Disability Lead

Power. Influence. Change.

Chicago, IL   |


To increase civic engagement and diverse leadership in the Chicago region by developing and building a network of leaders with disabilities — consistent with the spirit of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Ruling year info


Executive Director

Emily Blum

Main address

567 W Lake Street Suite 1150

Chicago, IL 60661 USA

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Formerly known as

ADA 25 Advancing Leadership



NTEE code info

Disabled Persons' Rights (R23)

IRS filing requirement

This organization is required to file an IRS Form 990 or 990-EZ.

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Programs and results

What we aim to solve

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

Disability is a natural part of the human experience. Disability exists in every facet of society including in immigrant communities, in Black and Brown communities, in LGBTQIA+ communities, in Indigenous Communities and every community in between. Disability can be visible, invisible or acquired. While the Americans with Disabilities Act affirmed the rights of people with disabilities, we work with the understanding that we will only be an equitable and inclusive society when we achieve true disability justice. Disability justice is a cross-disability and cross-social justice movement that centers intersectional identities led by those who have been most impacted by systemic oppression. It insists that our worth is inherent and tied to the liberation of all people. We pursue our vision with a voracious belief that creating a more equitable and inclusive society matters and is an obligation of everyone who leads.

Our programs

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

What are the organization's current programs, how do they measure success, and who do the programs serve?


Brings together 16-20 emerging leaders with disabilities from the Chicago region for a Fellowship Year. The year-long program offers an immersive learning experience that prepares participants to collaborate and lead with power and influence. Past Fellows have called the program "transformative," "of the highest value," and "empowering." It is the only leadership development program exclusively for individuals with disabilities--as one Fellow put it, "The Institute is like a master class in pride."

Population(s) Served
People with disabilities

Creates a community of support around leaders with disabilities advancing in their leadership goals. Members are past Fellows as well as other emerging and established leaders with disabilities in the Chicago region. One Member said, "People with disabilities need a network of other people being brave with us. As Members, we can share our experiences and find solutions that we might not have looked for otherwise, because we feel safe and part of a community."

Population(s) Served
People with disabilities

Connects individuals with disabilities to opportunities for civic, community, and professional leadership. Connections are made through individual outreach as well as formal programs such as BoardLead, a structured partnership with Cause Strategy Partners that matches board members with selected nonprofits and also provides training on board service, and the Public Service Leadership Project, which connects and supports leaders with disabilities in pursuing opportunities for public service. In the past two years, 22 individuals have been appointed to nonprofit boards through BoardLead. In the past two years, 30 individuals have applied to City and State leadership positions, and three were appointed to key State leadership positions: Chair of the Illinois Human Rights Commission, Director of the Department of Rehabilitation Services, and Member of the University of Illinois Board of Trustees.

Population(s) Served
People with disabilities

Where we work

Our results

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

How does this organization measure their results? It's a hard question but an important one.

Number of clients placed

This metric is no longer tracked.
Totals By Year
Population(s) Served

People with disabilities

Related Program


Type of Metric

Outcome - describing the effects on people or issues

Direction of Success


Context Notes

Total number of civic advancements to nonprofit boards, public sector task forces and other opportunities.

Total number of organization members

This metric is no longer tracked.
Totals By Year
Population(s) Served

People with disabilities

Related Program


Type of Metric

Output - describing our activities and reach

Direction of Success


Our Sustainable Development Goals

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

Learn more about Sustainable Development Goals.

Goals & Strategy

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

Learn about the organization's key goals, strategies, capabilities, and progress.

Charting impact

Four powerful questions that require reflection about what really matters - results.

1. Provide broad education on disability justice.

2. Fight ableism and racism through intersectional disability leadership.

3. Grow our Network and connect Members to key positions of influence. In 2023, DL will continue to grow the Members Network by adding approximately 40 new Members and Fellows and secure at least 60 new civic and professional advancements. Building on our accomplishments to date, DL must introduce new processes and tools to systematize the Connections we make for increased efficacy, efficiency, and equity. A Power-Mapping process launched in 2021 has enabled us to examine and map the region’s current power landscape; identify gaps in disability representation; set goals and devise strategies for filling gaps with talented leaders from our Network; and create the necessary infrastructure to sustain the Power-Mapping process and track results over time.

4. Strengthen and expand the Network to increase leadership opportunities for Members and reflect the diversity of Chicago. Each year, DL adds 30-40 new Fellows and Members to its Network, yet expansion must be accelerated if we want to achieve desired scale. Funding will enable DL to hire a consultant to study the potential for national expansion; test new recruitment strategies and program offerings; and add to current staff capacity including fulltime community manager and communications positions to manage and grow the Network. Since 2017, DL has made important strides toward increasing the racial and ethnic diversity of its programs. DL will continue its relationship-based outreach strategies with the objective of increasing the diversity of the Network from 40% BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) in 2020 to 50% by end of 2026.

5. Expand our model beyond the Chicago region. Disability Leadership in civic and professional spaces is needed beyond the Chicago region, and we believe DL’s unique model is one that can be adapted in communities across the nation. As part of our strategic planning effort, we identified that expansion is both a goal and ongoing area of focus because cities across the nation are in need of intersectional disability leadership and leaders who can bring perspectives that span the rich diversity of lived experiences. In the next 2-5 years we will be exploring models of expansion and replication, identifying one that is the best and most sustainable fit, and securing funding to launch a pilot. In years 5-7, our goal is to transition from a pilot phase to an operational model.

6. Support equitable policies that fulfill the promise of the ADA.

1. We are infusing Disability Lead’s programs this year with a focus on the intersection of disability justice and racial equity.

2. We are partnering with local racial justice practitioners Enrich Chicago and Chicago Regional Organizing for Anti-Racism (CROAR) to infuse racial equity into our core work, policies, and practices. CROAR’s co-director, was a 2020 Fellow and Network Member.

3. Objective A: We will continue to increase the number of advancements made by our Members. We also plan to develop a new concept: “Connections Ambassadors”—a group of deeply connected individuals who will use their networks and knowledge to identify service opportunities for our Members and facilitate connections as appropriate. The Ambassadors program has the potential to help systematize our civic connections work for greater scale and efficiency.

Objective B:
- Each year, Disability Lead adds 16-20 new Fellows to its Network, yet expansion must be accelerated if we want to achieve desired scale. This will require revamping our recruitment efforts and refining and re-packaging the program elements (e.g., membership criteria, benefits, specific program offerings, etc.). Funding will enable Disability Lead to conduct research, hold focus groups with current Members to brainstorm ideas for attracting and retaining Members, and test new recruitment strategies and program offerings.
- Our strategy for this work centers on cultivating meaningful partnerships with highly engaged and deeply connected grassroots groups such as the Marshall Square Resource Network. We have added over 25 new partners through this strategy, and the ultimate result has been a significant increase in the diversity of our Fellowship application pool: between 2018 and 2019, the number of BIPOC applicants rose by 140%.

Objective C:
- Now that Disability Lead is an independent nonprofit, the next step is to identify a fundraising model for long-term growth and sustainability. Our plans include 1) laying out a strategy for increasing support from individual and corporate funders and 2) continuing to build the necessary infrastructure to support it. Possible tactics include getting Disability Lead registered with corporate supporters’ employer matching programs; encouraging increased Member giving; fully leveraging the capabilities of our new relationship management system, Neon; and implementing the new Give/Get minimum that our board will vote on, and launching a major donor strategy.
- To ensure long-term sustainability, we will significantly increase our institutional partnerships.

4. We cultivated relationships with key policymakers and are continuing to advocate for this critical change.

Structurally, Disability Lead is led by a 5-member staff team that works with the membership to brainstorm, design, and execute all programs. A 13-member board of directors is responsible for providing fiduciary oversight and ensuring the long-term sustainability of the organization. Leadership and a majority of staff members of Disability Lead identify as having a disability as does the Board of Directors. 11 board and staff members are Members. The Network is always looked to as a source of new talent for Disability Lead’s staff and board. Members are notified and invited to apply when an AL staff position becomes available. In the most recent staffing search for Disability Lead’s Executive Director in 2019, the chosen individual came from within the Network.

In fall 2019, Emily Blum was hired as Disability Lead’s first full-time Executive Director. For Emily, a Member and 2018 Fellow, this role is both personal and professional. A seasoned nonprofit leader, she has more than 20 years’ experience bringing stakeholders together to create and implement effective communications strategies around complex social and political issues. Emily previously held senior positions at some of Chicago’s leading nonprofits, including Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC), Chicago Humanities Festival (CHF) and Heartland Alliance.

Other core Disability Lead team members—Robin Burnett, Director of Education and Operations and Risa Rifkind, Director of Civic Engagement and Marketing—have been with the organization since Disability Lead's inception. All three staff leaders identify as individuals with disabilities and one of the three is a woman of color. Risa is a graduate of the Institute. Disability Lead’s commitment to maintaining a diverse staff and board that are well-versed in disability knowledge and experience is consistent with the resounding motto of the disability rights movement, “Nothing about us without us.”

In addition to board and staff leadership, Members are invited to serve on Disability Lead’s Program Committee, which focuses on interviewing and selecting the next Institute Fellows class. Members have also been invited to serve on various ad-hoc committees that advance Disability Lead’s internal work. Members actively help recruit new Members and Fellows—often through speaking engagements and sharing their stories on Disability Lead’s communications channels—and they also design and lead sessions at our events. As presentations and conversations are led more and more by our Members, the organization demonstrates progress made toward our goal of building a strong disability leadership pipeline, as well as our principle of inclusion and representation on both sides of the session. Examples of past Member-led sessions include: Disability Rights History, Personal Storytelling, and Intersectionality and Disability.

Increasing civic engagement in the age of COVID-19 for Disability Lead required our organization to remain nimble and responsive to the needs of our membership. With changes to workflows and processes, and moving Institute programming and connections work online, Disability Lead has been successful in increasing civic connections and expanding the Network while building a sustainable organization. We are proud to report that in 2022 we made progress towards both our short-term and long-term goals.

Disability Lead focused on three key, long-term organizational areas of growth in 2022:

1. Provide broad education on disability justice to Disability Lead Members and beyond.

We continued our Disability Power Series and intentionally engaged nontraditional partners so leaders across sectors and identities could engage with and ultimately champion disability issues, stories, and policy priorities. We also have begun work on a corporate symposium in 2023 that will continue this conversation in a broader space.

2. Fight ableism and racism through intersectional disability leadership. We recruited racially and ethnically diverse individuals to join our organization and provided Member-led, in-depth programming to explore intersectional identities.

3. Develop a long-term strategy for the growth and expansion of Disability Lead. We are proud to announce the launch of our first pilot expansion into a new catchment area, and the launch of new program offerings in our existing Chicagoland programs.

How we listen

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

Seeking feedback from people served makes programs more responsive and effective. Here’s how this organization is listening.

done We demonstrated a willingness to learn more by reviewing resources about feedback practice.
done We shared information about our current feedback practices.
  • How is your organization using feedback from the people you serve?

    To identify bright spots and enhance positive service experiences, To make fundamental changes to our programs and/or operations, To inform the development of new programs/projects, To identify where we are less inclusive or equitable across demographic groups, To strengthen relationships with the people we serve

  • Which of the following feedback practices does your organization routinely carry out?

  • What challenges does the organization face when collecting feedback?

    It is difficult to get the people we serve to respond to requests for feedback


Disability Lead

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The people, governance practices, and partners that make the organization tick.


Connect with nonprofit leaders


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  • Compare nonprofit financials to similar organizations

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Connect with nonprofit leaders


Build relationships with key people who manage and lead nonprofit organizations with GuideStar Pro. Try a low commitment monthly plan today.

  • Analyze a variety of pre-calculated financial metrics
  • Access beautifully interactive analysis and comparison tools
  • Compare nonprofit financials to similar organizations

Want to see how you can enhance your nonprofit research and unlock more insights? Learn More about GuideStar Pro.

Disability Lead

Board of directors
as of 02/23/2023
SOURCE: Self-reported by organization
Board chair

Ann Manikas (Chair)

American Medical Association

Chad Turner

Bank of America

Adam Burke


Anna Lee

United Way

Lora Laverty

CDW Corporation

Ann Manikas

American Medical Association

Karen Tamley

Access Living

John Tuhey

The Tuhey Law Firm LLC

Andres Gallegos

Robbins, Salomon & Patt, Ltd.

Kim Holmes

Inclusion Nation

Natae Eaves

JPMorgan Chase

Azeema Akram

Illinois Human Rights Commission

Board leadership practices

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

GuideStar worked with BoardSource, the national leader in nonprofit board leadership and governance, to create this section.

  • Board orientation and education
    Does the board conduct a formal orientation for new board members and require all board members to sign a written agreement regarding their roles, responsibilities, and expectations? Yes
  • CEO oversight
    Has the board conducted a formal, written assessment of the chief executive within the past year ? Yes
  • Ethics and transparency
    Have the board and senior staff reviewed the conflict-of-interest policy and completed and signed disclosure statements in the past year? Yes
  • Board composition
    Does the board ensure an inclusive board member recruitment process that results in diversity of thought and leadership? Yes
  • Board performance
    Has the board conducted a formal, written self-assessment of its performance within the past three years? No

Organizational demographics

SOURCE: Self-reported; last updated 1/19/2023

Who works and leads organizations that serve our diverse communities? Candid partnered with CHANGE Philanthropy on this demographic section.


The organization's leader identifies as:

Race & ethnicity
Gender identity
Female, Not transgender (cisgender)
Sexual orientation
Heterosexual or straight
Disability status
Person with a disability

Race & ethnicity

Gender identity


Sexual orientation


We do not display disability information for organizations with fewer than 15 staff.

Equity strategies

Last updated: 09/16/2020

GuideStar partnered with Equity in the Center - an organization that works to shift mindsets, practices, and systems to increase racial equity - to create this section. Learn more

  • We review compensation data across the organization (and by staff levels) to identify disparities by race.
  • We ask team members to identify racial disparities in their programs and / or portfolios.
  • We analyze disaggregated data and root causes of race disparities that impact the organization's programs, portfolios, and the populations served.
  • We disaggregate data to adjust programming goals to keep pace with changing needs of the communities we support.
  • We employ non-traditional ways of gathering feedback on programs and trainings, which may include interviews, roundtables, and external reviews with/by community stakeholders.
  • We disaggregate data by demographics, including race, in every policy and program measured.
  • We have long-term strategic plans and measurable goals for creating a culture such that one’s race identity has no influence on how they fare within the organization.
Policies and processes
  • We use a vetting process to identify vendors and partners that share our commitment to race equity.
  • We have a promotion process that anticipates and mitigates implicit and explicit biases about people of color serving in leadership positions.
  • We seek individuals from various race backgrounds for board and executive director/CEO positions within our organization.
  • We have community representation at the board level, either on the board itself or through a community advisory board.
  • We help senior leadership understand how to be inclusive leaders with learning approaches that emphasize reflection, iteration, and adaptability.
  • We measure and then disaggregate job satisfaction and retention data by race, function, level, and/or team.
  • We engage everyone, from the board to staff levels of the organization, in race equity work and ensure that individuals understand their roles in creating culture such that one’s race identity has no influence on how they fare within the organization.