Attorney Anthony (“Tony”) M. Abou Ezzi is the Founder of Ezzi Law, a premier law firm in the heart of downtown Chicago that provides legal services in the area of Estate Planning (Wills, Trusts, Powers of Attorney, Special Needs Trusts). He represents families in Probate court in cases of Adult Guardianship, Disability Law, and when a loved one passes. Tony founded Ezzi Law in 2014 after being selected by the Chicago Bar Association’s Justice Entrepreneurs Project.
Kyle was born and raised in Chicago’s northwest suburbs. He attended college at the Rochester Institute of Technology and graduated with a degree in finance. Upon graduation, Kyle moved to Seattle, Washington and worked for Starbucks in their finance program before relocating back to Chicago in 2020. Currently he is a Senior Finance Analyst at Walgreens.
Tara is the Project Director for The IL Self Advocacy Alliance. She is a 2020 AAPD Hearne Leadership Awardee and a graduate of New York University (B.A) & DePaul University (M.S). Besides working in non-profit, she is an accomplished photographer and artist.
Azeema Akram is an Administrative Law Judge at the Illinois Human Rights Commission (“IHRC”), where she presides over claims of unlawful discrimination pursuant to the Illinois Human Rights Act. Prior to joining the IHRC, she was an Administrative Law Judge at the Illinois Commerce Commission, adjudicating matters involving railroad safety, motor carrier licensing and regulatory violations affecting intrastate trucking, relocation towing, safety towing, collateral recovery, and household goods moving companies. She previously served the Commission as a Special Assistant Attorney General. In December 2019, Azeema became one of 34 members of the national Deaf & Hard of Hearing Bar Association to be sworn in the United Supreme Court Bar. She is also a member of the South Asian Bar Association of Chicago. As a deaf/hard-of-hearing attorney, Azeema is passionate about accessibility in legal proceedings. She regularly presents to attorneys and judges on accommodating people with disabilities in court. Azeema has been published in the American Bar Association Journal and was awarded the University of Missouri-Columbia College of Arts & Science 2021 Distinguished Alumni Award in recognition of her accomplishments. She is a Community Representative on the Regional Transportation Authority’s Paratransit Certification Formal Appeals Program Eligibility Review Board. Azeema is the Secretary on the Board of Directors of Red Clay Dance Company, Chicago’s premier Afro-contemporary dance company. She was a 2018 Fellow with Disability Lead. Azeema’s history of leadership in public service includes in-house and legislative experience. Azeema served as an Assistant General Counsel at the Illinois Department of Financial & Professional Regulation, where she provided legal counsel to the Director of the Division of Professional Regulation, Department staff, and professional boards (e.g., Medical Licensing and Disciplinary Boards) on legal and policy matters including final agency action. She also drafted and negotiated legislation and administrative rules with various professional industries and members of the General Assembly. Azeema also served as legal counsel for the Department’s statutorily-created Music Therapy Task Force and drafted its final Report, which was reviewed by the Governor and General Assembly leaders to determine whether to require State licensure for the Music Therapy profession. Azeema earned her B.A. in International Studies with a Multicultural Studies Certificate from the University of Missouri-Columbia and studied abroad in London. Since graduating from DePaul University College of Law with her J.D. and Health Law Certificate, Azeema continues to mentor law students and serve as a guest judge for multiple law school moot court teams in Chicago.
Former Deputy Commissioner City of Chicago Mayor's Office for People with Disabilities, Joe served in various capacities at MOPD from 1994-2021 and as Deputy Commissioner for the last 15 years. At MOPD, Joe oversaw Employment Services, Training Services, and Deaf and Hard of Hearing Programs. Joe was a member of the Mayoral Task Force on Employment and Economic Opportunities for People with Disabilities, and the Financial Advisory Council for the Empowerment of People with Disabilities. Joe is a graduate of Florida State University.
Sergio N. Alfaro is a disabled veteran of the U.S. Army who trains employees in Health Information Systems for the Healthcare Revenue Cycle. He also volunteers with the Wounded Warrior Project as a public speaker as part of their National Campaign Team to spread awareness on mental health and veteran issues. By speaking emotionally and with vulnerability he hopes to assist others to find a life worth living.
D. Erick Allen is devoted to increasing disability diversity in the workplace. Erick is a former Director of Inclusion Consulting & Training at Access Living. Erick serves on the Chicago Jobs Council Board of Directors and previously served on the Board of Commissioners for the Chicago Commission on Human Relations. Erick received a B.A. and M.S. from Loyola University of Chicago.
Zully JF Alvarado is an educator, trainer, public speaker, entrepreneur and international leader and advocate on the rights of children, women, and persons with disabilities. Zully currently lives in Gary, Indiana and raises awareness on the importance of accessibility in infrastructure, transportation and outdoor recreation. Zully earned an M.Ed. from the Erikson Institute.
Stephanie Anderson brings commitment and drive to ensure that all Vaughn High School students have opportunities to engage within the community. Prior roles include Diverse Learner Supporter at Chicago Public Schools and an Intervention Specialist/School Psychologist for Northern Suburban Special Education District. Stephanie founded Friends of Vaughan. Stephanie earned a B.A. from Western Michigan University and an M.A. from Concordia University.
Corryn Antonizio is the Sustainability and Social Responsibility Champion at RTC Industries, a leading global design and manufacturing firm that specializes in creating retail experiences. RTC is headquartered in Rolling Meadows and has a presence in 13 countries with over 900 employees. As Sustainability and Social Responsibility Champion, she leads RTC’s efforts in reducing their impact on the global environment as well as supporting the overall diversity and inclusion program.
Rachel Arfa was appointed Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities (MOPD) by Mayor Lori Lightfoot in July 2020. Rachel comes to MOPD with years of experience as a disability and civil rights attorney. As MOPD Commissioner, Rachel leads the City of Chicago’s efforts to make Chicago a more accessible city. MOPD provides services including in the areas of independent living services (information and referral, home-delivered meals, and homemaker services), employment and youth transition services, home modifications, assistive technology, accessible housing and architectural accessibility. MOPD also creates policies on disability accessibility, accessible transportation, and emergency preparedness. Her extensive professional, and civic leadership experience has prepared her for this role. Rachel previously was employed as a Staff Attorney at Equip for Equality, Illinois’ governor-designated protection and legal advocacy agency which advocates for the civil and human rights of people with disabilities. Her work focused on representing people with disabilities in employment discrimination cases and civil rights violations. In this role, she managed the PABSS Project and served as the Chair of the Illinois ADA Project Steering Committee. Rachel is the President of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Bar Association and in December, 2019, made the motion using spoken language and ASL for 10 deaf and hard of hearing attorneys to be admitted to the United States Supreme Court Bar. Rachel served as the Accessibility Lead for the Women’s March Chicago, developing expansive accessibility for large scale outdoor gatherings. Rachel served on the Board of Directors for the Chicago Cultural Accessibility Consortium and the Board of Directors for 3Arts, which supports artists of color, women artists, and artists with disabilities. She is a Leadership Greater Chicago Fellow (2016), Member of Disability Lead, and a past Fellow of the Illinois Women’s Institute for Leadership (2017) and the New Leaders Council (2013). She is a graduate of the University of Michigan (B.A., American Culture) and the University of Wisconsin School of Law (J.D.).
Gary Arnold has more than two decades of professional experience working in the disability community. In July of 2023, Arnold started working as a Program Specialist with the Illinois Council on Developmental Disabilities, an Illinois State Agency dedicated to inclusion and opportunity for people with developmental disabilities. Prior to that, Arnold served as Program Director for Progress Center for Independent Living for nearly six years. Progress Center is the Center for Independent Living that serves Suburban Cook County in Illinois. Staffed and governed by a majority of people with disabilities, centers for independent living equip people with disabilities with tools and resources to pursue independence. Before Progress Center, Gary served as the Manager of Public Affairs for Access Living, the center for independent living serving Chicago. A person with dwarfism, Gary sat on the Little People of America (LPA) Board of Directors for 11 years. Little People of America is a national membership organization for people with dwarfism and their families. Gary served as Public Relations Director between 2006 and 2011, and as President between 2011 and 2017. Gary represents LPA on the National Disability Leadership Alliance, a coalition of 16 national organizations led by people with disabilities. A resident of Oak Park, Illinois, Gary serves as chairperson of the village’s Disability Access Commission. Gary lives in Oak Park with his wife Katie and son Matthew.
Ally Bain is an Assistant Attorney General with the Disability Rights Bureau of the Office of the Illinois Attorney General. Ally also is the Ally behind “Ally’s Law” or the Restroom Access Act. She earned her J.D. from Northwestern Pritzker School of Law and her B.A. from Lake Forest College.
Adam Ballard has a demonstrated career history in advocating for housing choice and transportation access for individuals with disabilities and older adults. He spent 11 years of his career at Access Living leading the organization’s work in housing and transportation through community organizing and policy advocacy, and currently serves as an Associate State Director at AARP Illinois. He is instrumental in developing legislation and policy by partnering with government offices, grass roots community organizations, and other stakeholder groups to set both long-term and short-term agendas in housing and transportation policy, regional planning, and other issues impacting livable communities for all. Adam also works with AARP volunteers and staff to develop campaigns and events related to advancing the organization’s advocacy agenda across northern Illinois. Adam also serves on several committees and advisory boards aimed at advancing racial equity, disability justice, wealth building, public health, and climate resilience within the city, region, and state. He is also co-chair of The Disabilities Fund of The Chicago Community Trust and serves as the Vice Chair of the Land Use and Housing Committee within the Chicago Metropolitan Agency on Planning. Adam is constantly finding ways to involve the community in his work and wants to center decision-making power in the hands of the communities that are the most affected by inequity and power imbalances. He seeks to build relationships that allow change to happen – from grass roots leaders and those who are most affected by broader policy decisions, all the way up to partnerships with stakeholders and decision makers who can help implement those changes on a widespread level.
Steph Ban is a Program Associate at the Center for Tech and Civic Life as part of the Values and Standards for Election Excellence team. Her most recent prior experience was at AUCD as a Communications Assistant promoting COVID vaccine confidence. Prior to joining AUCD, she was a housing and financial counselor at Great Lakes Credit Union, where her main passion was making counseling as widely accessible as possible. Steph also interned at the disability rights organization Access Living. She brings a wealth of personal, activist, and academic experience with disability rights and a deep passion for cross-disability inclusion to her work. Steph is an independent scholar of U.S. disability history with additional research interests in disability, musicology, and the Enlightenment.
Linda Bannon founded Look Ma, No Hands to educate the community and advocate for people with disabilities. Linda is a peer mentor for children with limb differences and their families. Linda is a former teacher for the Bellwood Schoold District. Linda received a B.A. from Elmhurst College and an M.B.A. from Benedictine University.
Bianca is the Vice President of Institutional Giving at Envision Unlimited, handling the organization’s public and private grants. Previously, Bianca was the Manager of Grants and Planned Giving at Access Living of Metropolitan Chicago. Bianca earned her Bachelor of Arts from Oberlin College, her Juris Doctor from Loyola University Chicago.
Bri is an artist, activist, and community mental health counselor. She considers herself to have a social art practice and combines her fine art, design, and work as a helping professional to change individual and societal insight. Bri is committed to utilizing the arts to show the varied, beautiful, and complex story of disability, as well as creating an avenue for other disabled folks to do the same.
Francine Bell started The Hilliard Foundation to honor her parents and support families of children with disabilities. Francine is a writer and consultant on disability issues and serves on the Pace Paratransit – Chicago ADA Advisory Committee, Access Living Program Committee, State of Illinois Rehabilitation Council, and the Chicago Disability Coalition, a faith-based effort advancing the inclusion of people with disabilities in churches in Chicago.
Peter Berg coordinates and provides technical assistance, and trains on various aspects of the ADA at Great Lakes ADA Center. Peter serves as a member of the Illinois Attorney General’s Illinois Accessibility Code Task Force. Peter chaired the Mayor’s Advisory Commission on Disability for the City of Naperville and the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Chancellor’s Committee on the Status of Persons with Disabilities. Peter is a graduate of North Central College.
Juan Bernal is actively involved in the Deaf community nationally and internationally. Juan is the Vice President of the Illinois Latino Association. Juan has modeled ASL with a few different hospitals in their Deaf Outreach videos. Juan possesses an ASL Mentor certification and has eighteen years of experience as a Deaf Interpreter. Juan earned IDHHC Intermediate License, and is currently working to obtain the Advanced License. Juan is the winner of the Deaf Illinois Award, 2013.
Mike Blight is Sprout Social's Senior Market Research and Insights Manager focused on social media trends, research, and data-driven content. Outside of work, Mike's love language is sharing TikToks, the NBA, and spending time with his kids. Mike volunteers as a youth baseball and basketball coach in his community.
Emily Blum was named Executive Director of Disability Lead in 2019 when the organization was established as an independent 501C3. Believing disability leadership is essential to creating an inclusive and equitable Chicago region, she directs the organization’s efforts to develop and build and network of leaders with disabilities who lead with power and influence. A seasoned nonprofit leader, Emily has more than 20 years’ experience bringing stakeholders together to create and implement effective communications strategies around complex social and political issues.
Prior to joining Disability Lead, Emily held senior positions at some of Chicago’s leading nonprofits, including Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC), Chicago Humanities Festival (CHF), and Heartland Alliance. At all three organizations, she drove branding and strategic messaging campaigns that created new kinds of conversations with a wide variety of audiences.
Emily serves on the City of Chicago’s Mayor’s Advisory Council for Women, Fair Fight’s Action Disability Council, Senator Duckworth’s Independent Review Board and the Board of Directors for Inspiration Corporation. She was named a 2022 Leader for a New Chicago by the Field and MacArthur Foundations, was featured in The Chicago Tribune, and has op-eds published in The Chicago Sun-Times, and Crain’s Chicago Business.
Bill Bogdan is responsible for the coordination, development, and implementation of programs and services for persons with disabilities for the Illinois Secretary of State’s Office. In 2010, Bill was appointed by the Governor of Illinois to Chair the Illinois Council on Developmental Disabilities. In addition, Bill serves on the Illinois Elevator Safety Advisory Board, the Illinois State Library Talking Books and Braille Service Advisory Council, the Board of Directors for the Spinal Cord Injury Association of Illinois and the Diveheart Foundation. Bill graduated with honors from DePaul University, and is active in many sport and recreational programs offered through Adaptive Adventures and the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab Adaptive Sports & Fitness Program.
Jen Bokoff is the director of development for the Disability Rights Fund and is also an independent consultant. Jen's career in philanthropy is dedicated to elevating marginalized voices, supporting community-centered solutions, and shifting power. Jen is a globally-respected expert on participatory grantmaking and serves on the Tufts University Alumni Council and the Rhize board. In her spare time, Jen enjoys traveling, playing games, and spending time with her dog Bowser.
Becky Brasfield is a Member of Disability Lead, a mental health professional, a disability advocate and policy fellow. Becky joined Disability Lead as an inaugural 2015 Institute Fellow, a competitively selected opportunity for emerging leaders from all walks of life and with diverse disabilities who unite for an immersive, transformative experience exploring their leadership skills. Brasfield has assumed community leadership positions including President of the NAMI Illinois Alliance of Peer Professionals (NIAPP); Board Member of Easterseals Chicago; and is a member of the People's Liberty Project; the Illinois Dignity Coalition; the National Association of Peer Supporters; and the College of Behavioral Health Leadership. She is a Certified Recovery Support Specialist, Certified Psychiatric Rehabilitation Practitioner, and a Certified Wellness Recovery Action Plan facilitator. She is currently serving as a Policy Fellow with the Human Services Research Institute and the Cook County Safety and Justice Challenge. Her most research book, 365 Wellness and Recovery: One Year of Group Facilitation Ideas was published in November 2022.
Garcsa Brooks, a Northwest Indiana native, is currently serving the Chicagoland area through community outreach as a team lead for community support specialists at Thresholds. She also holds her Masters in Counseling Psychology which she uses to provide therapeutic services to those in need.
Kim Brown is a Senior Business Analyst for Commonwealth Edison. Prior to coming to ComEd, Kim worked for Chicago Public Schools as a Teacher and Reading Coach. Kim is Ms. Wheelchair Illinois 2012 where she advocated for persons with disabilities focusing on wheelchair accessibility in the workplace as well as assisted rehab technology legislation. Kim is the former President and current Liaison of the Exelon Resource Group ENABLED which educates employees about disability awareness. Kim has recently been elected to Project A.L.E.X Board of Directors as the Co-Director of Outreach. Project A.L.E.X. is a charitable organization working together to creating a safe living environment for young adults with disabilities and individuals without disabilities, thereby fostering a community atmosphere. Kim earned a B.A. and M.A. at Saint Xavier University and an M.A. from Concordia University.
Since 2006, Justice Anne M. Burke has been a member of the Illinois Supreme Court’s First Judicial District. Prior to joining the Supreme Court, she served the Appellate bench from 1995. Prior to her judicial career, Anne was a physical education teacher with the Chicago Park District, working with children with disabilities. Anne went on to co-found the Chicago Special Olympics in 1968 and later served as director as it grew to become the International Special Olympics. Anne served as interim chair for National Review Board of the United States, Conference of Catholic Bishops and currently sits on the Executive Steering Committee of Kennedy Forum Illinois. Justice Burke earned a B.A. from DePaul University and a J.D. from Chicago Kent College of Law.
With over 15 years of experience in healthcare primarily in community outreach, hospice, and pharmacy, Maureen is passionate about increasing access to care for underserved and vulnerable populations. She is always looking for new opportunities to use her healthcare background and leadership skills to serve marginalized communities. Maureen is a detail-oriented, goal driven, and collaborative leader, who is always seeking growth and partnerships that lead to more equitable, compassionate, and just delivery of healthcare. As a disabled woman, who is Deaf and uses a Cochlear Implant, she is dedicated to working collaboratively to create a healthcare system that works to serve and support the needs of all people with disabilities. She is also deeply committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion, and anti-racism work.
In her current position with The HAP Foundation, she serves as a front-line public health professional and acts as a bridge between her community in West Ridge and providers of end-of-life care. Maureen offers free community-based education on end-of-life topics including, hospice and palliative care, advanced directives, grief support, and cultural considerations. The goal of this education is to ensure that end-of-life care is accessible to all and delivered in culturally affirming ways. Internally, she works to ensure that The HAP Foundation is addressing social determinants of health, medical mistrust, and other issues that have led to racial disparities in hospice and palliative care utilization rates. Additionally, she engages in mentoring and training CHWs and collaborating with health systems and stakeholders to drive research and workforce development in the post-acute care arena.
Maureen holds a BA degree from Northeastern Illinois University, University Without Walls Program, focused on community health, culture, and aging. In 2022, she became a certified Community Resiliency Model (CRM) teacher, through training with the Trauma Resource Institute. Maureen is currently pursuing her MPH degree at Northeastern Illinois University. Her passions include social justice, public health, social work, end-of-life care, and equity in healthcare.
A theorist, methodologist, and empirical researcher, Dr. Kate Caldwell received her Doctorate in Disability Studies from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Having also received a Masters’ degree from the University of Chicago in interdisciplinary social sciences, she brings this expertise to approaching complex issues where various fields intersect and facilitating dialogue across disciplines.
Felicia is a mother of two daughters and grandmother of three granddaughters. She has BA in a speech at Fisk University, an MA in Media Communications at Governor State University. A Master in Divinity at Lutheran School of Theology, a Doctorate at the Chicago Theological Seminary.
Keidra Chaney is currently at the forefront of digital communications and digital strategy in the nonprofit sector. Her goals and motivators are reflected in every stage of her multifaceted career. As a marketing professional, writer, and educator, Keidra endeavors to create equitable, just, and safe spaces for marginalized people. She achieves this goal through understanding via any and all modes of communication, by challenging perspectives, and ultimately providing information and services to those in need. Keidra currently works at National Network of Abortion Funds, and in her tenure, she has cultivated broad, yet overlapping skillsets and established herself as a leader in NFP digital marketing and strategy. A self-described “writer in a complicated relationship with the internet”, Keidra is also a pop culture critic. She is the founding publisher of The Learned Fangirl and founder of the TLF Freelance Emergency Fund for freelance writers. Her work with TLF centers around the goal of driving social change through critique of cultural/social norms in pop culture. Keidra’s writing has been featured in a multitude of publications including The Chicago Sun Times, Time Out, Paste Magazine, Camera Obscura; Facta Ficta: Journal of Theory, Narrative & Media; I/S: A Journal of Law and Policy for the Information Society; New Media & Society; Persona Studies; Suffolk University Law Review; University of Michigan Journal of Law Reform; She is a Disability Lead Fellow for their 2020 Institute, the only program in the country for emerging leaders with disabilities.
Alana Clark has a deep passion for finding ways to empower underserved communities through a holistic educational approach to health, which she believes includes everything from nutritional, physical, mental, and medical health to environmental, financial, cultural, and academic health. She strongly believes this vision will help break cycles of poverty and facilitate languages of justice and equity. Alana’s passion stems from her personal experiences growing up socio-economically disadvantaged in Chicago, receiving a B.A. from Princeton University, working in corporate America, and later being diagnosed with a disability.
Gizelle Clemens’ professional and personal work exhibits her commitment to elevating marginalized voices bringing from the margins to the center. She currently serves as the Director of Alumni and Donor Engagement for National Medical Fellowships.
Gizelle was most recently appointed to serve on the Pace Paratransit- Chicago ADA advisory Commitee. She is a proud philanthropist and Queenmaker with the South Side Giving Circle and a member of Chicago African Americans in Philanthropy, Association of Fundraising Professionals-Chicago,and Women of Color in Philanthropy and Fundraising.
Gizelle is a graduate of SEEDS Access and Miss Porter’s School. She graduated summa cum laude with degrees in Sociology and Public/Nonprofit Administration and has an MPA from Rutgers University. She is a member of Phi Beta Kappa and Pi Alpha Alpha.
Brianne Coleman is an administrative professional with a passion for change. As a survivor of domestic violence and sexual assault, Brianne tirelessly advocates for victims/survivors through her public speaking and volunteer work. Brianne is the founder of Dimensions of Intersections, an upcoming nonprofit with a goal to stop the cycle of violence towards women and girls.
Candace Coleman is a black disabled woman from the South Side of Chicago. She works closely with disabled people affected by the justice system to organize around racial justice and disability. This work includes anti-bullying, the school-to-prison pipeline, restorative justice, police brutality, and deinstitutionalization. She is dedicated to teaching disabled youth of color to take pride in all aspects of their identities so they can become leaders themselves. She believes that young people will shape the future by creating a more inclusive world. Coleman has spoken around the country, and her pioneering work has been featured in news stories by the BBC, WBEZ, Newsy, and The Chicago Defender. She was named the ADAPT Woman of the Year in 2018, 35 Under 35 by Chicago Scholars in 2017, and also received the Van Heck award for outstanding leadership and service in the disability community. In 2019 Candace was appointed to the Illinois Council on Women and Girls.
Randy D. Colón identifies as a disabled scholar and advocate. He is a PhD student at the University of Illinois at Chicago in the Disability Studies program and a Research Assistant at ADA PARC. His research focuses primarily on disability, housing, and policy. Currently he is working on a tool that communities can use to assess whether and to what extent people with disabilities are attaining affordable, accessible, and integrated housing. Additionally, he is working on expanding the tools and frameworks available to study disability policy in the United States. Randy hopes to increase his involvement in Chicago’s disability community.
Chris Conoboy is the Director of Customer Success at Microsoft in the State and Local Government sector. He has been with the company since 2011. He brings twenty-four years of IT experience to the company. Chris graduated with a BS from Purdue University and a MBA from Lake Forest Graduate School of Management. Chris has been married for 23 years and has two children. He is a Chicago Area native having grown up in Schaumburg IL. He has a passion for promoting and supporting those with disabilities in corporate America. Chris himself has a neurological disorder that affects his speaking voice and uses his experience to bring people together in understanding and awareness.
Patrick Corrigan is a Distinguished Professor of Psychology at the Illinois Institute of Technology. Previously, Patrick was a Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Chicago where he directed its Center on Psychiatric Rehabilitation. Patrick’s research examines psychiatric disability and the impact of stigma on recovery and rehabilitation. Patrick has written more than 400 peer-reviewed articles and is an editor emeritus of the American Journal of Psychiatric Rehabilitation. Patrick is an editor for a new journal published by the American Psychological Association, Stigma and Health, and is the author of fifteen books. Patrick received a Psy.D. from the Illinois School of Professional Psychology.
C. Richard Costes' is honored to be appointed to the Commission on Equity and Inclusion by Governor Pritzker. He has spent the last decade fighting for accessibility for disabled communities in the nonprofit sector.
A devoted advocate for marginalized groups, Richard joins the CEI after working for two years at Communication Service for the Deaf, a constellation of companies that provide products, programs, and services that are designed to create opportunities for deaf people to succeed. Before that he worked for six at the Association for Corporate Growth, the premier global community for middle-market M&A deal-makers and business leaders focused on driving growth. He has also spent nearly a decade as a accessibility consultant for various arts organizations throughout the country; speaking on panels and providing organizational feedback to make their companies more inclusive to both people with disabilities and people of color.
Richard graduated from Kent State University with a Bachelor of Arts and he currently serves on the board of the National Theatre of the Deaf, is a member of both Disability LEAD and the 3Arts Artist Council.
Clark Craig is a Community Organizing Advocate for Progress Center for Independent Living and is responsible for leadership development and organizing people with disabilities and their supporters to create systemic changes. Clark is a lead member of Progress Center’s Membership and Outreach Committee. Clark serves on the Strategy Team for United Power for Action and Justice and as Treasurer for Chicago ADAPT (The Chicago chapter of National ADAPT). Clark received a B.S. from Concordia University and a M.S. from DePaul University.
Kevin is an Office Supervisor at Faithful+Gould. He is also a presentation coach, actor, writer, motivational speaker, storyteller, and teacher. As a storyteller, Kevin is a winner of The Moth StorySLAM. As a teacher: He created a personal narrative storytelling lab for detainees in Cook County Jail; at Piven Theatre, he helped establish a theatre games program for adults with development disabilities. Kevin presents anti-bullying motivational speeches to middle schoolers and high schoolers. He wrote a stageplay, Nobody Talks Nice about the journey of living with a disability. He is a graduate of The ACADEMY at Black Box Acting and is represented by Paonessa Talent. Follow him over social media: @kdaspeaker
Kareem Dale grew up in Chicago and received his BA, JD, and MBA from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He currently serves as Director and Senior Counsel with Discover Financial Services. In 2009, he was appointed by President Obama as a Special Assistant to the President for Disability Policy, the highest ranking position on disability ever to be created by a President. At the White House, he also led outreach and engagement to the legal community, including coordinating outreach for nomination of two U.S. Supreme Court Justices and numerous federal appellate and district court judges. Before joining the Obama administration, he was the Managing Partner of The Dale Law Group, and a litigation attorney at Winston & Strawn. Kareem was a 2017 Leadership Greater Chicago Fellow, a past president of Black Ensemble Theater, a Steering Committee member of ADA 25 Chicago, and a member of the Access Living Board of Directors. He was recently appointed by Governor Pritzker to the University of Illinois Board of Trustees.
Pat Daley has dedicated his professional life to working on behalf of people with disabilities, the less privileged, children and bringing the arts and culture to the people of Chicago. He has over 25 years of experience working in the nonprofit sector and in governmental arenas in the city of Chicago. Most recently, Pat has worked on the numerous projects to advance opportunities for people with disabilities including ADA25 Chicago, and advising and advocating for businesses owned by people with disabilities in Cook County procurement opportunities. Pat has also authored and illustrated six books for children.
Liz Davis is a User Experience Designer with a passion for making technology accessible. She currently works at SPR Consulting and will graduate in 2019 with a Master’s in Human Computer Interaction from DePaul University. She gives talks, workshops and consultations about the accessibility of technology.
Jinny Davis is an autistic self-advocate from Deer Park, Illinois. She received a B.A. in Elementary Education and an M.Ed in Special Education from National-Louis University. Jinny is an unwavering and persevering woman, who speaks her mind, is passionate when advocating, and speaks in her own daring, outspoken way.
Deb Decker is an Assistant General Counsel at Commonwealth Edison Company. Deb avidly supports enhancing diversity and inclusion in business and works on various initiatives supporting that goal. She is a graduate of North Central College (B.A. in Spanish, Psychology and Speech Communications/Theatre) and University of Wisconsin Law School (J.D.).
Megan E. Doherty is a writer and photographer based in Chicago, IL. Megan has been featured in various photography exhibitions, including a solo show in Japan. She received her PhD from the University of Chicago in 2010.
Lindsay Drexler is a lifelong Chicagoan and Co-founder of CaptionPoint, a service that provides captioning for scripted events. CaptionPoint has captioned 50+ plays at several theaters in Chicago, including Steppenwolf, Northlight, and Court. Lindsay is deaf and grew up using Cued Speech. She is currently writing a semiautobiographical horror novel.
Lincoln is an Associate Planner for the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP). Originally from Philadelphia, Lincoln obtained his BA in Geography at Millersville University in 2019, and his MS in Planning at the University of Arizona in 2021. His professional passions include urban restoration, community revitalization, and universal design.
Ashley obtained a bachelor’s in organizational communications from North Central College. While at North Central, Ashley competed as the first NCAA triathlete with a disability that required sport-specific accommodations and advocated for the inclusion of people with disabilities in collegiate sports and the fitness and recreation industries.
She currently works as the Disability Inclusion Training Specialist at Access Living. Ashley speaks regularly to groups about topics such as perspective, adversity, performance, and disability. She has given a TEDx talk and continues to advocate for the inclusion and integration of people with disabilities in the fitness world.
Carly is a Career Placement Counselor at the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities (MOPD) Career Center. The Career Center, which was launched in July 2022, seeks to increase meaningful employment and career opportunities for Chicagoans with disabilities. As a Career Placement Counselor, Carly works directly with job seekers throughout their job search, including assisting them in identifying their career goals, providing interview preparation, navigating disability disclosure and requesting Reasonable Accommodations. Prior to joining MOPD, Carly worked at the Chicago Lighthouse for the Blind. There, she worked with clients individually to identify their vocational goals, providing job training and placement services. Before moving to Chicago, Carly was an Employment Counselor at the Queensborough Public Library in New York. She developed a staff training on appropriate ways to assist library patrons with disabilities and educated staff on disability laws and policies, improving relations between the library and the public.
Carly uses her knowledge of the Americans with Disabilities Act to advocate and educate in a friendly and professional manner. She has strong cultural competency and has worked with individuals with varying disabilities and backgrounds. She advocates on behalf of clients, ensuring access to services and resources, including benefits from social service and government agencies. Carly holds her Certification as a Rehabilitation Counselor and License Professional Counselor. She received her Bachelors in Sociology from New Paltz University and her Masters in Rehabilitation Counseling from Hofstra University.
Safiya is an award winning Mental Health, Trauma & Creative Release Advocate, and Speaker who has created a technique of using art and storytelling to create artistic healing experiences for individuals who have experienced trauma.
Safiya is a 16-year+ Traumatic Brain Injury [TBI] Survivor and a Multi-media artist with over ten years’ experience of creating and performing through various mediums including film-making, fiber work, and curating. She is a multi- talented and multi-dimensional Creative Director with proven skills in Event Planning and Project Management, invoking Afro-futurism to create healing experiences for communities.
Among being the recipient of various awards, her experience includes working with various organizations including; ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act] 30 Lead On celebration and NDEAM [national disability employment awareness month production]. She has also curated and moderated the panel discussions for NDEAM, and is the Artistic Coordinator and Project Manager for the ADA’s Black Future Month’s production.
Horacio Esparza is the Executive Director of Progress Center for Independent Living, an Independent Living Center serving suburban Cook County. Horacio is also the host of a radio show called Vida Independiente. Horacio is a member of Not Dead Yet and the Illinois Statewide Hispanic Council. Horacio served on the ADA 25 Chicago steering committee. Horacio earned a B.A. from University of Wisconsin Whitewater and a degree in philosophy from Autonomous University of Guadalajara in Jalisco, Mexico.
Bridget Evans is a Patient Safety Consultant at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago and is the Founder and CEO of Illini Service Dogs, which aims to provide world class service dogs to individuals who have a physical disability. Bridget is a member of the Disability Lead Program Committee and a Board of Director for Snow City Arts, which inspires and educates children and youth in hospitals through the arts. Bridget is a graduate of the University of Illinois.
Justine Fedak is a self-declared Corporate Hippie and recognized motivational speaker, using her inspiring life story of resilience, her disability (MS), and her well-lived c-suite career experience to bring much needed positivity and to individuals and teams.
She is Chief Marketing & Culture Officer, BIÂN Chicago. She was the former Chief Brand Strategist, Pollara Strategic Insights and a long-time senior, co-founder of Instant Impact, DEI consulting & speaking (with Star Jones) & a senior executive with BMO for over 20 years.
Justine is a very active member of her community and industry. She is the incoming Chair of the Board of Directors, The Magnificent Mile Association, and member Chicago Police Foundation. She is SSA commissioner SSA #16, City of Chicago (Greektown), Chair of Chicago-Toronto Sisters Cities, World Business Chicago, as well as past member of many other prominent boards in Canada and the US.
She is the National Multiple Sclerosis Society’s 2013 “Woman on the Move” (Illinois); Dalhousie University Lifetime Achievement Award Winner 2015, Chicago Business Journal’s 2015 Women of influence; Chicago Sky’s 2016 “Redefine Possible” Women’s Leadership Award recipient; and the 2017 Cohn Weil Memorial MS Honoree. She was also recently featured in CS magazine as Chicago Favorite women of inspiration and style and was the Eversight “Woman of Vision” 2021. She is this year’s honoree for the MS Dinner of Champion’s Dinner, September 2022.
Daisy Feidt has worked at Access Living for more than 20 years. She has held a wide variety of management positions and led the organization through multiple strategic planning processes. She has extensive management experience in fundraising, evaluation, and program implementation. Daisy is an alumna of Leadership Greater Chicago, a prestigious and competitive program that provides community awareness and networking opportunities for leaders in Chicago. Daisy is on the board of BPI, a public interest law, and policy center and is the vice president of the Illinois Network of Centers for Independent Living, the state association of centers for independent living.
Akeseiah Felton also known as Keys was born here in Chicago and graduated from Kennedy–King College, thereafter she attended culinary art school at National Maritime Union, Treasure Island in San Francisco, CA. Keys is a proud single mother of two amazing children. Keys started her career at CDW in 2014 and is currently a Sales Support Supervisor in the corporate sector. She also holds a leadership role in CDWs Business Resource Group, as Co-Vice chair of ABLE-Alliance for Business Leading Equality
James A. Ferg-Cadima has built a public service career on shaping and enforcing civil rights protections at the federal, state, and local levels. In July 2019, Governor JB Pritzker appointed Ferg-Cadima as Chair of the Illinois Human Rights Commission (Commission), which adjudicates claims of unlawful discrimination under the Illinois Human Rights Act.
Dan currently works with people with primarily physical disabilities as the Adaptive Sport Program & Event Facilitator with the Chicago Park District (CPD) Special Recreation Department. With over thirty years experience utilizing sport as a tool for advocacy, he coordinates and coaches youth and adult teams in wheelchair basketball and wheelchair softball, as well as a network within the Paralympic movement. Mentoring and advocacy is close to Dan’s heart as he was born with Osteogenesis Imperfecta (OI) and when he discovered sport at the age of fifteen, it forever changed his life. Today he works to share that gift with others.
Noa Micaela Fields is a trans writer with hearing aids. Her poetry book E is forthcoming from Nightboat. You can find more of her writing in Tripwire, Anomaly, Zoeglossia, Elderly, Tyger Quarterly, and Sixty Inches. She is the public programs manager at the Poetry Foundation in Chicago, where she lives.
Michelle Friedman is a certified life coach and has served the community in lay leadership positions for 30 years for 10 organizations including schools, camps, and social service agencies. Michelle’s specialty areas are fundraising and board governance. Michelle has published 2 children’s’ books and speaks to school-age children from preschool to high school bringing disability awareness to the classroom. Michelle has a B.A. in human services from Northeastern Illinois University and an M.A. in counseling psychology from the Alfred Adler Institute.
Tanya Friese is a retired U.S. Navy Hospital Corpsman, Assistant Professor and Clinical Instructor in the Rush University College of Nursing, and Liaison for Intersectional Identities at Rush University Medical Center. As a nurse researcher, her areas of expertise include veterans and their families, individuals with disabilities, and people who identify as LGBTQ. Dr. Friese is an active member of many professional organizations including Sigma Theta Tau, the American Public Health Association, the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association, the National Organization for Nurses with Disabilities, and American Veterans for Equal Rights. She is a graduate of Central Michigan University, and earned a bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in Nursing and Systems Leadership from Rush University.
Andrés Gallegos is a shareholder with the law firm of Robbins, Salomon & Patt, Ltd. and is the founder and director of its national disability rights practice. Andrés is a frequent speaker and has authored numerous articles on matters relating to the application of disability-related laws to healthcare providers and the disability rights movement. Andrés is a member of the National Council on Disability, an independent federal agency that provides advice to the President, Congress, and federal agencies on matters affecting persons with disabilities nationwide. He serves as Chair of the Board of Directors of Access Living and was a two-time governor appointee to the Statewide Independent Living Council of Illinois. Andrés earned a B.S. from the University of Southern Mississippi and a J.D. from the St. Louis University School of Law.
She has been working for Access Living as the Latino Community Organizer since 2009 in which she took a personal interest, particularly that of educating and collaborating with the Latino community about disability rights and services. Through her work she has had the opportunity to collaborate with other Latino groups and organizations that work within the Latino Community which has helped expand their knowledge about disability related issues. She is the coordinator of a Latinxs and immigrant advocacy group called Cambiando Vidas, whose mission is to create social change within the immigrant Community. As of 2017 she became the Latinxs and Immigration Community Organizer, role in which she is still responsible for increasing the number of Latinxs and immigrant leaders with disabilities; as well as to raise awareness of disability issues such as: Immigration, Healthcare, Disability Rights, within the Latinxs and other immigrant communities; thru her work she has participated in planning numerous educational forums and events in different areas of the city, to educate Latinxs and immigrants with disabilities about disability rights and services. As part of her work, Michelle has been involved with the National Coalition of Latinxs with Disabilities where she was involved in planning several National conferences on the issues that impact Latinxs with disabilities. She was also involved in planning a Disability and Immigration Summit out to which Disability and Immigration advocates came together to have a better understanding of the intersection of these issue areas. Most recently, she has been involved in supporting the Disability and Immigration Taskforce. She currently, serves as the representative of the 7th district Commission on Women’s Issues; as such she is responsible on supporting any events or bring insight to any issues that impact women including immigrant and disabled women.
David Gayes is an activist, currently pursuing a graduate degree in Intercultural Studies at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. David works to connect, expose, and challenge people of faith to respond intentionally to disability rights issues thereby cultivating consistent positive action and activism.
At KPMG, Valerie Gilles brings over seven years of experience working on national and global transformations, and specializes in strategic planning, acquisition integration, and process improvement. In her role as Manager, her key responsibilities are managing targeted strategic projects to help determine business and/or operating model changes required to stay competitive across our network, including financial forecasting, public trust strategy development, etc., managing the organization and developing the content of leadership meetings (e.g. Board meetings, wider international leadership conferences, etc.) to leverage them as channels for strategy approval or dissemination, and identifying opportunities for improvement in our team’s ways of working and internal processes. She also is involved in recruiting and onboarding of new team members and continuous mentoring at KPMG. She serves as the Chair KPMG Chicago’s business resource group for employees with disabilities and caregivers and is responsible for developing our local vision for the next 3-5 years and its associated strategy and managing our local team and collaborating with our national team. Valerie earned a B.S. in Biology at Iowa State University, accompanied by minors in Chemistry, General Business and Spanish.
Ericca Glasgow is a wife, mother of two and the Information Risk Manager at CDW where she’s worked for 21 years. Ericca was diagnosed with MS in 2002 and serves as a Team Captain to raise money for Walk MS annually. She is passionate about advocating for people with disabilities.
Lori Goddard has over 20 years of experience developing sound marketing strategies and guiding diverse, integrated teams through this fast-paced, ever-changing environment. She is a strategically-minded marketing leader with vision and passion for developing innovative solutions that make a difference to consumers and businesses.
Timotheus “T.J.” Gordon Jr. is an African-American male autistic writer and researcher-activist in Chicago, IL. As researcher at UIC’s Institute on Disability and Human Development, he creates trainings, webinars, guides, and campaigns on inclusion in communities of color, COVID-19 and the intersections of race and disability, autism in communities of color, and inclusion of people with disabilities in the U.S. Census. Gordon is one of the co-founders of Chicagoland Disabled People of Color Coalition, also known as Chicagoland DPOCC. Supported by the Institute on Disability and Human Development, Chicagoland DPOCC promotes disability acceptance and self-advocacy in communities of color throughout the Chicagoland area. As a member of Advance Your Leadership Power (AYLP), a racial/disability justice group within Access Living of Metropolitan Chicago, Gordon supports and helps lead campaigns on combating police violence and mental health within the Chicagoland disability community. Gordon is the creator of the Black Autist, a blog and social media outlet that promotes autism and disability acceptance in the African Diaspora. He uses writing and social media to discuss topics on disability in media, disability pride in marginalized communities, and caregiver violence against people with disabilities.
Nakia J. Green is the founder of Culture Solutions and Culture Solutions In Action, for-profit and not-for-profit organizations designed to decrease unemployment and underemployment amongst minority and disabled college graduates. She also founded Nakia J Consulting, a consulting firm with specialized capabilities in Leadership Development, Organizational Development, and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Nakia hopes to further the conversation on invisible disabilities in the workplace and its impact on minorities.
Robert Green has worked for 3 years at the University of Illinois as a Peer Health Navigator. The program helps people with disabilities effectively advocate for themselves in order to achieve quality healthcare outcomes. Prior to this, he was the drummer for Chicago Lights for more than 10 years, writing, recording and touring with the band. He is a graduate from Loyola University in Chemistry, and the University of Chicago in Biochemistry/medicine.
LaShon Gurrola is currently a Registered Nurse Care Manager for the Ambulatory Care Management department at Rush University Medical Center, joining December 2016 Shortly after receiving her Associate Degree in Nursing, LaShon began her career as an Inpatient Surgical Nurse at Edward Elmhurst Hospital, building her career at Edward Elmhurst Hospital for over 19 years. LaShon has since received her Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Purdue University. With experience ranging from Home Health Nursing to inpatient surgery and outpatient care, LaShon has developed a strong clinical background, including experience within Ortho/Neuro/Spine units, Home Health Nursing, and Transitional Care Nursing. With a passion for helping support those with Lupus, LaShon started the first-ever Lupus Support Group at Rush University Medical Center in 2018, with the support of the Rheumatology and Social Work Departments. This support group not only provides a space for those suffering with Lupus to come together monthly and share experiences, but it is open to their families and significant others to learn more about Lupus and how to better support those diagnosed with it. LaShon also serves on the Associate Board of the Lupus Society of Illinois to fundraise and advocate for efforts supporting the Lupus community.
Cheryl R. Hahn is a Certified Recovery Support Specialist (CRSS) and is the Lead Recovery Support Specialist for Northwestern Medicine Ben Gordon Center Living Room Program. Cheryl has more than 10 years of experience as a recovery support specialist and has held positions in this field with Trilogy Behavioral Healthcare, the University of Illinois at Chicago and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois. Cheryl is a recognized leader in the mental health recovery movement and is a sought after speaker for statewide meetings, trainings and conferences. Cheryl is a certified Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) facilitator, a trained Whole Health Action Management (WHAM) leader and is also trained in Emotional CPR. Cheryl has a background in nonprofit administration, development and fundraising, and has served on the Board of Directors for Trilogy Behavioral Healthcare, as a committee member for DHS’ Statewide WRAP Steering Committee, and as a member of an advisory board for Equip for Equality. As a result of her experience with Disability Lead, Mrs. Hahn was able to volunteer as the Director of Accessibility for Red Theater from 2017 – 2019. Cheryl is currently serving on the NAMI Illinois Alliance of Peer Professionals (NIAPP) Board of Directors. Mrs. Hahn holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Theatre and Classical Studies from the College of Wooster in Ohio and a Masters Certificate in Women’s Studies and Gender Studies from Loyola University Chicago.
Vanessa Harris brings to companies and governmental organizations a strong foundation in environmental and energy engineering, chemistry and business that allows her to consistently and creatively tackle complex initiatives and create award-winning, original and profitable yet sustainable solutions. Currently Harris has a brand, fun4thedisabled.com which is a website showing short documentaries that she has produced about people, products, events activities, organizations for the disabled and their friends and families so that they can enjoy life.
Emily Harris, Executive Director of the Disability & Philanthropy Forum, started her role with the Forum as a consultant to the Presidents’ Council on Disability Inclusion in Philanthropy in late 2019. She led development of and first steps to implement the Theory of Change, and is honored to work with Ford, Robert Wood Johnson and other foundations to build a new organization focused on disability inclusion in philanthropy.
Emily was the founding Executive Director of ADA 25 Advancing Leadership (now Disability Lead), the nation’s first disability civic leadership program. As a Senior Director at the Chicago Community Trust, she led ADA 25 Chicago, and engaged more than 200 local organizations in doing one thing to advance disability inclusion in honor of the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. At the Trust, she also directed the Disabilities Fund, and facilitated a roundtable multi-sector coalition to advance equity in the construction industry. As Vice President of Metropolis Strategies, Emily focused on regional economic growth, open space conservation, early childhood education policy, and served as Executive Director of the Burnham Plan Centennial. Through her consulting firm, Harris Strategies LLC, Emily helped non-profit organizations, public agencies, businesses and philanthropies to develop strategic plans and move their ideas to action.
Emily earned a B.A. from Oberlin College and an M.A. from the University of Chicago. She serves on the Forest Preserves of Cook County Conservation and Policy Council, the Local Initiatives Support Corporation Chicago Advisory Board, and is President of the Board of the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation. A member of Disability Lead, she is proud to be a part of the disability community.
Bridget Hayman specializes in digital, media, and content marketing with 19 years of experience activating cross-channel communication strategies in healthcare, finance, and the nonprofit sector. Before joining Access Living, Bridget was the director of digital content marketing at Easterseals’ national headquarters and served as the associate director of public relations and social media at Valence Health. Prior to that, she built and executed social media strategies from the ground up for both the American Dental Association and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois. She began her professional career at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. Bridget is a 2018 University of Chicago Civic Leadership Academy Fellow, a 2017 Disability Lead Fellow, and a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar. She holds a master’s degree in visual culture from Lancaster University, England, and a triple bachelor’s in English, journalism, and public relations from the University of Northern Colorado.
Kennedy Dawson Healy is a fat, queer, disabled woman from Omaha, Nebraska. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Women’s and Gender Studies with an individualized concentration in Disability Studies from DePaul University. Kennedy has years of experience with non-profit and consulting work pertaining to disability. She enjoys writing and making media. In 2021, Kennedy founded Crip Crap, a company that creates media about disability, by and for disabled people.
For 37 years I have been actively involved in the independent/disability-rights movement. I helped establish the Will-Grundy Center for Independent Living, serving as its executive director for 27 years. Advocacy is in the core of my being. Those of us with disabilities must be vigilant in making sure that our hard-fought for rights are not weakened in any way. We must also teach our young people about the rich history of the disability-rights movement to ensure that the work that has been conducted for the past 6 decades, carries on well into the future.
Tsehaye Geralyn Hébert is a nationally acclaimed citizen playwright and cultural architect whose work nuances and centers the African American experience (3ARTS, Body of Work Fellow; Alliance Kendeda National Graduate Playwright Award winner; Voices Rising Fellow, Vermont Studio Center; The Guild Literary Complex, 30 Writers to Watch; Midwest Black Playwrights Project; Native Voices and Visions; RhinoFest; and Cultural DC/SourceFest, Frank McCourt Memoir, Sundance Theatre Lab finalists.) Hébert’s civic engagement catalyzes the move towards and beyond ADA compliance, from idea to full inclusion and accessibility. As Community Lead, she worked with Illinois Institute of Technology (IT) students to develop innovations in accessible and inclusive theatre. Currently, her work with Artists Design the Future (ADtF) explores affordable accessible, and inclusive Work Live spaces owned and designed by artists, creatives, and entrepreneurs. With Disability Lead (ADA 25 Advancing Leadership), she sat on its Program Committee, and serves as an ambassador; as well as a current ambassador and recent member of The Cultural Collaborative (Chicago Cultural Accessibility Coalition) steering committee. A former president of the African American Arts Alliance, she sits on the honorary board of Piven Theatre Workshop, and volunteers with local and national arts organizations. A Northwestern University graduate, she earned her MFAW from School of the Art Institute, Chicago.
Zhen Heinemann is Director of Visitor Experience with the City of Chicago's Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events. She/They are an audience-focused arts and immersive experience professional whose work centers on creating more accessible interactions and engagements with communities.
At Discover, Sarah Helm is responsible for managing all aspects of the Diversity & Inclusion program corporate-wide, including providing ongoing support to leadership on various diversity and inclusion initiatives, managing ERG strategy and teams, and overseeing related internal and external communications. She serves on the Board for the Center for Enriched Living and as a member of the Disability Lead Program Committee. Sarah graduated with a B.A. from Illinois State University, an M.S. from Bowling Green University, and a Ph.D. from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
Previously, Diana was a Project Manager at Lurie Children’s Hospital and Grants and Program Evaluation Director for Great Lakes Adaptive Sports Association. Diana serves on the Board of Directors of Dare2Tri, the Chicago Rowing Foundation, and Friends of the Forest Preserves. Diana is a member of the ADA Advisory Committee for the Cook County Forest Preserves. Diana graduated from Slippery Rock University and received her Project Management Certificate from Loyola University – Chicago. Diana is an M.B.A. candidate (2021) at the University of Illinois.
Brian Heyburn is a Ph.D. candidate in Disability Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago, having first received an M.S. in Disability and Human Development. At UIC, Brian serves as a Graduate Assistant at the Disability Cultural Center assisting with the development disability culture events across campus. Brian earned a B.A. in Religion from Centre College.
Stephen is a very passionate individual who is dedicated to the rights of people with disabilities. Stephen always comes up with solutions for individuals with disabilities, whatever their circumstances, by helping them navigate what is available in the state of Illinois to obtain needed services. He is a Shirley Ryan AbilityLab Associate Board Member.
Whitney Hill is a specialist on accessibility with over a decade of experience in program management and communication. Her background in universal design and public accessibility combined with her personal background of identifying as someone with a disability give her a unique skillset to connect individuals with needed services, while also empowering them to advocate for themselves. Throughout her career, Whitney has aimed to ensure that public and institutional spaces are made readily accessible to all. In her role with LCM Architects and previous position at the Institute for Human Centered Design, Whitney partnered with government and private entities in conjunction with the Americans with Disabilities Act to meet and exceed standards for equal opportunity in accessibility. Prior to these roles, Whitney facilitated services for over 250 clients with the Blind Services Association and implemented new programs monthly to provide an accessible experience for the growing client base. Whitney is the founder and director of SPORK!, a 501 (c) 3 Nonprofit and website that serves as a voice for the disabled community. Named after the quirky utensil that celebrates the merger of two traditional tools, Whitney founded SPORK! as an alternative source to the more rigid representation of non-apparent differences in traditional medical journals. By collecting and sharing different resources for those with cognitive, physical and non-apparent differences/disabilities, Whitney has created a network that welcomes those struggling to find a place within the larger disabled community. Learn more about SPORK! at https://www.sporkability.org/about Additionally, Whitney serves as an elected member of Chicago Transit Authority’s (CTA) ADA Advisory and as a Chair for the CTA Wayfinding Subcommittee, finding new ways to improve the transportation experience for the disabled community of Chicago. Whitney aims to continue her pattern of advocacy in Illinois as a newly elected member of Governor Pritzker’s Blind Services Planning Council.
Sydney has experience managing a team of liaisons across 27 state agencies. She has coordinated Illinois Department of Public Health briefings for legislators and provided intel and support for agency policy development and legislative strategy. Sydney has also reviewed and analyzed legislation for implementational, budgetary, and political impact. She has prepared agencies for stakeholder meetings and General Assembly Illinois public hearings, trained new employees on office protocol and government process, and provided legislative and operations perspectives on various subject matters across human services, criminal justice, transportation, insurance, and revenue.
Sydney most recently worked with J.B. Pritzker, the governor of Illinois, as deputy director of legislative affairs and house liaison of legislative affairs. While working for the governor of Illinois, she lobbied the governor’s aggressive agenda on pensions and business reform, gaming initiatives, higher education issues, and health care accessibility. She also managed several issues pertaining to college accessibility, K-12 education protocol, health care affordability, and business enterprise programs related to procurement. She has also served as the legislative coordinator for state legislative affairs for the Office of the President – Cook County Board in Chicago and as a research and appropriations analyst for the Office of the Speaker, Illinois House of Representatives.
Sydney earned her bachelor’s degree from Columbia College Chicago.
In April 2022, Chris Huff became the Diversion and Reentry Policy Analyst at Access Living, a Chicago-based service and nonprofit advocacy organization for people with disabilities. Chris leads policy efforts in this role to support people with disabilities impacted by the criminal legal system.
Before joining Access Living, Chris led citywide community organizing efforts for Heartland Alliance’s READI Chicago, which aims to reduce gun violence through cognitive behavioral interventions, employment, and wrap-around social services for high-risk individuals. In addition, Chris helped lead student civic engagement efforts at the University of Chicago’s University Community Service Center, where he designed and developed social justice-based cohort programs for undergraduate and graduate students. Through his work at the Vera Institute of Justice, Chris also led formerly incarcerated youth in developing policy and program recommendations for the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice. Last but certainly not least, Chris worked with the University of Chicago – Institute of Politics, advising UChicago students on ways to use their educational experiences to engage in social justice efforts on Chicago’s Southside meaningfully.
Chris has served on the board of Chicago Votes, a nonprofit organization committed to empowering young people and engaging them in the political process, and on the Cook County Detention Center board, where he supported efforts to eliminate solitary confinement.
Chris has a bachelor’s degree in political communication and economic development from Oglethorpe University and a master’s in social work from the University of Chicago.
Brittney works at Anixter Center, a nonprofit that serves people with disabilities in many ways. Brittney works in the employment department on the project Inclusive Pathways with UChicago Medicine, the project was originally funded by the Kessler Foundation and has continued to exist as a permanent hiring program. Brittney’s role as the Disability Inclusion Coordinator is to assist disabled job seekers interested in opportunities at UCM navigate their job search and provide support throughout the application process. She acts as a go-to resource for employees with disabilities and serves as a subject matter expert.
Kevin Irvine works at Rush University Medical Center as its Senior Talent Acquisition Consultant, Individuals with Disabilities, and is Co-Chair of the Rush ADA Task Force. Since 2012, Kevin has served on the Board of Directors for the Chicago Transit Authority. Kevin is also a Leadership Greater Chicago Fellow (2006) and a graduate of Purchase College, State University of New York.
Laura Isaacs has 20+ years of experience as an Executive Assistant and is a Sr. Executive Assistant on the Corporate Responsibility team at JPMorgan Chase. In addition to her prior roles as an Executive Assistant, Laura served as the National Coordinator for the Diverse Abilities & Allies BRG, works as a lived experience volunteer with NAMIChicago and has mentored high school students from underserved areas. Laura speaks regularly on the topics of non-apparent disabilities, mental health and the intersection of disability and being a member of an underrepresented group.
Paulette Jagers is responsible for BMO’s enterprise careers and leadership strategy, leadership planning and development programs, enterprise learning facilitation, and supporting workplace transformation. Paulette is an Executive Committee member of Disability Lead and serves on the Chicago Business Leadership Network Board of Directors. Paulette is a graduate of Northwestern University and has completed the Advanced Human Resource Executive Program from the University of Michigan Business School.
Kenneth Jennings, is a founder and CEO of the Gridiron Alliance Foundation, a non-profit 501 (c) (3) organization in Illinois. He was injured in a high school football game while playing for Simeon in Chicago in 1988. As a result, the injury rendered him as a quadriplegic and paralyzed from the neck down. Despite the impact that a football game had on his life, he lives by the motto “I Am Blessed To Be Able”. Kenneth Jennings is a very active citizen to say the least. He has successfully help worked to get the Rocky Clark Law passed in the state of Illinois. His tenacity will not allow him to stop with the victory in Illinois, he wants mandatory catastrophic injury insurance for all high school athletes across our great country. He won the 2015 Governor’s Volunteer Service Award, he Coach high school football, a Peer Mentor at the Lifecenter at The Shirley Ryan AbilityLab, a Motivational Speaker, he’s is a Co-host of a sports talk show titled Coach’s Corner, and host his own show A Man’s View. Kenneth is soon to be an Author of his book titled Kenneth Jennings How 8 Seconds Change My Life, and also working on his second book The Life Of A Old (Quad) Quadriplegic. Kenneth has been coaching high school football for the past 20 years, he has chosen to Semi-retire to pursue other interests. He still has an undying love for the game of football and is dedicated to the safety of our young athletes. He is a Motivational Speaker who speak to patients, students, business men and women, and people in the medical field. As a Peer Mentor at Lifecenter at The Shirley Ryan AbilityLab, he mentors those who have been catastrophically injured, and other disabilities, as well as support with transition for their families. In the past, he sat on the local school council board at Gwendolyn Brooks High School, The Board of Directors for Increase The Peace Foundation, Daryl Stingley Youth Foundation, and No Dope Express Foundation.
Michelle Johnson is a passionate advocate and educator on holistic care for people with chronic diseases, specifically endometriosis. Driven by her own diagnosis, She created Fighting Fiercely, a movement designed to empower people to become proactive participants in their health and wellness management. A leader in the endometriosis and chronic illness community, her passion for raising awareness feeds her efforts to improve the legal understanding of disability. Michelle has been featured in many different publications to speak about her expertise and experience, including Prevention Magazine, The Chronic Disease Coalition Blog, The Chronic Illness Podcast, Eighty-Six the Endo, and WVON Radio.
Andre Johnson is the Founder and CEO of LiveEquipd. LiveEquipd is a Chicago-based, health tech platform headquartered in the 1871 incubator space. LiveEquipd is a multi-sided platform that empowers people with paralysis related disabilities and their support system to quickly and efficiently navigate the product landscape to find the equipment and assistive technology they need. Andre recently earned a Certificate from Northwestern’s University Kellogg Executive Education Program in Advanced Management. Andre is an Electronics Engineering professional and earned a B.S. from DeVry University. Andre Johnson was a 2018 Fellow of Disability Lead. He also holds the role of Client Success at Kaizen Health, a fast-rising startup solving SDOH (Social Determinants of Health) issues via transportation.
Amy Johnson is a Product Designer at Sprout Social in Chicago, IL. She is also a late-diagnosed autistic female. She is a Neurodiversity and product accessibility advocate. Amy has experienced several different types of tech work environments throughout her career and has a unique perspective on what it means to design and work with others while being autistic. She was diagnosed at the age of 27 and has since been on a journey of self-discovery that has led her to speak out about Neurodiversity in creative workplaces.
Earl Jordan is an Admin. Assist. with the US Treasury’s Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC). Prior to working for the OCC Earl has worked for the Lighthouse for the Blind and with the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce’s DRC Initiative. Earl has been with the OCC for 8 years.
Stephanie Kanter is the Deputy Director of IL ABLE, a savings and investment program for people with disabilities, at the State of Illinois Treasurer’s Office. She is currently serving on the board of the Erie Neighborhood House. Stephanie previously served on the Board of Commissioners for the City of Chicago’s Commission on Human Relations. Stephanie is an alum of the US State Department’s Professional Fellows Program and has served as a delegate on three international exchanges supporting sport diplomacy, disability awareness, and economic inclusion. Stephanie graduated from the University of Illinois at Chicago and is currently completing her MA in Liberal Studies at DePaul University.
Nicole Kelly stepped into the role of public figure after winning the 2013 title of Miss Iowa and going on to compete at the 2014 Miss America Pageant. She gained attention for being one of only a few competitors to have ever competed with a physical disability. After working for a year as Miss Iowa and traveling across the country to advocate for those living with a disability, Nicole transitioned into speaking professionally. Nicole received her Masters from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism in 2017. She is the co-creator and co-host of the podcast, Disarming Disability, whose goal is to educate, empower, voice, and build a more inclusive society. Nicole currently works at the prosthetic manufacturing company, Coapt LLC, and deals with bionic hands everyday.
Shannon Kelly is the Social Media Manager for United Spinal, as well as the Peer Connect Coordinator for Backbones, a Chicago based non-profit that supports people with spinal cord injuries. She plans monthly online meetings to connect the SCI community and provide resources. Shannon also helps disabled writers tell their stories through her work as an editor for Disability Horizons magazine.
Evelyn Keolian is a Librarian in the Chicago Public Library (CPL) system. Evelyn also serves as the founder and chair of the Diversability Advocacy Committee at CPL. Evelyn is an adjunct instructor in American Sign Language at Oakton Community College. She serves on the Board of Directors of Changing Worlds. Evelyn received a M.L.I.S. from the University of North Texas/California State University, Northridge in 2012.
Abdul Hakim Khan grew up in Pakistan and relocated to Pittsburgh to study Engineering. After graduating he worked for John Deere in Iowa and then joined Honeywell in the Chicago area. He has worked in different roles since then and is currently a Manager in the Honeywell Energy Services Group.
Clare Killy is Vice President of Digital Experiences at Aspire, an Adjunct Faculty member at Erikson Institute, and a Co-Chair of the Chicago Cultural Accessibility Consortium. She is a graduate of Erikson Institute (M.S. Child Development) and Ohio University (B.A. Health & Human Services - Early Childhood Education). Clare is a licensed educator and child development specialist with experience as a teacher, advocate, inclusion consultant, and program director across diverse environments.
Kevin Knabe has served on the Executive Advisory Board for NARDA PWI and was twice selected for a US delegation in China, South Korea, and Russia as part of the Citizen Ambassador Program. Kevin serves on the Chicago Hearing Society’s Board of Advisors and is a Mentor Deaf Tech at Harper College. Kevin is a graduate of Marquette University.
Sam Knight is an Independent Living Advocate and community organizer focused on promoting the rights of people with disabilities. Sam is a member of the Disability Lead Program Committee. He is also a graduate of Concordia University.
Adero Knott is the Founder of AK Prosthetics, an AdaptiveTech startup that makes customized prosthetics and adaptive wear accessible and inclusive. Adero is also an inventor and uses her experiences traveling the world to problem solve and create accessible tools that make life easier for people with disabilities.
Jamie Kosberg is a Manager on the National Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Team at KPMG, a company they have been at for six years. They are a Co-Lead of their KPMG Chicago Pride Business Resource Group and love being involved in mentorship opportunities, leadership programs, and many diversity initiatives.
Jennifer Kraft is a passionate educator that likes to take on challenges and open up new possibilities to find the unknown connections between people and ideas. She has inspired many with her recovery story and progression to be independent while somehow finding time to help others along the way.
Benjamin Lachman is co-founder of Cue Everything, a new media communications channel that curates and produces creative video content about Cued Speech. Benjamin currently serves on the National Cued Speech Association Board of Directors as the Director of Development and is an Advisory Council Member of the Alexander Graham Bell Montessori School. He earned a B.A. from California Polytechnic State University-San Luis Obispo and an M.B.A. from the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Frank is an Education Policy Analyst at Access Living. In his role, Frank monitors developments in education policy and advocates on behalf of students with disabilities. He is a member of the Special Education Advocates Coalition of Chicago and the Special Education Advisory Committee to the Attorney General. Frank earned degrees in History and Education at Dominican University and a master’s in Public Policy from Northwestern University. Prior to joining Access Living Frank coordinated internship and civic engagement opportunities for Chicago high schoolers at the nonprofit Mikva Challenge.
Tuyet M. Le is an independent consultant for nonprofits and government. Previously, Ms. Le served as executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice | Chicago (Advancing Justice | Chicago) for nearly 19 years. Established in 1992, Advancing Justice | Chicago is a pan-Asian, not-for-profit organization that builds power through collective advocacy and organizing to achieve racial equity. During her tenure, Ms. Le grew the organization from one staff to 14 full-time staff. Advancing Justice | Chicago’s programs included civic engagement, community organizing, leadership development, and legal advocacy. Her current board service includes Access Living and One People’s Campaign. She has been a panelist, keynote, and rally speaker on a wide range of issues including immigration, disability rights, census, redistricting, and political empowerment. Ms. Le is a polio survivor, and came to the United States as a refugee at the age of three from Vietnam. Some of her previous board service includes the Illinois Coalition for Immigrants and Refugee Rights, Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC, Disabilities Fund, and the Leadership Fellows Association for Leadership Greater Chicago. She was also a 2013 Rockwood Leadership Institute Fellow and a 2004 Leadership Greater Chicago Fellow.
Michele Lee is a Chicagoland native. By day, she is the Senior Public Affairs Manager focused on Accessibility at Cruise, a self driving car service. In this role, she cultivates relationships with key advocates, community organizations, and experts representing the full diversity of the disability community to build more accessible service.
Michele is a longtime disability advocate and has used a power wheelchair for decades after a spinal cord injury. Combining a professional background in corporate and nonprofit organizations with a long passion for disability rights advocacy, she is working towards an equitable, accessible future.
Michele has served on various boards and committees to advance the rights of people with disabilities. Currently, Michele serves as a Board Member for the Chicago Transit Authority.
Jason Lehmann aims to be an ambassador between people on the Autism spectrum and Neurotypical. Currently working as quality assurance analyst at Aspiritech, Jason is pursuing a career in technology and is interested in refining development processes.
Tekki Lomnicki is the co-founder and Artistic Director of Tellin’ Tales Theatre, dedicated to shattering the barriers between the disabled and non-disabled worlds through personal story. Tekki performs her critically acclaimed solo work for schools, conferences and theater audiences, and works as a Marketing Copywriter for True Value Hardware.
Edison Lopez Jr. currently lives in Chicago and works as a specialist at Apple Store. With Latino parents and three deaf siblings, his background is rich with cultural diversity. Tapping into this experience lends to successful community collaborations resulting in several volunteer opportunities and leadership roles. In 2015, Edison achieved a Deaf Interpreter license in the state of Illinois. He is the current owner of Zepol Interpreting Services, LLC.
Tina received her undergraduate degree from Marquette University and her Master of Public Policy and Administration from Northwestern University. She is currently the Director of Quality at Aspire, a Quality Enhancement Specialist for The Council for Quality and Leadership, and the Head Coach for the Libertyville Stars Special Olympics Swim Club. Recently, she has been a keynote speaker for transition fairs guiding families working through what comes next after high school and she has been a panel speaker discussing topic areas of human rights along with empathetic communication with neurodivergent learners. She identifies as a data geek and enjoys utilizing data to advocate for policy changes that benefit the quality of life.
Veronica “V” Lozano (she/her/hers or they/them), is a social justice facilitator, therapist, activist, and tireless advocate addressing intersectional issues that affect LGBTQ individuals, disabled individuals, immigrants, and low-income communities. Born and raised in Chicago, this queer, disabled Latina brings creativity, tenacity, and dedication to both her personal and professional life. V has over 10 years of working in healthcare specializing in HIV, sexual, reproductive health. V is a trauma and sexual health expert who hopes to have their own private practice one day, but in the meantime you’ll find them working at Spoken Balance private practice as a therapist. On their spare time, you can find V spending time with her three furbabies, Frida Magdalena, Kahlo, and Piper Ann.
Ben is Senior Counsel in the Law & Regulation Department at Allstate, where he advises the company on regulatory, legislative and compliance concerns affecting property and casualty insurance operations. He is also the Co-President of ABLE, Allstate’s Disability ERG. Ben is a current member and past Chair of the Board of Directors at Access Living, a nationally recognized change agent committed to fostering an inclusive society that enables people with disabilities in Chicago to live fully–engaged and self–directed lives. He has been a Leadership Greater Chicago Fellow since 2004, and is a past recipient of the Chicago Bar Association’s Vanguard Award, given to lawyers who have made the law and legal profession more accessible to and reflective of the community at-large.
As Director of Civic Engagement at SPR, Pat Maher manages non-profit relationships within the tech sector. Pat supports the success of historically overlooked and discounted segments of the workforce – including professionals and aspiring candidates with disabilities, girls and young women, and younger candidates who lack social capital in the continually evolving technology industry. SPR’s strategic focus is supporting students through early-in-career (EIC) professionals to have the greatest impact.
Shannon Maher is the Manager of Next Gen Initiatives at Disability:IN . She brings extensive experience from corporate America in implementing recruiting programs, processes and attracting diverse talent. Previously, she oversaw an enterprise-wide intern and co-op recruitment and coordinated campus recruitment efforts. Shannon has been connected with Disability:IN since the Fall of 2014 as a corporate ally and conference attendee so it seems like a full-circle moment to now work for Disability:IN.
In October 2016, Shannon was crowned Ms. Wheelchair Illinois 2017. Her platform is to help others with physical disabilities seek employment opportunities and become self-advocates. Shannon competed for Ms. Wheelchair America in August 2017, in Erie, PA. She received the award for the best platform speech.
Diversity, Equity and Inclusion has always been a personal passion for Shannon throughout her life and career. Shannon has given multiple speaking engagements both independently and as a panelist for national organizations such as United Cerebral Palsy, Disability:IN, and DisabilityLead.
Shannon holds Masters's Degree in Human Resource Management. Shannon received a Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies from Marquette University. Go Golden Eagles!
Shannon resides in the Chicagoland suburbs with her husband Matt. She enjoys spending time with family and friends, watching movies, and playing cards.
At Discover, Chaitanya Manchanda is the founder and co-chair of the Discover’s employer resource group, “Accentuating Discover Abilities.” Chaitanya is actively involved in spreading awareness, advocating for disability rights and representing the Deaf/Hard Of Hearing (HOH) Community. Chaitanya was an Executive Committee Member of the Hearing Loss Association of America in Chicago Lincoln Park for two years. Chaitanya earned a B.S. from the University of Windsor in Ontario, Canada.
Ann Manikas is a Leadership and Organizational Development leader with proven expertise in the areas of leadership and management coaching and development, team effectiveness, training development and delivery, large scale change, and mergers and integration. She is regarded by clients, peers, and business leaders as a collaborative partner focused on achieving business results through effective individual and organizational strategies. Ann serves as Co-Chair for Disability Lead's Program Committee.
Linda Mastandrea is a disability law attorney and Paralympic gold medalist. Prior to working with FEMA, Linda served an appointment to the Cook County Forest Preserves Conservation and Policy Council. Linda chairs the International Paralympic Committee Legal and Ethics Committee. Linda is a graduate of the University of Illinois and earned a J.D. at Chicago-Kent College of Law.
Daniella’s work focuses on providing accessible services and community engagement through artistic experiences. She has a passion for equity in arts spaces and works to make sure folks are welcomed to the table. Daniella loves pop culture, baking, gardening, and doting over her two gray cats, Stanley and Marlowe.
Margaret Rose McDonnell is the Director of the Learning Center and Disability Services at Saint Xavier University, working closely with students and faculty providing services and academic assistance to students with disabilities. Margaret received a B.A. and a M.Ed. from Saint Xavier University.
Christina McGleam was appointed Deputy Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities (MOPD) in April 2021 by Commissioner Rachel Arfa.
In her role as Deputy Commissioner, McGleam oversees MOPD’s Employment, Training and Youth initiatives aimed at elevating employment opportunities, reducing barriers to employment for people with disabilities and increasing awareness on how to best interact with people with disabilities.
McGleam also collaborates with Chicago Public Schools’ Office of Diverse Learners and Support Services as well as the City Colleges of Chicago to support professional development activities and works with both teams to fill the gaps between high school and college for students with disabilities. As MOPD’s Access Officer, another leadership role within the City of Chicago, McGleam serves as the main contact for City departments and sister agencies on questions related to communication access. McGleam represents MOPD as a member of the Regional Transit Authority Eligibility Review Board, the Accessible Airport Advisory Committee and was recently selected to serve as a member of the Chicago Cultural Access Sub-Committee. McGleam is a member of MOPD’s internal Office of Racial Equity and Justice cohort, working to ensure equity is at the forefront of all the services MOPD provides.
McGleam is a graduate of John Carroll University (B.S. Business Administration) and Roosevelt University (M.S. Human Resource Management) and earned a certification from the International Association of Accessibility Professionals as a Certified Professional in Accessibility Core competencies.
Claire T. McNorton is an ambitious community organizer and project manager. She graduated from Loyola University Chicago in 2016 and has spent her career dedicated to advocacy and nonprofit work and promoting equity and justice. Claire's greatest passion is mental health care reform and eliminating the stigma surrounding mental illness.
Currently, Prerak serves as a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor where he assists students and adults with disabilities in obtaining and maintaining competitive employment in the community. Prior to his work with the State of Illinois, he was employed as a Community Liaison for Aetna where he collaborated with community stakeholders on Medicaid Managed Care and Disability Rights issues. Prerak was selected by the American Association of Persons with disabilities to take part in the summer internship program where he was placed at the National Disability Rights Network. He was also invited to participate in a roundtable discussion on disability policy issues with former President Obama at the White House.
Janie is the U.S. Organizer for Women Enabled International (WEI) a nonprofit organization that advocates for the rights of people living at the intersection of gender and disability worldwide. As part of Janie's work, she coordinates The US Alliance of Women, nonbinary persons, and Other Gender Minorities with Disabilities. The Alliance takes collective action to address issues important to our community.
Jose Mendez consults with businesses to improve programmatic and physical accessibility and to increase disability diversity in employment. Prior to consulting, Jose was previously Program Director at the Illinois Department of Human Services. Jose was a member of the Illinois Council on Developmental Disabilities, the Workforce Employment Resource Collaborative, and the Anixter Center Human Rights Council. Jose earned a B.A. and M.Ed. from the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Kira has worked with children and adults with disabilities for over 17 years in a variety of non-profit, community-based, and educational settings. Professionally, she is an Occupational Therapist and presently serves as a Community Reintegration Advocate at Progress Center for Independent Living. Much of her work has involved supporting individuals who utilize assistive technology and adaptive equipment as a means for communication, completing activities of daily living, supporting mobility, and accessing their environments. Pursuing her Clinical Doctorate was an extension of her strong belief in the importance and need for service delivery to promote consumers’ and families’ self-determination and to further utilize consumer-directed approaches and empowerment strategies that enhance their choice and control. More specifically, her doctoral project was a continuing education course for educational professionals that support transition-aged youth who have communication barriers. Kira also serves as a special ed advocate for her little cousin, and recently became an Educational Surrogate Parent. In light of the pandemic and the health disparities our community is facing, Kira also serves as the primary co-leader of the PPE for People With Disabilities Coalition. Her work involves accessing and distributing PPE to folks with disabilities and Personal Assistants living Cook County, as well as engaging in public policy work that addresses the dire need for people with disabilities to be prioritized in Illinois’ emergency response. Kira is presently developing a business doing home and building modifications, named Empowering Design, LLC.
Angel received her doctorate in women’s studies at the University of Maryland College Park. After completing her postdoctoral fellowship in the College of Applied Health Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago, she became Healthcare/Home and Community Based Services Policy Analyst at Access Living. She is responsible for monitoring disability rights developments in healthcare and home and community-based services and facilitating systems advocacy efforts through an intersectional lens.
Ana is an HR leader with 10+ years of experience leading programs across career development, DEI, and talent planning. Ana has a B.A. in Economics from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and is also a certified leadership coach and change management professional providing independent career coaching and HR strategy consulting.
Brianna Morgan is an African American woman who is differently-abled and has ADD tendencies. She holds college degrees in Health Education and Library and Information Studies. She works full time as a school Librarian. She volunteers with several organizations in her community advocating for equity in educational services and supports.
David Munar is devoted to building comprehensive systems of care and prevention that meet the needs of vulnerable populations. David has served on numerous advisory councils for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Health Resources Services Administration, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and gubernatorial and mayoral transition teams. David currently serves on the governing Board of the Pediatric AIDS Chicago Prevention Initiative, Funders Concerned About AIDS, Center for Housing and Health, and Equality Illinois. David is a graduate of Northwestern University.
Phil is an empathetic individual who can connect with people on a personal level to better understand their needs, concerns, goals, and aspirations. Phil can take that information and work with others to build a solution to any problem and ensure that everyone’s voice is heard.
Professor Narko teaches Communication and Legal Reasoning. Her focus is teaching legal analysis through the vehicle of writing. She is a frequent presenter at national and regional Legal Writing Institute conferences and has written and spoken on a variety of topics related to communication and legal analysis.
Her research interests include collaboration and learning theory and integration of analytical communication in law practice. Professor Narko received her J.D. from Cornell Law School and her B.A. in history, cum laude, from Yale University. Following her undergraduate degree, she attended Salzburg College in Salzburg, Austria. Prior to joining the faculty, Kathleen Dillon Narko practiced with a large law firm concentrating in the areas of commercial litigation and environmental, safety and health law. Professor Narko worked extensively with corporate clients in all aspects of litigation, including trials and appeals. She currently consults with judges, law firms, and other lawyers, providing training in legal writing. Professor Narko maintains an active involvement with the practicing bar. She is a prominent member of the Chicago Bar Association, where she currently serves on the Editorial Board of the CBA Record. She authors a regular column on legal writing, Nota Bene, which is widely used by both attorneys and law professors. For several years she has presented a program on Advanced Legal Writing to sold-out audiences of practicing attorneys. Professor Narko is also active in the disability community. She has spoken on including disability within diversity and how the legal profession can take steps to be more equitable for and inclusive of disabled attorneys.
Anne Nash is a Google for Education Senior Program Manager who works to create tools and programs that empower all learners to reach their highest potential. She has been with Google since 2012. Anne believes strongly in enhancing diversity, equity, and inclusion; and is particularly passionate about accessibility and improving opportunities for everyone. Anne holds a degree in psychology and international studies from Northwestern University.
Kelly O’Brien is the Founder and President of Ideaction Corps and is the Illinois Director of The Kenney Forum. Kelly has served as a public health advisor to Senator Richard Durbin, Senior Legislative Aide to Congressman Jerry Kleczka, Director of Government Affairs for Partnership for Prevention, and Congressional Liaison for the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Kelly received a B.A. from St. Mary’s College, Notre Dame and a M.P.A from The George Washington University School of Business.
Kaney O’Neill is a Navy veteran and founder of O’Neill Contractors. In 2015, Kaney was the recipient of the National Veteran-Owned Business Association Woman Vetrepreneur of the Year Award and the Annual Woman Veteran of the Year Award from the Women’s Business Development Center in 2014. Kaney serves on the Board of Directors for the Federation of Women Contractors and the National Board of Directors of Bunker Labs. Kaney received a B.S.Ed. and a M.A. from Northwestern University.
Benro T. Ogunyipe is the Executive Director of the Illinois Deaf and Hard of Hearing Commission. He previously worked 17 years for the Illinois Department of Human Services as Senior Accessibility Specialist, Reasonable Accommodation Specialist, and Investigator of the ADA/Section 504 Discrimination Complaints . He served for 6 years as president, vice president, and chair of the board of National Black Deaf Advocates, Inc. In 2014 and again in 2016, U.S. President Barack Obama appointed Benro to the National Council on Disability. Benro was also appointed by three different Illinois governors to public bodies and was an appointed board member of the National Association of the Deaf. He is a seasoned guest lecturer at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Disability Studies and Columbia College Chicago’s Interpreter Training Program on Multicultural Issues. Benro received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Gallaudet University and a Master of Public Administration (M.P.A.) degree from DePaul University, School of Public Service.
Mads Oliver (they/them) is a communications professional and graphic/web designer who is passionate about social justice and accessibility for all.
They work as a Communications Associate for Noble Schools, a charter school network in Chicago that serves over 12,700 students across the city. They have a solid footing in the non-profit world, having worked with many non-profits in their previous hometown of Spokane, WA, such as Spectrum Singers, Odyssey Youth Movement, and Girl Scouts of Eastern Washington & Northern Idaho.
Jessica Olson is an activist, finance professional, and political consultant who lives in Chicago, IL. A veteran of several political campaigns, Jessica believes in uplifting candidates from marginalized communities. She organizes with Solidarity Sunday Logan Square and supports several community organizations fighting for reproductive justice and criminal justice reform.
Delilah Orizaba is a Chicago-based Licensed Clinical Social Worker. She is a disabled-Jewish-trans woman of color and is the proud daughter of immigrants. Delilah's work has been centered around mental health, disability, housing, and LGBTQ+ advocacy. Currently, she is a clinical therapist in Oak Park where she specializes working with children on the spectrum as well as queer youth.
Ron Otto is the Director of Recovery at Thresholds Psychiatric Rehabilitation Centers and advocate for access to comprehensive mental health services. Ron received a B.A. from Ripon College and a B.S. from the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Joyce Otuwa is an Attorney at the State of Illinois Attorney General’s Office Civil Rights Bureau. Joyce believes in public service, mentorship, and the deconstruction of exclusive ideology through education, activism, and legal advocacy. Joyce earned a J.D. and B.A. from the University of Illinois.
Randall is a researcher focusing on disability and policy, especially evaluations of reforms to Medicaid services. Currently, he is working on an evaluation of healthcare services for children who are transitioning into a managed care model. He is a recent transplant to the SF-Bay Area in California and is currently not serving on any boards, although he is open to volunteer leadership and employment opportunities. Randall is active in leadership for the American Public Health Association, serving on both the Disability Section Executive Committee and on the Committee for Health Equity.
Bill is an emerging leader in the Chicagoland disability community. For the past 13 years, his passion as a recruiter and disability advocate have empowered countless job seekers to achieve their career and employment goals. He has solid experience in full-cycle recruiting, diversity and inclusion consulting, and as a disability employment specialist. As a team leader with AbilityLinks, SPR Industries nAblement program, and the Information Technology Knowledge Abilities Network (ITKAN), he has presented to many for-profit and non-profit organizations about the return on investment that can be gained from hiring people with disabilities. Bill is also a member of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce. To learn more about Bill and his passion for engaging with both the disability and employer communities, click here.
Barbara Padilla an architect with experience designing public and commercial buildings and interior spaces. Currently an accessibility specialist consultant providing review for compliance with the ADA title III public accommodations and commercial facilities. Barbara received a bachelor’s degree in architecture from UW-Milwaukee and masters from University of Illinois—Chicago.
Jae Jin Pak is a social justice advocate, educator, and ally who identifies as an Asian immigrant with disabilities. His work includes gender-based violence, anti-trafficking prevention, mental health, disability, immigration justice, and anti-oppression. His core values of collaboration and recognizing intersectionality helped him build strong connections with communities and providers.
Jae Jin serves or served on the Statewide Independent Living Council of IL, Quality Care Board, Health & Human Services Taskforce, Access & Functional Needs Advisory Board of IEMA, Disability and Immigration Taskforce of IL, and The National Human Trafficking & Disability Working Group. He is a graduate of Northern Illinois University and an IL LEND Fellow.
Christea Parent is a creator, facilitator, administrator, and activist passionate about the intersections of art, queerness, disability, and resistance. They hold a BFA in Theater from New York University and have been in Chicago since 2012. By day they work in nonprofit administration/operations and by night they create solo and collaborative works of performance art. Christea has presented on topics such as neurodivergence, care work, and human rights, and is always interested in meeting with like-minded or curious people to work towards a better future.
As Director of the Division of Rehabilitation Services, Rahnee Patrick directs Illinois’ state agency to assist Illinoisans with disabilities to reach personal goals of employment and education. Rahnee conceived the ADAPT Youth Summit, and was the recipient of the 2008 Paul Hearne Award of the American Association of People with Disabilities. Rahnee graduated from Indiana University and co-founded Students Together Able and Respected, comprised of disabled students.
Alex Perez-Garcia is a social impact leader who believes in the power of personal narrative and working together to build capacity and infuse equity in our systems. Previously, as Associate Director of Development and Communications at Disability Lead, Alex grew this nonprofit startup organization through high-quality strategic fundraising, community outreach, and internal and external content management. Previously, Alex was a Program Associate at The Chicago Community Trust. There she managed several projects related to the Trust’s commitment to racial equity, disability inclusion, and strategic growth for diverse populations and disinvested neighborhoods. In her tenure at the Trust, she was integral to the incubation and launch of Disability Lead, the only leadership program in the nation that connects leaders with disabilities with civic engagement opportunities. Alex started at the Trust through the Kimpton Fellows program, formerly the University of Chicago Public Interest Program (UCPIP), a competitive one-year fellowship opportunity for graduates interested in launching their career in the public sector at high-impact organizations. As an inaugural member of The Obama Foundation Community Leadership Corps, Alex founded an online community focused on mental health fueled by young voices of color. In the first month launched, the blog, which featured lived experiences of mental illness, including her own, was read by thousands across the country. Because of her work, she was selected as a featured speaker during the 2018 Obama Foundation Summit. She has served as an Ambassador for the Obama Foundation and Chicago200. She is Co-Chair of the Chicago Foundation for Women’s Young Women’s Giving Council. She also serves on the 2020 Census Disability Complete Count Committee for the City of Chicago. In 2019, she was awarded the Young Alumna Award by her high school alma mater. She is a 2020 Disability Lead Fellow. Alex graduated with honors from UChicago with a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Public Policy.
Matt Perry is a writer, JD candidate, and disability advocate. He has written one novel, to be self-published in 2022. He was formerly the project coordinator on a SAMHSA grant to organize mental health consumers in Illinois and the Consumer Co-Chair on The Illinois Mental Health Planning and Advisory Council.
Kelly Pierce is a Legal Assistant for the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, focusing on disability-related issues. Kelly has served on the Technology Watch Committee of the National Council on Disability and worked with the Cook County Clerk and the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners to develop improvements in accessibility to electronic voting machines. Kelly is a graduate of Northern Illinois University.
Brenda Pino has over 45 years of banking experience. As Vice President of Physical Channels for the BMO Financial Group, Brenda’s responsibilities include assuring optimal customer and employee experiences when utilizing any of the Bank’s Physical Channels, which includes a network of over 4,000 ATMs in North America. Brenda is the co-chair of the BMO Without Barriers disability ERG.
Greg Polman (Sr. Vice President of Public Policy)’s career at The Lighthouse spans over 30 years, and has managed 14 different programs and serves as The Lighthouse’s representative on a number of governmental and community Board, committees and panels. Greg serves as co-chair of the Service Delivery Committee of the Chicago Cook Workforce Innovation Board and is Chair of the RTA Transit Access Citizens advisory Board and is the former Chair of the Statewide Rehabilitation Council. Greg is a member on the Mayor’s Task Force for Employment for People with Disabilities. He also sits on several other committees for the City that advocate for accessibility issues. Greg has a B.A. from Southwestern Minnesota State University and a M.A. from Southern Illinois University.
Jennifer Price goes by “JP.” With an undergraduate degree in Social Work and 20+ years in corporate and consulting experience; she is a career counselor to engineers, data analysts, and testers at EY. She is also neuro-distinct. JP celebrates her strengths and enjoys working with her counselees to help them identify their “thrive stride” at work.
Christophe Quancard is a manager with Deloitte’s tax practice. Christophe is part of the Global Employer Services group, assisting clients with their global mobility policies and practices for employees on international assignments. Christophe has over 15 years of experience in Global Mobility consulting and International Human Resources.
Maureen Reagan founded and operated MRA Architects, Ltd, for over 25 years, designing creative environments, functional for all people, including those with disabilities. Maureen’s work was featured in an exhibit of Women Architects at the Art Institute of Chicago, among other exhibitions. She served on the committee, which produced an extensive update to the accessibility code of the Chicago Building Code. Prior to starting MRA Architects, Maureen practiced architecture at Skidmore, Owings and Merrill in Chicago. She earned a Masters in Architecture from the University of Illinois, a B.S. with Distinction in Environmental Design from Purdue University, and was awarded a scholarship to study architecture at L’Ecole d’Architecture, Universite de Paris III, Versailles, France.
Risa Jaz Rifkind is a justice advocate who seeks to make change by shifting access to power and influence. As the Director of Civic Engagement and Marketing for Disability Lead, she propels the organization to realize its vision to have people with disabilities lead with power and influence. By identifying and developing strategic partnerships, Risa positions Members to take on leadership roles that advance their careers, civic engagement, and equity for people with disabilities. By integrating this vision into all internal and external communications, she leads Disability Lead’s brand awareness, public and private Member programming, and community engagement and outreach. She is also a Disability Lead Member.
Outside of Disability Lead, Risa is involved in various leadership roles. In 2022, she was appointed to the National Council on Disability by President Biden. In 2020, Risa participated on the Disability Inclusion Fund’s grantmaking committee. Previously, Risa was Program Manager at The Chicago Community Trust where she developed their disability inclusion priorities and practices and managed several disability inclusion initiatives including the Disabilities Fund, ADA 25 Advancing Leadership, and ADA 25 Chicago.
She has consulted for organizations to increase their disability inclusion including the University of Indiana Kelley School of Business, Institute for Nonprofit Professionals, Proteus Fund, and has spoken at conferences including the Leadership Exchange in Arts and Disability, Unity Summit, and Upswell Conference.
Risa is passionate about the arts and serves on the Board of Directors for the Chicago Cultural Accessibility Consortium as Vice President. Risa received a B.A. from Johns Hopkins University.
Brian Rohde is currently a ComEd Energy Force Ambassador where he conducts trainings on the benefits of energy conservation and provides energy saving tips. With a strong passion for environmental sustainability, this position allows Brian to share ComEd’s mission of Energy Efficiency with the public to achieve the goal of creating a greener, more sustainable future. The ComEd Energy Force Program is the only program taught solely by individuals with disabilities and helps build communication, organizational and working skills within the community. Not only has Brian developed each of these key skills substantially, but as an Energy Force Ambassador, Brian is a voice for the disability community to inspire change for the future. Formerly, Brian interned at Argonne National Laboratory where he helped assess the impacts of drought on hydroelectric power generation in the Western parts of the United States at the HUC8 subbasin level. Through data collection, research analysis, and ArcGIS 10, Brian created a map of HUC8 subbasins within the California river basin and a DEM map to analyze the impact of droughts on stream flow. Currently through JJsList, an online platform that connects businesses and people with disabilities, Brian is a Disability Performance Player, performing disability awareness trainings to the public at several venues throughout the Chicagoland area. This position has allowed Brian to better understand how to approach and communicate with others who have varying disabilities. Brian fully believes that spreading the message of disability awareness can lead to change in the current trends of people with disabilities being underrepresented in the workforce. With this experience through JJsList, Brian is able to help educate others outside of the community on how to effectively communicate with people with disabilities. Brian received his Bachelor of Arts in Geography from Valparaiso University in 2014. With an immense passion for environmental science, Brian has obtained a Trained Severe Weather Spotter license through the National Weather Service. Brian is a proud, lifelong resident of the Southwest suburbs and in his spare time, he enjoys traveling with his family, watching sports, and playing with his two dogs.
Mary is an attorney on Access Living’s civil rights team. She represents people with disabilities in discrimination cases, conducts education and outreach about disability rights laws, and is involved in public policy advocacy. Formerly, as an attorney at Prairie State Legal Services, Mary represented homeowners in foreclosure. Prior to law school, Mary taught middle and high school special education in New York City. She completed her undergrad degree at Loyola University in Chicago and received a master’s degree in special education from Pace University. She graduated from John Marshall Law School in the top 3 percent of her class.
Joe has previously held positions with the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities, the Illinois Attorney General, and the US Department of Justice. Joe serves on the Board of Directors of Openlands and the Center for Disability and Elder Law. Joe earned a B.A. from Georgetown University and a J.D. from New York University School of Law. Joe is a Leadership Greater Chicago Fellow (2007).
Kirstin Safakas is an advocate for equity in both her personal and professional capacities. As a Community Involvement Coordinator with the USEPA, she acts as liaison to residents throughout the Superfund process. In her free time, she enjoys working with Chicago refugee families as well as traveling, cooking, and running.
Ben Salentine serves as Associate Director of Managed Care at UI Health. Professional efforts focus primarily on contracting, credentialing, business development and operations efforts for the following Colleges: Applied Health Sciences, Dentistry, Nursing and Pharmacy. Ben is also a second-year PhD candidate in the Disability Studies program at UIC.
Marina is an Arab American woman with multiple disabilities. She completed her Master’s in Counseling with emphasis in Sport and Health Psychology from Adler University. Marina now serves as the SOAR case manager in the Community Reintegration Department at Access Living Chicago, where she assists individuals transition out nursing facilities.
Dr. Carrie Sandahl is head of the Program on Disability Art, Culture, and Humanities, which is devoted to research on and the creation of disability art. This program also serves as the administrative home for Chicago’s Bodies of Work, an organization that supports the development of disability arts and culture. Sandahl is active nationally as a public speaker. She is frequently invited to present her research and creative work on disability art and culture at universities across the United States, including University of California-Berkeley, University of California-Santa Barbara, Stanford University, Bucknell University, University of Florida, Smith College, and Davidson College among others. She has keynoted conferences such as the Articulations Conference at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities and the Portland Disability Art and Culture Festival in Oregon. Sandahl also regularly presents her research at the Society for Disability Studies and the Association for Theater in Higher Education, both professional organizations in which she has been an active member for more than fifteen years.
Courtney Sass is a Student Aide at the British International School of Chicago and the creator of the Museum Accessibility Toolkit, a website that features basic and inexpensive accommodations cultural institutions can provide for people with disabilities. Courtney earned a M.A. in Museum and Exhibition Studies from the University of Illinois at Chicago and a B.A. in Art History from Loyola University Chicago.
Ann has over 30 years of advertising experience. Previously, she was Vice President at the Brenda Borri Company where she wasthe sales partner for the US territory and developed relationship with advertising agencies, public relations firms, companies, and consultant in the national 10-second television media marketplace. Ann’s volunteer experience includes serving as President of the board of SitStayRead and Treasurer of the Women’s March Chicago.
Christine Scholma is a professor of special education and the Director of the Center for Special Education at Trinity Christian College. She worked for more than a decade as a high school special education teacher and has supported preservice teachers in higher education for seven years.
Grishma Shah is the Co-Director for the Chicago ReelAbilities Film Festival and an Artist completing her PhD in Community Psychology. Grishma’s passion for social justice is depicted through storytelling and art, as catalysts to thinking deeper, in hopes to question our pre-conditioned viewpoints and evoke awareness of our unconscious biases.
Kruti Parikh Shah, PharmD, is a Clinical Operations Pharmacist at RUSH University Medical Center. In her role, she ensures safe and effective use of medications, provides collaborative drug therapy management, and offers excellent patient care. Being a woman of color and having a disability, she is passionate about Disability, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. During the pandemic, when medical masks became a barrier to lipreading, she advocated for clear masks to improve access to communication. She is a Public Voice Fellow with the OpEd Project and a steering committee member for the Disabilities Employee Resource Group (DERG) at RUSH. She volunteers as a mentor to high school students interested in allied health careers through the Bridges Mentorship Program with Rush Education and Career Hub (REACH).
She is an Indo-Canadian American, whose life has spanned over three countries. She was raised by a single mother who immigrated to Canada from India when Kruti was a teenager. Due to her strong desire and commitment to be of service to others who have been displaced, she serves on the board of RefugeeOne, the largest resettlement agency in Chicago.
She is a graduate of the University of Toronto (BSc) and the University at Buffalo (PharmD)
Ather Sharif is a PhD Student studying Human-Computer Interaction at University of Washington, and a Software Engineer at Comcast’s Core Application Platforms Team. Ather is passionate about researching accessibility and developing tools to make the web a more accessible place. Ather is a recent graduate of Saint Joseph’s University with a M.S. in Computer Science and earned his B.S. in Software Engineering from the GIK Institute of Science and Technology in Pakistan.
Karen Sheley is ICJIA General Counsel. Before joining ICJIA, Karen was the director of the Police Practices Project at the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, where she represented clients in impact litigation on policing matters, including implementing reform in the area of race and disability discrimination in policing. Karen previously practiced at a boutique employment class action firm, Meites, Mulder, Mollica and Glink, and before that at Cleary Gottlieb Stein and Hamilton, LLP, in general litigation. She clerked for the Honorable David G. Trager for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York. Karen earned her juris doctorate from Columbia Law School, where she was a Kent and Stone scholar. She also earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology (minor in women’s studies) at Northwestern University, graduating cum laude.
Matthew was born and raised in Chicago. Matthew identifies as a person with a learning disability. He has worked with nonprofits and grassroots organizations for over a decade. He is currently a Special Education Classroom Assistant with CPS. Matthew is an Artist and Graphic Designer.
Art Sims, affectionately known as "Chat Daddy," has entertained audiences via the radio, television, print, onstage and online for nearly 29 years.
Sims is a familiar and welcomed voice in many diverse communities in Chicago and around the world. Known for humor, quick wit, charming conversation, and amiable personality, "Chat Daddy" has traveled nationally and internationally, providing inspirational, educational, and vital information on developing and maintaining positive, sustainable relationships.
Sims has received numerous awards and honors for his commitment to the growth of more positive relationships.
Sims is the creator, executive producer, and host of The Real Chat Daddy Show, a nightly (Monday-Wednesday) digital media news and entertainment show streamed via various popular social media platforms.
The Real Chat Daddy Show was created in March 2020 and highlights local and national news, COVID-19 statistics, lifestyle stories, relationship advice, and celebrity interviews.
Sims is also the former executive producer and host of the highly successful nightly radio show Real Talk, Real People with Chat Daddy, heard globally on WVON 1690AM via iHeartRadio from 2015 until 2020.
Sims civic engagement and social involvement include 2019 Fellow & Ambassadorship with Disability Leads.
Sims has recently joined the Health Equity Advisory Committee for The American Heart Association of Metro Chicago.
Sims dominates all entertainment facets as an entertainer, talk show host, actor, writer, director, executive producer, philanthropist, activist, and cancer survivor.
His faith in God has been the driving force behind Sims’ many endeavors, guiding him through his many successes.
Bill Sitter currently works for Diamond Peak Recruiting. Bill serves in several volunteer roles, including on the board of Inspiration Corporation. While not at work, Bill likes to go to the movies and is a big-time foodie.
Gene Skonicki is a graduate of Georgetown Law where he co-founded a group for law students with disabilities. He has clerked for three federal judges and currently serves as a permanent law clerk to a federal judge in Chicago. Before law school, Gene was the CTO of a successful technology start-up.
Amber has served as Access Living’s Director of Advocacy since 2010. She is responsible for executing Access Living’s advocacy vision through policy, community organizing, and issue education, with support from across Access Living’s program departments. She guides Access Living’s strategic partnerships and significant networking efforts at the local, state, and national levels across a range of disability topics, including healthcare/home- and community-based services, housing, education, transportation, racial justice, immigration, and incarceration of people with disabilities. Amber facilitates the federal-state working group Disability Power for Community Integration. She also supports international disability learning exchange, particularly through the U.S. Professional Fellows Programs. Amber is a skilled presenter and trainer, a member of ADA25 and Leadership Greater Chicago, and a recipient of numerous local and national awards for her disability advocacy. Amber is a proud member of the Deaf community who grew up in mainstreamed schools, learned ASL as a young adult, and now relies on lip-reading, ASL interpreters, and video relay technologies for communication access.
Riley works at a special recreation association while attending graduate school to earn her master's degree in disability studies. She is a volunteer at Chicago's Access Living and sits on the Board of Directors for the Disability Resource Center. She also hosts public speaking events to educate on disability culture.
Becky is an Account Partner at Surest. Previously, Becky was a National Accounts Manager at Vimly Benefit Solutions after relocating to Denver, Colorado. At Vimly, she led the DEI committee, and in her new role, she is working with employee resource groups to advocate for people with disabilities. While she no longer resides in the Chicagoland area, she maintains ties to the Chicago disability community through service as Vice President of the Board of Directors for L’Arche Chicago and her membership at Disability Lead. Becky’s previous experience includes Illinois State Chairperson for In-Abled Business Resource Group at Health Care Service Corporation, where she supported the mission to champion inclusion for people with disabilities and professional development opportunities for employees.
Margaret Sugrue is a Corporate Social Responsibility and Strategic Communications Manager at Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association. Previously, Margaret spent more than five years working in a variety of CSR and community roles at HCSC. She currently serves on the Multiple Solutions Associates Board of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society of Greater Illinois. Margaret earned a B.S. from Marquette University and a Master of Public Health degree from the University of Illinois at Chicago.
In March 2020, Karen Tamley became the new President and CEO of Access Living, a Chicago-based service and advocacy non-profit organization for people with disabilities. In her new role, Karen has returned to her roots, having served in multiple positions at Access Living from 1996 to 2005, under Access Living’s founding CEO Marca Bristo.
Prior to becoming Access Living’s CEO, Karen served three Chicago Mayors as Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities. As Commissioner, Karen advanced accessibility and disability inclusion in the areas of transportation, city infrastructure, technology, emergency planning, education, and employment and oversaw the delivery of direct services to thousands of Chicago’s disabled youth and adults. In 2015, Karen received the Motorola Solutions Excellence in Public Service Award from the Civic Federation, which recognizes a non-elected government official for having an extraordinary impact on the quality of state and local government services in Illinois.
In 2016, President Obama appointed Karen to serve on the United States Access Board, which develops national accessibility guidelines and standards, and she was elected as Chair in 2019. Most recently, Karen was appointed to the Obama Foundation Inclusion Council in 2020, and she served as a member of the Biden-Harris Presidential Transition team.
Over the past two decades, Tamley has served on a wide variety of government and nonprofit community boards at the national, state and local level, including Pace Suburban Bus, Dare2Tri and Kohl’s Children’s Museum. In 2015, she received the Distinguished Fellow award from Leadership Greater Chicago.
Karen was appointed by Governor Pritzker in 2021 to serve on the Illinois Commission on Hate Crimes and Discrimination, and she is a current Board Director at Forefront, an organization that aims to build a vibrant social impact sector for all the people of Illinois. Additionally, she is a member of The Chicago Network, The Economic Club of Chicago, the International Women’s Forum, and Disability Lead.
Karen is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley. She lives in Chicago with her husband, Kevin Irvine, and their teenage daughter. All three have disabilities themselves and are actively involved in disability advocacy locally and nationally.
Suhail Tariq is passionate about helping people with visible and invisible disabilities from all walks of life. Advocacy is very important to him as too many times he has seen people without anyone to speak up for them. Suhail objective is to make sure that people with disabilities have equality in the workplace. Suhail is physically disabled and has Juvenile ALS/Lou Gehrig’s along with Spastic Paraplegia.
Carlos is a driven disability inclusion practitioner. He has a valuable mix of policy formulation and project implementation experience, ability to marshal and critically evaluate information, ability to communicate broadly and in-depth understanding of disability, all skills that he uses to ensure equitable and inclusive experiences for disabled people.
Sandy Tiania has over 20 years of accounting experience. Sandy is quite active in the hard of hearing community and serves as the co-coordinator of the Deaf Urban Professional (Duppies) Group. Sandy has a passion for civic engagement in literary, arts, philanthropy, and technology.
Reveca Torres is an artist and nonprofit director. In 2009, she founded BACKBONES, a nonprofit organization that connects people with spinal cord injury and disabilities to their communities. Torres is also the co-director of ReelAbilities Film Festival Chicago and has curated touring photography and art exhibitions that showcase the work of people with disabilities and bring awareness to disability rights. Torres uses painting, illustration, photography, film, movement, and other media as a form of expression as a tool for advocacy and social justice.
Hugo Trevino is a first-generation Mexican American. Hugo graduated from the University of Illinois at Champaign Urbana ‘14 and Loyola University Chicago, M.Ed. ‘18. During his undergraduate/graduate career, he has studied abroad 5 times to Costa Rica, China, Taiwan, Vietnam, and Italy. Hugo’s history involves advocating for Latinxs, LGBQTIA, and people with disabilities rights on education, healthcare, and self-advocacy. Hugo’s passion led him to his current position helping students access higher education at UIC.
John M. Tuhey is a principal at The Tuhey Law Firm where he uses his twenty years of experience advising board of directors and management teams of numerous small, mid and large-cap public companies. John also frequently counsels high net-worth and C-level individuals on investments, employment and other related matters. He regularly counsel’s clients in areas of complex commercial transactions, mergers and acquisitions, intellectual property, litigation, bankruptcy, leasing, securities law, antitrust, compliance, employment, board matters and corporate structure. John is also a passionate advocate for corporate diversity for people with disabilities. John was one of the first law firms in the United States to become a certified as disable-owned and is also a founder of the National Association of Disabled Owned Law Firms. John is a past fellow of Leadership Greater Chicago and Disability Lead.
Dan Tun is the Program Director and Co-founder of Dare2tri, a non-profit which serves individuals with a physical disability or visual impairment. As a person with a mental illness, he promotes mental health through movement and inclusive communities.
Chad Turner is a Director, Senior Treasury Product Manager at Bank of America in Chicago. Previously Chad worked at JPMorgan Chase, where he was a member of Chase’s Access Ability Business Resource Group’s national board as the liaison to the Midwest state chapters. Chad serves on the board for Disability Lead as Treasurer and is also an incumbent member of Access Living’s finance committee. Chad is an alumnus of the Alpha Phi Omega National Service Fraternity (APO). Chad previously served as a governing member ambassador for the Chicago Zoological Society, and as a member of the Museum of Science & Industry’s Mission Accessible Task Force. Chad received both an undergraduate and a graduate degree from Bradley University, where he currently serves on the Department of Accounting Advisory Council.
Dr. Joanna Turner Bisgrove is a family physician and Assistant Professor in Family Medicine at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. At Rush, she sees patients of all ages, with a focus on women and children and the LGBTQ community. She is also actively involved in the Rush/BMO Harris Institute for Health Equity, serving on the Institute’s Policy and Advocacy Committee, Rush Social Care and Health Equity Committee, and Health Equity Governance Committee.
A staunch advocate for disability inclusion and the elimination of structural barriers in medicine and society, Dr. Bisgrove is vocal in pushing for policy change within the American Medical Association (AMA) House of Delegates and is a member of the AMA Council on Science and Public Health. She has helped push for changes in the AMA code of ethics that change medicine’s stance on physicians with disabilities from exclusion to inclusion and support through accommodations and education. Advocating for the establishment of a disability advisory group within the AMA to help further the inclusion of physicians with disabilities, she will join the group upon its launch.
Dr. Bisgrove has been involved in healthcare policy and advocacy for years. Prior to moving back to her hometown of Chicago, she lived and worked in Wisconsin for 14 years. During that time, she was co-chair of the Legislative Committee for the Wisconsin Academy of Family Physicians for eight years and Medical Advisor for her local school district for eight years. She served terms as a Physician Director on the SSM Health Wisconsin Board of Directors and a Trustee on the Dane County Medical Society Board of Trustees. Nationally, in addition to the AMA, she has also been very involved in the American Academy of Family Physicians, working with colleagues on matters of health equity across the spectrum of medical care
Katherine Vakil is the Pharmacy Services Manager at Erie Family Health Centers. Katherine established a new Pharmacy Services team at Erie, which focuses on medication access for patients. Katherine received her Doctor of Pharmacy at the University of Minnesota and Master of Public Health at Northwestern University in Chicago.
Caity-Shea Violette is a national award-winning playwright whose work explores gender, invisible disabilities, and complex trauma. Her internationally produced plays include TARGET BEHAVIOR (Kennedy Center’s National Partners of the American Theatre Playwriting Excellence Award Winner, The Lark’s Shakespeare’s Sister Playwriting Fellowship Semifinalist), REAP THE GROVE (Eugene O’Neill National Playwrights Conference Semifinalist, Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival New Play Competition Finalist), THE STAND (Susan Glaspell Playwriting Festival National Award Winner), and others. She is a member of the Dramatists Guild of America. Since 2014, Caity-Shea has worked with The Voices and Faces Project, a nonprofit that empowers survivors of sexual violence and trafficking to share their stories through testimonial writing. Caity-Shea earned her BFA in Theatre from the University of Minnesota, Duluth and is a graduate of St. Paul Conservatory for Performing Artists. She is currently pursuing her MFA in Playwriting at Boston University.
Amanda M. Walsh is an attorney and social worker, or as she likes to say, “an attorney with a social worker’s heart.” Her passion is to promote healing through systems and policy change, a passion that is rooted in her and her family’s story of multigenerational trauma and poverty. Their story follows a predictable trajectory of failing systems and biased policies that led to her parents’ cycle of incarcerations, institutionalizations, and homelessness while Amanda cycled through foster care, social services, and a failing public education system leading to her lived experience of developmental trauma and disability. Her story is the foundation of her educational and professional experiences as a highly skilled strategist in policy, advocacy, and program and organizational development. Amanda is attracted to innovative models of care that proactively address the social determinants of health while providing healing tools at the individual and family levels. She is also a storyteller and brings the power of narrative to her personal and professional life, including uplifting stories of lived experiences and healing journeys as the most powerful force for social change and liberty.
Amanda currently leads the Illinois Children’s Mental Health Partnership, where she oversees all operations and organizes state agencies, policy makers, and statewide experts in collaboration building, policy development, and monitoring around child and family well-being. Prior to her current role, Amanda was a staff attorney at the Legal Council for Health Justice, where she started as an Equal Justice Works Fellow sponsored by Walgreens Co. and Baker & McKenzie, LLP. There, she established Illinois’ first pediatric behavioral health medical-legal partnership. Her work focused on legal cases and policy issues addressing the needs of children and families across the spectrum of mental health and across state systems, including special education, school discipline, access to mental health and healthcare, public benefits, child welfare, and general family planning in immigration.
She completed her undergraduate studies at New York University’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study, where she designed a major in “Justice and Mental Health” with a minor in Child and Adolescent Mental Health Studies. She then received her Juris Doctor (J.D.) from Loyola University Chicago School of Law, where she was a Civitas ChildLaw Fellow and completed certificates in Child and Family Law and Public Interest Law. She also obtained her Master of Social Work (M.S.W.) in Mental Health and a Master of Laws (LL.M.) in Health Law and Policy from Loyola. Amanda serves a member of the Chicago Bar Association and a founding member of the Psychedelic Bar Association and the American Psychedelic Practitioners Association. She volunteers as a founding board member, treasurer, and policy committee chair of the Illinois Psychedelic Society and as board secretary for Entheo IL. Her story has been featured by several news outlets and she has published and presented numerous times on child and family wellbeing. In addition to her selection as a member of Disability Lead, her many accolades most recently include a Fearless Children’s Lawyer of the Month award presented by the American Bar Association and selection as a 2021 Civic Leadership Academy Fellow at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy.
Jewel Holly Ware is the Owner and Founder of Jewels of Success with a personal mission to provide people with opportunities for personal and professional growth and success. Jewel is a leader in the areas of leadership and management and the interplay between beliefs and behaviors. Jewel earned an M.A. in Organizational Management from Ashford University and B.S. from Northern Illinois University.
Andrew Webb is a former Equal Justice Works ADA 25 Fellow, sponsored by McDermott Will and Emery. Since concluding his fellowship, Andrew has continued as a Staff Attorney at Equip For Equality, where he focuses primarily on providing education and representation to improve access to health care and related services for Illinois residents with disabilities. Andrew earned a J.D. from The University of Chicago and a B.S. in Foreign Service from Georgetown University.
Westbrook is a post-human T1D cyborg attached to an insulin pump named Beeper. They are also a researcher, designer, creative, and tenured professor. They currently teach courses in UXD/HCI (design research) and direct the Queering Futures Research Studio which they founded in 2021. When weather permits you can find them riding their bike late at night in search of suburban wildlife.
Molly Wiesman is currently employed as a Communications Associate at The Kelsey, a San Francisco based organization with the mission of building opportunity through inclusivity by pioneering disability-forward housing solutions that open doors to homes and opportunities for everyone. She has volunteered for disability organizations including Best Buddies, Easter Seals DuPage, and the Human Library of Chicago. She serves as a member of the Board of Directors for Tellin’ Tales Theatre. She is also the co-founder of Imagine the World as One, a disability lifestyle magazine.
Mark Williams is a grant developer working with local, state and federal agencies, and philanthropic communities. Mark is a lifelong Chicago area resident with a liberal arts background who has supported the region’s human services, educational, international development, and workforce arenas in grant development throughout his career. Mark joined HIRE360 when it was established as a 501(c)(3) organization in 2019 with a mission to develop the untapped talent in Chicago's South and West Side communities to meet generational shifts occurring across the skilled trades.
Rebecca Williford is a globally recognized disability community leader and attorney with extensive experience litigating class action lawsuits on behalf of people with disabilities. As President & CEO of Disability Rights Advocates, she leads the organization’s work from its Chicago, New York City, and Berkeley offices.
As a litigator, she has achieved multiple precedents on matters of first impression, advancing the rights of people with disabilities throughout the United States. For example, in Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled v. Bloomberg, she litigated a class action to a successful trial verdict, representing more than 900,000 people with disabilities in a challenge to New York City’s failure to address their needs in its disaster plans.
Rebecca also speaks frequently at legal and disability conferences. She is a Disability Rights Bar Association board member and a member of the National Disabled Legal Professionals Association. She is a co-editor of Lawyers, Lead On: Lawyers with Disabilities Share Their Insights (ABA Press 2011) and a past Commissioner of the ABA Commission on Disability Rights. She also co-founded and served as president of the National Association of Law Students with Disabilities. Her lived experience as a wheelchair-user since adolescence informs and motivates her career.
Bryen Yunashko is the Owner of Access 256 Productions. Bryen is a national DeafBlind advocate and leader, and currently serves as president of the Chicagoland DeafBlind Alliance and was recently appointed to the congressionally-mandated FEMA National Advisory Committee’s Integrated Public Alert and Warning Systems Subcommittee. Bryen attended Gallaudet University and then California State University, Northridge, studying film.
Amanda Zagloba is an Arts & Music Librarian in the Chicago Public Library system. She serves as the co-chair of the LGBT+ Services committee and a member of the Diversability Advocacy Committee. Amanda is also a member of the Advocacy Committee of the Illinois Library Association.
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