Smiling child

DRW Public Policy Director Lisa Pugh’s Hometown Newspaper Celebrates her Appointment to Presidential Committee

Reprinted courtesy of the Dodge County Pionier:



Daughter’s rare disability sparks passion and vision

by Gayle Rydstrom

Shortly after Erika Pugh was born 14 years ago, she was diagnosed with a rare disability called Rubinstein-Taybi Syndrome (RTS).

According to the RTS website, the disability ‘refers to a specific pattern of physical features and developmental disabilities which occur together in a consistent fashion. Individuals with Rubinstein-Taybi syndrome have short stature, developmental delay, similar facial features, and broad thumbs and first toes.’

“[Erika’s] early years were tough on our family,” said Horicon native Lisa Pugh, Erika’s mother. “She was fed through a tube for the first three years of her life and had many therapies and doctor appointments.”

Lisa discovered her strong views regarding inclusion for people with disabilities and her passion for advocating on behalf of other families because of Erika’s disability. Erika does not speak and has a significant disability, but she is the core of the Pugh family.

“My husband [Michael, a Mayville native] and I have a vision for including Erika in everything we do and to support her to live as independent and fulfilling life as possible,” said Lisa. “We strongly believe every person with a disability has something to contribute to our communities and they should not be segregated in our schools, our workplaces or our places of worship.”

On May 9, Lisa was appointed to the President’s Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities. It is a two-year term. Although Lisa will visit Washington at least twice each year, she and her family will continue to live in Madison.  

Her work as Disability Rights Wisconsin (DRW) public policy director will have her visiting Washington several times each year. She works on a variety of issues that impact lives, spending considerable time talking to legislators in the state capitol and their staff.

“I also visit Washington regularly and work with Wisconsin’s Congressional members to improve disability policies,” said Lisa. “I meet regularly with officials in the state Departments of Public Instruction, Workforce Development and Health Services to discuss policy change.”

A lot of her Lisa’s focuses on promoting Governor Scott Walker’s Better Bottom Line initiative, which is intended to increase employment opportunities for people with disabilities. She hopes her work will help employers understand contributions of employees with disabilities and help families raise their expectations for what their children can accomplish by working in a job with a typical wage.

“I love working directly with self-advocates (people with disabilities) and their families,” said Lisa. “One of the most rewarding parts of my job is a Partners in Policymaking training I co-facilitate.”

Six weeks of each year, 30 individuals statewide meet in Madison to learn how laws that impact people with disabilities are made and how to form a relationship with legislators.

“Everyday people can make a huge difference by telling their personal stories,” said Lisa. “This is how I try to empower people with disabilities and their family members.”

Erika attends classes with her friends without disabilities at Sennett Middle School in Madison. An eighth grader, Erika is on the school’s dance team and goes to a typical summer camp. This was not the case when Lisa was in school. The 1986 graduate of Horicon High School said students with disabilities were educated separately in those days and were not friends or classmates. That has since changed.

Members of the presidential committee are charged with delivering an annual report to the President and making recommendations on how to improve quality of life to individuals with intellectual disabilities.

“I am looking forward to offering a unique perspective on this committee and sharing all the good work Wisconsin is doing,” said Lisa. “I am incredibly proud to come from a state that invests in systems and policies that focus on quality of life for vulnerable people.”

This will be the second time Lisa will be helping to make changes from Washington. Michael was an airline pilot in 2008 when the economy crashed. Lisa had taken a break from working in 1999 when Erika was born.

After receiving a bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism from UW-Oshkosh, Lisa was a reporter at WBAY-TV2 in Green Bay until pursuing a career in public relations. With Michael unemployed, Lisa decided to apply for a national disability policy fellowship to jump start her career as the family’s main wage earner.

“I never truly expected to receive the prestigious fellowship, but to my surprise, I was flown to Washington for an interview and ultimately chosen,” she said.

Working in Congress was fast-paced, exhilarating and exhausting for Lisa. She staffed Congressional hearings, wrote communications for congressmen and prepped hearing witnesses.

That experience helped her become an expert on many state and federal policy issues that impact people with disabilities. Her work in Wisconsin meant she understood  more about where the ‘rubber meets the road’ as federal policies trickle into lives.

“This experience, combined with my personal experience as Mom to a young person with an intellectual disability meant I could come to the table prepared to offer a unique policy perspective,” said Lisa.

She was contacted last fall by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and was encouraged to apply for the presidential appointment. Those Lisa had worked with in Washington also supported the nomination. Lisa was contacted by a White House lawyer earlier this year to begin a vetting process.

“It is surreal to receive a call from the White House or to see my name on the White House website,” said Lisa. “I am extremely humbled by the honor of this position.”

Lisa grew up on a small dairy farm east of Horicon, which had been settled by her German Krueger ancestors in the 1860s. Her dad, Bernie Krueger, was a long-time ‘weather observer’ for WTMJ-TV4 in Milwaukee.

Bernie passed away in 1993. Lisa’s mom, Gloria, now lives in Mayville. Lisa was a football and basketball cheerleader while in high school. She was a member of the band and National Honor Society. Lisa was a state forensics participant and president of her senior class.

“I am very proud of my HHS Alma Mater and the quality public education I received there in a small community,” said Lisa. “I continue to be a strong believer in the value of a quality public education for everyone, including my own children, and especially including children with disabilities.”

In addition to Erika, Lisa and Michael are parents to McKenna, who is 17, and Luke, who is 10.

“Erika is the reason why I have had the opportunity to work in Congress, visit the White House, introduce my kids to presidential cabinet members and ultimately see great change for people with disabilities,” said Lisa. “My current job,making the world a better place for my daughter and other people with disabilities, is what I am meant to do.”