Shawn Aleong jumped and ran around his apartment with excitement after receiving an email that he was appointed to President Joe Biden’s Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities on March 11.
“It’s just a feeling I cannot describe, it’s just amazing,” Aleong said.
Aleong, who has cerebral palsy, will serve alongside 20 other members that were also appointed to the committee, some of whom also have intellectual disabilities. Other members include disability experts, advocates and family members of those with intellectual disabilities.
Aleong, who is also a TSG senior advisor, will serve as a federal advisor to the President and Xavier Becerra, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, though he does not yet have details on his specific duties. Each member of the committee will serve two-year terms, according to a White House press release.
“I hope to bring change that is needed for people with disabilities, like myself,” Aleong said.
Aleong met Biden last summer at the National Constitution Center, where the President spoke about passing the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, aimed at preserving citizens’ right to vote.
“They spoke for two minutes together in a crowd of people, Shawn and the President connected, and that’s the kind of energy that Shawn brings, that people are just drawn to him,” said Jacob Golden, TSG’s Chief External Services Officer.
Aleong plans to explore how the criminal justice system treats people with intellectual disabilities and wants to improve police officer training on interacting with people with disabilities. He previously interned for the Temple University Police Department where he taught police officers how to interact with people with disabilities.
He sits on the Philadelphia Police Advisory Commission, which reviews the Philadelphia Police Department’s policies and procedures and provides recommendations to the mayor for improving policing.
Aleong has met and spoken with national leaders and legislators to discuss his passion for criminal justice, disability rights and voting accessibility since 2012.
Aleong attended a press conference with Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey for the PA Achieving A Better Life Experience Act, a 2016 bill that establishes tax-advantaged methods for saving on disability-related expenses.
In 2017, Aleong spoke with Casey on two separate occasions at Philadelphia’s City Hall to advocate against cuts to Medicaid from the federal government’s budget.
Aleong testified in Harrisburg in July 2021 and February for the passage of PA House Bill 726, which would educate students about disabilities as a part of their school curriculum.
He also sits on the board of advisors for Temple University’s Institute on Disabilities, which gives people with disabilities access to assistive technology and opportunities for employment.
James Lammendola, a legal studies professor, met Aleong in Fall 2016 during his Law and American Society class. Aleong showed advanced knowledge of criminal law, due process and issues of law and race material taught in class and heavily participated in discussions.
“He not ony showed that he read the material, but he took a deep enough dive into it to think about it more,” Lammendola said.
Lammendola thinks Aleong is an engaging and knowledgeable person who will contribute significantly to the committee’s work, he said.
“It was no surprise at all that [Aleong] was appointed to something like that,” Lammendola said.
Aleong believes that the committee can make a positive impact on people with disabilities that live in the United States.
“If we keep having the mindset that people with disabilities can only do certain things, then we will never progress as a nation,” Aleong said.