Establishing the White House Council on Disabilities

Authors: Allison Martin, Michael Stebbins and Neil Thakur


Summary 

Every American deserves to engage with the world on their own terms. But for the 61 million adults in the United States living with a disability, challenges—including social isolation, the need for advanced assistive technologies, access to care, and economic security—abound. These challenges require a coordinated National Strategy on Disabilities.


To empower people with disabilities to engage with the world on their own terms, President Biden should establish a White House Council on Disabilities tasked with the mission of providing a federally coordinated approach to aligning federal policy, medical reimbursement, and research funding to address issues critical to people those living with disabilities. The goal of this Council would be to provide much-needed leadership and coordination among federal agencies and with external stakeholders, that enable the development of (and access to) the new knowledge and technologies necessary to better support Americans with disabilities of all types and further enrich connections to one another and our economy.


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About the Authors

Allison Martin, M.S. draws on over a decade of experience at the crossroads of health and government. As a Director at Faegre Drinker Consulting, she partners with organizations in the patient-advocacy and biomedical-science space to advance their missions through public policy, advocacy, and federal-government relations. Allison uses firsthand experience to help organizations and coalitions navigate the congressional landscape through planning and executing congressional advocacy campaigns as well as developing policy and legislative strategies. Allison also helps patient-advocacy groups and the pharmaceutical industry work with agency leaders on patient-focused drug-development activities, including creation and growth of public-private partnerships, the development of patient experience data, and facilitation of community-led drug-development guidances. Before her work as a consultant, Allison served as a senior healthcare fellow for U.S. Representative Phil Gingrey and as a staffer for U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander. Allison earned a Master of Science in Microbiology and Immunology from Georgetown University.


Michael Stebbins, Ph.D. is a geneticist and public-policy expert who served as the Assistant Director for Biotechnology in the Obama White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. He is currently the President of Science Advisors, a science and health consulting firm he founded in 2018 to provide science, technology, and public policy guidance to private companies, philanthropies, and non-profit organizations. He is also a Senior Fellow at the Federation of American Scientists. While at the White House, Dr. Stebbins’ work led to large initiatives across the federal government to address antibiotic resistance, protect pollinators, improve veterans’ mental health, increase access to federally funded scientific research publications and data, promote preferential purchasing of antibiotic-free meats, reform the regulatory system for biotechnology products, drive federal purchasing of bio-based products, and improve management of scientific collections. Dr. Stebbins previously served as the Vice President of Science and Technology for the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, science advisor to the Obama Presidential Campaign, and on the Obama White House Transition Team. He is the former director of biology policy for the Federation of American Scientists and worked for U.S. Senator Harry Reid and at the National Human Genome Research Institute. Before coming to Washington, he was a senior editor at Nature Genetics. Dr. Stebbins is on the Board of the Value in Cancer Care Consortium and chair of the Board for Vivli. He serves on the scientific advisory boards for Datavant and Amida Technology Solutions.


Neil Thakur, Ph.D. brings more than two decades of experience as a public-health expert to the fight against ALS. He serves as the Chief Mission Officer for The ALS Association, where he leads their research, care services, and advocacy programs. Before joining the Association, Dr. Thakur served in the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Office of the Director, making NIH research more impactful. He managed the world’s largest policy to make biomedical research papers publicly accessible and co-chaired the White House task force that led to the requirement that all federal science agencies adopt similar policies. He also spent a year on detail to the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging, focusing on effective long-term health care. Prior to his time at NIH, Dr. Thakur was Assistant Director of Health Services Research and Development at the Department of Veterans Affairs. Dr. Thakur has received numerous federal awards, including the Secretary for Health and Human Services’ award for Meritorious Service, the second-highest award that the Secretary can bestow. Dr. Thakur holds a Ph.D. in Health Policy from the Yale University School of Public Health and completed a National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) postdoctoral fellowship in mental-health services research at the Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.