Denise Figueroa’s personal experiences with disability influenced her decision to pursue a life of advocacy – a decision that was sealed during her years at Brooklyn College, when she met other students with disabilities involved in the burgeoning disability rights movement.  She earned the Dr. Vera B. Dowd Award for College and Community Service, City of New York, while still an undergraduate, for her volunteer efforts advocating for disability rights in educational settings.

After college, Denise went to work in the New York City Mayor’s Office for the Handicapped as Section 504 coordinator. Her responsibilities included providing training and technical assistance to city agencies to ensure compliance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.  She also served as a plaintiff in a federal lawsuit against the New York City Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which led to court-ordered accessible mass transit throughout the city, benefitting millions of travelers.

Denise worked with the Eastern Paralyzed Veterans Association (now United Spinal) and the Capital District Center for Independence before establishing the Independent Living Center of the Hudson Valley (ILCHV) in 1987.  During her three decades and counting in that position, the center has added a second location in Hudson, NY and expanded its services to include artistic and health & wellness programs for individuals with disabilities.

In addition to her work with ILCHV, Denise has served her community at the local, state and federal levels. She has been on the board of directors of the Capital District Transportation Authority since 2002 and has served as its chairperson from 2010-2013.  She chaired the New York State Association on Independent Living’s board from 2002 to 2008, served and chaired the New York State Independent Living Council board from 2009 to 2014, and served as board member of the Consumer Directed Personal Assistance Association.

She was appointed by the governor to the Advisory Council to the New York State Commission on Quality of Care and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities and currently serves on the Advisory Board of the Justice Center.  Denise also served on the board of the United States International Council on Disability and was president of the National Council on Independent Living when the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law.

Denise is committed to hiring individuals with disabilities at ILCHV whenever possible.  One former staffer, Blaise Bryant, recalls, “Denise treated me with the grace and dignity I needed so I could learn how to succeed despite failing.”  Bryant is now a communications and outreach associate with Consumer Directed Choices, Inc.

Together with her late husband, fellow ILC founder and 2018 Hall of Fame inaugural inductee Pat Figueroa, Denise has played a leading role in removing barriers to independent living at a national level – but perhaps her greatest accomplishments can be found in the hundreds of lives she has impacted, one day and one life at a time, as director at ILCHV.