Acting Assistant Secretary of the Office of Disability Employment Policy: Who is Jennifer Sheehy?
Jennifer Sheehy, deputy assistant secretary of the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) at the U.S. Department of Labor, became acting assistant secretary of the ODEP in February 2015 to replace Kathleen Martinez, who left to join Wells Fargo.
Sheehy grew up in McClean, Virginia. Her father was an attorney and her mother ran the Source Theatre. She earned a B.A. in psychology and English from Cornell University in 1984. Following her graduation, she took jobs in marketing and management at Sheraton and Marriott hotels. With the goal of eventually seeking employment in the food and beverage industry, she enrolled in Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business. During a summer break in 1994, she interned in the marketing research department at Anheuser-Busch in St. Louis, Missouri.
That was the summer when someone at a July 4 weekend pool party pushed her backward into the pool, causing her to hit her head on a wall and to suffer a broken neck. She was transported to Washington, D.C., where her family lived, and was treated at the National Rehabilitation Hospital there. She spent the next few years in recovery, “relearning every single thing that you had to do with a spinal cord injury,” she told Ability Magazine, from driving to transferring into a bed from a wheelchair. Sheehy returned to her studies at Georgetown and received an MBA in July 1997.
She first went to work for the National Organization on Disability in 1995 as special assistant to the president, became a member of its board of directors in 1997 and in 1998 moved up to vice-president and director of its CEO Council. In 2000, she joined the Presidential Task Force on Employment of Adults with Disabilities as its senior policy advisor, concurrently serving as associate director on the White House Domestic Policy Council.
In May 2004, Sheehy joined the U.S. Department of Education as acting deputy director of the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR). A year later, she was named acting deputy commissioner of the Education Department’s Rehabilitation Services Administration. In 2007, she was appointed director of policy and planning for the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS), a position she has held for 10 years. One year into that job, she served for a year as acting director of NIDRR.
In October 2012, Sheehy moved to the Department of Labor when she was appointed deputy assistant secretary of ODEP, a post she has held for more than four years. In March 2016, President Barack Obama appointed her to be a member of the Committee for Purchase from People Who Are Blind or Severely Disabled.
Among the words of advice, Sheehy has stated for the newly disabled are: “Be sad when you need to, but then move on.…And express gratitude frequently. For you to live your life and accomplish things, others will have to get and do things for you. Let them know you appreciate it.”
To Learn More:
Inclusion Works (Interview with Jennifer Sheehy, Ability Magazine)
Jennifer Sheehy: Working for Change (by Janine Bertram Kemp, New Mobility)
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