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Aaron Bishop ’94, ’95, MS’00

The Washington, D.C. area is awash in movers and shakers. But you would be hard-pressed to find anyone who is shaking up the system more than Aaron Bishop when it comes to advocating for the millions of Americans with disabilities.

March 01, 2010

2010 Forward under 40 Award Honoree

UW Major: Bacteriology, Genetics and Social Work
Age: 38 | Silver Spring, Maryland
Professional Staff Disability Policy

"It is not until after graduation that the true power of the University of Wisconsin experience starts to meld and come to realization."

The Washington, D.C. area is awash in movers and shakers. But you would be hard-pressed to find anyone who is shaking up the system more than Aaron Bishop when it comes to advocating for the millions of Americans with disabilities.

As the driving force behind important legislation such as the Assistive Technology Act of 2004 and the Traumatic Brain Injury Act, Bishop owes his interest in disability advocacy to his days at the UW.

"My graduate school experience at the Waisman Center had a significant impact on my personal and professional aspirations," Bishop says. "It was where my passion for the disability field, systems change, and policy development were born."

After he earned his graduate degree, Bishop's passion only grew ... and so did his stature. Now considered a national leader in fighting for the rights of persons with disabilities, Bishop has been advising Wyoming senator Michael Enzi on legislative strategy, initiatives and policy for this population since 2004.

Prior to his work with Senator Enzi, Bishop received a prestigious Public Policy Fellowship from the Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. Foundation in which he had an opportunity to actively participate as a social change agent. That experience, he says, "reinforced my lifelong commitment to advocating against discrimination and oppression."

The question is, where did his inner drive come from? Bishop himself doesn't have a disability. Yet he tirelessly fought for the deaf as the lead senate committee staff member responsible for the Education of the Deaf Act section of the Higher Education Opportunity Act. He doesn't have autism either, but he was still a major player in getting the Combating Autism Act passed.

According to Bishop, his dedication to people with disabilities is a result of being a person of color.

"My interest and motivation to work in this field are derived from what I believe are the similar histories that exist between people with disabilities and people of color struggling to establish human rights that are rightfully theirs," he says.

Along with winning numerous awards for his work, Bishop recently spent ten months in Australia as an International Policy Fellow studying health care for people with disabilities. And in 2008, he spoke at the National Rehabilitation Association's 27th annual Government Affairs Summit. It's one of the oldest and strongest advocacy group for persons with disabilities in the United States.

So, what's next? Bishop has pondered a return to his home state of Wisconsin to run for political office. Whatever he decides to do, he says he'll continue to focus on social policy issues. And you can bet he'll be moving things in a positive direction.

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