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Starkloff Disability Institute Announces Open Door Award Honorees

  • Published: 2015-10-26 (Revised/Updated 2015-11-12) : Author: The Starkloff Disability Institute : Contact:
  • Synopsis: Celebrating extraordinary efforts to open doors to opportunity and create welcoming communities for people with disabilities.

Quote: "In 2010, the Missouri History Museum created The Americans with Disabilities Act: Twenty Years Later, a 1,000 square foot exhibit that opened in time to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the ADA..."

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The Starkloff Disability Institute is pleased to announce honorees of the 2015 Open Door Awards, which recognize individuals, organizations, and initiatives that make a significant impact on the lives of people with disabilities.

The Leadership in Hiring Award is presented to Centene Corporation.

Colleen Starkloff, co-founder and co-director of Starkloff Disability Institute, said, "In 2010, Centene CEO Michael Neidorff told his staff to hire some ambassadors with disabilities who, in joining their workforce, would help to break down barriers within Centene to create a more diverse and inclusive workforce. Centene now operates in 23 states and the company's commitment to hiring more people with disabilities is company-wide. Centene also organized a National Disability Advisory Council to advise them of policies and practices that will help Centene to be a truly inclusive company not only in hiring, but also in the services they offer to their members with disabilities."

The Recruitment and Outreach Award is presented to Nestle Purina Petcare.

"In 2010 Nestle Purina Petcare joined the Starkloff Disability Institute's Next Big Step Initiative as a Role Model Company," Ms. Starkloff said. "Nestle Purina Petcare helps us prepare candidates with disabilities to compete with excellence for the right job. Since 2012 Nestle Purina Petcare has welcomed our Next Big Step candidates to their campus twice a year and provided outstanding job-seeking preparation skill building and job coaching. Today, 80 percent of our Next Big Step graduates land a good job. Nestle Purina Petcare recently created a new position within their company and hired a very talented individual with a disability to help them source candidates with disabilities to join their workforce"

The Creating Inclusive Spaces Award is presented to The MUNY.

"More than 25 years ago Denny Reagan, Director of the MUNY, began working to make the MUNY more accessible to all guests who have disabilities," Ms. Starkloff said. "He removed seats, added accessible seats, created accessible restrooms, trained MUNY staff to be welcoming to all attendees with disabilities, provided way more accessible parking than the law required, and added sign language interpreters on Monday nights. Everyone enjoys this St. Louis theatrical treasure and for more than 25 years so have people with disabilities."

The Fostering Understanding Award is presented to The Missouri History Museum.

"In 2010, the Missouri History Museum created The Americans with Disabilities Act: Twenty Years Later, a 1,000 square foot exhibit that opened in time to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the ADA," Ms. Starkloff said, "The curator for that exhibit was Ms. Sharon Smith. The exhibit remained open for 19 months and 163,000 visitors saw this remarkable exhibition. Even before it closed, Sharon became the conscience of not only the Missouri History Museum, but the other institutions in the Zoo Museum District, reminding them that there are thousands of visitors who have disabilities that can better appreciate their visit to these great St. Louis treasures if they are accessible and welcoming to all persons with disabilities. Sharon continues this advocacy role today."

The Fostering Understanding Award is presented to Dr. David Gray (Posthumously)

"Dr. David Gray influenced minds, policy, community-based programs, and rehabilitation processes through his leadership, science and advocacy on disability," Ms. Starkloff said. "Before moving to St. Louis in 1995, he was the director of the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research. He served as a leader in improving community participation and public health as a Professor of Occupational Therapy and Neurology at Washington University School of Medicine. David inspired change, built coalitions and shared his lived experience with disability with faculty, staff, students, and the disability community. He was a national, state and local disability rights leader. He built a research lab, obtained many grants, mentored students, trained scientists, and shared his work around the world. The global disability community lost a friend a mentor when Dr. David Gray died of an apparent heart attack on February 12, 2015," Ms. Starkloff said. The Advancing Public Policy Award is presented to Arlene Mayerson. "Ms Mayerson is one of the attorneys most responsible for advancing the civil rights of people with disabilities in the United States," Ms. Starkloff said. "Arlene played a central role in conceptualizing, drafting, and negotiating all major disability civil rights legislation. This includes The Handicapped Children's Protection Act; Reauthorizations of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act; Reauthorizations of the Rehabilitation Act, including Title V (civil rights protections); The Americans with Disabilities Act; Disability related amendments to the Fair Housing Act and the Civil Rights Act of 1991. Not only did Arlene help create these laws, she also was instrumental in protecting them when they came under attack. Ms. Mayerson is the Directing Attorney of the Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund and a lecturer at Berkeley Law School at the University of California,

Starkloff Disability Institute

Founded in 2003 by Colleen Starkloff with her late husband Max and the disability rights attorney David Newburger, who is a co-director, the Starkloff Disability Institute works to create a world that welcomes disabled people in every aspect of society. Programs include the Next Big Step employment initiative, the Max Starkloff Speakers Series, the Universal Design Summit, and the Disabilities Studies Initiative at Maryville University. The Starkloff Disability Institute also offers professional services to businesses that want to welcome people with disabilities into their workforce.

Colleen Starkloff is an expert guest speaker on Disability Rights issues. For information about Starkloff Disability Institute, contact Lori A. Becker at 314-588-7090 or email or see the website

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