Mon - Thurs: 9:00am - 5:00pm | Fri: 9:00am - 4:00pm

Speakers

Keynote Speakers

Marty Ford

Marty Ford is Senior Advisor for Public Policy at The Arc of the United States. She joined The Arc public policy team in 1984. For eight years, until 2019, she led the policy team representing The Arc on Capitol Hill and before federal agencies – through six years of the Obama administration and the first 2 years of the Trump administration. She is a recognized leader in federal public policy affecting people with disabilities, with over 35 years of experience in long term services and supports, Medicaid, and Social Security disability issues. She has testified numerous times before Congress and has been a resource to the press many times throughout her years of work on behalf of people with I/DD. For three years, Ms. Ford was Chairperson of the Consortium for Constituents with Disabilities (CCD), a coalition of over 100 national organizations; she served on its Board of Directors for 12 years and over 25 years as Co-Chair of various CCD Task Forces, including the Social Security Task Force and the Long Term Services and Supports Task Force. Ms. Ford represented The Arc as Observer in the work of the Uniform Law Commission (ULC) to develop the 2017 Uniform Guardianship, Conservatorship, and Other Protective Arrangements Act and is currently serving in a similar role with the ULC committees updating the Health Care Decisions Act and the Uniform Determination of Death Act.

A member of the National Academy of Social Insurance, she served on its Board of Directors, on its study panel for Uncharted Waters: Paying Benefits from Individual Accounts in Federal Retirement Policy and on its recent study panel for Economic Security for the 21st Century: Ensuring Economic Security Draws on Four Pillars of Policy: Labor, Benefits, Protection, and Equity. Sheserves as Vice-Chair of Allies for Independence/Advance CLASS and has served in numerous long term services and supports policy leadership roles. A member of the American Bar Association, she has served on the ABA Commission on Disability Rights and the Commission on Law and Aging. Ms. Ford has been recognized as a Fellow of the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (2023). She received her J.D. from the George Washington University National Law Center; M.S. in Communications Design from Pratt Institute; and B.A. from the University of Virginia. 


Dan Habib

Dan Habib (pronounced “Habeeb”) is the creator of award-winning documentary films including INTELLIGENT LIVES, WHO CARES ABOUT KELSEY?, MR. CONNOLLY HAS ALS, INCLUDING SAMUEL and many other short films on disability-related topics. He and his son Samuel Habib are co-directors of the new MY DISABILITY ROADMAP film. Dan is the Inclusive Communities Project Director at the Westchester Institute for Human Development.  Habib has screened and discussed his films hundreds of times in the U.S. and internationally, at universities, corporations, national conferences, film festivals, and independent theaters for educators, families, students, employees, policy makers, and the general public. His films have beenbroadcast nationally on public television stations, nominated for Emmy awards, and translated into 17 languages for use as teaching tools worldwide. In 2014, Habib was appointed by President Barack Obama to the President’s Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities.


Sam Habib

Samuel Habib, 22, is a high school graduate and community college student currently pursuing a career as a multimedia storyteller. He and his son Samuel Habib are co-directors of the new MY DISABILITY ROADMAP film. Samuel interned at the local community access television station in Concord, NH and had a paid job at a video production studio. In 2016, he created a film about disability rights lea der Judith Heumann, that was featured in the Breaking Down Barriers Film Festival in Moscow, Russia. Samuel also helped Dan create the nationally broadcast film MR. CONNOLLY HAS ALS. Samuel uses a wheelchair for mobility and a communication device (as well as his voice) to express himself. In addition to exploring his current and future academic and career options, Samuel also navigates significant, chronic health challenges.


Sarah Myerscough-Mueller

Sarah Myerscough-Mueller is the Interim Director of the DHS -Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD) since June 17th of this year. Prior to this appointment she had been Chief of Staff for DDD since May, 2021. Before working for DDD, Director Myerscough-Mueller was a Senior Policy Advisor in the DHS office of the Secretary where she served as a policy liaison with the Governor’s Office as well as working on a number of projects including working closely with DDD, Parties and the Court Monitor on the Ligas Consent Decree. She has also worked for an IDD Association, the Illinois Association of Rehabilitation Facilities (IARF), and held various roles in Illinois State Government.


Presenters

Suzanne Aaron

Suzanne is an Information and Outreach Specialist for the Illinois Life Span program for Northern Illinois. She has worked and volunteered in the areas of disability advocacy and family support since 2008. She and her husband are the proud parents of a young adult with I/DD and Autism. Her passion is helping families access and understand services that are available to them so they are empowered to build an included and meaningful life with their loved one with disabilities. She is a 2018 graduate of Illinois Partners in Policymaking and has navigated disability services in the states of Illinois, Ohio and Indiana.


Ruth Aguilar

Ruth Aguilar has over fifteen years of combined experience advocating for people with disabilities. She holds a B.S Psychology from the Illinois Institute of Technology and Professional Graduate Studies in Non-Profit from Harvard University. Ruth’s professional experience stems from working previously in an ISC Agency and then as a Self-Directed Assistant serving the community with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Moreover, with her personal expertise as a mother of a teen girl with Rett Syndrome and Seizure Disorder, Ruth brings a wealth of knowledge to the families by assisting them in how to obtain services and understanding their options by being assertive, yet professional. Ruth is inspired by her husband and her daughter to be a servant leader who helps those around her without hesitation.


Katie Arnold

Katie Arnold is passionate about supporting people with disabilities and their families to live full lives.  Katie is a faculty member in the Department of Disability and Human Development at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC).  She is also the Family faculty member for UIC’s Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities (LEND) program where she provides mentorship to the Family trainees.  She has a Doctorate in Disability Studies from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Katie has helped to grow the sibling movement across the country and was previously the founding Executive Director of the Sibling Leadership Network (SLN), a national nonprofit with state chapters that provides information and support to siblings of people with disabilities throughout the lifespan. Katie grew up in New Jersey as the second oldest of four, including her sister with intellectual disabilities. Her sibling experience has shaped her worldview in many ways.


Nisha Baiju

Nisha Baiju is a Rehabilitation Services Advisor for the Home services Program, in this role she provides local field staff guidance with policy, provides feedback to central support on various requests from the local field staff.  Ms. Baiju participates and is a team player proving feedback in quality remediations and reviewing CMS/HFS protocol and implementing homemaker compliance tracking system and recruitment. Ms. Baiju has worked about 20 years in both private and public sector in various social services capacities


Tyson Bedford

Tyson has been working with people in terms of the disability community ever since coming into high school, continuing his mission throughout those four years to then transfer his skills to college. After high school he attended the University of Iowa, and more specifically, its REACH program.

Going into college he continued his interest in helping those that are like him; people with developmental disability. He would be at the REACH program for two years, and in those two years, he received his first taste of being part of the team, called Access 2 independence, that was dedicated to assisting those with a developmental disability. After completing college, he returned home where he continues to realize his goals.

He is a 2019 graduate of the Illinois Partners in Policymaking Program. He is currently a board member of two organizations that are dedicated to working towards his goals, those two organizations being the Illinois Associations of Microboards and Cooperatives and Quality Lives, Inc. He’s even assisted in the formation of an activity group called Maple Leaf Friends whose objective is to allow people with developmental disabilities to be able to enjoy the opportunity of trying out different activities in their community.


William Bedford

William is a self-advocate living with Autism.  His journey to seek services began at the age of 5 when his mother noticed that while he was meeting many developmental milestones, his speech was delayed and his social engagement with his peers was limited.  William also experienced severe meltdowns and was unable to access the general education curriculum due to behaviors associated with sensory overload, reading comprehension, and the inability to engage with peers. At the age of 6, he received a late diagnosis of PDD NOS- Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not otherwise specified w/speech delay which was later discovered to be a diagnosis on the Autism Spectrum.   Since William was diagnosed in the mid-90s services and supports were not as accessible and due to his late diagnosis, he was not able to engage in early intervention services although services were extremely limited.  He attended Chicago Public Schools through 8th-grade graduation and completed high school in the Bloom Township District where services and supports were inclusive of students with disabilities.  

William began his journey to self-advocacy when he entered Lincoln College and graduated with an Associate of Science degree from Lincoln College in 2017 after an unsuccessful attempt at Prarie State College that did not include modifications to meet his needs.  Due to his disability, William was unable to find gainful employment and began to work part-time with his dad in his commercial cleaning business where he mastered OSHA rules and regulations.  William met a representative from Mariott Bridges right before he aged out who helped him find a part-time job at Miller’s Ale House through situational interview practices two years later he sought full-time employment on his own and now works full-time as a custodian at Chicago Public Schools through Twin City Cleaning Management Company where he currently works today.  William drives himself to and from work daily is planning to purchase his first car soon and is planning to move into his own apartment in 2023.  

William has a very active volunteer life through the Chicagoland Autism Connection and a great group of friends. He enjoys cleaning and cooking for himself and is responsible for paying his own bills and many household chores.  He also enjoys sporting events and is a huge fan of The Chicago White Sox!  He enjoys football and basketball, his Xbox games, hanging out with family and friends. 


Maria Castillo


Ron Clewer

Ron Clewer brings more than 20 years of community and real estate development experience to Gorman & Company. Prior to serving as the Illinois Market President, Clewer led the Rockford Housing Authority in Illinois, and brings a unique approach to public/private partnerships and affordable and public housing solutions. Ron has been instrumental in developing creative community-building initiatives in Illinois. He brings a vision and “can do” attitude to his work with a determination to merge the best practices for both private and public sectors. His passion lies in quality… quality design, services and quality environments. He has received awards for his leadership approach, pioneering community and neighborhood visions, affordable housing operations and planning and legislative advocacy.


Ronnie Cohn

Ronnie began her career around the time that the first class action lawsuit was initiated on behalf of people with developmental disabilities who were living in a deplorable institutional setting.  Her first job was as a direct support person in a classroom setting with people who had moved out of the institution, the Willowbrook State School.  For the next ten years she worked with Willowbrook class members in numerous positions and it was that experience that set her professional path for the next thirty years.

Over the following five years Ronnie was the executive director of an advocacy agency in California and consultant to other states regarding developmental disabilities, special education and transition services.

When she returned to New York, Ronnie was hired as staff to the Special Master in the Willowbrook Case, the focus of which at that point had become closing that institution and developing capacity in the communities throughout NYS to meet the needs of those leaving Willowbrook.  When the Special Master’s office closed in 1993, following the signing of a Permanent Injunction in that case, she was named the Independent Evaluator for the Willowbrook Class. Ronnie still remains in that role, working cooperatively with the plaintiffs, defendants, families, class members, advocates, providers and others responsible for insuring that the members of the Willowbrook class receive and benefit by their court ordered entitlements. 

During this time Ronnie has also been consulting on eight other class action suits in six states: evaluating services in both institutional and community settings; assisting in transition planning; developing and implementing  protocols for compliance reviews;  training service coordinators; working with advocacy groups and quality assurance entities; developing systemic plans; and spending time with individuals who receive services to determine whether or not all of the efforts by consistently well-meaning professionals and others are actually benefiting those for whom we all work.


Diane Compton

Diane Compton is a Partners in Policymaking Graduate and a Co-Administrator of IPADDUnite, a Facebook Page with over 6,000 members of the IL Disability Community, Professionals, and Allies. She has a Masters of Science in Communication from Northwestern University. Diane is a mom of three.


Erin Compton

Erin Compton is a self-advocate in High School, and one of the youngest members of the IL State Rehabilitation Council, representing students who are transitioning from school to their future lives. She dances at Joffrey Ballet, Expression Dance, and Access Living Inclusive Dance, and is part of the Young Choreographer’s Project out of Los Angeles. Erin plans to attend college and would like to work in government, representing students with disabilities.


Claire Cook


Natasha Croff

Natasha Croff, mother of a 12 year old young man first began her advocacy while attending his early year plannings for educational and medical support. Searching for more resources led her to being a participant and graduate of the third class of Illinois Partners in Policymaking. Shortly after that accomplishment, she was offered the opportunity to become a member of the Implementation of Inclusion State Leadership Team. She has worked alongside great leaders ensuring that inclusion begins at the start of every child’s educational plan. She has been appointed to the ICDD Council, became a member of Caring Across Generations Movement, and became a Chicagoland Autism Connection Board Member. She is looking forward to her next adventure in the world of Advocacy. Professionally, Natasha works at Chicago Public Schools as a coordinator for the Student Specific Correction Action Plan Team.


Angélica Dávila

Angelica Dávila is an autistic individual who was diagnosed as an adult. She also has a younger autistic sister who was diagnosed as a child and who Angelica provided support for. Her background includes having worked as a Senior Disabilities Specialist at University of Illinois at Chicago’s Resource Center for Autism and Developmental Delays for seven years, as well as having conducted autism specific workshops for TAP (The Autism Program of Illinois), The Arc of Illinois, and the National Center for Families Learning Conference. 

Angelica Dávila es una persona recientemente diagnosticada con autismo. También tiene una hermana autista que fue diagnosticada de niña y a quien Angelica brindó apoyo. Su experiencia incluye haber trabajado como Senior Disabilities Specialist at University of Illinois at Chicago’s Resource Center for Autism and Developmental Delays durante siete años, así como haber dirigido talleres específicos de autismo para TAP (El Programa de Autismo de Illinois), The Arc of Illinois y la Conferencia del Centro Nacional para el Aprendizaje de las Familias.


Mary Dixon

Mary has served as the Director of the Family-to-Family Health (F2F) Information Center since December 2020, assisting families of children with disabilities/chronic illness up to age 22 and the professionals who serve them, through one-to-one assistance and virtual/in-person trainings on health insurance -public and private -pediatric waivers, and health care programs from Early Intervention to waiver services for children/teens enrolled in Medicaid with complex behavioral needs. She is an attorney with prior criminal justice experience in state court, and extensive policy experience, having served as the ACLU of Illinois’ Director of Health Justice Policy and State Legislative Director since 1992. She has a Bachelors Degree from Purdue University, a J.D. from Valparaiso University School of Law and a Certificate in Health Disparities Research through the School of Public Health, UIC. As a Ligas Family Advocate for The Arc of Illinois, from 2018 to December, 2020, Mary shared information with families about the options available through the Medicaid Home and Community Based Waiver for Adults with I/DD. Mary has personal experience as the mother of two young adult sons whom she assisted in accessing necessary education and health resources throughout their lives.


Kim Fisher

Kim Fisher is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Special Education at Illinois State University. She prepares general and special educators on how to create inclusive classrooms. Dr. Fisher’s research focuses on digital equity for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities including how to use technology for social, civic, and political activity. 


Megan Forristall

Megan Forristall is a Public Affairs Specialist with the Social Security Administration, she has been with the agency for over 17 years. Megan covers a large service area of Illinois including portions of the Chicago suburbs, Northern & North Central Illinois and travels throughout her area providing outreach in addition to virtual presentations. Megan has experience in all aspects of Social Security programs including disability for adults and children, retirement, survivor’s and original and replacement applications for Social Security cards.


Susan Gardner

Susan holds a graduate degree in anthropology and has completed extensive coursework in special education. She has worked in the field of developmental disabilities since 1985 as a DSP, QIDP, therapeutic day school principal and administrator at several Chicagoland agencies. Susan joined Envision Unlimited in 2009 and currently serves as Envision Unlimited’s Vice President of Day and Employment Services.


Alejandra Griffet

Alejandra Griffet is the Bilingual Content Licensure and Project Specialist at the Illinois Early Intervention Clearinghouse. She has served as Education Advocate for the Illinois Migrant Counsel, assisting migrant families and their children in adapting to their new community through literacy, early intervention, community resource, and emotional support. She also worked as a Family advocate for the Head Start program assisting families. Currently, she is the first bilingual staff member and assists families by providing resources available at the Clearinghouse for Spanish-speaking families and guiding them on where to reach out for more resources to overcome their challenges across the State of Illinois.


Susan Hoekstra

Susan Hoekstra is a Special Education Teacher with over 29 years of experience. She has a BA in Education and a MA in Special Education. She currently teaches at an elementary school. She is a mother of 4, and enjoys focusing on health and wellness.


Sarah Isaacs

Sarah Isaacs is the librarian and project coordinator at the Illinois Early Intervention Clearinghouse. Prior to her work with the Early Intervention Clearinghouse, she worked in a variety of libraries serving all different kinds of people. Since arriving at the EI Clearinghouse in 2012, she has worked hard to not only expand the resources available but raise awareness of this outstanding state resource for families, educators and professionals throughout Illinois.


Kimberly Johnson

Kimberly is a professional disability/legislative advocate, parent engagement administrator and Individualized Education Program (IEP)/504 Plan liaison subject matter expert regarding services, resources and processes servicing the disability community through her work with the IL. Department of Human Services Developmental Disability Division, Chicagoland Autism Connection, The Arc of Illinois and Chicago Public Schools. She is the mother of an adult son living with Autism and gained her lived experience through their journey navigating services in Chicago, IL. Grassroots advocacy is where her passion began when she realized that state funding, resources and services for persons with disabilities was limited or non-existent in her community and other marginalized communities. Kimberly’s primary focus is the transition pipeline from high school to accessing adult services for persons living with intellectual/development disabilities.

Professionally, Kimberly works at Chicago Public Schools (CPS) as a Parent Involvement/Engagement Specialist. This position works with families, schools, district staff, and community partners to educate, conduct parent engagement trainings for families living with a disability. She has also worked as a Ligas Family Advocate and is involved in Going Home Coalition and other legislative reform, spent time in Springfield with legislators to bring family stories to the forefront. Kimberly has been involved in the Chicagoland Autism Connection Parent Support Group for over 18 years and now serves as President, Board of Directors. She serves on several Boards and Committees including The Arc of IL., The State of IL. Development Disability Advisory Council, Founder, CAC Trailblazers-Self-Advocate group, State of IL. Criminal Justice Task Force, Q Source Kidney Advisory Board and served as a Faculty Member for Illinois Partners and Policy Making (2018-2021), NAMI Mental Health First Responder (2017), National Disability Institute Financial Wellness Trainer (2021) and Community Residential Services Authority(2022)


Macey Jones

Macey Jones is a Rehabilitation Services Advisor for the Home services Program, which is part of the Illinois Department of Human Services Division of Rehabilitation Services. In this role she provides staff guidance with training, policy implementation, and support for the State’s Medicaid Waiver Programs: Persons with Disabilities Waiver, Brain Injury Waiver; and HIV/AIDS Waiver. As a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Ms. Jones has 22 years of experience working in various social service settings.


Susan Kahan

As a member of the clinical staff at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Institute on Disability and Human Development, Susan provides individual and group therapy for children through adults on a broad range of mental health, developmental and behavioral concerns, specializing in Autism and trauma.  Susan provides consultation on disability-related topics including trauma and trauma-informed care, sexual abuse prevention, and sexuality and healthy relationships, and training around the country for trauma centers, disability agencies, professionals, schools, and families. She is a certified Forensic Interviewer and serves as disability case consultant for the Chicago Children’s Advocacy Center and its clinicians, victim advocates, law enforcement, child protective services and Illinois State’s Attorney’s Office representatives.  In addition, Susan is a CIT instructor for the Cook County Sheriff’s Bureau of Education and Training and provides training on disability for Chicago Police Department new detectives. Susan presents nationally on topics related to disability and trauma, human trafficking, and sexual abuse prevention and intervention.


Zareen Kamal

Zareen Kamal, Policy Specialist at Start Early, supports early childhood systems building and priorities for children with disabilities, primarily Early Intervention. Her advocacy efforts in Illinois are focused on ensuring that children and families, particularly those who disproportionately face barriers to opportunity, have equitable access to resources and opportunities that enable them to be successful. Zareen began her career as a pre-K Head Start teacher at a community-based center in Chicago. She then worked as a Policy Fellow at the Legal Council for Health Justice, where she supported a pilot program to provide lead-exposed children with automatic eligibility to Early Intervention services. Zareen is currently a Master’s in Social Work (MSW) candidate at The University of Chicago Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice. She holds a B.S. in Psychology from Loyola University Chicago and a

M.S. in Early Childhood Education with an ESL endorsement.


Alison Liddle

Alison Liddle, PT, MPP, PCS, is the Founder and CEO of M Street Pediatric Therapy. She graduated from UIC Physical Therapy School in 1998 and went on to work at Stroger’s Cook County Hospital. After witnessing the inequity of healthcare delivery, she returned to school at the University of Chicago and obtained a master’s degree in Public Policy and Health Administration. Over the past 20 years, she has gained experience developing teams, collaborating with community partners, and providing therapy services to children and their families throughout Chicago and the surrounding suburbs. She is committed to providing equitable, evidenced-based, quality physical, occupational, and speech therapy interventions. She believes that quality and equity come from leadership that invests in the support, training, and mentorship of the committed team members at M Street.


Amie Lulinski

Dr. Lulinski has worked with and for individuals who have IDD and their families since 1995 when she began her career as a Direct Support Professional in central Illinois after graduating from Illinois Wesleyan University with a BA in psychology. Since then, she has served in various roles in Illinois, Missouri, and the Washington, DC metropolitan area ranging from Individual Service Coordinator to Director of Research and Evaluation at The Arc of the United States. Amie is currently serving as the Executive Director of The Arc of Illinois. Previously, she served as Project Director for the State of the States in Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Project at the University of Colorado. Amie was the 2011 Disability Policy Fellow at the Association of University Centers for Excellence and received her PhD in Disability Studies in 2014 from University of Illinois at Chicago, Department of Disability and Human Development, where she is an Adjunct Assistant Research Professor. Her research interests include deinstitutionalization, the home and community- based Medicaid waiver program, and mental and behavioral health needs of people with IDD. Amie served as a member of the board directors of the American Association for Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities from 2018-2022.


Beth Marks


Amalia Montoya

Amalia Montoya is a mother of two a 20-year-old son with autism, and a 15-year-old daughter. She has a Bachelor’s in Early Childhood Education with a concentration in Infant and Toddler Illinois Director from National Louis University. Currently, she is Director of the Two-Year-Old Toddler Program at Intercultural Montessori Language School. Previously she worked at Shield Elementary School as a Parent Resources Coordinator.

Amalia Montoya es madre de dos hijos, un hijo de 20 años con autismo y una hija de 15 años. Ella tiene una Licenciatura en Educación de la Primera Infancia con una concentración cmo Directora de Bebes e Infantes de National Louis University. Actualmente, es Directora del Programa de Niños Pequeños de Dos Años en Intercultural Montessori Language School. Anteriormente trabajó en la Escuela Primaria Shield como Coordinadora de Recursos para Padres. 


Josephine Mueller

La Srta. Josephine Mueller es especialista bilingüe en asuntos públicos para la Administración del Seguro Social (SSA) en el área de Chicago. Josephine ha asumido su papel fundamental para informar al público sobre los programas y beneficios del Seguro Social. Su pasión por compartir información le ha proporcionado una plataforma con Chicago Access Live Television Network durante varios años. Esta plataforma le ha dado la oportunidad de promover los programas del Seguro Social en la cuidad y los suburbios de Chicago y por todo el país. Sus intereses incluyen la participación de la comunidad, la educación y motivar a las generaciones más jóvenes a superarse en sus carreras educativas y profesionales. Ella tiene una pasión por la diversidad y hablar en público. La Srta Josephine Mueller obtuvo una Maestría en Administración de Empresas con concentración en Negocios Internacionales de Governors State University en Illinois.


Megan Mutti

Megan is the Senior Ligas Family Advocate for the Central/Southern regions of Illinois. She joined the Arc of Illinois in September of 2018. Megan attended the University of Missouri-Columbia, where she completed both her BS and MA in Human Development and Family Studies. She spent many years as a member of the Pediatric Supportive Care Team at Children’s Hospital of Illinois, where she focused on patient and family centered care. Megan, who resides in Germantown Hills, IL, is the mom to two daughters, one of whom is a young adult with a developmental disability. Megan has a strong interest in developmental disability advocacy, transitioning from school to adult services systems, family centered communication, and community-based inclusion.


Tia Nelis

Tia Nelis currently serves as the part time Director of Policy & Advocacy for TASH. In the past, Tia served as a Self-Advocacy Specialist at The Rehabilitation Research and Training Center, Institute on Disability and Human Development, University of Illinois at Chicago. She is a past president of the national organization, Self-Advocates Becoming Empowered (SABE). She was a founder of and has successfully promoted People First of Illinois and is also a past president of People First of Illinois and Naperville. She has been honored as a recipient of the Burton Blatt Award by TASH of Illinois and the Elizabeth Boggs award from AAIDD. Ms. Nelis has drawn on experiences relating to her own disability in promoting and demonstrating the benefits of empowerment for people with disabilities. She has wide experience in conducting trainings and advocating for progressive polices with legislators and public officials. In March of 2022, Tia was appointed to the President’s Committee for People with IDD.


Kristen Noonan

Kristen holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Art Therapy and Psychology and over ten years of experience supporting individuals with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. As a member of the Envision Unlimited team, she has worked to develop progressive programming, first as a QIDP, then a Program Director and now as the Day and Employment Administrator.


Caroline O’Hara

Caroline is a sweet and exuberant 18 year old young lady. She was adopted from China by her mom, Anne, when she was two years old. She was born with cleft lip/palate and has had ten surgeries so far. She is also diagnosed with autism, epilepsy, a congenital heart condition and a pituitary tumor.  Caroline and her mom have a business, Caroline’s Birdie Tweets (BirdieTweets.org), which they started to help build Caroline’s job skills and involve others with disabilities. Caroline enjoys having her own business and being in the community since she loves meeting and talking with people! She is a Special Olympics Global Messenger and athlete, competing in rhythmic gymnastics and basketball. She is also an Ambassador for Serving Up Hope and has helped start tennis programs for kids in underserved communities. Caroline’s motto is from Mr. Rogers, “a kind word is never wasted” and also, “I can do hard things!”


Cesar Ochoa-Lubinoff


Jose Ovalle

  • Grant Monitor and Regional Coordinator for TAP (The Autism Program of Illlinois).
  • Former advisor for Grupo SALTO.  The largest Latino support group in Illinois serving families who have children on the autism spectrum, and whose primary language is Spanish.
  • LEND/UIC 2010 Graduate in the Family DisciplineFormer member of the Illinois Council on Developmental Disabilities/Post Secondary Education Committee
  • Father of 32 year old identical twins on the autism spectrum
  • Enlace de padres para la Region Norte de Illinois de TAP (The Autism Program of Illinois)
  • Antiguo consejero de Grupo SALTO. El grupo Latino de apoyo mas grande del estado, que sirve a familias que tienen hijosdentro d el espectro del autismo y cuya lengua principal es el español.
  • Graduado de LEND/UIC en la disciplina familiar
  • Antiguo miembro del Concilio de Illinois sobre las Discapacidades del Desarrollo (ICDD) Sirviendo en el comité de Educacion Post-Secundaria.
  • Padre de gemelos varones identicos de 32 años de edad dentro del espectro del autismo.

Luis Ovalle

Luis Ovalle has been an auxiliary monitor for Grupo Salto for more than 17 years. His experience comes from his own career in Health Informatics and his interaction with his siblings with autism. His former employment at UIC DDH Family Clinics adds to his knowledge and interest in disabilities. Luis has been an instrumental part of his brother’s development and is still involved in their lives, coaching them through their way through independence.

Luis ha sido monitor de auxiliares para Grupo Salto por más de 17 años. Su experiencia proviene de su propia carrera en Informática de la Salud y de su interacción con sus hermanos con autismo. Su antiguo empleo en las Clínicas familiares de la Universidad de Illinois en Chicago, agregan a su conocimiento e interés en las discapacidades. Luis ha sido parte instrumental en el desarrollo de sus hermanos y aun se envuelve en sus vidas, entrenándolos hacia una vida de funcionamiento independiente.


Matie Ovalle

Matiana M. Ovalle also known as Matie is co-founder, current coordinator of Grupo Salto and is a mother of two adults with autism. Her interest is to keep the group functional and up to date to meet the needs of the Spanish-speaking community with developmental disabilities, with a focus on autism.  She recently retired from University of IL at Chicago (UIC), worked for the Developmental Disabilities Family Clinics, DHD at UIC, and was the Illinois LEND’s Family Discipline Coordinator.  She has a Bachelor of Science in Communication Disorders, an Associate Degree in Early Childhood Education and is the Children’s Artistic Director and Vice President of the Mexican Folkloric Dance Company of Chicago, Inc. 

Matiana Ovalle también conocida como Matie es cofundadora, actual coordinadora de Grupo Salto y es madre de dos hijos adultos con autismo. Su interés es el de mantener el grupo funcional y actualizado para satisfacer las necesidades de la comunidad hispanoparlante con discapacidades del desarrollo, con un enfoque en el autismo.  Recientemente se retiró de la Universidad de IL en Chicago (UIC), donde trabajó para las Clínicas Familiares de Discapacidades del Desarrollo, DHD en UIC, y fue Coordinadora de la Disciplina Familiar de Illinois LEND.  Tiene una Licenciatura en Ciencias en Trastornos de la Comunicación, un Asociado en Educación Infantil y es la Directora Artística Infantil y Vicepresidenta de la Compañía Danza Folclórica Mexicana  de Chicago, Inc.   


Teresa Parks


Sunita Patel


Rocio Perez

Rocio is Director of the Illinois Life Span Program. She is married and has two adult children. Her oldest is an adult with Autism.  Her background in Social Work complements her lifelong goal for her son Tony to have as many choices as possible. Prior to joining, The Arc of Illinois, Rocio worked at well-known not for profits such as Metropolitan Family Services, Community Support Services, and Community Alternatives Unlimited.  She has worked for the Arc of IL since December 2018.  She started out working for both The Illinois Life Span Program and The Family to Family Information Center where she was mentored by Deb Fornoff and Faye Manaster.   She moved over full time to The Illinois Life Span Program in 2019 and was promoted to Assistant Director in 2020.    Today, she is the Director of the Life Span Program and looks forward to continuing the legacy of Ms. Fornoff and her co-workers.

La Sra Perez es casada y tiene dos hijos adultos. Su mayor es un adulto con autismo.  Su experiencia en el campo de Servicio Social complementa su objetivo de toda la vida de que su hijo Tony tenga tantas opciones como sea posible. Antes de unirse al Arc of Illinois, Rocío trabajó en conocidas empresas sin fines de lucro como Metropolitan Family Services, Community Support Services y Community Alternatives Unlimited. Ella ha trabajado para el Arc of Illinois desde diciembre de 2018.  Comenzó a trabajando para the Illinois Life Span Program  y El Centro de Información de Salud. Sus mentores han sido Las Sras. Deb Fornoff y Faye Manaster.   En 2019, se dedico tiempo completo al Programa Life Span de Illinois y fue promovida a directora asistente en 2020.    Hoy en día, es la Directora del Programa Life Span y espera continuar el legado de la Sra. Fornoff y sus compañeros de trabajo.


Shirley Perez

Shirley A. Perez is the Program Director of the Ligas Family Advocate Program and the Family Support Network. Ms. Perez has thirty-five plus years of advocating and working with individuals and their families with disabilities. She is a business graduate of Metropolitan Business College and Kaplan University. She operated her own business, worked at an ISC Agency where she advocated for and assisted families in locating services by navigating the State system. In conjunction with the City of Chicago, Federal Home Loan Bank and The Illinois Housing Development Authority, she implemented a home-buying program for individuals with developmental and physical disabilities. She has worked as a Special Project Advocate with the Illinois Life Span Project; met with families/guardians to explain the transition process and listen to their concerns as their family members’ transition into the community from State Operated Developmental Centers.

She currently serves on various Department of Human Services Committees and is an active volunteer in both her community and church. She is the proud mother of an adult daughter (Tamekia), who lives in the community. Tamekia is diagnosed with multiple disabilities, intellectually and developmentally delayed. She is non-verbal, diagnosed with Autism and suffers from a seizure disorder. Ms. Perez’s passion for advocacy is fueled by her desire to help her daughter and others with disabilities reach their full potential. Her philosophy is, “everyone can succeed with the right support!” She can be contacted at shirley@thearcofil.org.


Haley Phelps


Kish Pisani

Kish is a Project Coordinator for National Disability Institute, the national nonprofit committed exclusively to financial education and empowerment for people with disabilities. Before joining NDI, Kish was Executive Director of the Illinois Association of Microboards and Cooperatives helping empower individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and families in creating circles of support to live full and inclusive lives in their communities. Kish has over 30 years of experience in marketing, public relations, nonprofit management, storytelling, organizational development, creative writing and advocacy. Kish is a Partners in Policymaking graduate, Charting the LifeCourse Ambassador and a trained P.A.T.H. (Planning Alternative Tomorrows with Hope) facilitator.  However, her most important job is a parent of an adult son with intellectual and developmental disabilities who is employed and utilizing many of the NDI financial wellness tools. Kish has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Broadcast Communication and Public Relations from Marquette University. 


Consuelo Puente

Consuelo Puente is a retired attorney working with Family Matters as their multicultural trainer. Ms. Puente has many years of training experience in the disability field. Consuelo enjoys making the Americans with Disabilities Act law fun for all audiences.


Adam Rapacz

Adam began attending community day services in 2014 with the formerly named, Neumann Family Services (now Envision Unlimited.) Adam is a natural helper and always looks for opportunities to assist with projects at the day program and in his home. Adam is proud of the work he does as a janitor at his day program, but hopes to one day soon achieve a job in the community. He has an energetic spirit and loves sharing his interests and zest for life with his friends.


María Esther

Maria Esther emigrated from Venezuela in December 2021 with political asylum. Lawyer by profession, with a specialization in Hospital Management and a Magister Scientiarum in Human Resources Management. Mother of two daughters María José and Marithé. María José, 27 years old, is her eldest daughter and was diagnosed with cerebral palsy as a result of severe asphyxia at birth. Maria Esther gave birth to María José when she was only 16 years old but learned quickly the fragility and also amazing strength of her daughter, María José.


Carole Rosen

Carole’s diverse background in advocacy includes having served as The Going Home Coalition Manager at The Arc of Illinois and is currently an Advocacy Program Specialist. Carole served as a Governor appointed member to The Illinois Council on Developmental Disabilities from 2014 until 2020. While serving on the Council, she served on its Executive Committee and chaired the Community Housing and Inclusion Committee. Additionally, she serves on the board of Collaborative Community Housing Initiative, a grassroots collective comprised of families who have young adults with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. Carole has served on New Trier Township’s Funding Committees and has organized community-wide events promoting affordable community-supported inclusive accessible housing. Her driving belief is that Community is strengthened by diversity and inclusion. In addition to her Masters of Interior Design degree, she is a Certified Aging in Place Specialist with additional coursework in Universal Design. Additionally, Carole became certified as a Financial Wellness Trainer for people with disabilities through the National Disability Institute. She is an award-winning photographer with work having been shown in numerous regional and national photography exhibitions. Carole and her husband, William, have a daughter who has developmental disabilities and a nondisabled son.


Benji Rubin

An attorney, “little/big” brother of Mitchell, who has Autism, and a partner in Rubin Law, a firm whose practice is limited to future planning for his future planning for his fellow families of individuals with special needs. Benji graduated from the University of Illinois College of Law, Magna Cum Laude, received his undergraduate degree from Northwestern University, and his Graduate Law Degree, and LLM (Tax), with honors, also from Northwestern University. Benji is a member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners, a member, by invitation, of the Special Needs Alliance (the national not for profit association of special needs planning attorneys with membership by invitation only), is Chairman of the American Bar Association Special Needs Planning Committee, serves as the President of SIBS (Supporting Illinois Brothers and Sisters), the Illinois chapter of the national Sibling Leadership Network, an organization of adult siblings of individuals with intellectual disabilities, developmental disabilities and/or mental illness. Benji is a member and officer (Treasurer) of the Board of Directors of The Arc of Illinois, is a member of the Clearbrook Associate Board, an organization serving more than 8,000 individuals with disabilities, including his brother, Mitchell, serves on the Board of Directors of DayOne PACT, which serves as Trustee of Special Needs Trusts as well as Guardian for individuals with intellectual disabilities, developmental disabilities and/or mental illness, serves on the Board of Directors of the Foundation of The Special Education District of Lake County (SEDOL Foundation), serves on the Advisory Council of Encompass (Encompass in partnership with Jewish Child & Family Services, Jewish United Fund, JVS Chicago, JCC Chicago, Keshet, and The Center for Enriched Living and Center for Independent Futures). Benji is also a Faculty Member for the Illinois Institute for Continuing Legal Education (IICLE) on the topic of special needs planning, as well as a Speaker for the American Bar Association and the Illinois State Bar Association on those topics.


Brian Rubin

Attorney Brian Rubin is the founder of Rubin Law, a former IRS Agent, and former IRS Attorney, has been a practicing attorney since 1976, has been married to his wife Linda for the past 45 years, and is the parent of three children, one of whom, Mitchell, 41, has Autism. Brian’s law practice, for four decades, since Mitchell was one year old, has been dedicated to serving the legal and future planning needs of his fellow Illinois families of children and adults with intellectual disabilities, developmental disabilities, and/or mental illness.


Miguel Saucedo

Miguel Saucedo is a father of two boys, Cole (14) with ADHD and Jacob (13) with Autism/ADHD, married to Nieves Hernandez. Has been involved with Grupo Salto since April 2019. Miguel and his family have been participating in workshops, seminars, and other events directed towards families.  Recently, his family has been more involved with Grupo Salto and the activities/events it organizes.  Miguel is currently one of the facilitators of the remote music session geared towards families to alleviate the many day-to-day stressors they have, with an hour of live music. Miguel has also volunteered helping in some of the technical needs of Grupo Salto’s  presencial and remote activities.

Miguel Saucedo es padre de dos hijos, Cole (14) con TDAH y Jacob (13) con Autismo/TDAH, está casado con Nieves Hernández. Miguel ha estado involucrado con Grupo Salto desde Abril del 2019. Miguel y su familia han estado participando en seminarios, talleres, y otros eventos dirigidos hacia familias. En la actualidad, Miguel es uno de los facilitadores de la sesión remota de música dirigida a ser un alivio para las familias en medio del estrés de cada semana, aportando una hora de música en vivo para entretenimiento. Miguel también participa como voluntario en el área técnica de los eventos remotos y presenciales de Grupo Salto.


Stephanie Sideman

Stephanie Sideman has 20 years of experience in non-profit organizations that serve people seeking housing, with responsibilities in both program and policy-oriented work.  As a Senior Program Manager for Illinois, Stephanie is responsible for supporting the state of Illinois in improving outcomes of the Statewide Referral Network, a supportive housing path available statewide to low-income households with disabilities. Stephanie has a Master of Arts degree in Social Service Administration from the University of Chicago and a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Illinois.


Jasmina Sisirak


Erica Stearns

Erica Stearns resides in Southern Illinois and serves as an Information and Outreach Specialist for the Illinois Life Span Program. Erica has a career history in healthcare management, a passion for helping others, and life-long personal experiences in advocating for those who identify with the community of disabilities. Growing up disabled and now as the proud mother of two children with disabilities, Erica has a unique and multi-dimensional perspective of navigating life with disabilities. These experiences have led her to a life of advocacy which she exercises through her career at The Arc of Illinois and in her roles as the chair for the Patient and Family Advisory Councils for the Division of Specialized Care for Children (DSCC) and Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital. In 2022, Erica was the recipient of the Care Fellowship through Caring Across Generations (Illinois cohort). Most notably, Erica is the creator and host of Atypical Truth (podcast) which explores the storied experiences of life as a caregiver and person with disabilities.


Tiffany Steinhauser

Tiffany has been a special educator for 21 years in Quincy, Illinois. Advocacy is something that is close to her heart and has led her to spend her life teaching, advocating, and supporting parents.  As an educator of children with disabilities for many years, she has found there to be a huge need for more family resources and supports. Tiffany is a parent to two children. In her free time, her husband and she both enjoy camping and boating. Tiffany also enjoys reading and being outdoors. Tiffany holds a Bachelor’s Degree of Science in Special Education from Quincy University (IL) and a Master’s Degree in Education Administration from Williams Wood University (MO).


Barry Taylor

Barry Taylor is the Vice President for Civil Rights and Systemic Litigation at Equip for Equality, where he has worked since 1996. At Equip for Equality, he has overseen many individual and systemic disability discrimination cases including successful federal ADA suits against the National Board of Medical Examiners, the Chicago Police Department, and the Chicago Transit Authority. He is currently co-counsel in seven class actions, including lead counsel in Ligas v. Norwood, providing community services to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Prior to coming to Equip for Equality, Barry was the AIDS Project Attorney in the Midwest Regional Office of Lambda Legal working to advance the civil rights of people living with HIV/AIDS. From 1988 – 1993, Barry was a litigation associate at the Chicago law firm of Peterson & Ross. He is a 1988 graduate of the University of Illinois College Law, where he also received his undergraduate degree in 1985. 


Jada Thompson

Jada Thompson is a proud Best Buddies Illinois participant from Chicago, IL. She has been a part of the Best Buddies community since 2018 and is involved in our Jobs, Citizens and Ambassador Programs. In her spare time, she enjoys music, writing, dancing and many other creative endeavors. After seeing her enthusiasm for Best Buddies and her incredible speaking style, the staff at Best Buddies Illinois knew that they had found a very special advocate. She has since spoken at the 2019 Chicago Friendship Walk, a Mod Pizza conference and at Closing Ceremonies at the 2019 Leadership Conference where she also won the 2019 Employee at the Year award. Recently she spoke at the Hearst Castle Challenge in San Simeon, California. In addition to her public speaking for Best Buddies, she is also the 2019 Miss Amazing Junior Miss Queen.


Jill Tompkins

Jill Tompkins is the Research Information Specialist for Illinois Early Intervention Clearinghouse. She has worked in early intervention, Head Start training and technical assistance services, and now develops and helps to disseminate resources for families and providers in early intervention.


Josh Vanwyk

Josh has been a member with Neuman Family Services/ Envision Unlimited since 2013 and has observed various program styles over the years. He is always willing to share his honest opinion with anyone who asks and often volunteers to be the first to try new things. Josh likes to stay informed about current events and will often share the latest news with his staff and friends. Josh loves music and enjoys rapping. He likes writing his own lyrics and performing them for his friends.


Theresa Versaci

Theresa is a speech-language pathologist based out of the Chicagoland area who considers herself a disability advocate and ally. Theresa earned her B.S. in Speech and Hearing Science and M.A. in Speech-Language Pathology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Theresa first became involved with the disability community because her sister has Down syndrome. Her love for her sister ignites her passion to help individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities learn to communicate their unique thoughts, ideas, wants, and needs. Theresa envisions a society comprised of self-advocates sharing their stories and community partners ready to listen, learn, and build acceptance. Theresa finds joy being able to contribute, even in a small way, to this vision. Her volunteer work has included projects with The Autism Program (TAP), GiGi’s Playhouse, and Best Buddies, as well as research contributions related to autism and Down syndrome with the department of Speech and Hearing Science at the University of Illinois. She currently chairs the Advocacy and Policy Committee of S.I.B.S., whose mission is to build awareness around disability policy and advocacy topics and aid siblings in advocating for the changes they desire.


Greg Walkington

Greg is an accomplished Operations Manager with 35+ years of experience in nonprofit leadership and program development, particularly as it relates to adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Greg’s experience ranges from direct, hands-on training in life skills enrichment programs to managing supports for over 400+ people with IDD across four divisions, four congregate work sites, and over 20 community-integrated living arrangements.

Importantly, Greg has a very unique relationship to his work that drives his passion for advocacy. As a father of an adult child who has physical and intellectual disabilities resulting in high support needs, Greg truly understands the value of maximizing the quality of life through community involvement for people he supports by providing them with the necessary support structures to lead dignified and fulfilling lives.


Lea Whitney

Lea Whitney, MA is the caregiver and legal co-guardian to her younger sister, Rhiannon, who has Down syndrome. Throughout her career, Lea has pursued work in the developmental disabilities field. She has a master’s degree in Journalism from Columbia College Chicago, with specializations in website design, content management, and HTML. She authored her graduate thesis on “Understanding Why Illinois is Ranked 51st for Providing Funding and Services to Adults with Developmental Disabilities Living in Housing,” based on a 2008 State of the States report. She worked for 10 years in marketing, communications, and IT. Eight of those years were in banking and supervision/regulation at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. While there she managed the internal website and authored articles about disability awareness. Prior to working at the “Fed,” she managed events and promoted awareness of autism at the Autism Society of Illinois in Lombard, IL. She also implemented her site as a permanent job site for the local Glenbard School Transition students and received an award from Glenbard District 87 for her work. Her previous work also included working for a special needs law firm where she supported their digital marketing, outreach, business growth strategies, website and provided best practices for streamlining their technology and communications.

Today she is focused on website accessibility and is passionate about putting accessible practices in place for every technology to ensure it meets the needs of every individual.


Adam Wiser

Adam moved to the Chicago area to participate in the PACE program after high school. He has been employed at Nordstrom for the past 9 years, and has worked at two of their locations in the café. Adam has lived in one of Center for Independent Futures Community Living Options for the past 3 years. He appreciates having the supports he needs to live a full life: working, hanging out with his roommates and friends, and enjoying restaurants, movies, biking, and other activities in his community.


Sabrina Wyman

Sabrina has a passion for advocating, ignited at a young age when they became the older sibling to Rachel, who has Down syndrome as an attribute. Sabrina has diverse experience in local, state, and federal politics ranging from health and education legislative policy, campaigning, and working with elected officials’ district offices for outreach events to improve voter turnout. Paired with becoming disabled as a young adult, Sabrina is passionate about policy that supports people with disabilities.


Kim Zoeller

Kim Zoeller is the President and CEO of Ray Graham Association for People with Disabilities. Ray Graham Association (RGA) supports more than 2,000 children and adults with intellectual and other developmental disabilities through DuPage County and the surrounding communities.  RGA provides a variety of services and supports that include residential, life skills development, recreation, and family support that empower people to reach, grow, and achieve.  With more than twenty-five years of experience, Kim has worked to create positive change with a focus on innovation and transformation.  Kim is the managing Board member for Life’s Plan, a pooled trust option for people with disabilities. Presently, Kim is a past Chair of the Institute on Public Policy for People with Disabilities and continues to serve on the executive committee.  Kim is a founding member and leader of They Deserve More which unified advocacy efforts in IL around the DSP crisis and need for increased rates. She serves as Vice Chair on the Board of Directors for Illinois Association of Rehabilitation Facilities, she is a past chair of The Arc of Illinois Executive Forum, and Vice Chair of The Arc of Illinois Board of Directors.  For years, she chaired the Statewide DHS Division of Developmental Disabilities Quality Committee.  Kim also worked for CQL for more than fifteen years as a Quality Enhancement Specialist.   Kim holds a BS in Psychology and a Master’s degree in Public Administration.


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