LEAD PEOPLE Karen McCulloh - Project Director, LEAD Center
LEAD Center Project Director Karen McCulloh understands firsthand the opportunities and challenges in the workforce development system for the disability community. A professional registered nurse (RN) specializing in neurosurgical intensive care who also worked in community health nursing, as a nurse executive and as a nurse entrepreneur, McCulloh was initially informed that she was being considered for sheltered employment after developing multiple disabilities before her first in-person meeting with her vocational rehabilitation counselor, an incident that made her question her own abilities, self-identity and her future employment opportunities asking, “Is this what it is like to become disabled in America? Is this what happens to the majority of people with disabilities trying to find employment?”
McCulloh’s personal experience spurred her in a new professional direction. Unable to find employment as a healthcare professional after becoming disabled, McCulloh became the first RN in the state of Illinois who has multiple disabilities to set up a for-profit practice while creating her own specialty in nursing, Community Health Disability Education. She also co-founded the National Organization of Nurses with Disabilities, NOND, www.nond.org in 2003. Her leadership has extended into education, research, as a writer, grassroots program developer, organizer, disability rights advocate and into national disability employment policy. She has worked for the past 23 years in the workforce development arena for and with people representing cross-disabilities and is known as a “leader who thinks outside of the box.” She has worked with local, state, national and global corporations focusing on CEO education. McCulloh’s work extends to the promotion of healthcare careers for qualified veterans and civilians with disabilities and to the development of supports and best practices for healthcare professionals who are mature workers that become disabled after licensure.
In 2005, McCulloh accepted the founding Executive Director position of disabilityworks, an initiative set up at the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce where she focused her work in the Northeast Region of Illinois on the employment of people with disabilities which then became statewide in 2007. In 2006, McCulloh accepted a Federal Appointment from the U.S. Secretary of the Department of Labor to the National Job Corps Advisory Committee and was appointed as the Chair of the Disability Subcommittee. She was the only person with a disability to serve on this advisory committee. Recommendations developed by the subcommittee were sent to the US Secretary of the Department of Labor during the Bush Administration.
In 2008, McCulloh resigned from the Federal Appointment in order to serve on President-elect Barack Obama and Vice President-elect Joe Biden’s Transition Team in Washington, DC while she continued to work as the executive director of disabilityworks.
In 2010, she resigned as the executive director of disabilityworks in order to reestablish her own independent contracting business, Karen McCulloh & Associates Consulting. She received a Presidential Appointment from President Obama to the US AbilityOne Commission in 2011. In October 2012, McCulloh joined National Disability Institute as Project Director for the LEAD Center. Her passion is directed to the removal of barriers that keep people with disabilities from finding good jobs in integrated community settings and creating system change within the public workforce investment system. Karen is a graduate of Loyola University of Chicago and Grant Hospital School of Nursing in Columbus, Ohio.