2019 Honorees

330px-Tom_Ridge.jpgThe Honorable Tom Ridge has committed his life to public service. In his many capacities, he has advocated for the rights of people with disabilities to have equal access to productive lives through employment and has actively translated the civil rights protections of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into meaningful work force access. The former Governor of Pennsylvania who served as the first U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security, has chaired the National Organization on Disability’s Board of Directors since 2006. Under his leadership, the organization has adopted a strategic focus on employment of people with disabilities. Ridge partnered with NOD’s Emergency Preparedness Initiative for the first ever conference on Emergency Preparedness for Individuals with Disabilities. Under his leadership, the Department of Homeland Security also implemented an aggressive program to hire people with disabilities. Mr. Ridge has also delivered powerful testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in support of U.S. ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. He advocated strongly for the strengthening of affirmative action requirements for federal contractors under Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act and has defended the ADA against efforts to weaken enforcement by adding notification requirements. Prior to his appointment as Homeland Security Advisor, Mr. Ridge was twice elected Governor of Pennsylvania and served from 1995 to 2001. Governor Ridge is a 1967 honors graduate of Harvard and holds a law degree from the Dickinson School of Law. He was drafted into the army during law school and served as an infantry staff sergeant in Vietnam, where he earned a Bronze Star for Valor. He has tinnitus and a hearing loss as a result of his military service and wears a hearing aid. He was one of the first enlisted Vietnam combat veterans elected to the US Congress when he won that office in 1982, having previously been assistant district attorney for Erie County.
330px-BobbyScott.jpg The Honorable Bobby Scott (invited) was elected in November of 2018 to a fourteenth term in Congress representing Virginia’s Third Congressional District.  Prior to serving in the House of Representatives, he served in the Virginia House of Delegates from 1978 to 1983 and in the Senate of Virginia from 1983 to 1993. In January, Congressman Scott will become the Chair of the U.S. House Committee on Education and Labor, a committee he has served on since his arrival to Congress in 1993. In his capacity as the Chair of the Committee, he will continue to focus on ensuring that millions of Americans have the opportunity to get a quality education and go to work every day knowing that they will be treated fairly, paid a decent and living wage, given a safe environment in which do their jobs and provided access to affordable health care. Congressman Scott is also a recognized champion of the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights and has fought to protect the rights and civil liberties of all Americans.  In 1997, he protected the right of all children with disabilities to obtain a free and appropriate education under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) by leading a successful effort to defeat amendments aimed at curtailing that right for some children. He is also a leading opponent of efforts to permit employment discrimination in federally funded programs. In November, Congressman Scott introduced the Keeping All Students Safe Act (KASSA), which would establish federal standards to curtail the use of seclusion and restraint in U.S. classrooms. Congressman Scott was born on April 30, 1947 in Washington, D.C. and grew up in Newport News, Virginia.  He is a graduate of Harvard College and Boston College Law School.  After graduating law school, he returned home to Newport News and practiced law from 1973 to 1991.  He received an honorable discharge for his service in the Massachusetts National Guard and the United States Army Reserve.
Catherine E. Lhamon is currently the Chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, Lhamon also serves in the cabinet of California Governor Gavin Newsom, where she has been Legal Affairs Secretary since January 2019. Lhamon previously litigated civil rights cases at the National Center for Youth Law. Before coming to the Commission, Lhamon served as the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education until January 2017. Immediately prior to joining the Department of Education, Lhamon was director of impact litigation at Public Counsel, the nation’s largest pro bono law firm. Before that, she practiced for a decade at the ACLU of Southern California, ultimately as assistant legal director. Across her career she has provided key leadership in achieving equity for all, including those with disabilities and is a particular champion for children with disabilities. In 2016, Politico Magazine named Lhamon one of Politico 50 Thinkers Transforming Politics and the National Action Network honored Lhamon with their Action & Authority Award. In 2015, Yale Law School named Lhamon their Gruber Distinguished Lecturer and the Association of University Centers on Disabilities awarded Lhamon their Special Recognition Award. Chronicle of Higher Education named Lhamon to their 2014 Influence List as the Enforcer. The Daily Journal listed her as one of California’s Top Women Litigators in 2010 and 2007, and as one of the Top 20 California Lawyers Under 40 in 2007. In 2004, California Lawyer magazine named Lhamon Attorney of the Year for Civil Rights.
gordon_claudia_new_squareClaudia Gordon, Esq. is a director of Government and Compliance with Sprint Accessibility, a business unit within Sprint Corporation. Sprint Accessibility offers communication products and services to reduce or eliminate communication barriers for customers who are deaf, hard of hearing, deaf-blind, or have a hearing or vision loss, or cognitive, speech or mobility disability.  Prior to joining Sprint Accessibility in March 2017, Ms. Gordon was a member of the Obama Administration from December 2009 to January 2017, initially serving as special assistant to the director of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) and then as OFCCP’s Chief of Staff. OFCCP is a worker protection agency that enforces the civil rights of American workers who either work for or seek employment with companies that benefit from government contracts. From July 2013 to March 2014, Ms. Gordon conducted a temporary assignment with the White House Office of Public Engagement, where she served as an associate director of public engagement. In that capacity, she served as the liaison to the disability community and advised on disability policies. Prior to the Department of Labor, Ms. Gordon was a senior policy advisor with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. In 2000, she received the prestigious Skadden Fellowship to work as a staff attorney with the National Association of the Deaf Law and Advocacy Center. She also worked as a consulting attorney with the National Council on Disability. Ms. Gordon, a native of Jamaica W.I., graduated with honors from Howard University in Washington, DC in 1995 and went on to complete law school with honors at American University’s Washington College of Law in 2000.
Kimberly Knackstedt is the Disability & Education Policy Advisor for the Democrats on the House Education and Workforce Committee, which is chaired by Representative Bobby Scott. Her portfolio includes policy related to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Americans with Disabilities Act, Every Student Succeeds Act, and Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. Kim previously worked on the HELP Committee with Senator Murray as the Kennedy Public Policy Fellow. Kim earned her PhD in special education policy at the University of Kansas, in 2017 looking at seclusion and restraint policies. Prior to coming to the Hill, she was a special education teacher. Kim has championed critical disability provisions for the Higher Education Act reauthorization, including the protection of teacher preparation programs, accessibility legislation and extension of the TPSID programs, the reauthorization of the Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, and Keep All Students Safe Act which limits restraint and seclusion practices. Kim has been a tireless advocate for people with disabilities with other Hill staffers including building relationships across the aisle and working to promote bipartisan legislation.

Brandt300wJack Brandt is the Disability Policy Specialist for the Partnership for People with Disabilities at Virginia Commonwealth University, a position he has held since 2010.

Mr. Brandt was a Disability Rights Advocate at the Virginia Office for Protection and Advocacy from 2008 to 2010, and a Disability Policy Consultant for the State of Virginia from 2006 to 2008. He was also a Virginia Governor’s Fellow at the Office of Community Integration for People with Disabilities in 2006. Mr. Brandt served on the Virginia Community Integration Advisory Commission and the Virginia Statewide Independent Living Council until 2012. He received the Colorado Award from the Virginia Department of Aging and Rehabilitation Services in 2013, the Participatory Action Research Award from The Arc of the U.S. in 2012, and the Jackie Crews Award for Excellence in Leadership from the Virginia Board for People with Disabilities in 2006. Mr. Brandt was first appointed as a member of the President’s Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities in 2010 and he was appointed Chairman in 2016. He currently sits on the national board of the Association of University Centers of Disabilities.

Mr. Brandt received a B.A. from James Madison University and an M.S. from Virginia Commonwealth University.