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Karen Jane McCulloh, BS, RN

Karen Jane McCulloh, RN, BS, has worked as a professional registered nurse (RN) while specializing in neurosurgery, intensive care, community health nursing and as a nurse executive; as an entrepreneur owner of her own small for-profit business,   Karen McCulloh & Associates from 1990 to 2005; and, served as the founding Executive Director of a new initiative in Chicago established as disabilityworks which is focused on the employment of people with disabilities 2005-2010. Unable to find employment after becoming disabled, Karen became the first RN in the state of Illinois who has multiple disabilities to set up a private for-profit practice while creating a new specialty in nursing, Community Health Disability Education. She has had to interrupt her career three times in order to learn how to do “old things” new ways due to the gradual development of disabilities after licensure.  

Karen became the founding Executive Director of the disabilityworks initiative at the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce in September, 2005. This initiative was set up as a result of Chicago’s Mayor Richard M. Daley’s Task Force on the Employment of People with Disabilities which was in session from 2002-2005. Karen’s work included setting up a solid foundation for programs identified by the Task Force and the State of IL Dept. of Commerce and Economic Opportunity which would eliminate or reduce the barriers that keep people with disabilities from finding jobs. 
She also worked with the State of Illinois to expand disabilityworks statewide in 2007. Karen’s leadership contributed to disabilityworks becoming one of only four organizations in the United States in 2006 to receive the US Department of Labor New Freedom Initiative Award.  
I am convinced that healthcare professionals with disabilities bring to their practice competencies that otherwise would not be present in patient care or, at any other workplace. I also am interested in ensuring that nurses prior to the development of disability or chronic health conditions understand their civil rights and rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Too many nurses leave their careers not realizing that with or without accommodations if needed they could remain and work within their profession. I am also interested in influencing national public policy that is directed to the employment of people with disabilities.
Karen McCulloh
In May, 2006 Karen received a Federal Appointment from the US Secretary of the Department of Labor to the National Job Corps Advisory Committee and was appointed by the National Director of Job Corps as the Chairwoman of the Disability Subcommittee.  Karen was the only person with a disability to serve on the advisory committee.  Recommendations developed by the subcommittee were approved by the advisory committee and the top tier recommendations were sent to the US Secretary of the Department of Labor.

In 2008 Karen resigned as a member of the Job Corps Advisory Committee and as  a Federal Appointee in order to serve on President-elect Barack Obama and Vice-President-elect Biden’s Transition Team in Washington, DC.  She held two jobs at this time as she continued to address her responsibilities as the executive director of disabilityworks. 

Karen’s leadership extends into education, research, as a writer, grass roots program developer, organizer, disability rights advocate and into disability policy. She has worked for the past 21 years in the workforce development arena for and with people with disabilities as well as with businesses, government agencies and nonprofit organizations and is known as a leader who “thinks outside of the box.”  Karen’s passion extends to the promotion of healthcare careers for people with disabilities and to the development of supports for nurses who develop disabilities after licensure.  In 2011 she acted as the consultant on healthcare careers as a subcontractor on a project sponsored by the US Dept. of Labor Office of Disability Employment Policy, Healthcare Careers for People with Disabilities:  Career Trends, Best Practices and Call-to-Action National Summit.

Karen resigned as the executive director of disabilityworks effective February 1, 2010 in order to re-establish her own small business, Karen McCulloh & Associates Consulting which is now a national firm. She currently serves as a member of the National Disability Leadership Alliance Employment Team and is an Advisory Panel member of the National Technical Assistance Research Center, Rutgers University; a member of The Chicago Community Trust Persons with Disabilities Fund Advisory Board and is a member of The Chicago Network. 

Karen co-founded the National Organization of Nurses with Disabilities (NOND), in 2003 and served as the founding President 2003-2006.  Karen currently serves as the Immediate Past President and has served as the national spokeswoman for NOND on national employment issues for people with disabilities.  Karen was instrumental in writing a non-legislative recommendation that was sent to President Obama’s Administration regarding opening up healthcare careers to veterans and people with disabilities.  She is also serving as the Chairwoman of the NOND Board Development and Nomination Committee and NOND By-laws Committee.  She is a former Chairwoman of the Board of Directors of Access Living Center for Independent Living (CIL) of Metro Chicago and has served as a Director through various terms since 1994.  She has agreed to serve as a Resource Person for a Task Force set up by Gallaudet University, Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester Medical Center to explore healthcare careers for people who are hard of hearing and deaf.   

Karen began researching nonverbal communication in 1993 and developed a Nonverbal Communication Skills Development Program for people who are blind and have low vision.  She conducted two of these programs at the Chicago Lighthouse where one of these programs included a longitudinal study of the impact of the program.  She is currently working on a “Train the Trainer” Rehabilitation Manual while under contract with the American Printing House for the Blind in Louisville, Kentucky so that her program may become available on a national level. 

In September 2011 President Barack Obama announced that Karen would receive a Presidential Appointment to the AbilityOne Committee for Purchase from People Who are Blind or Severely Disabled. 
Among the honors Karen has most recently received are the Spirit of Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award from the Chicago Lighthouse for People Who are Blind and Visually Impaired May 2011, William F. Lynch Award from the Guild for the Blind, Chicago, Illinois, a Crystal Award from the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago for her advocacy for people with disabilities and the NationalAble, AARP, NBC 5 Claude D. Pepper Distinguished Service Award.  

Karen is a graduate of Grant Hospital School of Nursing in Columbus, Ohio and of Loyola University of Chicago when she returned to the university after becoming visually impaired.  It took Karen 20 years to obtain her undergraduate degree due to a chronic health condition but she never gave up and kept returning to the university until she accomplished her goal.   

Karen has attended Harvard School of Business program, “Governing for Nonprofit Excellence,” and the Northwestern University Kellogg School of Business Executive Leadership Institute for Nurse Executives in 2007.  She was the first RN with disabilities to have been admitted into these two leadership programs.  She is known as a person who carves out paths for other people with disabilities to follow as a groundbreaker who does not give up.