Karen represents the ACLU and its clients in litigation and policy work addressing police accountability and national security, as well as the First Amendment, Fourth Amendment and discrimination claims. Karen is enforcing the ACLU’s agreement with the City of Chicago and Chicago Police Department regarding the police practice of stop and frisk. Prior to joining the ACLU, Karen worked at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton as an associate. She then served as a law clerk for the Honorable David G. Trager of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York and then practiced at Meites, Mulder, Mollica and Glink, representing plaintiffs in employment discrimination and ERISA litigation. She graduated from Columbia Law School in 2004.
Whitney Hill’s vision is supported by both her passion for advocacy and personal background of being a part of the disability community. Her training as a Universal Designer has fostered her devotion to the community. Her dedicated work at the Blind Service Association, the Institute For Human-Centered Design/New England ADA Center, has honed her skills. Whitney is currently serving as an elected member on the Chicago Transit Authority’s (CTA) ADA Advisory Committee, is Chair for the CTA Wayfinding Subcommittee, and is the Founder & Director of SPORK!.
As a deaf actor of color, Richard Costes leverages his trailblazing experiences in Chicago theatre through advocacy as a consultant to local theatres and non-profit arts organizations. His passion for increasing accessibility and representation is a valuable resource for many organizations, including the association he works for, ACG.
Keidra Chaney is a writer and communications professional focused on reproductive justice, disability justice, accessibility, and equity/inclusion. Her two-decade career includes experience in independent magazine publishing, non-profit digital strategy, and social media training. She is a Certified Professional in Accessibility Core Competencies by the International Association of Accessibility Professionals (IAAP).
Bri is an artist, activist, and community mental health counselor. She considers herself to have a social art practice and combines her fine art, design, and work as a helping professional to change individual and societal insight. Bri is committed to utilizing the arts to show the varied, beautiful, and complex story of disability, as well as creating an avenue for other disabled folks to do the same.
Dr. Carrie Sandahl is head of the Program on Disability Art, Culture, and Humanities, which is devoted to research on and the creation of disability art. This program also serves as the administrative home for Chicago’s Bodies of Work, an organization that supports the development of disability arts and culture.
Sandahl is active nationally as a public speaker. She is frequently invited to present her research and creative work on disability art and culture at universities across the United States, including University of California-Berkeley, University of California-Santa Barbara, Stanford University, Bucknell University, University of Florida, Smith College, and Davidson College among others. She has keynoted conferences such as the Articulations Conference at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities and the Portland Disability Art and Culture Festival in Oregon. Sandahl also regularly presents her research at the Society for Disability Studies and the Association for Theater in Higher Education, both professional organizations in which she has been an active member for more than fifteen years.
Tekki Lomnicki is the co-founder and Artistic Director of Tellin’ Tales Theatre, dedicated to shattering the barriers between the disabled and non-disabled worlds through personal story. Tekki performs her critically acclaimed solo work for schools, conferences and theater audiences, and works as a Marketing Copywriter for True Value Hardware.
Molly Wiesman has volunteered for disability organizations including Best Buddies, Easter Seals DuPage, and the Human Library of Chicago. She serves as a member of the Board of Directors for Tellin’ Tales Theatre. She is currently employed at an IT Security firm in Chicago’s western suburbs.
Art Sims affectionately known as “Chat Daddy” is the host and executive producer of Real Talk, Real People with Chat Daddy, a nightly (Monday through Thursday) entertainment magazine show on WVON 1690am that offers its listeners local and national lifestyle stories, relationship advice, celebrity interviews and more. Art has more than 25 years of media experience in radio, television and print.
Christea Parent is a creator, producer, and nonprofit professional with a passion for disability justice and neurodiversity. They currently serve as the Chicago Studio Coordinator for Art of Life, and are the Executive Producer and Artistic Director for BAD TASTE Productions. As a performer and writer, their creative work is focused on queerness and social expectations; as a nonprofit professional, they excel at facilitation and administration, as well as experience in all aspects of nonprofit management, including development, board service, programming, and HR. Christea approaches all their work with a justice-oriented mindset and is heavily invested in equity for the disability community, particularly those with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Jason Lehmann aims to be an ambassador between people on the Autism spectrum and Neurotypical. Currently working as quality assurance analyst at Aspiritech, Jason is pursuing a career in technology and is interested in refining development processes.
Nicole Kelly stepped into the role of public figure after winning the 2013 title of Miss Iowa and going on to compete at the 2014 Miss America Pageant. She gained attention for being one of only a few competitors to have ever competed with a physical disability. After working for a year as Miss Iowa and traveling across the country to advocate for those living with a disability, Nicole transitioned into speaking professionally. Last summer Nicole completed her master’s degree in broadcast journalism at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. Now, she is an assistant production manager at Ravenswood Studio. Ravenswood is a Chicago-based custom fabrication company driven by passionate artisans creating world-class sets, scenery, and exhibits for opera, theater, museum, and corporate clients.
Lori Goddard has over 20 years of experience developing sound marketing strategies and guiding diverse, integrated teams through this fast-paced, ever-changing environment. She is a strategically-minded marketing leader with vision and passion for developing innovative solutions that make a difference to consumers and businesses.
Courtney Sass is a Student Aide at the British International School of Chicago and the creator of the Museum Accessibility Toolkit, a website that features basic and inexpensive accommodations cultural institutions can provide for people with disabilities. Courtney earned a M.A. in Museum and Exhibition Studies from the University of Illinois at Chicago and a B.A. in Art History from Loyola University Chicago.
Liz Davis is a User Experience Designer with a passion for making technology accessible. She currently works at SPR Consulting and will graduate in 2019 with a Master’s in Human Computer Interaction from DePaul University. She gives talks, workshops and consultations about the accessibility of technology.
At KPMG, Valerie Gilles brings over seven years of experience working on national and global transformations, and specializes in strategic planning, acquisition integration, and process improvement. In her role as Manager, her key responsibilities are managing targeted strategic projects to help determine business and/or operating model changes required to stay competitive across our network, including financial forecasting, public trust strategy development, etc., managing the organization and developing the content of leadership meetings (e.g. Board meetings, wider international leadership conferences, etc.) to leverage them as channels for strategy approval or dissemination, and identifying opportunities for improvement in our team’s ways of working and internal processes. She also is involved in recruiting and onboarding of new team members and continuous mentoring at KPMG. She serves as the Chair KPMG Chicago’s business resource group for employees with disabilities and caregivers and is responsible for developing our local vision for the next 3-5 years and its associated strategy and managing our local team and collaborating with our national team. Valerie earned a B.S. in Biology at Iowa State University, accompanied by minors in Chemistry, General Business and Spanish.
Joyce Otuwa is an Attorney at the State of Illinois Attorney General’s Office Civil Rights Bureau. Joyce believes in public service, mentorship, and the deconstruction of exclusive ideology through education, activism, and legal advocacy. Joyce earned a J.D. and B.A. from the University of Illinois.
Azeema Akram is an ALJ at the Illinois Commerce Commission, where she adjudicates matters involving licensing regulatory violations and licensing matters in several transportation industries including relocation and safety towing, intrastate trucking, collateral recovery, and household goods movers. Azeema serves on the Board of Directors of Red Clay Dance Company and is a Community Representative on the Regional Transportation Authority’s Paratransit Certification Formal Appeals Program Eligibility Review Board. Azeema earned her JD from DePaul University College of Law and BA in International Studies from the University of Missouri-Columbia.
Grishma Shah is the Co-Director for the Chicago ReelAbilities Film Festival and an Artist completing her PhD in Community Psychology. Grishma’s passion for social justice is depicted through storytelling and art, as catalysts to thinking deeper, in hopes to question our pre-conditioned viewpoints and evoke awareness of our unconscious biases.
Evelyn Keolian is a Librarian in the Chicago Public Library (CPL) system. Evelyn also serves as the founder and chair of the Diversability Advocacy Committee at CPL. Evelyn is an adjunct instructor in American Sign Language at Oakton Community College. She serves on the Board of Directors of Changing Worlds. Evelyn received a M.L.I.S. from the University of North Texas/California State University, Northridge in 2012.
Zully JF Alvarado is an educator, trainer, public speaker, entrepreneur and international leader and advocate on the rights of children, women, and persons with disabilities. Zully currently lives in Gary, Indiana and raises awareness on the importance of accessibility in infrastructure, transportation and outdoor recreation. Zully earned an M.Ed. from the Erikson Institute.
Maureen Reagan founded and operated MRA Architects, Ltd. for over 25 years, designing creative environments, usable by all people, including people with disabilities. Maureen recently transitioned from MRA to pursue other interests, along with the continuation of universal design and accessibility consulting. She served on the committee, which produced an extensive update to the accessibility code of the Chicago Building Code. Maureen earned a Masters in Architecture from the University of Illinois, a B.S. with Distinction in Environmental Design from Purdue University, and was awarded a scholarship to study architecture at L’Ecole d’architecture, Universite de Paris III, Versailles, France.
Alice Palmer represented the state’s 13th Senate District from 1991-1997. Previously, Alice served as a special assistant to the president at Malcolm X College and associate dean of students at Northwestern. Alice currently sits on the Board of Directors at Access Living. Alice holds a Ph.D. in Educational Administration from Northwestern University and an M.A. from Roosevelt University.
Peter Berg coordinates and provides technical assistance, and trains on various aspects of the ADA at Great Lakes ADA Center. Peter serves as a member of the Illinois Attorney General’s Illinois Accessibility Code Task Force. Peter chaired the Mayor’s Advisory Commission on Disability for the City of Naperville and the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Chancellor’s Committee on the Status of Persons with Disabilities. Peter is a graduate of North Central College.
Gary Arnold is the Program Director for Progress Center for Independent Living. Previously, Gary worked as the Public Affairs Manager for Access Living. Gary is the co-chair of the Board of Directors for Crossroads Fund. He is the immediate past president of Little People of America, and has served on the Board of Directors for Public Narrative (previously known as the Community Media Workshop). Gary is a 2013 Leadership Greater Chicago Fellow. Gary earned a B.A. from Beloit College and an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters in 2018.
Rachel Arfa was appointed Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities (MOPD) by Mayor Lori Lightfoot. As the 4th MOPD Commissioner for the City of Chicago, she is the first person who is deaf to serve in this role, and likely the highest-ranking deaf person in local government nationwide. Prior to this role, Rachel was a staff attorney at Equip for Equality (EFE) for nearly a decade representing clients with disabilities in employment discrimination and civil rights violations.
Rachel is the President of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Bar Association and in December 2019, made the motion using spoken language and ASL for 10 deaf and hard of hearing attorneys to be admitted to the United States Supreme Court Bar. Rachel served as the Accessibility Lead for the Women’s March Chicago, developing expansive accessibility for large scale gatherings. Previously, Rachel served on the Board of Directors of the Chicago Cultural Accessibility Consortium and the Board of Directors for 3Arts, which supports artists of color, women artists, and artists with disabilities. She is a Leadership Greater Chicago Fellow (2016), Member of ADA 25 Advancing Leadership, and a past Fellow of the Illinois Women’s Institute for Leadership (2017) and the New Leaders Council (2013). She is a graduate of the University of Michigan (B.A., American Culture) and the University of Wisconsin School of Law (J.D.).
As Deputy Commissioner, Joe Albritton oversees Employment Services, Training Services, and Deaf and Hard of Hearing Programs. Joe is a member of the Mayoral Task Force on Employment and Economic Opportunities for People with Disabilities, and the Financial Advisory Council for the Empowerment of People with Disabilities. Prior to MOPD, Joe served as a Therapeutic Recreation Instructor for the Chicago Park District and a Job Developer at the Chicago Lighthouse. Joe is a graduate of Florida State University.
As Director of Civic Engagement at SPR, Pat Maher manages non-profit relationships within the tech sector. Pat supports the success of historically overlooked and discounted segments of the workforce – including professionals and aspiring candidates with disabilities, girls and young women, and younger candidates who lack social capital in the continually evolving technology industry. SPR’s strategic focus is supporting students through early-in-career (EIC) professionals to have the greatest impact.
Cheryl (Farney) Hahn is a Certified Recovery Support Specialist and works as Trilogy, Inc.’s Development Coordinator. Cheryl is on the Board of Directors at Trilogy, Inc., is the Secretary for Gift of Voice, and is a WRAP Recovery Educator. Cheryl is a member of the PAIMI Council at Equip for Equality. She is also on the Program Committee for ADA 25 Advancing Leadership. Cheryl earned a B.A. in Theatre and Classics from the College of Wooster in Ohio and a Master’s Certificate in Women’s Studies from Loyola University of Chicago.
Brian Heyburn is a Ph.D. candidate in Disability Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago, having first received an M.S. in Disability and Human Development. At UIC, Brian serves as a Graduate Assistant at the Disability Cultural Center assisting with the development disability culture events across campus. Brian earned a B.A. in Religion from Centre College.
Michele Lee is a diversity leader at Aon and founder of the Empowering Abilities Employee Resource Group. Michele is passionate about disability employment, universal access, and accessible transportation. Michele represents Aon on the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab’s Business Advisory Board. Michele earned a B.A. from the University of Arizona.
Kevin is an Office Supervisor at Faithful+Gould. He is also a presentation coach, actor, writer, motivational speaker, storyteller, and teacher. As a storyteller, Kevin is a winner of The Moth StorySLAM. As a teacher: He created a personal narrative storytelling lab for detainees in Cook County Jail; at Piven Theatre, he helped establish a theatre games program for adults with development disabilities. Kevin presents anti-bullying motivational speeches to middle schoolers and high schoolers. He wrote a stageplay, Nobody Talks Nice about the journey of living with a disability. He is a graduate of The ACADEMY at Black Box Acting and is represented by Paonessa Talent. Follow him over social media: @kdaspeaker
Tsehaye Geralyn Hébert is a nationally acclaimed citizen playwright and cultural architect whose work nuances and centers the African American experience (Alliance Kendeda National Graduate Playwright Award winner; Voices Rising Fellow, Vermont Studio Center; The Guild Literary Complex, 30 Writers to Watch; Midwest Black Playwrights Project winner; Native Voices and Visions; RhinoFest; Cultural DC/SourceFest, Frank McCourt Memoir, Sundance Theatre Lab, finalists.)
Embracing challenge as opportunity, the new artistic associate at eta creative arts foundation – Chicago’s oldest and historic African American theatre – alongside her team, spearheads the move from ADA compliance, to inspiration for a fully accessible theatre for all.
She is a member of ADA 25 Advancing Leadership, sits on its Program Committee, and serves as one of its ambassadors. She recently joined the Chicago Cultural Accessibility Coalition steering committee and is on the honorary board of Piven Theatre Workshop. A Northwestern University graduate, she earned her MFAW from School of the Art Institute, Chicago, where pygMALI, her disrupture of Shaw’s Pygmalion, won its RhinoFest competition.
Risa Jaz Rifkind is a justice advocate who seeks to make change by shifting access to power and influence.
As Director of Civic Engagement and Marketing, Risa propels the organization to realize its vision to have people with disabilities lead with power and influence. By identifying and developing strategic partnerships, Risa positions Members to take on leadership roles that advance their careers, civic engagement, and equity for people with disabilities. By integrating this vision into all internal and external communications, she leads Advancing Leadership’s brand awareness, public and private Member programming, and community engagement and outreach. She is also an Advancing Leadership Member.
Previously, Risa was Program Manager at The Chicago Community Trust where she developed their disability inclusion priorities and practices and managed several disability inclusion initiatives including the Disabilities Fund, ADA 25 Advancing Leadership, and ADA 25 Chicago. With the Disabilities Fund, Risa supported a rebrand and strategic plan redesign that resulted in a 500% increase in annual grantmaking for which she acted as the program officer. During 2015, ADA 25 Chicago leveraged the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act to move the spirit of the law forward. This included engaging and supporting over 200 partner organizations’ commitments and event.
Risa is passionate about the arts and serves as the Co-Chair of the Steering Committee for the Chicago Cultural Accessibility Consortium as well as on its Board of Directors as Treasurer. Risa also serves on the Accessible Airports Advisory Committee for the City of Chicago and the Access Advisory Committee for the Chicago History Museum. Risa received a B.A. from Johns Hopkins University.
Mary is an attorney on Access Living’s civil rights team. She represents people with disabilities in discrimination cases, conducts education and outreach about disability rights laws, and is involved in public policy advocacy. Formerly, as an attorney at Prairie State Legal Services, Mary represented homeowners in foreclosure. Prior to law school, Mary taught middle and high school special education in New York City. She completed her undergrad degree at Loyola University in Chicago and received a master’s degree in special education from Pace University. She graduated from John Marshall Law School in the top 3 percent of her class.
D. Erick Allen is devoted to increasing disability diversity in the workplace. Erick is a former Director of Inclusion Consulting & Training at Access Living. Erick serves on the Chicago Jobs Council Board of Directors and previously served on the Board of Commissioners for the Chicago Commission on Human Relations. Erick received a B.A. and M.S. from Loyola University of Chicago.