For Immediate Release
November 17, 2022
WASHINGTON — Today the National Council on Disability (NCD) welcomes six new members to the independent federal agency charged with advising the President, Congress, and other federal agencies on disability policy.
Claudia L. Gordon and Emily Voorde took the oath of office today, while Hoskie Benally, Jr., Sascha Bittner, Theo Braddy and Risa Rifkind began their time as NCD council members upon taking the oath on Nov. 7. Both ceremonies were presided over by NCD Chairman Andrés Gallegos.
“I’m proud to welcome our esteemed new council members, representing a diverse cross section of Americans with disabilities, reflecting the beautiful mosaic that is the disability community” said Chairman Gallegos. “The work of this council is now, more than ever, critical to ensuring our nation’s policymakers are best informed by up-to-date research and advice regarding matters that impact the lives of the 61.4 million people with disabilities in this nation and in our tribal lands and territories.”
Appointments of Benally, Braddy, Gordon, Rifkind and Voorde to NCD are by President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. Bittner’s appointment is by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
They join Chairman Gallegos and Council Members Neil Romano and Shawn Kennemer.
Appointments to NCD are made by the President of the United States, the Senate Majority Leader, the Senate Minority Leader, the Speaker of the House, and the House Minority Leader pursuant to section 451 of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (Pub. L. 113–128), which amended NCD’s authorizing statute, the Rehabilitation Act.
Hoskie Benally Jr., is a Member of the Navajo Nation and is Legally Blind. He is currently employed with the Native American Disability Law Center as the Community and Government Liaison engaged in Disability Systems Advocacy with the Navajo Nation and other Native American Tribes. Benally is also involved with the National Congress of American Indians, Disability Sub-Committee. Prior to joining the Law Center, Benally was the CEO of a Residential Treatment Center for Native American Youth that successfully integrated Navajo culture into western-based mental health treatment. Benally is the current President of the Navajo Nation Advisory Council on Disabilities, a former Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor, and a former Member of the New Mexico Developmental Disability Planning Council. Grounded in Navajo tradition and fluent in Navajo, Benally is an experienced cultural instructor. He has a Bachelor of Science degree in Sociology from Brigham Young University.
Sascha Bittner, who is quadriplegic with a speech disability as a result of cerebral palsy, is a lifelong community activist, with a particular focus on disability and domestic workers’ rights. She lives in San Francisco and has served on numerous disability-related committees and boards. Sascha is currently president of the San Francisco In-Home Supportive Services Public Authority Governing Board and a Mayor Breed appointee to the Disability and Aging Commission. In addition, Sascha serves on the national steering committee and local chapter of Hand-in-Hand, the Domestic Employers Network, working with the National Domestic Workers Alliance, SEIU and UDW to ensure good working conditions that benefit both employers and workers, including those who provide homecare for disabled people. She is also the co-chair of the Golden Gate Regional Center Self-Determination Local Advisory Committee, serves on the Bay Area Regional Advisory Committee on Developmental Disabilities, and is a past chair of the California State Council on Developmental Disabilities. Sascha recently worked with members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors on a successful pilot program to provide affordable, long-term homecare for middle class San Franciscans. She is particularly passionate about long-term support and services and issues related to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. For twenty years, Sascha was the program coordinator for KIDS Project, co-facilitating disability education workshops for thousands of students in Bay Area schools to promote inclusion and combat bullying. Sascha has a B.A. in Social Welfare from UC Berkeley.
Theo W. Braddy has advocated on behalf of people with disabilities for over 40 years. At the age of 15, he became a person with a disability due to a high school football accident that left him paralyzed from the neck down. In 1988, Braddy was hired as CEO of the Center for Independent Living of Central Pennsylvania, where he served for over 30 years. As CEO, Braddy created an independent living center that became a strong and growing voice for people with disabilities, and started the Living Well with a Disability Initiative. Additionally, he has taught at Temple University and Millersville University as an Adjunct Professor. Two different Governors have appointed Braddy as a Commissioner for the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission and to serve on the Pennsylvania Statewide Independent Living Council. In 2021, Governor Wolf appointed him to serve on the State Board of Vocational Rehabilitation. In 2022, Braddy was selected by Senator Robert Casey, Jr., as one of four Black leaders in Pennsylvania who has demonstrated power and persistency in overcoming challenges and creating meaningful change in the State, and his contribution was acknowledged on the Senate Floor at a Congressional Hearing. He graduated from Temple University with his MSW in 1988 after receiving his BSW from Edinboro University.
Claudia L. Gordon is a dedicated advocate for people with disabilities with nearly 30 years of versatile professional expertise, with a personal mission to level the playing field and ensure the same opportunities are provided for all. She currently serves as the Senior Accessibility Strategist with T-Mobile US, Inc. In this role, she drives strategies for a disability inclusive culture and an accessible plus equitable work environment. Gordon has held senior leadership positions with Sprint Corporation, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the National Council on Disability, and the National Association of the Deaf Law and Advocacy Center. During the Obama-Biden Administration, Gordon served as the Chief of Staff for the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs and the Associate Director of Public Engagement for the White House Office of Public Engagement. Adding to Gordon’s professional expertise is her lived experience as an immigrant at the intersections of race, disability, and gender, which is the foundation for the strong emphasis on disabled individuals with multiple marginalized identities that she brings to her work. For her unrelenting commitment to advocacy, compliance, civic engagement, and mentoring, Gordon has been recognized by the American Association of People with Disabilities, Google, AT&T Humanity of Connection, National Disability Mentoring Coalition, National Association of the Deaf, National Black Deaf Advocates, and The Root 100. Gordon is a native of Jamaica, graduate of Howard University, and graduate of the American University’s Washington College of Law.
Risa Jaz Rifkind is a justice advocate who seeks to make change by shifting access to power and influence. As the Director of Civic Engagement and Marketing for Disability Lead, she propels the organization to realize its vision to have people with disabilities lead with power and influence. By identifying and developing strategic partnerships, Rifkind positions Members to take on leadership roles that advance their careers, civic engagement, and equity for people with disabilities. In 2020, she served on the Disability Inclusion Fund’s grantmaking committee. Previously, Rifkind was Program Manager at The Chicago Community Trust, where she developed their disability inclusion priorities and practices and managed several disability inclusion initiatives, including the Disabilities Fund, ADA 25 Advancing Leadership, and ADA 25 Chicago. Rifkind is passionate about the arts and serves as Treasurer for the Chicago Cultural Accessibility Consortium. She is also a Member of Disability Lead. Rifkind received a B.A. from Johns Hopkins University.
Emily Voorde is an Associate Director with NEWCO Strategies, a full-service strategic consulting firm that helps progressive campaigns, organizations, and companies achieve their goals. She most recently served as an Associate Director in the White House Office of Public Engagement as the Biden-Harris Administration’s liaison to Disabled Americans and K-12 educators. Voorde’s personal passions and professional expertise center on justice for individuals with disabilities and equitable access to education. Her career began as an AmeriCorps member and 2nd grade teacher in Pascagoula, Mississippi. In the summer of 2019, Voorde returned to her hometown of South Bend, Indiana to support Secretary Pete Buttigieg’s run for President, serving as Chasten Buttigieg’s full-time body woman on the campaign trail. During the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, Voorde served as an Associate Director with the University of Notre Dame’s Sara Bea Center for Students with Disabilities. She holds a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Notre Dame, a Masters of Education from the University of Notre Dame, and a Masters of Public Policy in Education from Vanderbilt University.
About the National Council on Disability (NCD): First established as a small advisory Council within the Department of Education in 1978, NCD became an independent federal agency in 1984. In 1986, NCD recommended enactment of an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and drafted the first version of the bill which was introduced in the House and Senate in 1988. Since the ADA became law in 1990, NCD has continued to play a leading role in crafting policy solutions, and in advising the President, Congress and other federal agencies on disability policies, programs, and practices.