2020 Leadership Institute

Applications for the 2020 Leadership Institute are now closed. Thanks for all that applied. If you missed the deadline, please consider applying next year!

Who Should Apply?

Advancing Leadership Fellows are energetic, aspiring leaders with disabilities who are passionate about making change in their communities. Will you join us in 2020?


You may apply for the Leadership Institute if you:

  • Are seeking to make change in your community
  • Identify as a person with a disability (visible, invisible, or acquired)
  • Live in the seven-county Chicago region
  • Are looking to deepen your leadership skills or take on new leadership experiences
  • Are familiar with (or willing to learn about) disability rights and identity
  • Have at least 5 years of leadership experience (can be professional or volunteer)


The Leadership Institute is an immersive program that requires Fellows to commit to the full 12-month leadership program. This includes:

  • Orientation Session, Tuesday, February 4th, 2020 4:00 – 6:00 PM (Downtown Chicago)
  • Fellows Retreat
    Session 1: Wednesday March 4th 8:00 AM – Friday, March 6th 7:00 PM (Downtown Chicago);
    Session 2: Thursday, April 23rd – Friday, April 24th 2020 (Downtown Chicago)
  • Spring and Summer Networking Events (Location TBD)
  • Annual Symposium, Saturday, September 26, 2020 , 8:00 AM – 1:00 PM (Downtown Chicago)
  • Fall BoardLead Training (Location TBD)
  • Fellows Graduation, December 2020, 4:00 - 7:00 PM (Exact date announced Fall 2020) (Downtown Chicago)
  • Mentoring and small-group Fellows meetings (Year-round)

If you would like to preview a sample agenda of the Fellows Retreat, go HERE. There will be additional opportunities in 2020 and more details are available by contacting staff, but a basic commitment to this timeline is essential to eligibility.

How Do I Apply?

STEP 1: The application to apply is online. You will need 2 people in your network to submit a nomination on your behalf.

STEP 2: Finish your application by submitting your resume and 3 short essays.


  • Early bird deadline (guarantees interview): Monday, September 9, 2019 5:00PM CST
  • Final deadline: Wednesday, October 9, 2019 5:00PM CST

Only complete applications will be considered. Late applications will not be accepted.

For questions or technical assistance, contact Robin Burnett, rburnett@ada25advancingleadership.org or 312-994-4217.


Tuition represents a small fraction of the costs associated with this year long program. Employer sponsorship is strongly encouraged. Financial resources should not be a barrier to participation, and financial support may be discussed upon acceptance.

  • $3,000: Corporate
  • $1,500: Non-profit, Government, Small business or Self-employed

Application: Guide & Overview

Follow these simple steps to complete your Leadership Institute application:


  • Decide which deadline makes the most sense for you. The early bird is September 9 and guarantees an interview. The final deadline is October 9.
  • Identify 2 people in your network who will be able to submit a nomination on your behalf. Unless your Nominator approached you, notify your Nominators that you will be submitting an application for the Leadership Institute and your selected deadline. Two Nominators are required for consideration and be from a professional context, either an employer or supervisor.
  • The application process does require a short essay response. To preview the essay questions, applicants may go HERE.


  • The application to apply is online. You will need 2 people in your network to submit a nomination on your behalf.
  • Complete all three sections: Applicant Information, Voluntary Self-Disclosure, and Nominator notification form, then click the submit button.
  • You will receive an automatic email to your preferred email confirming the receipt of the first part of your application and a link to the second step of the application.


  • After completing Step One, you will receive a link to Step Two of the application.
  • Complete all sections including: Current Volunteer or Civic Positions, Current Civic Engagement and Interest, and Areas of Expertise, Short Essay Questions, Brief Bio, and upload your resume.
  • Review next steps carefully, then click submit.
  • Once submitted, you will receive an automatic email to your preferred email confirming receipt of the second part of your application.
  • Once an application is fully completed and received (including 2 Nominator forms), applicants will be contacted by staff with next steps.


  • Nominators will receive an automatically generated email with a link to the form and the deadline (please check junk folders!). If you have not received this and believe you should, please contact Robin Burnett, rburnett@ada25advancingleadership.org or 312-994-4217.

2020 Application Alternate Forms

The application is available as a downloadable Word document on this site, however, online submission is preferred. For preparation purposes, you may access the Essay Questions HERE.

If using this format for your final submission, return by one of the two following methods:

Email: Complete, scan, and email each section to
Robin Burnett, rburnett@ada25advancingleadership.org.

Subject Heading: 2020 Leadership Institute Application

Email may be time stamped no later than 5PM CST by your indicated deadline. If mailing via USPS, all forms must be postmarked by your stated deadline for consideration.

  • Early bird deadline (guarantees interview): Monday, September 9, 2019 5:00PM CST
  • Final deadline: Wednesday, October 9, 2019 5:00PM CST

USPS: Complete (use word processing program do not complete by hand) and mail completed forms to:

Robin Burnett, Director, Education and Operations
c/o National Able Network
567 W Lake, Suite 1150
Chicago, IL 606611
ATTN: 2020 Leadership Institute Application


Word Forms:
Application Form
Nominator Form

For questions or technical assistance, contact Robin Burnett, rburnett@ada25advancingleadership.org or 312-994-4217.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you define disability?

Disability is a natural part of the human experience and can be visible, invisible, or acquired. ADA 25 Advancing Leadership uses the broad definition of disability, which is a person who identifies as having a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activity. For example, some, but not all, Fellows accepted into this program self-identify as: blind, Deaf, low vision, Autistic, Deafblind, hard of hearing, having a physical or mobility, mental health or learning disability.

Who is an emerging leader?

Some of our Fellows are just starting out while others are recognized leaders seeking to understand our disability identities and diverse perspectives. Experience may include both professional and/or community-based volunteer leadership experiences such as founding or leading an organization, serving on a board or committee, or other ways of demonstrating leadership and initiative.

Who should apply?

Fellows are passionate about growing as leaders and becoming part of Chicago’s civic landscape. Energetic, aspiring leaders with disabilities who are passionate about making change in their communities. Our Fellows range from community activists and artists to entrepreneurs and corporate employees in the Chicago region.

How do I know if this is the right fit?

The Leadership Institute is an immersive year-long learning experience that prepares Fellows to collaborate, influence, and lead. While there are many definitions and attributes of leadership, our program is guided by the following framework.

Vision, Passion and Collective Action
We seek leaders who articulate and excite people to act around a shared vision of a more just and equitable future; and have the resilience to engage in the lengthy and complex process of realizing their vision.

Self and Social Awareness
Effective leaders recognize that making a difference rests on awareness of who you are, how you engage with others, and how social systems impact personal and collective experience. They facilitate trust and partnership by listening attentively, communicating clearly, and following through.

Disability Leadership
Our program encourages leaders to embrace disability identity as part of a larger community, inclusive of intersectional connections, to effect change with power and influence.

What will I get out of this experience?

Together, Fellows learn about both disability rights and leadership to become more prepared for civic and professional leadership roles. Our Fellows advance with a sense of empowerment that comes from gaining leadership skills and a network of influential leaders.

What information will help strengthen my application?

Tell us your story. We know that everyone is in a different place in their leadership journey. Appropriate answers include specific examples that help illustrate how participating in this program at this time will help your identified goals.

Who/what is a “Nominator”?

Nominators help us get to know you better. A “Nominator” should be someone familiar with your talent, experience and passion for civic engagement, and who can speak to your strengths. Nominators may be supervisors, managers, or a leader of a volunteer position to which you devote a significant degree of your time and talent. We know family may be our biggest fans, however strong applications include Nominators who are not family relatives.

How many Nominators do I need? And how will they be notified?

Advancing Leadership requires 2 Nominators to apply. We require at least one Nominator be from a professional context. Once you submit your Nominator information in Step One, an email is sent to that individual containing a notification and link to the Nominator form. It is the applicant’s responsibility to communicate stated deadlines to Nominators.

How and when will I be notified?

You will receive an automatic email confirmation upon completion of Step One. Applicants also receive a second email from staff 1-2 business days after completing Step Two.

Can I save and return to my application?

You can save and return to your application for Step One and Step Two by generating a private password. You are encouraged to save work as a separate Word document in case you experience technical difficulties.

What is an accommodation and what accommodations are provided?

Advancing Leadership is committed to a high standard of accessibility and creating a fully accessible experience. Accommodations are your right as a person with a disability. In an employment setting, “reasonable accommodations are adjustments or modifications that enable people with disabilities to perform the essential functions of a job efficiently and productively.” (See Ask EARN) For Advancing Leadership, reasonable accommodations pertain to all of our activities and programs including the Leadership Institute. To date and as an example, Advancing Leadership has provided the following accommodations on request: communication access real-time translation (CART) (on-site and remote), American Sign Language (ASL) and Cued speech interpretation, screen reader tagging of PDF/Word documents for JAWS, wheelchair accessible venues with accessible bathrooms and entry points, adjusted/added break time, preferential seating, and scent-free environments. Participants have also brought their personal assistants, service dogs, and support personnel as needed for a participant to participate fully. We also ask for dietary preferences for all meals provided throughout the program. For additional examples of accommodations, please see Ask JAN. Accommodations, program activities, and requirements are discussed as one on one conversations upon acceptance into the program or prior to interviews as needed.

How will this time commitment impact my work days (M-F 9am - 5pm) - how much time will I need to request off from my employer?

  • Leadership Institute: 5 Full work days over two sessions of the leadership institute retreat (February and April). If you would like to preview a sample agenda of the Fellows Retreat, go HERE.
  • Networking, partner, end of year, and other events: Plan on approximately 5-7 late afternoon or early evening events and 1-2 possible morning or lunch events (lunch events run approximately 11:30am - 1:30pm, and evening events usually begin at 4 or 5pm).
  • One half-day Saturday in September (this would not impact a typical work week)
  • See website for full calendar of events for the Fellows Year HERE.

Will there be an orientation or information session prior to application deadline where I can learn more?

Thanks for your interest! At the moment, no informational sessions are scheduled for 2019. To learn more contact Robin Burnett, rburnett@ada25advancingleadership.org or 312-994-4217.

I’ve been selected for an interview. How should I prepare?

Congrats! The interview portion of the application process is for our selection team to get to know you better as an applicant. We want to hear from you about how the Leadership Institute will help prepare you to achieve your leadership goals. Once your interview is scheduled, you will receive an email from our staff with interviewer names and titles and sample questions. If you are looking to do hands-on prep beforehand, we can put you in touch with an interview ambassador from a past Fellow cohort to share their interview experience. Please arrive a few minutes early to account for finding and entering the building. The attire is business casual. Additional requests for accommodations, arrival, parking, etc. should be sent to staff prior to interview.

Is there a way I can connect with past Fellows to learn more?

Check out this story about 2018 Fellow Grishma and her journey. Feel free to browse our Members page to see the diverse backgrounds, interest areas, and expertise our Fellows bring to the table. Their contact information is included.

I’m interested in supporting the Leadership Institute. How do I get involved?

Thanks for your intended support! The Leadership Institute is supported by generous donors like yourself. For ways to get involved by donating, contact Robin Burnett, rburnett@ada25advancingleadership.org or 312-994-4217.