A widely recognized and visible champion, national spokesperson and enthusiastic advocate for disability rights, deeply committed to educating the public and bringing mainstream visibility to issues that impact the disability community and the greater community at large, Juliette Rizzo knows firsthand the power of transforming limitations into opportunity.
Juliette acquired three physical disabilities (juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma and fibromyalgia) in her youth but refuses to define herself by traditional barriers and preconceptions. Using her greatest gift, namely her ability to tell her story of true physical and emotional recovery with strength, courage and hope, she has inspired thousands as the former Ms. Wheelchair America, encouraging others to find their own courage, share their vision and help her change the world.
As one of Maryland’s Top 100 Women, Juliette also is an award-winning public relations professional, employed as the Director of Special Projects, Partnerships and Events in the U.S. Department of Education in Washington, D.C., engaging others in the President’s and Secretary’s national education agenda. From concept to crowd building, production to pre-show, as well as site selection and on-site management, Juliette has an extensive track record of directing and planning high-profile special events. From building an event for First Lady Michelle Obama in the East Room of the White House to designing a STEM event with Ivanka Trump at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum, to co-directing an historic commemoration of the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon B. Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, complete with the original “Freedom Riders” of yesterday and 75 young freedom riders of today, who boarded buses, or “rolling classrooms,” in front of the Lyndon Baines Johnson Department of Education Building for a symbolic and celebratory “return to freedom” ride to the governor’s mansion in Richmond, VA, Juliette’s work has received national and international media attention.
Recently, Juliette was awarded the first RISE Forward Award in Loudoun County, Virginia for her work engaging American high school theater students, working uniquely with a sister school in Canada via Skype, in the White House arrival ceremony of the Prime Minister of Canada. In addition, her work extending the reach of the White House Easter Egg Roll to school districts across Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia also was recognized with the Assistant Secretary’s Award for Communications. Other events in her portfolio include Presidential State Arrival Ceremonies (for the Holy See, Canada, Japan, China, Singapore, Italy and the Nordic countries of Finland, Denmark, Sweden and Iceland); White House Halloween, Let’s Read! Let’s Move! one-of-a-kind reading and physical activity events for children hosted at the U.S. Supreme Court, the National Library of Congress Thomas Jefferson Library (where only Queen Elizabeth has held an event before), the National Archives and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts; FLOTUS film screenings, workshops and garden events; national bus tours for the Secretary, media and campaign launches, etc.
Very successful at recruiting top talent and entertainment, Juliette’s events and related projects have featured ABC’s Chef Carla Hall, CSI’s Hill Harper, HGTV’s The Property Brothers Drew and Jonathan Scott, Star Trek’s LaVar Burton, Morgan Freeman, Tony award-winning actress Phylicia Rashad, U.S. Olympian Michelle Kwan, NBA’s Jeremy Lin and Kareem Abdul Jabbar, the NFL’s Brian Mitchell, John Fina and LeVar Arrington, Wimbleton’s Leander Paes and Martina Hingis, personal trainer to the former First Family Cornell McClellan and a variety of other celebrities and public figures.
Prior to this, Juliette served as Director of Conference Services and Agency-wide Outreach for the Department of Education, promoting the national education agenda through 60 trade shows and exhibits a year and coordinating internal agency-wide outreach across 21 principal offices and 10 regions.
As part of an executive leadership program, Juliette also worked with the National Transportation Safety Board in D.C., where she advised on internal and external communication strategies for the agency, its Chairman and appointed Board members, as well as its modal offices, under the direction of the managing director. Juliette was made aware that her recommendations were incorporated into an overall reorganization plan by the managing director and later implemented in part by new leadership.
Juliette found her courage, shared her vision and began her career at the Department of Education as the Director of Communications and Media Support Services for the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS), under the world-renowned disability advocate and then Assistant Secretary Judith E. Heumann. Juliette also provided communications support to the Commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration and the directors of the Office of Special Education Programs and the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research. In addition to media relations, Juliette directed both internal and external communications, as well as national events, including milestone celebrations for the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
Involved in the establishment and promotion of a partnership with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, its 3,000 chambers, three million member businesses and its Center for Workforce Preparation to increase the employment of people with disabilities, Juliette led a creative team of designers, copywriters and editors from the Department and the Chamber to develop the guidebook “Disability Employment 101. “
As an advocate for inclusive health and wellness, Juliette was called upon by former U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona to host “Disability is Not Inability,” the nationwide video release of the Surgeon General’s first “Call to Action to Improve the Health and Wellness of Persons with Disabilities.” In 2015, Juliette also was called upon by former U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy to launch another national Call to Action focusing on Walkable, and thanks to Juliette, Rollable Communities. Most recently, Juliette was invited by the National Center on Physical Activity and Disability to speak about health equity and support the Inclusive Health Bill of Rights at the National Press Club for the Inclusive Fitness Coalition: Celebrating 10 Years Event.
Known for her story-making abilities as a journalist, Juliette also pitched to the Maryland-based Discovery Health channel that people with disabilities have the same fitness and wellness needs as everyone else, a message often overlooked by the mainstream media and in local, state and national health and fitness arenas. Experiencing weight loss challenges personally due to limited mobility, secondary conditions and inaccessible workout facilities, Juliette advocated for producers to profile someone with a disability in the channel’s fitness programming. Receiving a surprise telephone call from Film Garden Entertainment in Hollywood, Juliette became the first person with multiple, severe disabilities to appear on the mainstream, health and fitness “National Body Challenge” series and related news break commercials advocating fitness for “every body.” Reaching millions, Juliette’s message about embracing a healthier lifestyle is still featured in their programming today. As a result, Juliette earned a Presidential Active Lifestyles Award from the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition and appeared on The Learning Channel and PBS in “Education News Parents Can Use: Keeping Kids Healthy, Physically Fit and Learning throughout the Year.” Juliette also has been featured on television working out with her trainer in a boxing gym.
Refusing to accept the barriers many women with disabilities face to receiving adequate healthcare, Juliette also advocated to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office on Women’s Health to ensure the needs of women with disabilities are integrated into nationwide women’s health information dissemination and national awareness campaigns. As a result, Juliette was selected by HHS to appear on the CBS Early Show as the first woman with a disability to serve as the national spokeswoman for National Women’s Health Week and National Women’s Check-Up Day, advocating to millions for preventative health screenings for all women and breaking down firsthand the myth that disability equates to sickness.
Before coming to D.C., Juliette was recruited by Pierce, Deditius & Galyean (PD&G) Advertising, the once leading healthcare advertising agency in the Southwest, to direct public relations for the agency’s national and international client base, including Johnson & Johnson Medical, Columbia Children’s Hospitals and Slugger Orthopedics. Her work was recognized with a “Best of Texas” award from the Texas Public Relations Association and an International RX Award.
Prior to this, she served as Director of Disability Support Services for Texas Woman’s University, managing a caseload of over 200 students with disabilities and expanding academic service provision and curriculum access across the University’s four campuses. In between advising and mentoring students, consulting with staff about reasonable accommodations, and chairing the University’s ADA committee, Juliette increased visibility of available services through an expanded community outreach program and an award-winning promotional campaign.
Recognized for her numerous achievements, Juliette was selected as Ms. Wheelchair Maryland 2004, Ms. Wheelchair America 2005, and has been featured in publications and on radio and television around the world, including Woman’s World Magazine, Life Magazine on-line, Time Magazine, The Today Show, the CBS Early Show, the Discovery Health Channel, National Public Radio, the Maurice Boland Show (Spain), Arthritis Today, Exceptional Parent, Careers & the Disabled, Vegetarian Times, New Mobility, The Washington Post Magazine, etc.
Juliette is an active volunteer and citizen advocate who believes participation is more than having a physical presence in the community. She says it’s about finding identity through involvement in and contribution to community life. Juliette is a “Heroine of Washington,” honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the March of Dimes for her dedication to community service. She also is recognized as a Drum Major for Service by the White House and the Corporation for National and Community Service with the President’s Volunteer Service Award, for “her extraordinary work and service within the education sector and the broader community….where she continues to devote numerous hours to serving individuals living with disabilities to help them live their best life.”
She received the Governor’s Citation by Governor Martin O’Malley for her work on behalf of people with disabilities in the state of Maryland, and the League of People with Disabilities honored Juliette as Advocate of the Year. She also holds the key to the city of Columbia, South Carolina presented to her by former Mayor Bob Coble. She was recognized by Washington Women in Public Relations (WWPR) as one of three extraordinary public relations practitioners in Washington, D.C. and also was recognized by Tau Kappa Alpha National Honor Society in Journalism.
Juliette has applied her award-winning public relations background to raise awareness of arthritis and its impact on 46 million Americans, having served in a volunteer capacity as National Public Relations Chair for the Arthritis Walk, an $11 million property involving nearly 350 events in 40 markets with more than 80,000 walkers.
Juliette serves as a committed member of the award-winning board of directors of Easter Seals Greater Washington-Baltimore Region. As a lead spokesperson, she has attracted, engaged and influenced partners, investors, leading philanthropists and prospective board members with capacity to realize the mission and future vision of Easter Seals, resulting in funds raised, people served, lives improved and stronger communities. She also helped communicate the vision for and actively supported the $18 million capital campaign for the groundbreaking and launch of Easter Seals 42,000-square-foot Harry & Jeanette Weinberg Inter-Generational Center, an international model of service delivery custom-built to provide services for over 1,500 children and adults with special needs.
Juliette is listed with Damon Brooks Associates, the leading nationwide speakers bureau representing people with disabilities, and appears regularly before audiences from 10 people to 20,000, across the United States speaking on topics ranging from the employment of people with disabilities to accessible transportation, public relations/communications, image building, diversity, health and wellness, etc. She moderated the private release of the Sundance docu-series PUSH Girls and the private screening by Fox Searchlight of the movie “Sessions,” starring Helen Hunt and John Hawke. Juliette recently addressed American Airlines crew chiefs at Reagan National Airport and previously served as an enrichment speaker and ambassador for Celebrity Cruise Lines under Royal Caribbean International, where she also provided disability awareness training to front-line dining and stateroom cruise staff. She currently serves on the Royal Caribbean Guest Advisory Board on Disabilities.
Identified as one of 21 international thought leaders on leadership (including Former President Bill Clinton), Juliette was invited by HR.com to speak at the “Oscars of Human Resources” Leadership Excellence and Development (LEAD) conference in Dallas, TX. She also delivers keynote addresses and diversity workshops across the federal government, focusing on the employment of people with disabilities. Previous addresses include the Office of Management and Budget in the Executive Office of the President, the Internal Revenue Service, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (USDA), the U.S. Department of Treasury, U.S. Department of Defense (DOD), U.S. Department of Homeland Security (Transportation Security Administration, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol and FEMA), U.S. Department of Commerce, U.S. Department of Energy, and the U.S. Department of Education, as well as the Social Security Administration, General Services Administration, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the U.S. Agency for International Development, U.S. Department of Agriculture, NASA and the National Institutes of Health. She also keynoted the Perspectives on the Employment of Persons with Disabilities Conference sponsored by the U.S. Census Bureau, the Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, NOAA, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, U.S. Department of Labor, USDA and the DOD.
Juliette holds a Master of Journalism degree, focusing on public relations with a unique minor in rehabilitation studies, from the University of North Texas and a Bachelor of Science degree in journalism from Texas A&M University. Juliette also is a graduate of Partners in Policymaking, a national leadership training program to promote independent living and to teach self-advocates with disabilities to influence public policy. Residing in North Bethesda, MD, she served three governor-appointed terms on the Maryland Commission on Disabilities and was appointed by the governor to the Maryland Statewide Independent Living Council.
As a freelance journalist, Juliette has been published in Allied Healthweek, Nurseweek and Advance magazines.
Amidst the stories of great disability leaders, Juliette’s passionate message can be found in the compilation “Enabled in Words: The Real Lives, Real Victories of People with Disabilities.”