Presidential Award of Excellence
Conference Coordinator, NH Leadership Series
Institute on Disability
Twenty years ago, Beth Dixon was a hairdresser and mother of four living in Concord, N.H., when she participated in the UNH Institute on Disability’s first N.H. Leadership Series. At that time, her son Andrew, who experiences significant disabilities, was five years old, and Dixon wanted to ensure that he received a fully inclusive public education. The series focuses on grassroots and legislative advocacy on behalf of people with disabilities.
The experience transformed her and empowered her—so profoundly that she went to work for the IOD. She has been there ever since, transforming the Leadership Series itself from three two-day sessions to a seven-month experience worthy of nine college-level credits. Under Dixon’s leadership, the program now boasts an alumni list of more than 800 individuals, families, and the communities in which they live.
Dixon speaks with pride of the transformative power of her work, turning “quiet people who couldn’t bring themselves to hold a microphone” into “change agents” who, upon graduation, declare their candidacy for public office. “Graduates have gone on to become state legislators, filmmakers, school and community board members, and other leaders who are literally changing the face of N.H. for individuals who experience disabilities,” says Dixon.
Stephen Calculator, associate professor of communication sciences and disorders, calls Beth a “role model for my family and me.” Dan Habib, a leadership graduate and UNH/IOD resident filmmaker, says Dixon “inspired my film Including Samuel.”
Dixon says she continues to find the same motivation for her work today as she did two decades ago. “My goal is to make sure more and more people understand that disability is a part of human experience and that disability doesn’t define what you are,” she says. “It’s secondary to who you are.”
-- David Moore
-- photo by Perry Smith