Disability Lead's Expansion Update: June 2024

Disability Lead
June 25, 2024

From Chicago to Pittsburgh and Beyond

Last year, we announced we were starting the slow, steady process of expanding our model to the Southwestern Pennsylvania region. We continue to be excited about the opportunity to pilot what we’ve honed here in Chicago to another city. And what a city it is! We have found so many similarities between the Southwestern Pennsylvania and Chicago regions. Here are just a few:

  • A community of passionate disabled people who care about inclusion, access and equitable opportunities.
  • A civic community committed to the health and vibrancy of its residents.
  • Strong employers who are actively recruiting, hiring and training disabled people
  • Supportive philanthropic community that understands disability leadership as part of an important ecosystem to build and sustain disability power and justice.
However, the most important similarity we have found between the two regions is a shared vision that our communities are better when disabled people are in positions of power and influence.

Late last year, we convened a small, committed group of stakeholders in Southwestern Pennsylvania to form a Steering Committee to assist in our expansion and replication effort. These folks represent the diversity of the region in terms of both identity and sector employment.  

We are grateful for their time, commitment to this work and believing deeply in the expansion of Disability Lead to their area.

The members of our Steering Committee include:

  • Carmen Anderson, Heinz Foundation
  • Josie Badger, Badger Consulting
  • Shona Eakin, Voices for Independence
  • Catherine Getchel, Carnegie Mellon University
  • Beth Hemingway, Staunton Farm Foundation
  • Chaz Kellem, Highmark Health
  • Shani Lasin, FISA Foundation
  • Marlene O’Leary, DON
  • Greg Pollock, Communication Service for the Deaf
  • Kerry Stith, PNC
  • Steve Suroviec, Achieva
  • Kristy Trautmann, FISA Foundation
  • Chaton Turner, UPMC
  • Veronica Villalobos, Allegheny Health Network
  • Michelle Walker, City of Pittsburgh

Our goal is to leverage the incredible knowledge of this group and engage in a collaborative, community-led process to build a supportive culture for a new disability leadership program. The first six months of our work together were focused on planning and setting the stage prior to moving forward with a replication and sustainability assessment for implementation.

Disability Lead is incredibly grateful for the work of the Steering Committee thus far. As of June 2024, the work is now pivoting to the next phase, from planning to hands-on engagement and proactive implementation.

Once the Steering Committee guides the work through this next phase, we’ll be ready to engage the wider community in Southwest Pennsylvania to support program implementation. Almost two years ago now, we were able to meet so many community members who were eager for our program to launch, and we can’t wait to be able to come back with opportunities to not only join the program but to support its initial implementation phase as it continues to be community-led.

We are learning so much in SWPA and we hope this replication effort is just the beginning. Diverse disabled leaders are too often missing from our community’s ability to build power: we believe we have a solution to address that.