The 2020 Richman Distinguished Fellow in Public Life is Rebecca Cokley, a disabilities rights activist who has sought deeper connections across communities pursuing civil rights.
Rebecca Cokley is the first program officer to lead a U.S. based disability rights portfolio for the Office of the President at the Ford Foundation. From 2017-2020 she served as the founder/director of the Disability Justice Initiative at the Center for American Progress, which focuses on expanding economic opportunity for people with disabilities and building inclusive policies. She previously served as the executive director of the National Council on Disability (NCD), an independent agency charged with advising Congress and the White House on issues of national disability public policy.
She joined the NCD after serving in the Obama administration for four years, including time at the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, as well as a period at the White House, where she oversaw diversity and inclusion efforts.
Cokley got her start in advocacy while working at the Institute for Educational Leadership, where she built a number of tools and resources designed to empower and educate youth with disabilities and their adult allies.
In 2017, she and her family were featured as part of CNN’s #ToBeMe series. She has appeared in the Vox/Netflix series “Explained” and on “Last Week Tonight” with John Oliver. In 2015, she was inducted into the inaugural class of the Susan M. Daniels Disability Mentoring Hall of Fame and was the recipient of the Frank Harkin Memorial Award by the National Council on Independent Living. She is a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health Equity Fellow and previously a Rockwood Leadership Institute National Leading from the Inside Out Fellow.
Cokley serves on the board of directors for Common Cause, Rockwood, and the ACLU of the National Capital Region.
The Richman award ceremony and presentation was held virtually on March 24-25, 2021.