Rebecca Hare was born in California. She was born with achondroplasia, a common cause of dwarfism. Both of her parents were born with the same kind of dwarfism and met at a Little People of America convention in the 1970s. Her father was William T. Hare, son of James Hare, a segregationist judge from Alabama.
She was educated at the University of California Santa Cruz, where she earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science in 2001.
Cokley began her career at the Institute for Educational Leadership where she worked for five years building tools and resources to empower and educate youth with disabilities and their adult allies. Cokley participated in the Education Policy Fellowship Program in 2006.
From 2009 to 2013, Cokley served as an appointee in the administration of President Barack Obama after being recruited by her life-long friend and mentor Paul Steven Miller. She first served as Confidential Assistant to the Assistant Secretary for the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services. She then served as Director of Priority Placement for Public Engagement in the Presidential Personnel Office at the White House where she was responsible for outreach to diversity and minority organizations to recruit professionals to the administration. She last served as Special Assistant to the Principal Deputy at the Administration for Community Living at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
On April 16, 2013, she became the Executive Director of the National Council on Disability by appointment of NCD Chairperson Jeff Rosen. Under her tenure, NCD focused on major civil rights issues of the day including police violence, mental health services for students in postsecondary education, and disproportionality of students of color with disabilities in identification and discipline in education.
Awards and recognition
In 2015, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the National Disability Mentoring Coalition named Cokley into the inaugural Susan M. Daniels Disability Mentoring Hall of Fame. She was also a recipient of the Frank Harkin Memorial Award by the National Council on Independent Living.
Cokley has consulted or given expert testimony to the National Council on Independent Living, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the World Bank, the Social Security Administration’s Ticket to Work Advisory panel, the President’s Task Force on Employment of Adults with Disability, and the committee for the U.S. Department of Labor’s Workforce Investment Act Reauthorization.
Her publications include “Youth Development and Youth Leadership: A Background Paper” from the National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth, articles on civic engagement for the newsletter Impact, “the 411 on Disability Disclosure,” “Paving the Way to Work: A Guide to Career-Focused Mentoring,” and various policy agendas for the National Youth Leadership Network.