Skip to content

President’s Award

This award honors an activist and/or artist who has advanced the mission of SDS. The award recipient may or may not be an SDS member; there are no restrictions on who may be considered. This is the only SDS honor awarded directly by the Board of Directors, and it comes with complementary SDS meeting registrations. In establishing this award, the Board of Directors wants to acknowledge all contributors to the development of disability studies and the advancement of disability justice. We look beyond the usual structure of SDS awards such as paper prizes, editors’ choices, and formal scholastic nomination procedures based on curriculum vitae and letters of reference. This award recognizes the full work of disability studies by noting that academia is only one point of focus of our efforts and creativity.

Winner of the 2017 SDS Presidential Award
Riva Lehrer (artist, writer, curator, and teacher)

Riva LehrerThe Society for Disability Studies (SDS) recognizes Riva Lehrer for its 2017 SDS Presidential Award. An artist, writer, curator, and educator, Riva Lehrer’s series of portraits of people with what she calls the “socially challenged body” have been shown at the National Portrait Gallery of the Smithsonian, the United Nations, the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, DC, the Arnot Museum, the DeCordova Museum, the Frye Museum, the Chicago Cultural Center, and the State of Illinois Museum, amongst others. She is one of the most widely recognized disabled artists of her generation and her portraits of many of the significant figures in the intersectional disability rights and activism movement have been widely recognized for their stunning beauty and complexity.

Lehrer grew up in Cincinnati where she attended the Condon School for Handicapped Children. She writes that as a child, she underwent numerous surgeries because of her spinal bifida in an attempt to make her body look more “normal.” After graduating, her experiences with hospitals led her to an interest in medicine, but discrimination prevented her from being accepted at any medical schools. Drawn to the complexity of the lives that inhabited marginalized bodies like hers, she turned to painting and mixed media as a means of expression. Lehrer began the Circle Stories series in 1997 – a series of collaborative works done with her subjects, all of whom had significant physical disabilities and many of whom are recognized as core figures within disability arts, activism, and scholarship, including: Eli Clare, Susan Nussbaum, Rebecca Maskos, Tekki Lomnicki, and others.

Lehrer’s other awards include the MacDowell Colony Fellowship (2017), Three Arts Residency Fellowship at the University of Illinois (2015); the Mellon Residency Fellowship at Haverford and Bryn Mawr Colleges (2014); the Three Arts Foundation Grant (2008); and the Wynn Newhouse Award for Excellence (2006). She has also been recognized by the National Endowment for the Arts. Riva Lehrer has been a major contributor to the Society for Disability Studies for many decades. The Society awards her the Presidential Award in recognition of her support, her scholarship, and for helping people see the beauty of disabled bodies.

Laura Hershey, Inaugural Recipient (2012)

Laura Hershey, MFA (1962 -2010) was a Colorado-based writer, poet, activist, and consultant. She was a 2010 Lambda Fellow in Poetry. Her poems and essays explore diverse topics including body, nature, community, activism, social justice, and much more.

She is the author of Survival Strategies for Going Abroad: A Guide for People with Disabilities, a 2005 book offering stories and advice about international travel, published by Mobility International USA. Over 100 of her articles and essays have been published in journals, anthologies, websites and magazines including Waccamaw Journal, U.S. News & World Report, National Parks, Ms. Magazine, Topic, off our backs, New Mobility, Mouth magazine,,, and

Her poems have appeared in anthologies including Fire in the Soul: 100 Poems for Human Rights, Bigger Than the Sky: Disabled Women on Parenting, and Pushing the Limits: Disabled Dykes Produce Culture; and in journals such as, Bumbershoot, Calyx: A Journal of Art and Literature by Women, Gertrude, Shakespeare’s Monkey Review, Trillium Literary Journal, Kaleidoscope, The New Internationalist, Sinister Wisdom, Journal of Progressive Human Services, Slipstream, and several other literary journals, anthologies, and websites. Hershey wrote a blog called “Life Support” for the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation’s website, and was a regular contributor to Huffington Post Denver.

Point your browser to for more about her activism and writing.