2020 APSE Virtual Conference.

The Association of People Supporting Employment First (APSE) awarded the APSE Lois Curtis Award for a person with a disability during the #APSE2020 Virtual Conference.

Lois Curtis paved the way for people with disabilities to live in their own communities while receiving the services they need after spending 18 years living in an institution. Lois Curtis and Elaine Wilson brought a case that rose to the level of the Supreme Court and the court decided that "unjustified isolation" of a person with a disability is a form of discrimination under Title II of the ADA. This is known as the Olmstead Decision.

This award recognizes an individual’s personal achievement in advocating for inclusive, individualized, community-based employment and/or independent living.

This year, APSE is honored and humbled in recognizing the contributions of the 2020 nominees and winner, Peter O'Halloran!

The Lois Curtis Award was presented on Wednesday, July 15th, 2020.

Congratulations to Peter O'Halloran! APSE 2020 Lois Curtis Award Winner

Peter O'Halloran Peter shaking hands with a woman.

“There is a stigma against people with disabilities. People keep underestimating them, don’t believe they can work hard or keep a job. But when the disability community gets support, they can succeed. They can earn a living, pay taxes, and integrate in the community.”

Peter’s words, as quoted in an article by Senator Casey on Medium.com in October 2019, demonstrate his commitment not only to employment, but to full social inclusion of people with disabilities. Peter thoroughly understands that full inclusion means living up to the same expectations of all citizens: full-time work, self-sustainability, paying taxes, and contributing fully to the community.

Not only does Peter talk the talk, he walks the walk. Working full-time as an Administrative Assistant at Quality Progressions, a Philadelphia human services agency, Peter enjoys a living wage, full benefits, and has his eye on career advancement. Peter moved into his own apartment last year, and continues to work towards financial self-sufficiency and independence in all areas of his life. His advocacy efforts are bolstered by living as a role model for young people with disabilities, demonstrating through his actions that people with disabilities can achieve quality employment and self-sufficiency.

Peter lives by the tenet “nothing about us without us”, and in 2019 served on the local Democratic committee’s school board endorsement sub-committee, where he helped interview school board candidates and make recommendations. On this and countless other occasions, Peter’s knowledge, passion, and eloquence shine through as he works to educate and influence important figures.

Nominated by Zachary Catarelli

About the Nominees

Becki AneweerBecky smiling at the camera.

In 2003, Becki began receiving supported community living services and had a goal of getting her own apartment without roommates. She also wanted to get a job. Despite not having worked in nearly 20 years as a result of frequent hospitalizations for her mental health, Becki continued to show commitment to her success. She started off working in an enclave and quickly moved into job development. Soon after, she was offered two jobs! She accepted both and is working 35 hours per week, living on her own and enjoying her independence.

Becki is humble, dedicated, and proud. She has developed strong working relationships with co-workers and supervisors at both of her jobs. Becki has grown personally and professionally. Her story is an excellent example of how hard work, perseverance, and the right supports lead to success.

Nominated by the Iowa APSE Board of Directors


John WitcherJohn Witcher accepting an award.

Not only was John Witcher in attendance when Governor Holcomb signed the Employment First Legislation into Law in Indiana, but as Carla Orr states in her letter of support: “I have had the honor and pleasure of working with John in a professional capacity as a Team Leader. I have worked in this role since 2000 and I can honestly share that he has inspired me and re-charged me through the work he does day in and day out. Not only am I experiencing this “energy” – I have noticed it in his colleagues and most certainly the individuals he works with each week to assist with their recovery goals, especially related to gaining employment.

John is very compassionate, supportive and professional in his role and has quickly learned to take on many duties and wear several different hats with confidence.
He brings a wonderful perspective to our work - as an individual who has been in services most of his adult life and benefited from mental health services, community-based services and supported employment services. He received his MBA in May 2017 and has so many skills and talents that I bet what I ‘know of’ only scratches the surface. I often applaud the success and milestones achieved with his cases. He has done some phenomenal work with extremely challenging situations. He spends quality time with referrals and really gets to know their desires, understand their barriers, and help them determine their utmost potential. John frequently goes out of his way to address clients’ issues or barriers by making himself available in any given situation. His unique ability to make a client comfortable and support their dreams is not only a passion of his, but he addresses real issues in such way that consumers have a greater confidence level."

He is a published author of Recovery books that tell a story of lived experience with Mental Illness and success with Recovery. He served as a grant panelist in the Indiana Arts Commission, a member of Alpha Sigma Lambda National Honor Society. His book was reviewed by SARDAA (Schizophrenia and Related Disorders Alliance of America) and published in their Blue Book. He is a member of the KEY Board of Directors. He was nominated for Heroes for Recovery’s prestigious Heroes Award in 2018. He is an advocate for those with any barrier, challenge or disability. He is also receiving his National Certification as a Community Partner Work Incentive Counselor to advocate and educate more in the community about Benefits Planning and Work Incentives. He has presented as a self-advocate regarding recovery for NAMI.

Nominated by Jonathan Kraeszig

2019 APSE Lois Curtis Award Winner

Stirling Peebles

Three women smiling. Stirling is in the middle with her award.

Stirling Peebles receiving the Lois Curtis Award from APSE Executive Director Jenny Stonemeier and APSE Board of Directors President Heidi Maghan.

Since 2014 Stirling Peebles has been employed at the Center on Disability and Inclusion’s Think College Project at the University of Vermont as a Dissemination Assistant. Stirling also works as an Advocacy Educator for Green Mountain Self-Advocacy. While Stirling is a success on an individual level, she recognizes the critical importance of using her role, talents, and gifts, to ensure that others enjoy similar success. She effectively uses her talents to teach others effective self-advocacy, ensuring that the voices of individuals with disabilities and recognition of the importance of employment in their lives are heard both within the disability community and externally, as detailed in the attached letter of support. The Employment First philosophy has been a critical factor in Stirling's efforts and success. On a personal level, as a young person she and her family recognized that she should be prepared for employment success in the community just like anyone else, and like most working-age adults, she recognizes the critical role that job success plays in having a full and rich life. She also recognizes it is not just about having any job, but one that provides fulfillment and is a good match for her interests, skills, and talents. She hopes one day to own her own production company. Stirling uses the Employment First philosophy, which has been so critical to her own success, and applies it on a larger scale in her advocacy efforts, to ensure that other individuals with disabilities see employment in the general workforce as a priority for themselves, their families, and the systems that support them.