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Azeema Akram

Administrative Law Judge
Illinois Human Rights Commission
(
She/her/hers
)
Law and Public Policy
2018
Fellow

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.

Public
Legal, Public Policy
Azeema  is smiling against a gray background.

Rachel Arfa

Commissioner
City Of Chicago
(
She/her/hers
)
Government, Law and Public Policy
Member

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.).

Public
Legal, Public Policy
Rachel is smiling in front of the Chicago flag.

Gary Arnold

Program Specialist
Illinois Council on Developmental Disabilities
(
He/him/his
)
Community and Social Services
Member

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. 

Public
Development, Marketing/Communications, Program Development, Public Relations
Gary smiling against a gray background.

Adam Ballard

Associate State Director
AARP IIllinois State Office
(
He/him/his
)
Law and Public Policy
2017
Fellow

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.

Nonprofit
Public Policy, Advocacy
Adam is smiling against a gray background.

Emily Blum

Executive Director
Disability Lead
(
She/her/hers
)
Communications, Community and Social Services
2018
Fellow

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.

Nonprofit
Marketing/Communications, Public Relations
Emily is smiling in a leafy outdoor setting. She is a white, disabled woman with brown wavy shoulder-length hair, and is wearing a pink and purple top with blue accents.

Maureen Burns

Senior Community Education Associate and Research Liaison
The HAP Foundation
(
She/her
)
Community and Social Services, Communications, Health and Medicine
2022
Fellow

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.

Nonprofit
Health and Human Services, Human Relations, Seniors
Maureen is smiling. Her hair is pulled up into a half bun and she has a nose ring.

Keidra Chaney

Senior Advisor
Disability Culture Lab
(
She/her/hers
)
Communications
2020
Fellow

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.

Nonprofit
Arts and Culture, Marketing/Communications, Technology
Keidra  is smiling against a gray background.

Carly Englander

Career Placement Counselor
City of Chicago Mayor's Office for People with Disabilities
(
She/her
)
Government
Member

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.  

Disability Rights, Health and Human Services, Vocational Counseling
Carly is smiling with the Chicago flag in the background

Justine Fedak

Chief Marketing & Culture Officer
BIÂN Chicago
(
She/her/hers
)
Communications
Member

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.

Private
Finance, Marketing/Communications, Public Relations
Justine  is smiling against a gray background.

Michelle Garcia

Latinx and Immigration Community Organizer
Access Living
(
She/her/hers
)
Community and Social Services
Member

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.

Nonprofit
Civil Rights, Disability Rights, Immigration
Michelle is smiling in an outdoor setting.

Timotheus Gordon Jr.

Researcher-Activist
Institute On Disability and Human Development
(
He/him/his
)
Education
2022
Fellow

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.

Public
Arts and Culture, Education, Public Relations
Timotheus  is smiling against a gray background.

LaShon Gurrola

RN- Transitional Care
Rush University Medical Center
(
She/her/hers
)
Health and Medicine
2020
Fellow

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.

Nonprofit
Disability Rights, Health and Human Services, Seniors/Elder Care
LaShon  is smiling against a gray background.

Cheryl Hahn

Lead Recovery Support Specialist
Northwestern Medicine Ben Gordon Center Living Room Program
(
)
Business Management and Administration
2017
Fellow

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.  

Nonprofit
Program Development
Cheryl  is smiling against a gray background.

Emily Harris

Executive Director
Disability & Philanthropy Forum
(
She/her/hers
)
Business Management and Administration
Member

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.

Nonprofit
Development, Marketing/Communications, Organizational Development/Human Resources, Program Development, Public Policy, Public Relations
Emily is smiling in front of a tree.

Tsehaye Hebert

Chief Creative Officer
Community Of The Arts
(
She/her/hers
)
Arts Culture and Entertainment
2017
Fellow

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.

Independent
Tsehaye  is smiling against a black background.

Whitney Hill

Accessibility Specialist
LCM Architects
(
She/her/hers
)
Business Management and Administration, Communications
2020
Fellow

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.

Private
Arts and Culture, Disability Rights, Program Development
Whitney  is smiling against a gray background.

Sydney Holman

Principal
Cozen O'Connor
(
She/her
)
Government
2023
Fellow

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.

Private
Health and Human Services, Intergovernmental Affairs, Organizational Development/Human Resources
Sydney is smiling wearing a pink blazer, black shirt, and an animal print scarf.

Christopher Huff

Diversion and Reentry Policy Analyst
Access Living
(
He/him/his
)
Business Management and Administration
2020
Fellow

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.

Nonprofit
Administration Management, Education, Marketing/Communications
Christopher is smiling against a gray background.

Kenneth Jennings

CEO
Gridiron Alliance
(
He/him/his
)
Community and Social Services
2022
Fellow

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.

Nonprofit
Civil Rights, Disability Rights, Public Relations
Kenneth wears a peaceful expression in a candid shot with a blurry background.

Tuyet Le

Independent Consultant
(
She/her/hers
)
Community and Social Services
Member

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.

Independent
Development, Marketing/Communications, Organizational Development/Human Resources, Program Development, Public Policy, Public Relations
Tuyet is smiling in an outdoor setting.

Shannon Maher

Manager of Next Gen Initiatives
Disability:IN
(
She/her/hers
)
Business Management and Administration
2019
Fellow

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.

Nonprofit
Human Resources
Shannon  is smiling against a gray background.

Christina McGleam

Deputy Commissioner
City Of Chicago's Mayor's Office For People With Disabilities
(
She/her/hers
)
Government
2018
Fellow

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.

Public
Program Development, Organizational Development/Human Resources
Christina  is smiling against the Chicago flag. She has blonde hair, light-toned skin, and is wearing a pink blouse and black blazer.

Kira Meskin

Occupational Therapist, Community Reintegration Advocate
Progress Center For Independent Living
(
She/her/hers
)
Community and Social Services
Member

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.

Nonprofit
Disability Rights, Education, Health and Human Services
Kira  is smiling against a gray background.

Kathleen Dillon Narko

Clinical Professor of Law
Northwestern Pritzker School Of Law
(
She/her/hers
)
Law and Public Policy
Inaugural
Fellow

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.

Private
Legal
Kathleen  is smiling against a gray background.

Alexandra Perez-Garcia

Graduate Student Instructor
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
(
She/her/hers
)
Communications
2020
Fellow

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.

Nonprofit
Marketing/Communications, Program Development, Fundraising
Alex is smiling and posing with her hands on her hips in front of a white backdrop. She is a young Brown Latinx adult woman with short length dark brown hair and is wearing small hoop earrings and a white blazer over a dark top.

Risa Rifkind

Director of Civic Engagement and Marketing
Disability Lead
(
She/her/hers
)
Communications
2017
Fellow

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.

Nonprofit
Marketing/Communications, Program Development, Public Relations
Risa, a brown woman with shoulder length brown hair, is smiling and holding a microphone. Her red lipstick matches her red business coat..

Brian Rohde

Disability Awareness Player
JJ's List
(
He/him/his
)
Science and Technology
2020
Fellow

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.

Independent
Infrastructure, Parks and Recreation, Technology, Transportation
Brian  is smiling against a gray background.

Art Sims

Legendary Broadcaster, Social Media Influencer, and Voiceover Artist
(
He/him/his
)
Arts Culture and Entertainment
2019
Fellow

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. 

Independent
Marketing/Communications, Program Development, Public Relations
Art  is smiling against a black window pane background. He is wearing a dark leather jacket, turtleneck, and glasses.

Edmund "EQ" Sylvester

Chairman
The Next Level Foundation
(
He/him/his
)
Member

Edmund “E.Q.” Sylvester is a Director of the Western Golf Association (WGA) a member of several other prominent national golfing organizations, and a triple amputee. "E.Q." took a life-altering diagnosis and turned it into an opportunity for thousands of special needs individuals across the country" by founding the Freedom Golf Association (FGA), a 501(c)3 charitable foundation which later became the United States Adaptive Golf Alliance (USAGA) founded by Sylvester to broaden adaptive golf’s national reach. Sylvester is now focusing on including the disabled in the fabric of society through employment as Chairman of The Next Level Foundation.  Awards & Recognitions 2023 – Partner—Mayor’s Office for Persons with Disabilities (MOPD) 2022 – Certificate of Appreciation—Shriner’s Hospitals for Children 2021 -- USGA announces: 1st US Adaptive Open 2020 -- Henry Viscardi Achievement Award 2020 – Partner-- PGA of America 2020 -- SPS Alumni Award 2019 -- Player Development Award                      2015 – Dennis Walters Courage Award 2015— Business Development Award Mr. Sylvester has a BS degree in Economics from the University of Colorado and has taken a series of graduate business courses from NY University Business School. He lives in Burr Ridge, Illinois, with his wife of 61 years, Katharine, and they have three adult children and ten grandchildren.

Nonprofit
Administration Management, Organizational Development/Human Resources, Development
Edmund is an older white man wearing an orange sweater with a white button down underneath. He stands in front of a beige background with his medals framed behind him.

Karen Tamley

President and CEO
Access Living
(
She/her/hers
)
Business Management and Administration
Member

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.

Nonprofit
Organizational Development/Human Resources, Program Development, Public Policy
Karen  is smiling against a gray background.

Joanna Turner Bisgrove

Family Physician & Assistant Professor, Department of Family Medicine
Rush University Medical Center
(
She/her
)
Health and Medicine
Member

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 

Nonprofit
Health and Human Services
Joanna is smiling in front of a gray background. She has long wavy brown hair and is wearing a red shirt and blue blazer.

Amanda Walsh

Director
Illinois Children's Mental Health Partnership
(
She/her
)
Law and Public Policy
Member

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. 

Nonprofit
Health and Human Services, Program Development, Public Policy
Amanda is smiling with a building and tree in the background

Rebecca Williford

President and CEO
Disability Rights Advocates
(
She/her/hers
)
Law and Public Policy
Member

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 was named to Diversability’s D-30 Disability Impact List, alongside disability community leaders worldwide for her accomplishments as a global disability leader and is 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 former Commissioner of the American Bar Association Commission on Disability Rights and Board Member of the Disability Rights Bar Association. As a law student, she 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.

Nonprofit
Civil Rights, Disability Rights, Legal
Rebecca is a white woman wearing a black blazer and a red dress paired with a black belt. Rebecca has shoulder length dark hair and smiles in front of a window.