Geraldine P. Waldorf, Making A Difference Award

The Georgetown University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities gives the Geraldine P. Waldorf, Making A Difference Award each year to recognize the outstanding and important contributions made to improve the lives and inclusion of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in the District of Columbia. Outstanding contributions can be in the areas of self-determination or advocacy, education, early intervention, health, or employment. Nominees may include a person with lived experience of intellectual or developmental disability (IDD), family member of a person with IDD, advocate, health mental or health care provider, direct support/service provider, policy maker, program administrator, or others who support the inclusion of people with IDD in community life. The nominee must reside or work in the District of Columbia. 

2023 Award Recipients

The award in 2023 went to two people who were instrumental, along with advocates and colleagues with and without disabilities, to ensure that adults with lived experience of developmental disabilities who do not also have intellectual disabilities became eligible for services from the Developmental Disability Administration, DC Department on Disability Services (DDS) in 2022.

Sandy Bernstein, Esq. Legal Director, Disability Rights DC at University Legal Services (DRDC) & Morgan Whitlatch, J.D., Director of Supported Decision-Making Initiatives, Center for Public Representation.

A headshot of Sandy Bernstein, Legal Director from Disability Rights DC, University Legal Services
Sandy Bernstein, Esq. Legal Director, University Legal Services
A picture of Morgan Whitlatch, a white woman with red curly hair, who is wearing glasses and a light blue suit and smiling at the camera.
Morgan Whitlatch, J.D., Director of Supported Decision-Making Initiatives, Center for Public Representation.

Together and separately, Ms. Bernstein and Ms. Whitlach have dedicated many years fighting to protect and advance the rights of District residents who experience developmental and other disabilities. In collaboration with disability advocates and other constituency groups, they assumed a major leadership role to in the expanded definition of eligible adults under the Developmental Disability Administration, DC Department on Disability Services (DDS) in 2022. Their expert legal skills, deep knowledge of the District’s disability community, perseverance, partnerships, and collaboration were pivotal to achieve this major system change. Both awardees have dedicated their legal careers to achieving the goals of the Americans with Disabilities Act – equal opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency for persons with lived experience of developmental and other disabilities who reside in the District and beyond. They have represented many persons with disabilities before agencies and the courts and advocated for policies and practices that protect the rights and improve the lives of people with disabilities. They both continue to counsel persons with disabilities, train attorneys, advocates and professionals who support them, and participate as active member of committees and boards. 

2022 Award Recipient

Lisa Greenman, Public Defender, Federal Death Penalty Resource Counsel Project. Ms. Greenman is a criminal defense lawyer who focuses on the intersection of disability and criminal justice. In death penalty cases, her understanding of mental illness and developmental disabilities has helped save lives in courts around the country. In non-capital cases as well, she is appreciated for crafting and relentlessly advocating for outcomes responsive to the needs of people with disabilities, working collaboratively and developing alternatives outside of the criminal justice system. For example, in 2022, Ms. Greenman and a pro bono team welcomed home to the District of Columbia a man with intellectual disability who had languished for years in solitary confinement in federal prison. In 2021, she and her team achieved a pardon from the Governor of Virginia for a young man with autism who likewise had endured extended periods of solitary confinement.

Interview with Lisa Greenman

Past Award Recipients


Theresa Vargas, Washington Post Reporter
Since her assignment to the Metro post in 2018, Ms. Vargas’s outstanding journalism serves as a catalyst to elevate the interests and needs of people with developmental disabilities in a palpable and compelling manner, and in a platform that maximizes public awareness and understanding. The GUCEDD honors Theresa Vargas for using journalism to advocate for the well-being of people with developmental disabilities and advocating for their inclusion in all aspects of community life.


Marisa Brown, Project Director, Former DDA Health Initiative, Georgetown University Center for Child and Human Development, University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities. Ms. Brown has spent over 35 year career as a nurse, supporting those with developmental disabilities, their families, and those DC residents from socially complex situations. During her time with the GUCEDD, she established and implemented, in collaboration with the Developmental Disabilities Administration, health care policies and practices for adults with intellectual disability and their caregivers addressing the systemic issues related to health care access and health care quality for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. She also spearheaded a variety of innovate projects for young children and their families including for children with developmental needs who were homeless and parents with intellectual disabilities.


Michelle Hawkins, Community Liaison Specialist, Intake and Outreach, Rehabilitation Services Administration, District of Columbia Department on Disability Services. Ms. Hawkins has had a central role in informing the community on issues, supports, and services essential to D.C. citizens with disabilities, their families, and their advocates. Her tireless efforts to understand and keep the community informed have advanced the services and supports to the community and brought many to the table to inform policy.


Leila Peterson, Executive Director, SchoolTalk DC
Ms. Peterson has provided leadership and collaboration to shift dispute resolution in special education to a positive opportunity for student self-advocacy and support for families through conflict resolution and constructive communication. Her continued work also brought together stakeholders and advocates creating a shared forum for issues on transition for middle and high school students in the District of Columbia.


Laura Nuss, Former Director, Department on Disability Services
Ms. Nuss provided long, steady, and collaborative leadership for infrastructure, system supports, and funding to ensure individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities have choices to live and work as independently as possible in their communities. She was instrumental in getting the Home and Community Based waiver and steered the District in meeting the Evan’s class action lawsuit requirements by working with self-advocates and community stakeholders.


Shileta Gorham, Independent Living Specialist Assistant
Ms. Gorham was nominated and received the award for her work with the Youth Empowerment to Succeed (Y.E.S.) youth peer support group and training program for high school students to learn skills to be successful living in the communities of their choice. Ms. Gorham was a member of the CILs Youth Transition Team and served as a member of the DC Statewide Independent Living Council (DC SILC). Ms. Gorham was one of the featured speakers at the GUCEDD Annual conference on the subject of transition.