Each year, Disability Rights Washington presents its Breaking Barriers Awards. These prestigious awards honor one business, one elected official or public servant, and one advocate with a disability for advancing the rights and improving the lives of people with disabilities. This year, we have also added an award honoring an advocate’s lifetime achievements and an award honoring an emerging advocate.
2020 Breaking Barriers Award Recipients
Advocacy Award: Josh Galassi
Josh Galassi is a writer and advocate living in Seattle. As a gay man with Cerebral Palsy, his work often examines the intersection between disability and sexuality. He began writing for Queerty.com, one of the largest LGBTQ news websites in the world, in 2016. In addition to writing about his own personal experiences as a disabled gay man, Josh has profiled several prominent disability activists including Andrew Gurza, Ryan O’Connell of “Special”, Ryan Haddad of “The Politician”, and more.
Raised in Kalispell, Montana, Josh never dreamed he would end up where he is today. As a teen living in a religious, conservative state, he struggled immensely with his sexuality, thinking himself “dirty” and needing to change. He underwent years of therapy to try and change his sexuality, until finally deciding to come out at the age of 21. It was then that he realized he never wanted anyone else to struggle the way he did, and thus, his advocacy work began. During his time in college, he held an internship with GLAAD, where he was able to advocate for LGBTQ people and their rights. He graduated from Western Washington University with a degree in Journalism – Public Relations in 2014.
After years of writing for Queerty, Josh was given his own biweekly disability column on the site in October 2019, called “disgaybled.” There, he has tackled everything from abasiophilia, or the fetishization of people with disabilities, to dating, to confronting his own internalized ableism.
Josh’s advocacy work also extends to his day job, where he often champions for his clients to include people with disabilities in their campaigns. Most recently, Josh approaches his advocacy work with a blend of humor and heart. It is through this that he hopes he is able to upend people’s preconceived notions of disability.
Public Policy Award: Senator Rebecca Saldaña
Senator Rebecca Saldaña is the Washington State Senate Deputy Majority Leader and represents the 37th Legislative District. She is a proud Chicana of Mexican and Germanic roots who grew up in the Delridge neighborhood of Seattle and has lived and worked primarily in Seattle and Oregon. Known as a problem solver and tireless advocate for racial, social, and economic justice, she brings 16 years of experience as an organizer with SEIU Local 6, the United Farm Workers, and Oregon’s farmworker union, PCUN. Most recently, Rebecca served as the Executive Director for Puget Sound Sage – a nonprofit that promotes affordable and equitable housing and transportation policies, environmental justice and workers’ rights.
During her tenure in the Senate, Rebecca has used her experience and expertise to spearhead legislative efforts to increase equity for historically oppressed communities, protect workers’ rights, encourage sustainable development, build equitable transportation solutions, and increase voter access to elections. She is vice chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, and also sits on the Labor & Commerce Committee and the Housing Stability & Affordability Committee. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Theology and Humanities from Seattle University, and lives in Rainier Beach/Skyway with her husband and two youngest children.
Last session, Senator Saldaña was a critical partner in passing legislation to promote equitable transportation access for disabled and transit-dependent Washingtonians. She worked to build consensus, recognizing that everyone should be able to navigate our streets, crosswalks and sidewalks.
Business Leader Award:
Woodland Park Zoo
Woodland Park Zoo’s stated mission is to “save wildlife and inspire everyone to make conservation a priority in their lives.” On its journey to that mission, they have been intentional about its focus on “everyone.” Woodland Park Zoo believes that including diverse ideas, perspectives, and voices in every aspect of its work—from staff to volunteers to visitors to partners—is not only the right thing to do, but is essential for realizing its mission and vision. It strives to create an environment that celebrates the unique skills and perspectives of all individuals and enables them to contribute meaningfully.
Many accredited zoos and aquariums have taken great strides in helping guests with disabilities get the most out of their visits. Woodland Park Zoo has been working with community partners to authentically identify and meet the needs of our guests through a complete redesign of our accessibility web page, the provision of sensory tools, social stories for children with autism or other sensory sensitivities, and creating Sensory-Friendly Fridays at Zoomazium. It wants to ensure that conservation education is accessible to all learners, and that those with disabilities are inspired to and supported in saving wildlife with us!
As a conservation organization, it is familiar with the current lack of diverse representation in the field. Woodland Park Zoo recognized a need to expand its vision of inclusion beyond the needs of guests to a participatory level. The Volunteer Inclusion Program (VIP), supported by an Institute of Museum and Library Services grant, has helped to remove barriers to participation for volunteers with disabilities, facilitating their partnership in wildlife conservation.
Woodland Park Zoo staff and volunteers have engaged in over 400 hours of inclusion-related trainings since October 2018 in its efforts to build an inclusive community that welcomes volunteers with disabilities. In having people with disabilities represented on boards, as staff members, as volunteers and as guests, Woodland Park Zoo continues to grow in its capacity to model community inclusion both in its home of Seattle and in its field of conservation. As the zoo explains “[w]e recognize that in creating inclusive spaces for those with disabilities we also have the opportunity and duty to improve access intersectionally for other marginalized voices in our community.”
Emerging Advocate Award: Rochelle Bowyer
Rochelle Bowyer, a junior at University of Washington (UW), advocates for the rights and inclusion of students with disabilities. Rochelle’s disability has and always will be an invisible disability, but the barriers she experiences exist in plain sight. She admits, for a long time, having a disability was a great source of shame and frustration. When she was younger, she buried her passion for languages, writing, and careers under the liberal arts umbrella because on paper, that was her weakness. Students with dyslexia are often guided away from things that require strong reading and writing skills.
Even though Rochelle inherited her father’s dyslexia, she could care less about his love of drawing, and instead had inherited her mother’s passion for writing and language. Rochelle realized that as a student with dyslexia, learning languages is uncommon and not recommended. She was disappointed with the lack of resources or tips to help students with dyslexia learn a second language. In response, Rochelle plans to study aboard for a full-year documenting her experiences and compiling tips on how to learn a second language.
As part of the DO-IT (Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology) community, Rochelle empowers students with disabilities pursuing secondary education. Rochelle is a role model and teacher to the students, presenting on panels, facilitating discussions, demonstrating advocacy methods, and providing insight on how to promote a positive disability culture. She also worked on a project with the Museology Department at The University of Washington in partnership with AccessISL to learn about Universal Design (UD) and ways to increase accessibility. As a journalist for The Daily at UW, she writes content from the perspective of a student with a disability and openly talks about how UW can improve access for students with disabilities.
Rochelle’s passion for social justice and equity, together with her quiet leadership skills and determination, empower her to be an effective and life-long advocate for disability rights.
Lifetime Achievement Award: Nathan Loose
Nathan Loose is the recipient of a Breaking Barriers Lifetime Achievement Award. He worked tirelessly in support of the right to live in one’s own home in the community. Through many years of effective advocacy, Nathan ensured that policymakers consider and respond to the perspective of people with disabilities in designing and delivering in-home services.
Nathan developed subject matter expertise in issues related to homecare services and he became a recognized leader and spokesperson. He believed that people who use in-home services should be in charge of directing their own care, including hiring, firing, training and supervising caregivers. As a leader, Nathan encouraged and supported other people with disabilities in speaking up for their rights. He did this on the public stage, by supporting others in learning how to do legislative and regulatory advocacy.
Through his business, Nathan helped individuals with disabilities succeed in establishing homes in the community and securing necessary services. Nathan received referrals from the state to assist people moving out of nursing homes, or experiencing homelessness. Both in his business and through his public advocacy, Nathan worked to support the rights of every person with a disability to live and participate in the community.
On June 9 of this year, we lost a disability rights champion with the passing of Nathan Loose. Disability Rights Washington (DRW) staff and volunteers knew Nathan as the chair of DRW’s Disability Advisory Committee and a member of our Board of Directors. Nathan was widely recognized as the state leader in advocacy for self-directed in-home care.
Breaking Barriers 2019 Award Recipients
Advocacy Award: Jae Kim
Jae Kim is an advocate for people with disabilities, including herself. As a person with developmental and physical disabilities, she is able to use her first-hand knowledge and experiences to encourage, teach, and motivate individuals and families.
Jae is a graduate student, pursuing a Masters of Social Work (MSW) at the University of Washington. Her goal is to be a transition specialist who supports students with disabilities transitioning into adulthood. Jae is an MSW intern at The Arc of King County where she encourages young people to stop assuming that college and a career are out of their reach. At The Arc Jae co-created and is the primary presenter of a two-hour interactive training presentation, “Disability is Diversity – Strategies for Empowerment.” So far, she has already facilitated 14 of these trainings to over 400 people throughout the community. Past audiences have included Seattle Children’s Hospital, King County Library System, and Woodland Park Zoo. Her work raises awareness, and promotes equity and inclusion for people with disabilities throughout the community.
Jae not only advocates for disability rights at work, but during her free time, as well. Most notably, she had a key role in defeating the straw ban bill. She was the only straw user to meet with Senator Kuderer and explain why plastic straws should not be criminalized, which helped ensure the bill was rewritten. Her passion and tenacity make her a model for other advocates.
Public Policy Award:
Leslie Cushman & the De-Escalate Coalition
Leslie Cushman and the Leadership Team of De-Escalate Washington led a diverse group of advocates that incorporated DRW and the disability perspective into reforms around police use of deadly force in Washington State. The De-Escalate Coalition gathered more than 360,000 signatures in support of Initiative 940. The Leadership Team led the most broad and politically powerful coalition that DRW has ever been a part of and confirmed that we are stronger together.
Leslie is the citizen sponsor of I-940. Leslie is a community organizer in Olympia, Washington who began working earnestly on police accountability in 2015 after two young Black men were shot by Olympia Police for shoplifting beer. In the aftermath of the Olympia shooting it became apparent that both Washington law and police culture needed serious reform. Leslie, the Black Alliance of Thurston County, and a large grassroots coalition of community organizations, families, Tribes, civil rights organizations, and others worked in the 2016 legislature to put in place a joint legislative task force on the use of deadly force. The task force resulted in recommendations for training, changing the legal standard for use of deadly force, investigations, and data – yet not all recommendations were broadly supported by the task force, which consisted of legislators, prosecutors, law enforcement, and community organizations. The community pushed forward in 2017 with I-940, an initiative to the legislature, which received 60% of the vote state-wide in November 2018.
I-940 focuses on five key things, and addresses Washington’s unique statute and statistics – Washington was fifth in the nation for use of deadly force in 2017, and about one-third of all persons killed by police were experiencing a mental health crisis. I-940 requires state-wide de-escalation and mental health training, requires first aid be rendered on the scene, removes the de facto immunity for excessive use of deadly force, requires independent investigations, mandates notification of Native American Tribes when a tribal member is killed or injured by police, and directs the Criminal Justice Training Commission to consult with communities directly impacted by police use of force, including persons with disabilities.
The Campaign Team members: Leslie Cushman, Citizen Sponsor, Chester Earl, Justice For Jackie, Stephanie Ervin, Civic Ventures, Loretta Gutierrez-Sacks, Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, Monisha Harrell, Equal Rights Washington, Alison Holcomb, ACLU Washington, Chris Lampkin, SEIU 1199NW, Ali Lee, International District, Fe Lopez, One America, Nina Martinez, Latino Civic Alliance, Xochitl Maykovich, Washington CAN, Kim Mosolf, Disability Rights Washington, Tim Reynon, Puyallup Tribal Council Member, James Rideout, Justice for Jackie, Larry Shannon, Washington State Association for Justice, Lisa Daugaard, Public Defender Association, Andre Taylor, Not This Time, Heather Villanueva, SEIU 775, Linh Thai, Vietnamese Community Leadership Institute.
Business Leader Award:
Chehalis Grocery Outlet
Chehalis Grocery Outlet is a locally owned and operated grocery store serving the Chehalis community with personalized customer service, brands people love, and low prices. Michael Morgan and Nicole Barnes are in their sixth year owning and operating the store. They have built an environment where employees with disabilities have an inclusive place to work, where everyone is treated with respect, and where everyone has an opportunity for growth. Customers with disabilities have a place to shop where inclusion is a culture. They lead by example and speak publicly to encourage other businesses.
One of their core beliefs is that everyone, regardless of ability, has a path that when found yields self-worth, builds self-confidence and self-esteem, brings joy and fulfillment, and can lead to establishing financial independence. They help all their employees find their path by experiencing different positions to discover skills and interests, and finding the right job that benefits both the employee and the store. Many of their staff have never had an opportunity to work with individuals with disabilities before coming to Chehalis Grocery Outlet. Though they may lack experience, interaction, and formal training, they enthusiastically embrace their roles as co-worker, mentor, coach, teacher, advocate, and leader. The most beautiful part of this process? They have eight amazing individuals on staff who have helped to transform forty two others, and together have successfully helped to create a new normal of inclusion within the business and ultimately within the community.
At the Chehalis Grocery Outlet they recognize that to truly break down barriers for individuals with disabilities, they must create an environment of inclusion without condition, moving beyond to cultivate an environment where people do not see “disabilities,” only possibilities. They work tirelessly to dispel the “myth” that individuals with disabilities in some instances are not as “productive” as others. They also recognize that their employees with disabilities enrich the lives of whomever they come into contact.
Chehalis Grocery Outlet partners with local organizations, most notably the Lewis County Autism Coalition with whom they work closely in support of community inclusion. They actively provide financial support through sponsorships to organizations whose mission is to raise awareness around the need to engage those with disabilities in our community, connect them to meaningful employers, and provide support and direction to them during the on-boarding process. In addition, they have fostered partnerships with Morningside, Reliable Enterprises and Washington Job Placement Services – all of which advocate within the community and cultivate opportunities for people with disabilities. Finally, they actively engage working parents who have children with disabilities.
For Nicole and Michael, it’s simple. “Open doors into your business for others be they community advocacy groups, non-profits who work to place individuals with disabilities, or other community-based organizations. Listen to them. Understand the need. Do right; analyze later. Hire hearts and minds. Invest in people. Be a champion of something. Defend fiercely. Treat everyone with dignity and respect.”
Lifetime Achievement Award:
Toby Olson was a powerful advocate for disability rights in Washington State. Appointed in 1987 to head the Governor’s Committee on Disability Issues and Employment, Toby established himself as a powerful, eloquent and effective voice for disability rights and justice. In his 31 years of state service, he helped to pass approximately 40 laws to expand rights in the areas of housing, employment, and civil rights.
The disability rights movement lost a giant last December when Toby Olson passed away. He was recognized as a leader not only in Washington State, but across the nation. He was closely involved with the advocates who drafted the Americans with Disabilities Act and in subsequent work on regulations and implementation of the law.
Toby was a reliable source of information for policymakers and advocates seeking information and thoughtful advice on disability-related issues. He worked hard to elevate the conversations around disability, and raised the expectations for other public servants and elected officials to join in the conversation and make change happen.
Toby was a longtime and consistent friend and supporter of Disability Rights Washington. While we are sad to be awarding him with this much deserved award posthumously, we know that his impact and work with the disability community will never be forgotten. Accepting this award are his wife of 30 years Rhonda Brown and their son, Averill.
2018 Award Recipients
2018 Advocacy Award: Shaun Bickley
2018 Public Policy Award: Representative Roger Goodman
2018 Business Leader Award: MOD Pizza
2018 Special ‘Lifetime Achievement’ Award: Marie Jubie
2017 Award Recipients
2017 Advocacy Award: Mike Raymond
2017 Business Leader Award: Microsoft’s Real Estate & Facilities Supported Employment Program
2017 Public Policy Award: Shirley Bondon