Kean’s Human Rights Conference to focus on disability justice

Disability rights advocates Eric LeGrand and Isabel Mavrides-Calderón will speak at Kean University’s 15th annual human rights conference, One Billion Forgotten: A Discussion on Disability Justice, on Friday, Dec. 2.

UNION, NJ — Former Rutgers University football player Eric LeGrand, a disability rights advocate and fundraiser, will speak at Kean University’s 15th annual human rights conference, One Billion Forgotten: A Discussion on Disability Justice, on Friday, Dec. 2.

Also speaking at the conference is Isabel Mavrides-Calderón, a disabled Latina teen and disability rights activist and organizer.

The conference is hosted by Kean’s Human Rights Institute and also includes a panel discussion and awards presentations. It will be at Wilkins Theatre on Kean’s Union campus from 9 a.m. to noon and is free and open to the public. It will also be available via livestream.

“This year’s HRI conference shines a light on the profound impact and influence of disabled people, particularly historically excluded members of this large and ever-growing community,” said Kean University President Lamont O. Repollet. “We are proud to bring this important topic to the public through our HRI conference to advance Kean University’s passionate advocacy for diversity, equity and inclusion of all people and support equitable access and justice for people with disabilities.”

Disability justice, a term coined by queer, disabled people of color, goes beyond disability rights to focus on eliminating the systemic barriers that the most historically excluded groups such as women, people of color, immigrants and members of the LGBTQ community face.

HRI Director Lauretta Farrell said the needs of the disabled community have become an even greater priority, in light of the negative impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the population.

“Ongoing harm caused by the pandemic has been especially evident for people with disabilities. Existing disruptions in education, employment, access to health care and social services have been amplified,” Farrell said. “This conference will highlight how we can support the ongoing work of disabled leaders as they seek justice and equity in their communities.”

Kean’s HRI conference each year takes on an important human rights topic; K-12 educators and students, as well as Kean students and faculty, human rights activists and the general public, are invited to attend. Previous topics have included mental health and human rights, food insecurity and voting rights.

LeGrand was injured making a tackle during a Rutgers game in 2010 and was paralyzed from the neck down. He graduated in 2014 and is now an author, sports analyst and fundraiser who has raised more than $2 million for the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, carrying forward the legacy of the late actor. LeGrand has received numerous awards for his work.

Mavrides-Calderón’s work focuses on disability policy and accessibility, particularly within education. Mavrides-Calderón has organized and hosted conferences with the ACLU about disability policy issues and was instrumental in the implementation of remote options for disabled New York City public school students.

At the conference, the following awards will be presented:

• Outstanding Student Human Rights Activist: Aidan Allman-Cooper. Allman-Cooper, a senior at Kean, is earning a bachelor’s degree in the history honors program with teacher-of-students-with-disabilities certification. He is the co-compiler of the book “This Is Autism” and creator of SECA Organization LLC, a business to address student issues in the education field through personalized advocacy.

• Hank Kaplowitz Outstanding Human Rights Educator: Nicole Schroeder. Schroeder is a member of the inaugural cohort of Equity in Action Presidential Postdoctoral Fellows at Kean University. She received her doctorate in early American history in 2021 from the University of Virginia and is a historian of disability, medicine and welfare in early America.

• Outstanding Young Human Rights Activist: Isabel Mavrides-Calderón. Mavrides-Calderón, 18, focuses her work on campaigning for policy change, anti-ableism and accessibility, with a key focus on advocating for intersectional disability justice. She is a senior at Horace Mann School in New York City.

• Outstanding Community Human Rights Activist: Millie Gonzalez. Gonzalez, who earned her bachelor’s and master’s from Kean in 2002 and 2007 respectively, is a longtime disability rights activist and a communication strategist for Kean’s Office of University Relations. A Latina disability consultant, trainer and speaker, she co-founded the New Jersey Disability Collective and serves on the boards of a number of organizations, including the Partnership for Inclusive Disaster Strategies.

• Outstanding Human Rights Activist: Eric LeGrand. LeGrand has harnessed the national spotlight he attracted due to his spinal cord injury to give back to the community and inspire those living with and affected by paralysis. The Rutgers University graduate and his Team LeGrand have raised more than $2 million for the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation. His motto is, “Anything is possible.”

Photo Courtesy of Margaret McCorry