Rahnee Patrick has spent her entire career fighting for equity and inclusion for individuals with disabilities.
Now, Patrick will have the opportunity to apply her passion and expertise in a key state leadership position. Patrick was recently appointed director of the Illinois Department of Human Services’ Division of Rehabilitation Services—the state’s leading agency serving individuals with disabilities.
“I’m thrilled and humbled to be moving into this position,” Patrick says. “I have a lot of experience helping people with disabilities, both as a professional and as a customer. I feel like it’s a great fit for me.”
The Division of Rehabilitation Services will be gaining an experienced and proven leader who also brings firsthand knowledge of disability topics. As an individual with disabilities, Patrick has used the Division’s services and served on its Advisory Council, where she provided counsel and advice based on her experiences as a customer. This career advancement comes on the heels of a 17-year tenure at Access Living, where Patrick’s work has included fair housing as well as overseeing the agency’s independent living program serving 1,500 individuals each year.
In pursuing her new position, Patrick had the strong backing of ADA 25 Advancing Leadership (now called Disability Lead) whose Public Service Leadership Project (now called Connections) works to increase the representation of leaders with disabilities in public service. The project brings leaders with disabilities to the attention of decision-makers and also gives emerging leaders the training, knowledge and support they need to pursue public service opportunities.
“How [Disability Lead] identifies and supports leaders with disabilities is unique and innovative,” Patrick says. “All public entities should take the time to invest in this service and tap into individuals with disabilities as an under-resourced talent pool.”
[Disability Lead] (then) Executive Director Emily Harris adds, “We applaud the Division of Rehabilitation Services for leading by example with appointed leadership that is truly inclusive and representative. Rahnee is an exceptional leader who will bring critical firsthand perspective to this key position.”
As director, Patrick will oversee the wide expanse of programming within the Division of Rehabilitation Services, which includes home services programs providing personal assistance, independent living, employment services, educational services and disability determination for Social Security. In addition to ensuring high-quality service delivery, she is eager to effect change on a longstanding challenge for Illinois: employment of individuals with disabilities.
“Illinois’ unemployment rate for persons with disabilities is very high: we rank 25th out of the 50 states,” Patrick says. “I’d like to see if the Division can help move the needle on that.”
Given Patrick’s long career helping individuals with disabilities live independently in their communities, she is also looking forward to shaping and supporting the growth of independent living across the state.
“Diversity is a strength for our community—the more inclusive we are, the stronger our outputs and outcomes will be,” Patrick says. “If people with disabilities aren’t fully included within our communities, we will lose our ability to be the best of the best.”
Rahnee Patrick is a Member of ADA 25 Advancing Leadership (now called Disability Lead) and currently serves as Director of the Illinois Department of Human Services’ Division of Rehabilitation Services. This article was written in 2019 at the time of the announcement. This connection was made in part thanks to our Public Service Leadership Project (now called Connections). This article was originally posted on The Chicago Community Trust blog on May 2, 2019.