Office of Disability Employment Policy: Who is Kathleen Martinez?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009
(photo: Shawn Moore)

Kathleen Martinez’s nomination as the Department of Labor’s Assistant Secretary for Disability Employment Policy came the day after President Barack Obama joked with Jay Leno on the Tonight Show about how his poor bowling score compared with those in the Special Olympics. Advocates of disabled Americans who were incensed by the callous remark were nevertheless pleased with the selection of Martinez to head the Office of Disability Employment Policy because of her long career as a disability rights leader specializing in employment, independent living, diversity and gender issues. She was confirmed by the Senate on June 25, 2009.

Blind since birth, Martinez, 50, hails from the San Francisco Bay Area. Both Martinez and her sister, who is also blind, were pushed by their parents to succeed and not allow their disability to limit their accomplishments. The Oakland native earned her Bachelor of Arts in speech and communications studies from San Francisco State University.
In the 1970s Martinez worked as an organizer in the women’s movement and labor campaigns to help farm workers.
Martinez joined the World Institute on Disability (WID) about 20 years ago and gradually worked her way up to become executive director in 2005. During this time she led the International Leadership Forum for Women with Disabilities in Washington, DC, in 1997, and co-organized in 2000 a training program for young disabled women from developing countries supported by the United Nations. Martinez also has participated in international training and development projects in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, and the Americas. 
While running WID she directed Proyecto Visión, part of the organization’s National Technical Assistance Center to increase employment opportunities for Latinos with disabilities in the United States, and Access to Assets, a project to help reduce poverty among people with disabilities. She also led the effort to launch the webzine Disability World in English and Spanish.
In addition to her work at WID, Martinez has been a member of the National Council on Disability (appointed by President George W. Bush), the State Department’s advisory committee on disability and foreign policy (appointed by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice), and the U.S. Institute of Peace. She also sat on the board of directors of Connected Nation.
-Noel Brinkerhoff
Kathleen Martinez (U.S. Institute of Peace)
Video: Profiles of Excellence (Kathy Martinez segment at 17:50) (Channel 7 News)


Leave a comment