On November 9, The Arc will present the prestigious Catalyst Awards to six honorees, all of whom have made extraordinary contributions in the lives of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD). This year’s winners hail from a wide swath of our society, including one of the most admired fashion brands in the world, the lead cast and writer behind a hit off-Broadway show, a nationally recognized self-advocate, a non-profit that is paving the way for inclusion of disability in the fashion industry, and one of the nation’s premier special education lawyers, all of whom are changing how society perceives and treats people with disabilities.
“The Catalyst Awards honor those who are not traditionally recognized within the disability community for their diverse and meaningful contributions to our movement. These award winners are unique in their accomplishments, but unified by their tireless pursuit of inclusion. Their work has helped further The Arc’s mission to promote and protect the human rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and we are thrilled to bring them together to receive this well-earned honor. Our hope is that by shining a spotlight on these change agents we will inspire and educate others,” said Peter Berns, Chief Executive Officer of The Arc.
During the fourth year of this signature event, awards will be presented in six categories. A full list of the accomplishments being honored can be found on The Arc’s Catalyst Awards website.
- Corporate Advocate of the Year – Tommy Hilfiger revolutionized the fashion industry by launching the Tommy Adaptive Collection in 2017, a line of clothing tailored to the needs of people with disabilities. More than just being the first mainstream fashion brand to design a clothing line specifically for people with disabilities, Tommy Hilfiger has relied upon the advice and feedback from the community to create each design. Modifications such as one-handed zippers, side-seam openings, bungee cord closure systems and magnetic buttons, were incorporated into the design of each piece to maximize comfort and ease of use for people with disabilities. Through its Adaptive Collection, Tommy Hilfiger has become a leader in making the fashion industry more inclusive.
- Self-Advocate of the Year – James Meadours has been a tireless advocate for individuals with I/DD for decades. Throughout his career, Meadours has used his personal experience to highlight challenges facing individuals with I/DD in our nation. As a survivor of sexual assault, he has been a powerful activist in the #MeToo movement and he has made it his mission to help victims of sexual violence across the nation become survivors. He is a trail blazer, leader, and staunch defender of people with I/DD.
- Entertainment Industry Excellence – Amy and The Orphans is a critically acclaimed show that is the first and only known Broadway or off-Broadway production to feature actors with I/DD in leading roles. Written by critically-acclaimed playwright Lindsey Ferrentino and Directed by Tony nominee Scott Ellis, Amy and the Orphans, tells a humorous yet truthful story of three siblings – one of whom, Amy, has I/DD – who come together in the wake of their father’s funeral for a road trip. Jamie Brewer (known for her roles in FX’s hit series American Horror Story) and Edward Barbanell, both actors with disabilities, will be honored with the award along with Ferrentino.
- Legal Advocate of the Year – Jack D. Robinson is receiving the Legal Advocate of the Year Award in recognition of his illustrious career in special education law and his dedication to protecting the legal right to a free appropriate public education (FAPE) for students with disabilities on the state and national levels. Most recently, Robinson represented Endrew F. before the U.S. Supreme Court in the IDEA case, Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District. The Endrew F.decision has been hailed as a landmark decision that transforms the educational rights of students with disabilities and empowers parents fighting for the civil rights of their children with disabilities.
- Employer of the Year – Levy Restaurant Group has made hiring people with I/DD a priority and has made disability inclusion a key hiring initiative at new locations. One of their most successful job training and placement programs has been at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, where they have successfully placed over 100 people with I/DD in jobs at their food service locations at the venue. The Levy Restaurant Group has replicated their successful model at several other locations in New York with plans to expand to more locations around the country in the near future.
- Marketing Influencer of the Year – Runway of Dreams Foundation (RODF) is a non-profit organization that develops, delivers and supports charitable initiatives to broaden the reach of adaptive clothing and promote the differently-abled community in the fashion industry. RODF uses a multifaceted approach in their work, which includes processing adaptive clothing donations, creating employment opportunities with fashion brands, leading adaptive design workshops and providing scholarships to aspiring designers.
Comcast NBCUniversal is The Arc’s National Media Sponsor and lead sponsor of the Catalyst Awards.
“Each of these awards speak to the power of inclusivity, and that’s why we are so grateful to partner with The Arc and recognize these honorees for giving a voice to, and advocating for, people of all abilities,” said Fred Maahs, Senior Director of Strategic Partnerships at Comcast.
All nominations were reviewed by a formal selection committee comprised of members of The Arc’s National Staff, members of The Arc’s Board of Directors, prior Catalyst Award Winners, National Conference of Executives of The Arc members, and Peter Berns, Chief Executive Officer of The Arc, serves as the Chair of the Catalyst Awards Selection Committee. Criteria for selection can be found on The Catalyst Awards Website.