Today the White House announced the appointment of ENDependence Center of Northern Virginia (ECNV) Executive Director Jill Jacobs to the position of Commissioner, Administration on Disability (AoD) at the Administration for Community Living (ACL) in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Building upon her proven record in disability advocacy and activism, Jacobs assumed leadership at ECNV in October 2020, in the midst of the covid-19 lockdown. She immediately pushed for policies ensuring families and caregivers could visit their loved ones with disabilities in hospitals and long-term care facilities. Later she advocated to include them in Virginia’s definition of health care workers so that they could be among the first in line to receive vaccinations. She established partnerships with local health departments to register families, caregivers, and people with disabilities for vaccinations and organized vaccination clinics.
As the frenzy for vaccine access turned to hesitancy, Jacobs was instrumental in garnering funding from ACL, the CDC, the Virginia Board for People with Disabilities, and Alexandria City to mobilize people with disabilities as champions in the fight against covid. ECNV has received recognition from ACL, the Disability Law Center, and Arlington County for their agile response to the rapidly evolving pandemic crisis.
In recognition of Jacobs as a visionary changemaker, the Ford Foundation selected ECNV as one of the first grantees of their new Disability Justice initiative in October 2021. Jacobs established the Disability Justice and Interdependent Living Lab to explore ways to spur leadership by previously marginalized voices. Multicultural Families, led by Rosalia Fajardo was the first disability grassroots accelerator organization under this initiative. The Agents of Change came next to redefine new possibilities from the next generation of disability leadership.
Jacobs spurred ECNV to forward the concept of interdependency in the areas of housing, employment, caregiving, and community life. Other initiatives include a Trusted Disability Network to reach communities who have not traditionally received disability-related information and assistance; and a peer mentoring self-advocacy program for youth readying for life after high school.
ECNV Interim Executive Director Dominique Dunford-Lack plans to advance these initiatives, yet challenges ECNV staff that their disability justice work is only beginning. “The disability community has always needed ECNV, so I will not say it needs us now more than ever. Jill understood, so do many of you, that the needs and solutions in the disability community are significant, complex, and continue.”
Fellow disability advocate Lucy Beadnell, from the Arc of Northern Virginia, summed up the reaction of many well-wishers upon hearing the news of Jacobs departure from ECNV. “I have really been astounded at all the wonderful things Jill did in her time at ECNV, so we’ll focus on cherishing that progress instead of mourning her loss. Jill has left ECNV in great hands and we cannot wait to see what comes next”.
As Commissioner, Jacobs will oversee many programs she has first-hand experience with including the Centers for Independent Living, Independent Living Services, State Councils on Developmental Disabilities, University Centers of Excellence in Developmental Disabilities, the State Protection and Advocacy systems, centers of national significance, and other programs related to voting rights, traumatic brain injury, paralysis, and assistive technology.