David Whalen, project director, Disability Awareness Training at Niagara University, was honored for his selfless work within the community Oct. 28, 2021, during St. Bonaventure University’s Gaudete Medal Awards Dinner at the Admiral Room at the Marin, in Buffalo, N.Y.
Whalen, a 1984 alumnus of St. Bonaventure, has dedicated his career to working in the disability field, including 17 years with Opportunities Unlimited of Niagara. He founded Disability Awareness Training in September 2004, which sensitizes and educates individuals working in law enforcement; emergency response; human services; public, private and school transportation; corporations and businesses; places of worship; and schools on all aspects of disabilities. He has presented the training to more than 650 audiences in 10 states.
As a member and co-chair of the Western New York Developmental Disabilities Awareness Day committee, Whalen was instrumental in making DD Day the largest single day conference in New York state dedicated to the field of developmental disabilities. He also served as president of the New York State Association of Day Service Providers, and spearheaded the development of the Diocese of Buffalo’s Disability Action Team to better serve parishioners with disabilities. He was commissioned by the bishop in September 2009 to be the parish disability advocate at Saints Peter and Paul Roman Catholic Church in Williamsville, N.Y.
Whalen is active in numerous community organizations, including Skating Athletes Bold at Heart, the Committee on Special Education, and the Central Amherst Little League Challenger division. He is past president of the board of the Williamsville Special Education Parent Teacher Student Association, and former chair of the board of directors of the Parent Network of WNY, a nonprofit agency Parent Teacher Information Center serving parents of children with disabilities.
He was the inaugural chair, and is current resource person, of the Town of Amherst’s committee on disabilities and developed the innovative Town Hall Training (Disability Education and Awareness for Municipalities), which educates advocates to work within their municipality on disability matters. He is also the recipient of a three-year grant from the NYS Developmental Disabilities Planning Council to develop training on proper response to individuals with disabilities and access and functional needs in emergencies.
Whalen also serves on the Disability Advisory Board in Erie County and is a certified ADA trainer through the Region II Northeast ADA center.
Whalen is the recipient of the Advocate of the Year Award from Deaf Access Services of WNY; the Elayne G. Wels Community Support Award from WNY Independent Living Center; the Alumnus of the Year Award from St. Bonaventure; and the Vincentian Medal of Honor from Niagara University.
Whalen received both his bachelor of arts and master of science degrees from St. Bonaventure University, and is past-president of its Buffalo alumni chapter.
The Gaudete Medal is one of St. Bonaventure University’s highest honors. Awarded every year since 1996, the recipients are chosen through their demonstration of joy and service that exemplify the life of St. Francis of Assisi.