WILLIAM O’CONNOR

Bill is an emerging leader in the Chicagoland disability community. For the past 13 years, his passion as a recruiter and disability advocate have empowered countless job seekers to achieve their career and employment goals. He has solid experience in full-cycle recruiting, diversity and inclusion consulting, and as a disability employment specialist. As a team leader with AbilityLinks, SPR Industries nAblement program, and the Information Technology Knowledge Abilities Network (ITKAN), he has presented to many for-profit and non-profit organizations about the return on investment that can be gained from hiring people with disabilities. Bill is also a member of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce.

To learn more about Bill and his passion for engaging with both the disability and employer communities, click here.

EMILY HARRIS

Emily Harris is Principal of Harris Strategies, LLC, helping non-profit organizations, philanthropy, public agencies and business move their ideas to action. Previously, she was the founding Executive Director of ADA 25 Advancing Leadership and a Senior Director at the Chicago Community Trust, working on equity and inclusion initiatives. As Executive Director of ADA 25 Chicago, she engaged more than 200 program partners in advancing disability inclusion. As Vice President of Metropolis Strategies, she led programs focused on regional economic growth, open space conservation, early childhood education, and served as Executive Director of the Burnham Plan Centennial. She earned a B.A. from Oberlin College and an M.A. from the University of Chicago. She serves on the Forest Preserves of Cook County Conservation and Policy Council, the Leadership Greater Chicago Fellows Association Board and the CMAP Economic Development Committee.

MAUREEN REAGAN

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.

BENRO OGUNYIPE

As a Senior Accessibility Specialist, Benro Ogunyipe directs and administers the bureau’s program and training activities to ensure department compliance with Titles I & II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the department’s legal obligations under the Illinois Human Rights Act. Benro has 15 plus years of professional experience in public service administration, non-profit leadership management and multiple advocacy and policy board positions driven to promote full inclusion and accessibility for people with disabilities as well as personal and professional advocacy for Deaf and hard of hearing people in all settings of the society. In 2014 and again in 2016, U.S. President Barack Obama appointed Benro to the National Council on Disability. Benro was also appointed by three different Illinois Governors to public bodies including twice as a Commissioner of the Illinois Deaf and Hard of Hearing Commission. He served as President and Board Chairman of the National Black Deaf Advocates, Inc. Benro received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Gallaudet University and a Master of Public Administration (M.P.A.) from the School of Public Service at DePaul University.

GARY ARNOLD

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.

PAM HEAVENS

KELLY O’BRIEN

Kelly O’Brien is the Founder and President of Ideaction Corps and is the Illinois Director of The Kenney Forum. Kelly has served as a public health advisor to Senator Richard Durbin, Senior Legislative Aide to Congressman Jerry Kleczka, Director of Government Affairs for Partnership for Prevention, and Congressional Liaison for the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Kelly received a B.A. from St. Mary’s College, Notre Dame and a M.P.A from The George Washington University School of Business.

PATRICK MAHER

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.

AMBER SMOCK

Amber has served as Access Living’s Director of Advocacy since 2010. She is responsible for executing Access Living’s advocacy vision through policy, community organizing, and issue education, with support from across Access Living’s program departments. She guides Access Living’s strategic partnerships and significant networking efforts at the local, state, and national levels across a range of disability topics, including healthcare/home- and community-based services, housing, education, transportation, racial justice, immigration, and incarceration of people with disabilities.

Amber facilitates the federal-state working group Disability Power for Community Integration. She also supports international disability learning exchange, particularly through the U.S. Professional Fellows Programs. Amber is a skilled presenter and trainer, a member of ADA25 and Leadership Greater Chicago, and a recipient of numerous local and national awards for her disability advocacy.

Amber is a proud member of the Deaf community who grew up in mainstreamed schools, learned ASL as a young adult, and now relies on lip-reading, ASL interpreters, and video relay technologies for communication access.

CHERYL FARNEY

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.

MARK WILLIAMS

Mark Williams develops and manages foundation and government grants at United Way of Metro Chicago. Mark has served the nonprofit and disability communities for many years and was a member of both the Statewide Independent Living Council of Illinois and the Illinois ADA Project Steering Committee. Mark earned his B.A. in American Studies from Lake Forest College and M.S. in Human Services Administration from Spertus College. He currently serves on the Boards of Directors at Blind Service Association, and Mental Health Association of Greater Chicago.

BRIAN HEYBURN

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

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 D’AMBROSIO

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

CHAITANYA MANCHANDA

At Discover, Chaitanya Manchanda is the founder and co-chair of the Discover’s employer resource group, “Accentuating Discover Abilities.” Chaitanya is actively involved in spreading awareness, advocating for disability rights and representing the Deaf/Hard Of Hearing (HOH) Community. Chaitanya was an Executive Committee Member of the Hearing Loss Association of America in Chicago Lincoln Park for two years. Chaitanya earned a B.S. from the University of Windsor in Ontario, Canada.

RISA RIFKIND

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.

ADAM BALLARD

Adam is the Housing and Transportation Policy Analyst at Access Living. He develops legislative policy priorities and messaging in housing, transportation, and related planning issues. He acts as a thought leader on integrating accessibility for disabled people and manages relationships with elected officials and public agencies that can help advance the disability community’s advocacy agenda. Adam believes strongly in the power of community organizing to make change. He has served as an organizer and supervised other organizers on multiple campaigns, professionally at Access Living and as a volunteer elsewhere. He serves on boards and advisory committees at several agencies and organizations in the Chicagoland area. Adam and his family live in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood.

KELLY PIERCE

Kelly Pierce is a Legal Assistant for the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, focusing on disability-related issues. Kelly has served on the Technology Watch Committee of the National Council on Disability and worked with the Cook County Clerk and the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners to develop improvements in accessibility to electronic voting machines. Kelly is a graduate of Northern Illinois University.

RONALD OTTO

Ron Otto is the Director of Recovery at Thresholds Psychiatric Rehabilitation Centers and advocate for access to comprehensive mental health services. Ron received a B.A. from Ripon College and a B.S. from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

KEVIN KNABE

Kevin Knabe has served on the Executive Advisory Board for NARDA PWI and was twice selected for a US delegation in China, South Korea, and Russia as part of the Citizen Ambassador Program. Kevin serves on the Chicago Hearing Society’s Board of Advisors and is a Mentor Deaf Tech at Harper College. Kevin is a graduate of Marquette University.

BRIDGET EVANS

Bridget Evans is a Patient Safety Consultant at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago and is the Founder and CEO of Illini Service Dogs, which aims to provide world class service dogs to individuals who have a physical disability. Bridget is a member of the ADA 25 Advancing Leadership Program Committee and a Board of Director for Snow City Arts, which inspires and educates children and youth in hospitals through the arts. Bridget is a graduate of the University of Illinois.

KANEY O’NEILL

Kaney O’Neill is a Navy veteran and founder of O’Neill Contractors. In 2015, Kaney was the recipient of the National Veteran-Owned Business Association Woman Vetrepreneur of the Year Award and the Annual Woman Veteran of the Year Award from the Women’s Business Development Center in 2014. Kaney serves on the Board of Directors for the Federation of Women Contractors and the National Board of Directors of Bunker Labs. Kaney received a B.S.Ed. and a M.A. from Northwestern University.