The International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life has chosen disability rights activist Rebecca Cokley as the Richman Distinguished Fellow in Public Life for the year 2020. Funded by the Richman and Saivetz families, this fellowship — including a $25,000 award — is presented annually to an individual whose work in public service has significantly impacted society through advocating for social justice. 

Cokley advocates for the implementation and expansion of policies and opportunities for those with disabilities. This dedication to the disability community is what drove Monika Mitra, the Nancy Lurie Marks associate professor of Disability Policy and director of the Heller School’s Lurie Institute for Disability, to nominate her as the 2020 Richman Fellow. Cokley is scheduled to visit campus from March 30 to April 1 of next year. Her award ceremony and presentation will take place on March 31 and will be open to the public.

Cokley began her advocacy career through the Institute for Educational Leadership, creating educational resources with the goal of teaching and empowering youth with disabilities and their guardians. Cokley spent several years serving in former President Barack Obama’s administration in both the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services before serving as executive director of the National Council on Disability. In this role, she worked to advise both Congress and the White House on policy issues surrounding disability rights in America. 

Currently, Cokley is the director of the Disability Justice Initiative at the Center for American Progress, where she continues to focus on expanding opportunity for the disability community and establishing inclusive policies. She is also on the board of directors for three other organizations — Common Cause, the Community Justice Reform Coalition and the American Civil Liberties Union of the National Capital Region. Cokley has been featured in multiple news series, including Vox and Netflix’s “Explained,” John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight” and CNN’s “#ToBeMe.” She has also won several awards for her public service in the past, including induction into the inaugural class of the Susan M. Daniels Disability Mentoring Hall of Fame, the Frank Harkin Memorial Award by the National Council on Independent Living, a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health Equity Fellowship and a Rockwood Leadership Institute National Leading from the Inside Out Fellowship, according to the BrandeisNOW article.