Craig H. Neilsen
Visionary Prize

The Craig H. Neilsen Visionary Prize launched in 2020 to celebrate influential voices in the world of spinal cord injury. The Prize was created to honor the legacy of Craig H. Neilsen and is awarded to individuals who embody the values that were important to him during his lifetime.
Each prize winner is awarded $1 million, respectively.

2023 Visionary Prize Recipients

smiling man with short, graying hair, wearing a dark blue suit, light blue shirt and tie

Victor Calise

Victor Calise, a longtime disability advocate, is currently the Director of Walmart’s recently established Accessibility Center of Excellence in the Belonging, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion office. In 1992, at age 22, Victor was injured in a mountain biking accident, which left him paralyzed.

Prior to his time at Walmart, Victor spent over two decades in public service, culminating in his role as Commissioner of the New York City Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities under three different Administrations from 2012 to 2022. Responsible for ensuring that New York City is the most accessible city in the world, Victor advised Mayor’s and agency partners on accessibility issues, spearheaded public-private partnerships, engaged in major infrastructure changes, implemented accessible taxis, and chaired the Accessibility Committee of the City’s Building Code.

Prior to working in New York City government, he was a disability advocate in the nonprofit sector. His leadership led to the creation of the NYC: ATWORK employment initiative—the city’s first public-private partnership that directly connects individuals with disabilities seeking employment and businesses with open roles. Victor also consistently engaged with innovators in digital accessibility, communications, and autonomous vehicle development to ensure that accessibility remained a priority in technological advancements. He has served in numerous leadership capacities and was appointed to the “New” New York panel, which examined the future of New York City and its economy.

Victor, an avid athlete, competed in the 1998 Paralympic Games in Nagano, Japan as a member of the first U.S. national sled hockey team. A native New Yorker, he lives on the Upper West Side with his wife, Susan, and two daughters.

smiling woman with short gray hair and black turtleneck

Carmen Daniels Jones

Carmen Daniels Jones, based in Atlanta, Georgia, is the President/CEO, and founder of Solutions Marketing Group (SMG), a marketing consulting firm that develops data-driven strategies for organizations to market, serve, and employ people with disabilities. Carmen founded SMG in 1999. A car accident during her senior year of college resulted in paralysis. After the accident, Carmen decided to devote her career to uncovering opportunities for people with disabilities, who are often underserved and underestimated. Daniels Jones began her career at The Peninsula Center for Independent Living in Newport News, Virginia, where she worked with people with a range of disabilities.

Carmen advises companies on the viability and economic vitality of the disability market and positions them as inclusive industry leaders. She drives a passionate and informed conversation around the needs and desires of the disability community and provides informed solutions—one of strength, empowerment, and equality.

In her previous role at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Carmen served as a political appointee of the Obama Administration advancing the President’s agenda to remove barriers for small businesses and socially disadvantaged farmers to access USDA’s services. Carmen has been responsible for helping companies access new markets, and she has worked with global brands, including AT&T, Bank of America, Darden Restaurants, JPMorgan Chase & Co, WellCare Health Plans, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas, the Inland Empire Health Plans, Zappos, Hilton, American Express, Sodexo, and ESPN. In March 2023, Carmen was appointed a member of President Biden’s Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Access Board. She also serves on the boards of the United Spinal Association and the World Institute on Disability.

Man wearing black baseball hat

Vincent Pierce

Vincent Pierce, based in New York, is a music producer, gun violence survivor, and community organizer. He is co-director of the arts-and-justice initiative OPEN DOORS. As an OPEN DOORS Reality Poet, he has traveled around New York City sharing his story, poetry, and wisdom. As a teen, Vincent moved to North Carolina, where he studied music and played on multiple basketball teams. In his twenties, Vincent was shot while being robbed at gunpoint, leaving him paralyzed.

In 2019, Vincent began writing poetry after he was inspired by a writing workshop at Open Doors NYC. He started the music program ZING! which, he says, is “showing kids from neighborhoods like the one I grew up in that they are bigger than what their environments expect them to be.” Vincent’s poetry and writings have been published in Wheeling & Healing: A Poetry Anthology Edited by OPEN DOORS Reality Poets. He’s the recipient of a Center for Cultural Innovation Grant, which enabled him to start a music program aimed at keeping youth off the streets and in the studio.

In July 2020, Vincent launched #NursingHomeLivesMatter working for a healthcare system that protects, respects and cares for all those in long-term care, and for those who care for us.

Watch Vincent’s reaction to the Visionary Prize live on GMA

About the Prize

The Craig H. Neilsen Visionary Prize was established in 2020 to honor the memory and legacy of our Founder, Craig H. Neilsen. Created to reflect his dreams for the spinal cord injury (SCI) community, Prize recipients are influential voices for the world of SCI, unafraid to take bold risks. They also show great potential to expand or advocate for new ideas to enrich lives affected by SCI.

The Prize highlights values that were important to Craig in his lifetime. Recipients reflect many of the qualities that Craig was well known for, such as extraordinary determination, inexhaustible passion, and an ability to inspire. This unrestricted $1 million award is meant to draw attention to and celebrate passionate individuals advancing the world of SCI.

Selection Process

  • Nominators solicited by the Foundation
    The Foundation DOES NOT accept unsolicited nominations for the Prize.
  • Selection Committee evaluation
    The names of the nominators, nominees, and Selection Committee members will not be disclosed.
  • Awardees announced
    Prize winners will later be announced publicly on our website.

The Ideal Nominee

Individuals are chosen based on the influence and distinctiveness of the person’s contributions. There is no restriction on the specific profession of people considered for this Prize, as the world of SCI is made up of artists, athletes, clinicians, scientists, writers, and others. Ideal Prize nominees are mid-career individuals committed to SCI, with the potential to remain influential in the field as their work continues to evolve.

The Foundation does not accept unsolicited nominations for the Prize.

Nominations emphasize:

  • A body of work that has positively affected the SCI community and demonstrates creative/out-of-the-box thinking
  • Reflection/embodiment of the Foundation’s values
  • Potential to make an impact on people living with SCI
  • Ability to facilitate the nominee’s growth and influence on the SCI community

Prize Eligibility:

  • The individuals must live and work in the U.S. or Canada
  • Nominees can come from any field, but must have a meaningful connection to the SCI community