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NCD, colleagues remember Andrés Gallegos

Monday, December 4, 2023
Andrés Gallegos, a hispanic male with gray hair wearing dark glasses and suit with white shirt and yellow tie, and an NCD lapel pin. Behind him is a sky background and U.S. flag.

For Immediate Release

December 4, 2023

WASHINGTON–The National Council on Disability (NCD) has lost its Chairman Andrés J. Gallegos, 62, of Illinois, who passed away Dec. 1.

Chairman Gallegos led NCD, an independent, non-partisan federal agency responsible for making recommendations on national disability policy to the President, Congress, federal agencies, state, territorial, tribal and local authorities.

U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, recommended Gallegos, of Chicago, be appointed to the Council to then-U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, who obliged the recommendation and appointed Gallegos to the Council on Feb. 7, 2018. Gallegos was then also serving as Chairman of the Board for Access Living.

He officially joined the Council after taking his oath of office on Feb. 22, 2018. A few years later, Sen. Duckworth again recommended Gallegos to then-President-Elect Biden to serve as NCD’s chairman. On January 20, 2021, President Biden designated Gallegos Chairman of NCD shortly after being inaugurated President of the United States.

Gallegos was a U.S. Air Force veteran, serving 14 years before pursuing his law degree at St. Louis University’s School of Law, graduating in 1993. He gave the 2022 graduating class commencement speech.

He was a well-regarded disability rights attorney in Chicago, who often remarked that he joined the “Disability Class of 1996,” after acquiring quadriplegia due to a spinal cord injury from a car accident. His disability would shape his experiences navigating his legal profession, and pursuits of disability rights.

“In a fraction of a second, I joined a beautiful community—a community today that consists of over 61.4 million people in the United States and in our territories,” he said, adding, “Disability is not something that needs to be avoided, not something that needs to be feared, and not something that needs to be cured.”

Council members are appointed by the President, and majority and minority leaders of the U.S. House and Senate. The President designates the chair of NCD.

Since Gallegos was appointed to the Council in 2018, NCD released 31 reports and papers–15 while chair–making systemic recommendations to improve national disability policy. These full-length publications were in addition to dozens of letters of advisement to various policymakers. To start his time as chair, he published a vision and priority statement focused on health equity, then led a cadre of esteemed disability health experts—known as his “Dream Team”—through lengthy discussions, ultimately crafting the Framework to End Health Disparities of People with Disabilities as a policy blueprint for recommended changes across government.

One of the core pillars of the framework was designating people with disabilities as a health disparity population for purposes of research. This year the National Institutes of Health did just that.

Chairman Gallegos’ family are in our thoughts during this difficult time.

Officials and colleagues shared their thoughts on his passing:

From NCD Council and Staff:

Vice Chair Claudia Gordon

“Andrés was one of our community’s greatest champions for health equity. On day one of his chairmanship, he put the flag down for his tenure making it known that his top priority would be health equity, as health is the predicate to engaging all other aspects of our lives. To anyone working in healthcare – from providers and medical associations to policymakers in Washington, he insisted that the long history of disability health inequities be recognized and meaningfully addressed. He was tireless in this pursuit. Andrés played an important role in securing the recent National Institute of Health’s health disparity designation for people with disabilities and was deeply involved in the review of recent proposed updates to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act rule addressing disability discrimination in health care.”

Having been appointed to the Council just last year, I was enjoying the good fortune of learning from Andrés as he led the Council and was so honored when he asked me to be his Vice Chair. I am deeply saddened for this learning opportunity and warm comradery to have been cut short. This is a tremendous loss for our community. We at NCD are committed to continuing his pursuits with a shared heart and in his honor.”

Executive Director Anne Sommers McIntosh

“I am very proud to have worked for and with Andrés. He was focused and determined. He regretted whenever he heard of ‘political realities’ as anything tempering of the greatest policy good, as his attention was always on the needs of the community as paramount, no matter what the state of affairs in Washington, DC, or elsewhere.”

“Andrés was a smart policy mind to be sure, but I’ll also remember him for his kindness, generosity with his time, and how he expertly inserted levity into difficult discussions to sustain us through them. He rounded out many late-night phone calls with doting talk of his grandchildren and family. He was always so grounded in his pursuits. He was an excellent boss and an outstanding leader of the agency. We will miss him sorely, but in his honor, we will channel our grief into motivation to continue the work he most passionately pursued.”

Councilmember Hoskie Benally Jr.

“I very much was impressed with Andrés’ personable approach, knowledge, and intelligence.  We have lost a leader, but the most we can do is to continue to honor his commitments and visions for people with disabilities. As a Native American, I will always remember him for bringing to the forefront of NCD the need to address the adversities being experienced by Native Americans with disabilities across Indian Country. May the great spirit bless his family with emotional and spiritual healing.”  

Councilmember Sascha Bittner

“I am heartbroken. Andrés was such an amazing, dedicated man with a clear, compelling vision for what he wanted the Council to accomplish on behalf of disabled Americans. His leadership, passion, and sense of urgency regarding the critical responsibility with which we have been tasked has motivated and inspired all of us on the Council. Andrés not only possessed a sweeping understanding of the challenges facing our community and the policy changes needed to address them but was also just so personally kind, generous, and supportive. My deepest condolences to his wonderful family and to all those who loved him. Andrés profoundly touched the lives of so many of us, and we will do our best to carry on his legacy.”

Councilmember Theo Braddy

“Chairman Gallegos exemplified kindness and dedication as a leader,” said Councilmember Theo Braddy. He swiftly became both a mentor and friend to me,” he said. “The absence of Andrés from our collaborative efforts will undoubtedly be a significant loss.”

Councilmember Shawn Kennemer

“The world has lost a true champion for the rights of people with disabilities. My thoughts and prayers are with his wife and family.”

Councilmember Risa Rifkind

“Chairman Gallegos was an incredible leader. I had the honor of knowing and working with him prior to joining NCD last year. I knew what a fierce advocate he was. Once I joined NCD I was able to experience his leadership in a whole new way, including just how supportive he was. He made sure I always felt I had the knowledge and confidence to contribute. I know he served as a mentor to so many, and my experience is not unique because he was so generous with his time. This is an immense loss to our country, our disability community, and all the leaders he was developing along the way. I will miss him dearly.”

Councilmember Neil Romano

“Chairman Gallegos was a tireless advocate for people with disabilities. A man of great focus and skill. He will be missed.”

Councilmember Emily Voorde

“Chairman Gallegos was unapologetic in both his advocacy and in his care for all he encountered. He will be missed as a colleague, friend, and mentor.” 

From Congress:

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York

“I am heartbroken by the passing of Andrés Gallegos, whom I proudly appointed to the National Council on Disability in 2018. Mr. Gallegos’s legal and healthcare expertise made him a fierce advocate for Americans with disabilities. President Biden recognized his leadership and designated him chairman of the council in 2021. I am praying for his family and everyone who knew and loved him.”

U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth of Illinois

“I’m deeply saddened by this tremendous loss for the disability community. Chicagoan Andrés Gallegos devoted his life to inclusion, health equity and accessibility. It was an honor to work with him to protect our rights and ensure our nation lives up to the promises enshrined in the Americans with Disabilities Act. May he rest in peace.”

From Federal Officials:

Administration for Community Living (ACL) Acting Administrator Alison Barkoff

“Andrés was a powerful force in the fight for disability justice, and he changed the world for disabled people through his legal and policy advocacy and leadership in the independent living movement. As NCD chair, Andrés partnered with the Department of Health and Human Services to ensure the formal designation of people with disabilities as a population that experiences health disparities and to address discrimination in medical treatment in updates to rules implementing Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. While we grieve Andrés’ passing, we will build on his legacy by ensuring the vibrancy of the independent living programs he helped shape and continuing the fight for the full inclusion of disabled people in all aspects of life.”

U.S. Department of Labor Assistant Secretary of Labor for Disability Employment Policy Taryn Williams, Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP)

“My colleagues at the Office of Disability Employment Policy and I are terribly saddened to hear about the passing of our friend and the Chair of NCD, Andrés Gallegos. He was a caring leader and strong collaborator with ODEP. His presence will be missed, but his impact on disability rights nationwide will be lasting.” 

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Office of Disability Integration & Coordination Director Sherman Gillums Jr.

“Our nation has lost a great man in body, but Andrès Gallegos’ spirit will live on as a central part of every effort FEMA’s Office of Disability Integration and Coordination undertakes next year to advance environmental justice and disability integration in emergency management. I extend my deepest condolences to Andrès’ loved ones and his National Council on Disability family, as we work together to honor his legacy as a champion for all people with disabilities.”

An official website of the National Council on Disability