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


Keynote Speakers

Dr. Thomas Pomeranz

Dr. Thomas Pomeranz is a nationally recognized authority, trainer, clinician and consultant in the field of services for people with disabilities. Over the last fifty (50) years, Tom has conducted thousands of seminars and programs throughout the United States and Canada. His audiences praise his ability to combine information, humor, passion and storytelling into an informative whole that does not just present the information, but really communicates it in a memorable fashion.

Tom was the keynote speaker at the Fifth International Conference on Developmental Disabilities and Aging in Cyprus. He is the highly acclaimed creator of Universal Enhancement, which teaches strategies promoting community participation and supporting people to have a quality life. Additionally, he is noted for his innovative approach to leadership and management training.

Tom has authored numerous articles in various professional publications and The Principles and Practices of Universal Enhancement. Published by High Tide Press, this book details with humor and compassion the autocratic and clinical restraints of supporting people with developmental disabilities and the alternative “Universal Enhancement” way. Tom has also created a seven part staff training DVD series The Principles and Practices of Building Community. Co-produced with Tierra Del Sol it covers seven critical topics that provide staff with best practice tools to enhance the quality of life for people with disabilities.

Tom received his Bachelor and Master of Science Degrees in Special Education and a Doctorate in Mental Health Administration from Indiana University, followed by post-graduate work from the University of Notre Dame in the area of experimental psychology. He has held a variety of top level administrative posts in community-based service organizations and three large state-operated facilities. Tom served as a Policy Fellow and Visiting Lecturer for Minot State University – North Dakota Center for Persons with Disabilities, a University Center of Excellence. Tom is the President and CEO of Universal LifeStiles with offices located in Indianapolis, IN.

Tonya Piephoff

Tonya Piephoff is the Director for the Division of Developmental Disabilities for the State of Illinois. She has a bachelor’s degree in social work and a Master’s in Mental Health Counseling and has dedicated her career to serving individuals with developmental disabilities and mental illness. The majority of her career has been spent working with individuals with Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities in both the state-run Intermediate Care Facilities (SODC) or in community services through the waiver programs. She has also worked for many years in the Forensic Psychiatric system and with those who have dual diagnosis. Before coming to Illinois Department of Human Services, Tonya served as Director of the Kentucky Division of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, and as the Chief Operating Officer of the Missouri Division of Developmental Disabilities. With over 20 years’ experience in assisting individuals and their families to find the best living environment to meet their individual needs and goals.

Dulce M. Quintero

Dulce M. Quintero was appointed Secretary of the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS) by Governor JB Pritzker in September 2023. Before that, they served as IDHS Assistant Secretary of Operations beginning in 2019, where they led the department’s COVID-19 response with a focus on equity, and oversaw areas such as human capital, information technology, budget, and finance. 

Quintero is an award-winning and prominent community builder and innovator, having long served Illinoisans in both the health care and human services sectors, with a particular focus on LGBTQIA services and advocacy. They were inducted into the Chicago LGBT Hall of Fame in 2017 and they continue be an out and proud LGBTQIA and nonbinary leader, activist, and passionate social change maker. 

Before joining IDHS, Quintero served as Director of Operations for the Erie Humboldt Park Health Center, a community health center providing affordable and comprehensive medical services on Chicago’s Northwest side. There, they led day-to-day operations and implemented programs including a comprehensive HIV Care program, dental services, and a family practice medical residency. Under their leadership, the health center grew to serve over 9,400 patients annually. 

Quintero also founded and operated the Casa Corazon Youth Drop-in Program at La Casa Norte, one of Chicago’s few safe spaces serving LGBTQIA youth on the city’s West Side. Quintero was born in Mexico to migrant farm workers and moved to Chicago at age nine.  

Quintero’s community engagement has included their high-level involvement in the Chicago Dyke March and service as a founding board member of Orgullo en Acción where they helped organize the Chicago Latino Pride Picnic, the first event of its kind. They currently serve as a board member of the Association of Latinos Motivating Action.  

Quintero holds a bachelor’s degree from University of California-Davis, and they have completed a non-profit leadership academy with The Center for Leadership. Quintero credits the integration of their identities as a Mexican immigrant, LGBTQIA activist, former street vendor, member of the community of people with disabilities, and non-profit leader as meaningfully informing their career at IDHS. 

Parent Panel:

Diane Compton

Diane is a mom of 3, including her youngest, Erin who has Down syndrome. She has a Master’s in Communication from Northwestern University and left a job in product marketing and instructional design to be a caregiver. She is a member of the IL Council on Developmental Disabilities, and co-administer of IPADDUnite, a Facebook page of over 6000 family, self-advocates, and disability professionals. 

Sandra E. Heidt

Sandra E. Heidt is a proud and devoted parent of two (2) adult children, one, a 22-year-old Autistic son with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities and Speech Delay. She maintains a B.S. degree in Business Administration from the University of Illinois, Chicago, and a M.S. degree in Public Services Administration from DePaul University. Her previous work experience as a retired City of Chicago Manager includes vast knowledge of an administrative hearings court system, a real estate and probate legal office, social service agency and law enforcement as a police officer. Sandra’s interest in special education and transition began as her son charted his path through the complexities of the Chicago Public School system. Upon her retirement, she aspired to become a disability advocate and began volunteering to assist other families undergoing a similar process of navigating transition services from post-secondary school to adulthood. Adding evidence and fact-based experiences to her advocacy, Sandra has received certification and intensive training from various programs such as Illinois Partners in Policymaking, Marc Gold & Associates Customized Employment, Project Assist (a University of Illinois and Vanderbilt University) collaboration, Family Matters Volunteer Advocacy Project, Illinois Council of Developmental Disabilities (ICDD) and currently, the University of Illinois LEND Fellowship. Through information sharing and guidance, Sandra has provided policy and legislation instruction on witness slip submission, guardianship/supported decision making, social security, community engagements, acquisition of daily living skills and functional vocational assistance to many on a similar journey. Her 20 years of lived experience has inspired a vision and passion of promoting acceptance, diversity, equity, and inclusion for Autistic persons, those with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities and living with other mental health conditions. Currently, Sandra is a member of the Arc of Illinois public policy committee, Chicagoland Autism Connection (CAC) family support group, Community Emergency Services and Supports Act (CESSA) coalition and regional advisory committee #11, Illinois Respite Task Force, KEEN Chicago disability sports program and, the Chicago Board of Education’s, Special Education-Transition sub-committee as the co-chair, which prepare her for continuous service as parent advocate to improve the education, health, welfare and safety of children, young adults and adults living with a disability and the individuals that care for them.

Sonia Reynoso

Sonia Reynoso, a devoted full-time working parent from Chicago’s Southside, is married and the proud mother of two boys, Tomas and Simon. She participated in Partners in Policymaking Class 4 and serves on the school board of St. Nicholas of Tolentine. Sonia leads as President of Mamre, the fundraising arm of the Spred Ministry with the Archdiocese of Chicago. Through her advocacy for her son Simon, who has autism, Sonia drives positive change, particularly in supporting individuals with developmental disabilities. Her extensive community involvement highlights her commitment to education, empowerment, and inclusion within her community.

Mary Wyman

Mary Wyman is the mother of three adult children who has a special interest in advocating for students with disabilities at the district level of her local school district.  After years of supporting her older children at the school level, it was her youngest child, Rachel, who was the impetus for becoming more actively involved in systems change.  Mary was a founding member of Springfield Parents for Students with Disabilities, a graduate of Illinois Partners in Policymaking, and served for eight years as the Parent Mentor for Springfield Public Schools, during which time she assisted families in navigating special education within her district.


Suzanne Aaron, CRS-A/D

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.

Vanessa Aceves

Vanessa Aceves is an attorney at Equip for Equality. She is an Equal Justice Works Fellow sponsored by Aon and Kirkland & Ellis. Vanessa was an intern at Equip for Equality for two summers and one fall semester during her time in law school. She graduated from Loyola University Chicago School of Law in May 2023 and received the President’s Medallion for the Class of 2023. Vanessa received her bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Vanessa Aceves es abogada a Equip for Equality. Ella es una becaria de Equal Justice Works auspiciado por Aon y Kirkland & Ellis. Vanessa fue una passante a Equip for Equality para dos veranos y un semestre de otono durante su tiempo en la escuela de la ley. Ella se graduo de Loyola University Chicago School of Law en mayo del 2023 y recibio el Medallion del Presidente para la Clase de 2023. Vanessa recibio su licenciatura en las ciencias politicas de University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Susan Agrawal, PhD

Susan Agrawal is a parent, advocate, and writer who began serving as the Director of the Family-to-Family Health (F2F) Information Center in 2024, assisting families of children and young adults with disabilities and special healthcare needs to navigate the health care and disability systems in Illinois. She has lived experience through her daughter Karuna, who had multiple disabilities and complex health issues throughout her eleven years of life. Susan is the founder of MFTD Waiver Families and spent more than a decade advocating for children in the Medically Fragile Technology Dependent Waiver. In addition, she is an independent researcher on children’s Medicaid waivers and programs, including the website Kids’ Waivers.

Ruth Aguilar, QIDP

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.

Samantha Alloway

Samantha Alloway is committed to advocacy, government relations, and human services. After her triumphant battle against cancer, Samantha became a lead canvasser for the American Cancer Society and ignited her fervor for advocacy and politics. A mother of three sons, Samantha faced a juncture when her middle child received a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder at the age of three. This event fueled her passion for disability advocacy, propelling her into being a voice for individuals with disabilities and a fierce champion for autism awareness within her community and beyond. In her current role as the Director of Government Relations at Little City Foundation. Samantha spearheads cross-functional teams, harmonizing policy, strategy, and services to create meaningful impact. Samantha is a proud member of the Illinois Women’s Institue for Training Leadership Academy class of 2024. This affiliation further underscores her active role in shaping the future of leadership in Illinois

Gary Arnold

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.  A resident of Oak Park, Illinois, Gary serves as chairperson of the village’s Disability Access Commission.  Gary lives with his wife Katie, son Matthew, and dog Chloe.

Alexis Ayala

Hi! My name is Alexis Ayala, I am 18 years old. I have been using a communication device since I was 5 years old. Many people use communication devices in different ways, but I use eye gaze to find words to talk. When I used my talker for the first time, I was nervous because it was all so new to me, and I did not know how it worked. However, after lots of practice and help, I was able to create words and sentences to have conversations with people, including my loved ones. I am still learning, but I keep practicing to get better. I hope that other people like me keep using their communication devices so they can connect with their friends and families. I encourage each of them to never give up. Thank you for having me today!

¡Hola! Me llamo Alexis Ayala, tengo 18 años. He estado usando un dispositivo de comunicación desde que tenía cinco años. Muchas personas usan los dispositivos de comunicación de manera diferente, pero yo uso la mirada para encontrar las palabras que estoy buscando para hablar. Cuando usé mi hablador por primera vez, estaba nervioso porque todo esto era nuevo para mí, y no sabía cómo funcionaba. Sin embargo, a través de mucha práctica y ayuda, pude crear palabras y oraciones para tener una conversación con la gente, incluidos mis seres queridos. Todavía estoy aprendiendo, pero mi práctica me ayuda a mejorar. Espero que haya otras personas como yo que sigan usando su dispositivo de comunicación para que puedan conectarse con sus compañeros y familiares. Animo a cada uno de ellos a que nunca se rindan. Thank you for having me today!

Sophia Azim

I am an individual that grew up with a brother with autism. I had the privilege of being able attend Sibshops when I was younger, and they gave me the ability to have a community of individuals who had similar experiences to me. It also helped me understand more about my brother’s disability at the time. I now have the opportunity to bring this initiative to the Champaign community as a student at the university, and our end goal is to have Sibshops be brought to many other small towns around Illinois, as there is a lack of this type of program in the area, but yet such a significant population of individuals with disabilities and so many programs for those individuals.

Alisha Babu

My name is Alisha Babu and I am a Junior majoring in Brain and Cognitive Sciences at the University of Illinois on the premed track. I grew up with a cousin diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. My experiences with him, and especially his much younger brother, are what inspired me to want to bring the opportunity of Sibshops to the Champaign-Urbana community. Seeing how much the sibling experience was not brought to light in our society made me realize how important it is to educate others on this and provide safe spaces to those Sibs. Throughout my life I have done research/projects/volunteering regarding those with special needs and other neurodevelopmental disorders, however this gave me an opportunity to expand my efforts to a population of individuals who grew up with those with special needs or any other disability.

Elizabeth Campos 

Elizabeth Campos is an advocate for parents who, like herself, have multilingual children with IEPs. Elizabeth is the current President of the Family Resource Center on Disabilities, and a graduate from the Partners in Policymaking program, where she is now a Faculty Advisor. Elizabeth has served as a co-facilitator of the Governor’s Office of Early Childhood Development and IL Early Learning Council’s Family Advisory Committee. Elizabeth is a gubernatorial appointee, and has served as Chair and Vice Chair of Governor Pritzker’s Advisory Council on the Education of Children with Disabilities. Elizabeth was appointed to the IL Advisory Council on Bilingual Education by IL State Superintendent of Education, Dr. Carmen I. Ayala. In addition, Elizabeth serves on the IL State Board of Education’s Bilingual Special Education Subcommittee, a joint subcommittee of the IL Advisory Council on Bilingual Education.

Jesus “Chuy” Campuzano

Chuy is an experienced self advocate leader from Chicago and a consultant for Blue Tower Solutions. Currently Chuy works regularly for the WISE project in Washington State. Additionally, Chuy is part of the Illinois Epilepsy Supports and Resources training team. He is active with Access Living in Chicago advocating for choice in housing and more funding for disability services among other things. As a disability activist Chuy is the former co-coordinator for Chicago Adapt and the past secretary for The Illinois Statewide Center for Independent Living Council. Chuy is a co-creator of the “It Starts by Saying HI!” Diversity curriculum. Chuy is a regular presenter at the Speak Up Speak Out Summit, the Illinois Epilepsy Resources and Supports project and runs a weekly Disability Check-In Zoom meeting                                            

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 Choreographers Project out of Los Angeles. Erin plans to attend college and would like to work in government, representing students with disabilities.

Claire Cook

Claire Cook is the Title V Transition Specialist at UIC: Division of Specialized Care for Children (DSCC). Claire’s role at DSCC is in helping youth with special healthcare needs make a smooth and successful transition to all aspects of adult life. Before joining the Transition Team, she was a Care Coordinator in the Home Care Program at DSCC for several years. Claire received her master’s in social work in 2019 from the University of Illinois. She has previously worked in mental health, substance abuse, and child welfare as a social worker.

Anna Cronin, MS, BCBA

Anna is an owner and director of Fern Leaf ABA in Carbondale, Illinois. As a board certified behavior analyst (BCBA), she has been serving adults with disabilities in Southern Illinois since 2015. Her passion is learning about her clients’ goals and values and helping them shape habits that put them on a path to success. Anna has a big brother with disabilities and mom who dedicated her career to helping others find answers about disability services. She gladly accepts “Danny’s Sister” and “Charlotte’s Daughter” as alternative titles. Anna proudly serves on the board of directors for the Arc of Illinois.

Elida Elizondo

Elida Elizondo is a Public Affairs Specialist for the Social Security Administration. Elida has been with the agency for over 25 years and is based in Milwaukee, WI. As a Public Affairs Specialist Elida covers the area of Southeastern Wisconsin and provides back up assistance for Northern and North Central Illinois.

Kori Folkerts

Kori Folkerts is the Director of Student Access and Accommodation Services (SAAS) at Heartland Community College (HCC) where she works to support students with disabilities and/or diagnosis throughout their educational journey at HCC. In addition to the SAAS office, Kori oversees the HALO Program, a 2-year non-degree seeing credential through the college. The HALO program provides a higher education experience for students ages of 18 to 28 with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities. Kori enjoys staying connected with students and is entering her 6th year of teaching. She has taught at both Heartland Community college and Illinois State University in the Psychology Department. In the past few years she has been fortunate enough to teach Developmental Psychology courses where she is able to incorporate the learning of other students with the work that she loves. Kori is passionate about fostering educational experiences and understanding for those with disabilities in higher education.

Megan Forristall

Megan Forristall is a Public Affairs Specialist for the Social Security Administration. Megan has over 15 years of experience with Social Security and has a passion for sharing Social Security information throughout the state of Illinois.

Oscar Gonzalez

Oscar Gonzalez is part of the Great Lakes ADA Center and helps increase awareness of the American with Disability Act within the regional community. He has been working in the disability field for five years. Additionally, he has worked in various federal and state governmental services that benefit the Latino and immigrant communities.

Kelly Griffon

Kelly has supported individuals with I/DD for over 17 years. Kelly started her career as a support coordinator with the Missouri Division of Developmental Disabilities and quickly moved up to Supervisor, Transition Coordinator, Provider Relations. Kelly joined MapHabit in 2023 after seeing the MapHabit system in action. Kelly has a Masters Degree in Social Work. Kelly is also a wife to Damon, daughter, family member of a person with I/DD, dog/cat mom, and friend.

Kristin Hadley

Kristin Hadley is a self advocate navigating the waters of adult ADHD and cerebral palsy. As a youth, Kristin was fortunate to be exposed to a number of program, services and experiences that helped her gain the confidence to launch an organization dedicated to ensuring that disabled African Americans had access to culturally competent and relevant resources to support them on their own journeys. A member of the Knights of Prevention and Education Cyber Lions, the DCFS Permanency Enhancement Action Team, AYLP and Family 2 Family Federation for Children’s Mental Health, Ms. Hadley is a vocal and involved advocate. Kristin has presented for the National Provider Network, the Illinois Self-Advocacy Alliance and is the founder of I Love Myself with CP and ADHD Networking Group.

Mariel Hamer-Sinclair

Mariel Hamer-Sinclair is an experienced human service professional with administrative experience in special education, home services, vocational rehabilitation, and state and federal benefits counseling. Mariel started out working in the Department of Human Services, Division of Rehabilitation Services Home Services Program as a Case Manager. A short time after, she accepted a position as a Community Work Incentive Coordinator (CWIC) under the Social Security Administration (SSA) Work Incentive Planning and Assistance Program (WIPA). She became very interested in special education transition services and pursued a position as a Transition Specialist for Chicago Public Schools. She was promoted to Transition Manager in 2016. Mariel is currently the Associate Director of Program and Policy for the Illinois Council on Developmental Disabilities. She received her Master’s degree in Human Service Administration, Social Services in 2015 from the University of Illinois at Springfield.

JJ Hanley

Deputy Chief of Financial Products for Illinois State Treasurer; parent advocate, disability services and advocacy professional.

Curtis Harris

Curtis Harris is an activist, organizer, and self-advocate working towards disability rights and autism acceptance. He is a board member with Chicagoland Autism Connection (CAC) and serves on the Illinois Council on Developmental Disabilities, Vice President of self-advocacy called CAC Trailblazers and has worked with organizations including Access Living, ADAPT, Refuse Fascism, Illinois Single Payer Coalition (ISPC) including Disability Committee of Working Group Long Term Care and numerous other working towards civil rights and health care for all. Curtis lives in Chicago, in supportive housing.

Laura Hart

Laura Hart graduated from Bradley University with a BS in Psychology and a Bachelor of Science in Sociology. After graduation, Laura worked for the Department of Children and Family Services in varying capacities including case management, Lifebook program development, and as a Child Welfare Specialist Trainer. She also has experience working in a domestic violence shelter and conducting elder abuse investigations. In 2017, Laura started with the Human Rights Authority as the HRA Coordinator in East Central conducting disability rights investigations, including special education cases. Laura joined the SPED collaborative team in 2018 and was hired on as the Special Education Division Advocate in July 2020. Laura’s Special Education background includes work with DCFS youth in care, attending William and Mary Law School Special Education Advocacy Training, COPAA Special Education Advocate Training Program Graduate, NASET Board Certified Advocate in Special Education, and navigating the special education system with her own child.

Kimberly Haynes

Kimberly Haynes is a mental health advocate with twenty years of experience in developing programs focused on mental health promotion, drug prevention and social and emotional learning for all. A parent with lived experience, Ms. Haynes has dedicated her career to amplifying the voices of families and consumer tasked with navigating the mental health and educational systems. Ms. Haynes is a member of the Black Educators Advocacy Coalition, board member for I Love Myself and CP and ADHD Networking Group, a convening member for SEL4IL Alliance, President of the Knights of Prevention and Education Cyber Lions and chairperson for the DCFS Permanency Enhancement Action Team which serves Bloom, Bremen, Rich and Thornton Townships. In her spare time, Ms. Haynes enjoys creating digital art, dollar tree crafts and spending time with her family.

Stephanie Kanter

Director, IL ABLE; member of Chicago’s disability community; three decades of experience in disability advocacy and program delivery to remove barriers to and promote equality and social inclusion for people with disabilities.

Courtney Kerfoot

Courtney Kerfoot is the Home Care Staffing Support Specialist within DSCC and is also the team lead for Title V transition initiatives for DSCC. She works closely with care coordination teams across DSCC and with Claire Cook who is DSCC’s Transition Specialist. Courtney worked for several years as a Care Coordinator within DSCC. Courtney received her masters in Human Development Counseling in 2013 from University of Illinois at Springfield, and has a background in providing outpatient therapy for children and adolescents.

Courtney Littlejohn

Courtney joined the Association for Individual Development (AID) as the Employment Specialist for Behavioral Health program in Aurora.  She holds a Bachelor’s of Science in Health Administration from California State University at San Bernardino and Masters in Business Administration from North Park University.

Currently, in her role as Vice President of Equity and Inclusion, Courtney assists with the oversight of the agency’s work towards equitable and inclusive practices that impact both staff and individuals served. Additionally, her responsibilities include supervising the agency’s Community Day (CDS) and Employment First programs.

Courtney serves on several community committees that include, Elgin Human Service Council DEI Committee, The Arc DEI Committee, DuPage Kane Disability Resource Committee, and Aurora Area Regional Chamber Executive Board.

Prior to joining AID, Courtney served in operational leadership serving seniors in several roles; Health Care Administrator, Assisted Living and Executive Director.

Marella McMurray

Marella has worked for over 15 years in community social services including supporting people with ID/DD and physical disabilities, working with survivors and domestic violence, and providing crisis and other supportive services to people with other intersectional identities. She also has experience and training in program development, training development and delivery, grant writing, and non-profit budget and finance. She currently works at Community Choices in Champaign, IL as a Social Coach and Transportation Coordinator.

Tobias Merriman

Tobias Merriman is the Assistant Director at the Center for Virtual Expression (CVEX) at Southern Illinois University Carbondale (SIUC). In this role , he oversees the center’s operations, which provide advanced computing facilities for the College of Liberal Arts and the broader campus community. His responsibilities include coordinating technology training for faculty and staff, focusing on the effective use of digital tools in education. Tobias also plays a key role in managing the center’s research and educational initiatives, particularly in areas involving virtual and augmented reality, artificial intelligence, and the application of gamification in learning. He works closely with students and faculty to facilitate the use of these technologies in various classes and experimental projects. With a practical approach, Tobias contributes to making CVEX a resourceful and innovative hub for technological exploration and learning at SIUC. His efforts support the university’s mission to integrate modern technology into its academic programs.

Phil Milsk, JD

Phil Milsk J.D is an attorney from New Lenox. He has worked tirelessly over the years on behalf of people living in poverty as well as people with disabilities. For many years, he worked for Land of Lincoln Legal Aid in Carbondale. Since 1990 he has been a champion in Springfield working with legislators to ensure that legislation for disenfranchised people is passed to help them better their lives. The many groups he has worked for includes: The Arc of Illinois, Illinois Association of Social Workers, School Social Workers, Gifted Education, the Coalition of Citizens with Disabilities, the Illinoi Assistive Technology Program, the March of Dimes, Community School’s (to mention just a few). HE was serviced on numerous committees and councils over the years including the Attorney General’s committee on special education and Employment First. He is a past Due process Hearing Officer and in the past has often represented families involved in due process.

Josephine Mueller

Josephine Mueller earned a Master of Business Administration with a concentration in International Business from Governs State University. She has a passion for diversity and public speaking. This passion has led her to a career within Social Security as a Bilingual Public Affairs Specialist, in the Chicagoland Area. Josephine has embraced her critical role for informing the public about Social Security programs and benefits. Her passion for sharing information has provided her a platform on Chicago Access Live Television Network for several years and you can find her on You Tube. This platform has given her the opportunity to promote and inform the community about Social Security Programs throughout Chicagoland and Nationwide.

Leanne Mull

Leanne Mull, TEDx, Editor’s Pick speaker, has been supporting people with IDD to achieve their dreams since 1999. In her previous career as a corporate trainer and business manager Leanne hired someone who used a job coach and that experience completely changed the course of her life. She spent the next 15 years at a traditional agency in a variety of roles. Leanne believes that the key to meaningful lives for people who receive services is to encourage, empower and enlighten the staff who work for them. As co-director of Blue Tower Solutions, Leanne fulfills that dream as an international speaker, writer and consultant improving organizations and systems supporting people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Most recently Leanne and a self advocate with disabilities created the diversity training. “It Starts by Saying Hi” for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Celeste Nava

The Illinois Respite Coalition (IRC) is a not-for-profit, 501(c)(3), organization dedicated to advocating support for families by ensuring access to quality respite services for the residents of Illinois. The IRC is dedicated to spreading the awareness of lifespan respite for caregivers of individuals with special needs. The IRC is able to assist caregivers by connecting them to resources in their area, provide training on respite-related topics, and providing funding available through our various programs including: in-home respite, voucher respite, emergency respite, and the lending library program.

Le Coalicion de Relevo de Illinois (IRC) es una organizacion sin animo de lucro, dedicada a promover el apoyo a las familias garantize=ando el accesso a servicios de relevo de calidad para los residentes de Illinois. E! IRC se dedica a diffundir el conocimento del relevo vitalcio para los cuuidadores de personas con necesidades especales. E! IRC es capaz de ayudar a los cuidadores conectandolos con los recursos en su area, proporcionar capacitacion sobre temas relacionados con el relevo, y proporcionar financiacion disponible a traves de nuestros diversos programas, incluyendo: relevo en el hogar, relevo de vales, relevo de emergencia, y el programa de bibiloteca de prestamo.

Elyssa Newman

Elyssa Newman has eight years of experience supporting people with disabilities. After graduating from Methodist College of Nursing, Elyssa completed her internship at EP!C in their Community Employment Services Program. Elyssa went on to accept the position of Placement Specialist with EP!C where she assisted people with disabilities in exploring different residential options. Most recently, Elyssa accepted the position of Community Options Recruiter with EP!C in which she works with potential Host Home Providers.

Rachel Pavesich

Rachel Pavesich has a degree in Therapeutic Recreation from Illinois State University and a minor in Psychology. Through her internship at NEDSRA, she fell in love with working with individuals with disabilities within community recreation settings. From there, she worked as a youth program & day camp coordinator at SEASPAR where she also developed the first multi-sensory room within a municipality in the country. She is now overseeing seven adult day program sites at WDSRA.

Rocio Perez, MSW, LCSW, CRS-A/D

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

Amy Peterson

Amy started at EP!C in their Community Options Program as the Supported Living Manager/QIDP. She has been with EP!C for 5 years. She brings 26 years of experience to this role both as a QIDP and an MHP, the last 8 years devoted to enriching the supported living options here in Central Illinois. She is looking forward to growing EP!C’s Supported Living program as the Director.

Bob Peterson

Bob Peterson is well known in Illinois disability circles as a seasoned and impassioned advocate for community living. He served 9 years on the board of The Arc of Illinois, is now an Arc Mentor, and is an officer for the Arc’s National Council for Self-Advocacy. Bob is currently a board member for the Illinois Council on Developmental Disabilities. He has been involved with many advocacy organizations including Partners in Policymaking, The Self Advocacy Alliance, the Going Home Coalition, SAVE, and UIC. He has served on advisory committees, testified at hearings, and spoken at rallies and press conferences. He can be found at numerous events talking to legislators and other movers and shakers in the disability field. Bob has been interviewed, quoted, recorded, and filmed by a number of Media outlets. Bob likes movies, eating out, socializing with friends, time on his computer, and always advocating! The struggle for higher wages and real respect for direct support professionals is very important to Bob. As he says “Without direct support professionals in my life, I don’t have a life.”

Consuelo Puente

Ms. Puente is a retired attorney with many years of experience in the area of disabilties. Ms. Puente has two adult sons with autism and appreciates everything her sons have taught her.

La Sra. Puente es una abodgada jubilada con muchos anos de experiencia en el area de discapacidades. La Sra. Puente tiene dos hijos con autismo y apreica todo lo que sus hijos le han ensenado.

Jill Reffett

Jill is first and foremost a Mom to 3 daughters, and wife to a special education teacher, Chris. Jill’s oldest daughter has a dual diagnosis of Down Syndrome and autism and her youngest has Down Syndrome, ADHD and reactive attachment disorder (RAD) related to being adopted from an isolated orphanage at the age of 3. Jill and Chris enrolled two of their duaghters in the MapHabit/LuMind study in the Fall of 2020, and after the completion of the study, Jill came to work for MapHabit, as she knew that every family and self-advocate in their situation needed access to this application and the support and independence it could provide to so many.

Heather Richardson

Heather Richardson, CTRS has been working in the Special Recreation Association (SRA) world for 22 years. Working as a camp counselor at her local SRA throughout high school and college what started as a summer job quickly resulted in Heather finding her passion. Heather graduated from Illinois State University with a degree in Therapeutic Recreation and a minor in Psychology. She has held professional positions at Fox Valley Special Recreation Association (FVSRA), The Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy and is currently the Support Staff Manager at Western DuPage Special Recreation Association (WDSRA).

Ashley Rogucki

Ashley Rogucki is a Program Facilitator and Instructor for the HALO Program at Heartland Community College. She has been a part of the HALO Program since its early years and following the COVID shutdown showed a passion for ensuring the return of HALO. In the past three years Ashley has embraced working through all areas of the program from admissions, curriculum, and planning of experiential events. She truly has become a person that students know they can turn to with any questions. Ashley received her Masters in Counseling from Arizona State University and through the years identified her passion for working and teaching individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Over the past 14 years Ashley has impacted the curriculum and taught in almost every HALO course offered. Ashley is involved in the community and enjoys seeing her past students and current students living their life to their fullest potential.

Benji Rubin, JD

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, JD

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.

Jon Rutter

Jon Rutter has worked in disability services for the past 15+ years. He has held a multitude of jobs within the firled, including residential lead, QIDP, vocational coordinator, and social coach. He currently works at Community Choices in Champaign, IL as an Employment Specialist/Social Coach. Jon holds a B.S. in psychology and sociology from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh.

Tiffany Steinhauser, M.Ed, CRS-A/D

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)

Amanda Teachout

Amanda Teachout has been the Mental Health Board Manager at Hanover Township for 5 years. She has extensive experience working with adolescents in substance abuse mental health. Amanda has a Master’s degree in Psychology from National Louis University and is passionate about connecting people with the resources to improve the quality of their lives.

Marian Garcia Torres

Mariana Garcia is a Doctorate in Disability Studies from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Mariana is Colombian and has a Masters in psychology. She has worked and directed research in parental education for more than 5 years. Additionally, she has worked at the ADA National Network and the ADA Great Lakes Center for two years doing research.

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.

Tavarus Wesley

Tavarus Wesley is a consultant with Blue Tower Solutions and the advocacy coordinator for the Illinois Self Advocacy Alliance. He also serves on the board for The Arc of Illinois. Tavarus is a graduate of the Alliance Ambassador self advocacy training program and a partners in Policymaking-IL graduate. Tavarus is an accomplished presenter regularly speaking at the Illinois Speak Up and Speak Out Summit, and has presented at the National Self Advocates Becoming Empowered Conference, the CQL National Conference and at the Tennessee Mega Conference. In addition to his advocacy work Tavarus is a long time staff member on the maintenance team at Sertoma Star Services.

Emily Wilson

Emily is a Staff Attorney and CAP Advocate with the Special Education Clinic at Equip for Equality, where she represents students and families in special education and related matters. Emily was a Skadden fellow at Equip for Equality with a project focused on addressing transition issues for students with disabilities. Emily works primarily with court-involved youth and transition-age youth. Emily has a background in education and special education advocacy. She has advocated for students with disabilities in Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Illinois. Prior to Law school, Emily was a middle school math teacher and earned her Master’s degree in Secondary Education from the University of New Mexico.

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.

Annual Convention Main Page

VIP Sponsor
Keynote Sponsors
Rubin Law
Champion Sponsors
Inclusion Sponsors