program at TIRR Memorial Hermann
  • Yoav Kraiem, Chairman, National Council for Community Relations Mental Health, Israel
  • U.S. Rep. James R. Langevin, Rhode Island’s 2nd Congressional District
  • Kathleen Martinez, Assistant Secretary, U.S. Department of Labor, Washington, D.C.
  • Patrick D. Rummerfield, Community Liaison, International Center for Spinal Cord Injury, Kennedy-Krieger Institute, Chesterfield, MO.
  • Michael Ashley Stein, Executive Director, Harvard Law School Project on Disability

Read biographies here:

In addition to honoring today’s leaders and mentors for the next generation, John D. Kemp, president and CEO of Long Island-based The Viscardi Center, instituted the Awards program as a way of honoring Dr. Viscardi’s legacy and raising awareness around the issues that continue to impact people with disabilities throughout the world.

“We congratulate the nine recipients and offer our praise to them for their lifetime of work. Their dedication and accomplishments represent the vision and commitment of Dr. Viscardi and the 61-year mission of The Viscardi Center,” Kemp said. “The recipients’ collective efforts have truly transformed the world’s thinking about people with disabilities. Each of them is an example of the change that can come about when you combine ambition and dedication when facing personal and societal challenges.”

Kemp also extended special thanks to the prestigious members of the Selection Committee, including: Rohini Anand, Senior Vice President and Global Chief Diversity Officer, Sodexo; Cari Dominguez, Former Chair, U. S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission; Col. Sherwood D. Goldberg, Esq. (Ret.), Senior Advisor for Asian Affairs, Center for Naval Analysis; Hiro Itoh, President & CEO, Abilities of Japan; Axel Leblois, president & CEO, The Global Initiative for Inclusive ICTS (G3ict); Inmaculada Placencia Porrero, Deputy Head of Unit, Integration of People with Disabilities European Commission; James Sinocchi, Director, Workforce Communications, IBM; and Nina Viscardi, daughter of Dr. Henry Viscardi.

Biographies and statements from recipients follow:

Laurie Ahern is president of Disability Rights International in Washington, D.C. She overcame a psychosocial disability to become a successful journalist. She also co-found the National Empowerment Center (NEC), serving the mentally ill and their families, and has brought attention to the abuses of mentally ill children and adults in the U.S. and in other nations. She is a former vice president of the National Association of Rights, Protection and Advocacy.

“Throughout the world, children and adults with disabilities are systematically neglected at a level that could easily fit the definition of torture,” Ahern said. “I am proud to receive this honor, and I hope the awareness that is raised by the Viscardi Awards program will help the world understand that all people have the right to live dignified, meaningful lives. It is our obligation as humans to ensure this occurs.”

Rosangela Berman Bieler, originally from Brazil, is senior advisor on children with disabilities at UNICEF, and head of the organization’s new Disability Section. A quadriplegic since she was 18, she has been a disability rights advocate for more than 35 years. Throughout her career, she has identified and creatively resolved many issues which have an impact on people with disabilities. Berman Bieler has lived in the U.S. since 1995, and has worked for the World Bank, IADB and other international organizations. Her expertise on disability-related issues covers areas such as humanitarian action, HIV/AIDS, media, gender and human rights.

Berman Bieler founded the Independent Living Center in Rio de Janeiro, as well as the Inter-American Institute on Disability and Inclusive Development (IDII), which was created to promote social-economic and political inclusion in Latin America and Portuguese-speaking countries in Africa and Asia.IIDI played a key role on the development of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

“In much of the world, children with disabilities are hidden and discriminated against because of their impairments and barriers thrown in their way by society. They are often neglected or abandoned,” Berman Bieler said. “UNICEF is committed to realizing the rights of children with disabilities, like those of all children. The 2013 issue of our flagship annual report The State of the World’s Children, due in May, will focus on children with disabilities. This Viscardi Award is very timely and we hope it will continue to bring priceless visibility to this crucial issue.”

Tony Coelho is a former U.S. Rep. from California, and lead author and sponsor of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Congressman Coelho’s epilepsy diagnosis as a youth put his life on a trajectory that would have him fight for the equal rights for all Americans with disabilities.

Although he left office in 1989, he was a primary sponsor of the landmark ADA, which President George W. Bush signed into law in 1990. He also fought in subsequent years to block proposed amendments that would have weakened the law.

His work on behalf of people with disabilities did not end when he left office. President Clinton appointed him to chair the President’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities. Among his many accomplishments, he also served as vice chair of the National Task Force on Employment of Adults with Disabilities.

“I am honored to share the Viscardi Award with so many outstanding people who have made lasting impacts in the disabilities movement,” Coelho said. “The Americans with Disabilities Act was a milestone moment, but we are far from done. The United States must make it a priority to ratify the disabilities treaty, which would extend our leadership and give the world greater assurance that people with disabilities will no longer be mistreated or discriminated against in other nations.”

Lex Frieden is an educator, researcher, and disability rights and policy expert.He is professor at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UT Health) School of Biomedical Informatics and he directs the Independent Living Research Utilization program at TIRR Memorial Hermann. He is regarded as a founder and leader of the independent living movement by people with disabilities. In 1977, he led an initiative to define and set forth a blueprint for the development of independent living programs nationwide. In 1984, President Reagan appointed him the first director of the National Council on Disability where he led the initial drafting of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Frieden sustained a spinal cord injury as a freshman in college in 1967.

“Dr. Henry Viscardi was a pioneer in the global disability movement and he remains an inspiration to so many people today. Across the world we have made great strides regarding access and opportunity, but there is more work to be done,” Frieden said.”In the U.S. and abroad demographic realities require a focus on independent living.For example, 10,000 American baby-boomers turn 65 each day. Through the natural aging process, these people will encounter a disability, such as the loss of hearing, sight, memory, and mobility. People don’t want to go to a nursing home. They want to remain in their own homes, and through the provision of community-based long-term services and supports that should be possible.”

Yoav Kraiem is chairman of the National Council for Community Rehabilitation, Mental Health, in Israel. For more than half of his life (20 years), Kraiem has aggressively advocated for the rights of Israeli citizens with disabilities. Born with Cerebral Palsy, he led two movements to pass the Law for Inclusion and the Law for Equality Israel’s version of the Americans with Disabilities Act. He also helped lead, and was the spokesman for, a two-month demonstration outside the Israeli Ministry of Finance. The action was seen as a pivotal moment in raising awareness and advancing meaningful change in the way individuals with disabilities are perceived and treated in Israel.

“I am honored and excited to receivethe Henry Viscardi Achievement Award, which is important for the recognition it provides for the acceptance of all individuals, and of the belief in the ability of people with disabilities to be a part of the human mosaic as contributing members of society,” Kraiem said.”We are approaching the Jewish holiday of Passover, the central story of which reflects the delivery of the people of Israel from slavery and their long and difficult journey towards freedom.At this time we are obligated to remember that we were once slaves and thus, have a special responsibility to ensure that individuals and groups suppressed by societal systems be freed.My colleagues and I, from various organizations of and for people with disability, devote our lives to this goal.”

U.S. Rep. James R. Langevin (Rhode Island) is the first person with quadriplegia to serve in Congress. He chairs the bipartisan Disabilities Caucus and is leading the fight for stem cell research funding and strengthening amendments to the Americans with Disabilities Act. In recent months, Langevin, who was injured as a teenager in an accidental discharge of a firearm, has been an outspoken advocate for families affected by gun violence.

“I’m humbled to be recognized in such extraordinary company and with an honor named for Dr. Viscardi, who, long before the Americans with Disabilities Act, epitomized the tremendous contributions people with disabilities can make to better our society when given the opportunity,” said Langevin. “After the accident that left me paralyzed, I was so fortunate to receive an outpouring of support from a loving family and caring community that inspired me to pursue my role in public service. I hope that the founding of these Awards will help raise awareness of the improvements that can be made in America and around the world so all people with a disability will have the same chance as I did to realize their potential.”

Kathleen Martinez is an Assistant Secretary at the U.S. Department of Labor where she leads the Office of Disability Employment Policy and oversees the development of coordinated national policies that advance the employment of people with disabilities, including veterans and youth. Through Add Us In, one of her signature initiatives, she is developing models to increase the capacity of small businesses, including those in underrepresented and historically excluded communities, to successfully employ people with disabilities. Blind since birth, Martinez came to Labor with a background as an internationally recognized disability rights leader specializing in employment, asset building, independent living, international development, diversity, and gender issues.Martinez previously served as executive director of the World Institute on Disability and, as a leader with bipartisan support, was appointed to the board of the U.S. Institute of Peace, the State Department advisory committee on international disability policy, and the National Council on Disability.

“Receiving the Viscardi Award is an honor, and I am privileged to be in a position to advance the principles of the Department of Labor for Americans with disabilities,” Martinez said. “Employment is the game changer that is essential to ensuring the full inclusion of people with disabilities throughout our society. It is important that we are vigilant in enhancing opportunities for profitable employment, protecting work-related benefits and rights, and guaranteeing fair compensation for all members of the diverse American workforce.”

Patrick D. Rummerfield is a community liaison at the International Center for Spinal Cord Injury at the Kennedy-Krieger Institute, and one of the innovators of the new Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES) equipment. He is the first fully functional spinal cord quadriplegic having survived and thrived with paralysis following a car accident. He has worked with Dr. John McDonald and other researchers to develop FES equipment such as the robotic glove, elliptical machines and stationary bike. Rummerfield also competes in triathlons (Ironman) and marathons (155 mile foot race, Gobi March), and he set a world speed record (245 mph) for the electric vehicle. He is currently touring to promote his autobiography, “Green Bananas” the Patrick Rummerfield Story. He is donating a percentage of the proceeds to paralysis research at the International Center for Spinal Cord Injury at the Kennedy- Krieger Institute as well as other paralysis research programs.

“I’m very honored to be listed among prominent and influential figures in the disability movement, including Dr. Viscardi himself,” said Rummerfield. “I’ve been fortunate that the twists and turns in my life have led me to focus on work that will hopefully benefit people with spinal cord injuries and other disabilities. Activity Based Restorative Therapies, such as Functional Electrical Stimulation, and ground-breaking stem cell research hold a great deal of promise for people around the world.”

Michael Ashley Stein, Ph.D. is the co-founding executive director of the Harvard Law School Project on Disability (HPOD), and one of the world’s foremost experts on disability law and rights. HPOD is a global resource offering pro bono policy and legal services and works to advance the requirements of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. A wheelchair user, Dr. Stein’s research is debunking stereotypes and offering innovative legal strategies and policy ideas that are regularly published in America’s prestigious law journals. His work has taken him to Bangladesh, China, the Philippines, South Africa, Vietnam, and many other nations.

“I am extremely honored to receive an Award named for Henry Viscardi, who had a great deal of influence on improving the lives of people with disabilities,” Stein said. “Protecting the human and civilrights of persons with disabilities remains a global issue and requires systemicchanges and broadcollaboration to ensure that progress continues to be made.”

The Viscardi Center provides Pre-K through High School education, school-to-work transition services, vocational training, career counseling and placement, assistive technology and workforce diversification assistance to children, adolescents, and adults with disabilities and businesses. A global leader, it employs more than 300 professionals, including experts in education, human resources and technology. Learn more at

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