Viscardi Center honors 9 leaders with achievement awards

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From left, awards committee co-chairman Sherwood Goldberg presents Matt King with his Henry Viscardi Achievement Award alongside President John D. Kemp. (Photo courtesy of Viscardi Center)

The Viscardi Center recently honored nine leaders in the disability community for their fourth annual Henry Viscardi Achievement Awards.

The Albertson-based nonprofit held an award ceremony Dec. 4 at the Mutual of America building in New York City, awarding nine men and women with the awards.

Pictured are, from left, Henry Viscardi Achievement Award recipient Justin Constantine, recipient Matt King, recipient Vashkar Bhattacharjee, committee co-chairman Sherwood Goldberg, Viscardi Center President and CEO John D. Kemp, recipient Dr. Satendra Singh, and board chairman Russ Cusick. Front row, recipient Col. Gregory D. Gadson, recipient Asim Zafar, and Netta Rotman, accepting the award on behalf of her colleague Yuval Wagner. (Photo courtesy of The Viscardi Center)

“Tonight, we recognize nine individuals from around the globe who we believe not only motivate all of us to reach higher, but who are today’s leaders, mentors, and role models for their peers and our next generations,” President and CEO John D. Kemp said during the ceremony. “These individuals have been catalysts for change and are making a positive impact on how people with disabilities view themselves and the world.”

This year’s honorees were Vashkar Bhattacharjee of the Access to Information Program in Bangladesh, Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu of the Ministry of Social Development in South Africa, Justin Constantine of The Constantine Group in New York City, Army Col. Gregory D. Gadson of Alexandria, Virginia, Matt King of Facebook in Menlo Park, California, Dr. Satendra Singh of University College of Medical Sciences in Delhi, India, Yuval Wagner of Access Israel, Thomas J. Wlodkowski of Comcast in Philadelphia and Asim Zafar of the Saaya Association in Pakistan.

As National Consultant for Accessibilitty in the Access to Information Program of the prime minister’s office in Bangladesh, Bhattacharjee was born with a visual disability and strives to make information and communication technology a priority at the University of Chittagong, one of the largest universities in the country.

Justin Constantine speaks at the Henry Viscardi Achievement Awards ceremony in New York City. (Photo courtesy of Viscardi Center)

“It’s a big honor as a citizen of Bangladesh to receive a Henry Viscardi Achievement Award for my work to promote accessible books and information that empower people with disabilities through innovation,” Bhattacharjee said in a statement.

Serving as a member of Parliament of South Africa since 1999, Bogopane-Zulu is currently the South African deputy minister in the department of social development.

She is an accomplished activist and motivational speaker whose contributions have impacted women, the disability community and those in South Africa affected by HIV and AIDS.

Constantine, a retired lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps, was deployed in Iraq as a civil affairs team leader when he was shot in the head by a sniper in 2006 during routine combat patrol. After retiring, Constantine became devoted to helping others as an inspirational speaker and veteran advocate.

He recently published “My Battlefield, Your Office” which applies to military leadership skills in the private sector.

A graduate of West Point Military Academy, Gadson oversaw more than 50,000 military personnel as Garrison Commander of Fort Belvoir. Gadson has served in every major conflict in the past two decades and, in 2007, lost both his legs and injured his right arm in a roadside bombing incident.

Gadson’s military awards include the Distinguished Service Metal, the Legion of Merit, the Bronze Star Medal, Purple Heart, the Meritorious Service Medal and the Army Commendation Medal.

Col. Gregory D. Gadson speaks at the Henry Viscardi Achievement Awards ceremony in New York City. (Photo courtesy of Viscardi Center)

Born legally blind due to Retinitis Pigmentosa, King lost his remaining vision studying electrical engineering and music at the University of Notre Dame.

Relying on screen reading software to use a computer, King said he was both amazed by its potential and frustrated with its limitations, sparking a passion to make the world more accessible with better technology.

“A healthy society is one where all people can participate and everyone feels they matter,” King said in a statement. “Inclusive technologies are an essential key to such a reality.”

Singh gained a physical disability due to polio when he was 9 months old, and he went on to become a medical doctor and professor at University College of Medical Sciences in Dehli.

Singh said he strongly believes that education has the power to break down barriers in communication and bring opportunities for medical students with disabilities.

Wagner became a quadriplegic at 22 after being injured in a helicopter crash in 1987 while serving in the Israeli Air Force. Wagner established Access Israel, the first and only nonprofit in the country dedicated to improving the quality of life for people with disabilities, in 1999.

Wlodkowski has been a pioneer in accessible technology for more than 25 years. Under his leadership, Comcast launched Voice Guidance on Xfinity, the industry’s first talking guide that provides blind and visually impaired people the ability to manage their DVR and adjust settings.

In 2009, Zafar launched Saaya Association of Persons with Disabilities in Islamabad, a platform to enhance independence and promote access to healthcare, education and sports for people with disabilities. Zafar has been using a wheelchair since he contracted polio when he was 3 years old.

The awards were established in 2013 to commemorate the center’s founder Dr. Henry Viscardi Jr., who also wore prosthetic legs.

Viscardi served as an advisor and disability advocate to eight presidents from Franklin D. Roosevelt to Jimmy Carter and implemented groundbreaking employment and education programs for people with disabilities.

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