From the ski hill to Capitol Hill
Henry Claypool’s (Geog’89) commitment to working on behalf of Americans with disabilities is a deeply personal one.
More than 25 years ago, he suffered a spinal cord injury that left him a triplegic. The accident happened while he was skiing, a sport he loved for the freedom and independence it offers. As newly appointed director of the Office on Disability for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, he now oversees the implementation of all health and human services programs and initiatives pertaining to Americans with disabilities. He also serves as the primary adviser to the secretary on disability policy.
As director, Henry wants to ensure that people with disabilities have access to the services and support they need to lead fulfilling lives in their communities. He remembers the marginal campus accessibility during his undergraduate years at CU.
“Everyone has insights into the struggles of life but they are magnified by a loss affecting the body,” he reflects. Working through chronic pain, he felt a sense of accomplishment in his ability to graduate from CU. “It was difficult to stay focused,” he remembers.
After a successful procedure relieved his pain, Henry was eager to utilize the insights acquired from his disability. A graduate-level “Rhetoric and Persuasion” course taught by political science professor Dennis Eckart opened his eyes to how strongly he felt about using his political interests to shape policies.
This combination served him well when he became director of CU’s Disability Services Office. As director from 1993 to 1998, he participated in a project to retrofit some of the old buildings to improve access for those with disabilities.
“My legacy was to make a modest attempt to improve access for others on the Boulder campus,” he says proudly.
In his more than 10 years in the Washington, D.C, and New York City areas, Claypool has been a policy director for a managed long-term care provider and served in an advisory capacity to the Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security administrative offices.
“It’s been a pretty interesting journey, one where I’ve given back,” he reflects. “Health care reform is the biggest challenge on the horizon.”
As for skiing, he returned to it but didn’t enjoy it as much.
“Letting go was part of the healing,” he remembers.
His work today is both time-consuming and enjoyable. “Find something you feel passionate about and pursue it,” he advises. “It makes life meaningful.”
— Marty Coffin Evans