Brenda Hart Neihouse
Brenda Hart Neihouse is the director of The elai Project and authored the policy that anchors the project. Ms. Neihouse has worked as a chef, a movie extra, and a journalist. She has fundraised for nonprofits, project managed a fourteen million dollar environmental retrofit for Chevron Oil, taught the Federal Reserve how to scan images for their website, and written a technical manual for Turner Home Entertainment. In her late twenties, while living in New York City, Ms. Neihouse ran one of the eight union costume shops and managed a custom electric bass company, alongside the pursuit of a music career. After moving to the Atlanta area, Ms. Neihouse owned a business management consultancy, a graphic design studio and a brand development firm. By age 42, Ms. Neihouse was classified fully disabled by the Federal government.
At 17, Ms. Neihouse attended Hobart and William Smith Colleges, studying music and psychology. At 24, after recovering from being shot in her home during a robbery attempt, she attended Parson’s School of Design, studying fashion design under the tutelage of Frank Rizzo. At 47, Ms. Neihouse attended the University of Georgia, studying political science. During her tenure at UGA, her daughter was diagnosed with a severe disability and suffered from numerous medical conditions, necessitating two mid-semester withdrawals, and lengthening her time to completion of degree. Ms. Neihouse is three classes short of her A.B.
While at UGA, Ms. Neihouse advocated for fair treatment of disabled persons in many areas. From challenging inappropriate accommodations for bipolar disorder, to requiring UGA to adequately communicate accessibility, to creating parity in the online parking permit registration, Ms. Neihouse stressed compliance with both the letter and the spirit of the ADA.
Ms. Neihouse suffers from multiple disabilities including physical and mobility impairments, severe food and environmental allergies, trigeminal neuralgia, and bipolar. She suffers from long and short term memory loss, processing deficits, and the episodic nature of bipolar, as well as multiple drug side effects such as fatigue. Gaining a degree with this level of disability is difficult, but Ms. Neihouse is determined to finish her A.B. and continue on to an MPP and PhD in policy. Her disabilities have informed her path into advocacy.
Because she has a disabled child, Ms. Neihouse has experienced the same struggles that many families with disabled children face. She has advocated for her daughter in the IEP process with three different public schools, in two different counties in the state of Georgia. Ms. Neihouse finally made the choice to home school her daughter, rather than focus on the constant battle that the IEP process has become for most disabled students. Her daughter greatly prefers, and has blossomed in, home school.
When Ms. Neihouse’s daughter had to stop reading books at the public library because she was allergic to substances in the books, Ms. Neihouse’s advocacy spilled out into the community. Her daughter Joni went from reading a copious amount of books to reading none. As a mom with a home schooled child, with limited financial resources while she was at university, the public library had been a great resource for Joni’s education that evaporated with Joni’s allergies. Ms. Neihouse started advocating at the public library for appropriate accommodations. From that policy advocacy, elai was eventually born.
In The elai Project Ms. Neihouse sees the confluence of much of her life experience – business management, nonprofit fundraising, political science, project management, authoring policy, and advocacy. It is her express hope that these experiences can inform a new way of accommodating all disabled people to create full access to social goods and services.
In the next year, Ms. Neihouse will be directing curriculum development for elai, directing a second PSA, overseeing more animation (yay!), and ensuring thatThe elai Project coalesces as it should.