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Anne Rader on Empowering Women with Disabilities

Anne Rader hasn’t let disability slow her down. In fact, she’s helped empower women and others living with disabilities to be economically stable and self-sufficient through her extensive work in American policy and healthcare.

By Meghan Jeffery

The day Anne Rader turned 14, her mother turned off the television and said to her, “Anne, you need a skill.”

She got a B in her first typing class, and her mother forced her to retake the class until she got an A. Once she got an A, her mother marched her down to the United Way to interview for a job typing up press cards.

As she was leaving the meeting, Anne overheard the hiring manager say he was uncertain about hiring her. Her mother convinced him to give Anne two weeks as a trial. That two weeks turned into four years and that hiring manager became a lifelong mentor.

But it hasn’t always been this easy. As a woman living with a disability—Anne was born with Cerebral Palsy and was later diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis—she finds it challenging to get people to see beyond her disability to the extensive experience she’s garnered in the fields of healthcare and public policy in the United States.

“It’s about ability,” she says, explaining her career success. “We can do anything we want to do.”

She credits her mother Diane for imparting on her, determination and a can-do attitude. A PhD in Education, Diane consistently told her daughter: “Anne, you can do anything you want to do. You’re always going to have to work harder, but you can do anything you want.”

It’s an attitude that’s stuck with Anne throughout her career navigating the American healthcare system, advocating for people with disabilities, and speaking publicly on healthcare policy and organizational impact.

While the American healthcare industry can be challenging, challenge isn’t something Anne is afraid of.

“People have different perspectives of what challenge is. As many times as I want to give up, I can’t, because it’s just not in me,” she says. “People will tell you all your life that you can’t do things, but you have to surpass people’s expectations, because they’re generally too low.”

One of seven siblings, Anne grew up in Wisconsin and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science from Marquette University in Milwaukee. Upon graduation, she moved to Washington D.C. “as a starry-eyed 20-something straight out of college, thinking [she] could change the world.” She hasn’t looked back since.

Anne started her career at a boutique public relations firm, where she assisted with the design and implementation of public policy and outreach strategies on healthcare issues, engaging legislative, industry, and community leaders in the development and implementation of Federal health policies. She quickly became passionate about improving healthcare, especially those most vulnerable and at-risk. As a woman living with a disability, Anne knew that quality, affordable healthcare was key to anyone’s personal and professional success.

After four years with that firm, Anne had the privilege of working as a Special Advisor to the Secretary of State for the U.S. Department of Labor, Elizabeth Dole. Ms. Dole became more than just a boss and a mentor—she strongly influenced Anne’s decision to follow her passion and make a difference for others, particularly for women with disabilities.

Anne went on to become part of the healthcare team at Cassidy & Associates, a leading public affairs firm in Washington, DC where she was instrumental in helping hospitals expand their ability to transform healthcare and provide state-of-the art care for diverse populations. It was then Anne realized she could make a real difference in the healthcare industry.

With healthcare and public policy experience under her belt, Anne recognized that she needed a specific skill set in order to advance her career further. To help forge her way deeper into the world of policy and healthcare, she entered the Master in Public Administration (MPA) Program at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

Straight out of grad school, Anne started working at Fannie Mae, and spent seven years there working on housing and community development initiatives to promote affordable housing for underserved communities. She focused passionately on empowering women, people with disabilities, and senior citizens to achieve homeownership and economic self-sufficiency, something Anne says is a major factor for the success of the American economy.

Among many other career accolades, like working as Assistant Vice President for a New York City non-profit management consulting firm, and as an Associate with Booz Allen Hamilton, Anne also has a seat as a board member of the National Council on Disability. She was appointed to the Council by the White House in 2003 and served as Chair of the Healthcare Team. Today, as part of the Council, she is responsible for leading a study on healthcare for people with disabilities.

Because Anne was born with what she describes as mild cerebral palsy and later, unrelated, acquired MS, she spent a great deal of time in hospitals as a patient. “As an adult, you get to see how [the hospitals] operate; you see how important the work they do is.” Anne says her disability was a major factor in inspiring her interest in healthcare.

To this day, her own experiences make her a better and more credible advocate for the causes she champions. “Currently, I’m working with the Women’s Health Initiative as part of the Cerebral Palsy Foundation (CPF),” she says. This collaborative network of nationally renowned medical institutions is working alongside CPF to identify the barriers to better healthcare for women with disabilities and begin to develop and implement new approaches.

In her work advocating for the health needs of at-risk and vulnerable populations, Anne has had the opportunity to focus on a number of issues including access to quality care, public housing, and resources.  

“To me, technology and education are great equalizers,” Anne says. And while access tends to be limited to those with financial means, she’s committed to addressing this issue.

Anne herself has benefited greatly from the advancement of adaptive devices and technology. So much so that she now skis black diamond trails at Vail Mountain in Colorado—something she certainly wasn’t able to do as a child.

Despite her proven track record, Anne says she’s still often seen as a “nice woman” or an “inspirational woman” with a disability who is working and earning a living. But that’s not what she wants to be seen as. “I hope that in each of my positions I’ve had the opportunity to show people that a woman with disabilities can be successful, that she can do whatever she wants and have a huge impact while doing that. I want people to look at me and think Anne is a tough cookie. She makes things happen.”  


A version of this article originally appeared in the Fall 2016 Women of Influence magazine, Pages 24 – 25.