Four new members were recently appointed to the Mayor’s Commission on People with Disabilities—Julia Blackwell, Liam Dougherty, Paula Anne Smith-Benson, and Cecelia Thompson. The new Commissioners, recommended by Executive Director Koert Wehberg, bring a wealth of diverse disability experiences. Read on to learn more about them.
Julia Blackwell has a strong background and demonstrated commitment to increasing the employment of Philadelphians with disabilities. She previously served as a Governor-appointed member of the Pennsylvania Rehabilitation Council, as well as a Specialist at the Social Security Administration. She now works as the Director of Business Development at JEVS Human Services. In her new role as a Commissioner, Julia serves as the Chair of the Employment Committee.
As the Policy Coordinator at Liberty Resources, Liam Dougherty is deeply immersed in the disability community. From his work with the grassroots advocacy organization ADAPT to his service as a Disabled in Action board member, Liam has his finger on the pulse of what the disability community wants. As a wheelchair user, Liam has first-hand understanding of obstacles many other residents with disabilities face. He plans to focus on combatting systemic inequities as a new Commissioner and Chair of the Housing Committee.
Paula Anne Smith-Benson is a former Major in the United States Air Force, and honorably served our country for 20 years. While serving in the Air Force, she became a Registered Nurse with extensive experience in women’s health. During her years of service, Paula experienced sexual trauma and intimate partner violence, but she turned her pain into her passion for helping other survivors achieve a fulfilling life. She is the Executive Director of the Women Veterans Command Center in Philadelphia and is pursuing a Doctor of Management in Strategic Leadership. Paula looks forward to bringing her varied skills in women’s health and trauma informed advocacy to the Commission.
Cecelia Thompson was inspired to advocate for the equity of people living with disabilities after raising her son, a 21-year-old young man with autism. In addition to being a proud mother, Cecelia serves the community as a Chairperson on the Philadelphia Right to Education Local Task Force and as Secretary and Board Member for Philadelphia Family Voices. As a new Commissioner, Cecelia plans to use her experience as a parent and advocate to be a voice for the voiceless and empower residents with disabilities.