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Speaker Biographies

Liz Altieri is Professor and Co-Director of the Virginia Inclusive Practices Center at Radford University. On top of that she is also an elected member of the Radford School Board.  Liz teaches special education at the undergraduate and graduate levels, and supervises the Elementary and Special Education Collaborative Field Experience cohort in Montgomery Co., VA.  She has published on co-teaching, views on disability, reforms in special education, and portfolio assessment. She is recognized as an accomplished educator, having received many grants, with a long time interest in the skills needed by general and special educators in supporting the academic success of students with disabilities in the general education classroom. Prior to entering higher education, she was a classroom teacher for students 3-21 with severe disabilities and a behavior support specialist. She received her doctoral degree from Virginia Tech University.

Meghan Ashburn is an educational consultant, parent mentor, and co-author of the upcoming book, I WIll Die On This Hill. She's passionate about inclusion and communication rights. Her website, Not An Autism Mom, is loaded with resources to help educators and parents support Autistic children inside and outside the classroom.

Ann Bevan oversees the policy and operations related to services provided to those with developmental disabilities in her  position as the Division Director for High Needs Supports at the Department of Medical Assistance Services.  She has more than 35 years of experience working with individuals with disabilities in a variety of settings including case management, residential, day support, hospice, behavioral health, substance abuse, and crisis services in the private sector as well.  Ann holds a Master’s in Rehabilitation Counseling and Bachelors in Psychology from Virginia Commonwealth University, where she also received the Stalnaker-Wright Award for outstanding achievement in academics and community service.

Deana McGuire Buck has worked in the field of early childhood development in Virginia for 38 years. She retired from the Partnership for People with Disabilities, Virginia’s University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (UCEDD) at Virginia Commonwealth University in 2020, after 28 years of service.  She served as Assistant Director, Early Childhood/Early Intervention Team Leader, and Principal Investigator for statewide initiatives funded to improve services for young children with disabilities and their families. She holds an undergraduate degree in Speech Pathology and Audiology from Longwood College and a master’s degree in Education from the University of Virginia.  Deana is now serving in her fifth term as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Act Early Ambassador to Virginia, having played this role since 2012.  She also serves as the co-lead for Virginia's COVID-19 Response Team project.

Donna Budway has served as a community organizer in Arlington for the past two decades.  She is active in autism advocacy, food insecurity and homeless issues, LGBTQ teen supports, hospice and tutoring for at risk students.  Donna and her husband Robert have three children, their youngest Emma, a non-speaking autistic, lives in Our Stomping Grounds first community, Gilliam Place in Arlington.  Donna manages programming and is instrumental in outreach, sharing the mission and the importance of making community.  Her passion is in developing and sustaining inclusive settings and ensuring the well-being for adults of all abilities.



Tahnee Causey is the Director, of VCU MS Genetic Counseling Program, Licensed Lead Genetic Counselor at VCU Health and an Assistant Professor, Dept. of Human & Molecular Genetics. Tahnee graduated from the University of Virginia with a BA in Biology.  She received her Master of Science in Genetic Counseling from the University of South Carolina.  As a practicing genetic counselor for 25 years, her specialities in prenatal, pediatric, and hematology genetics.  She is the Program Director for the Genetic Counseling training program at VCU, the only such program in the Commonwealth.  

Dorothy Clark shares her bio: “My name is Dorothy, I live in my own apartment in Virginia Beach Virginia. I am receiving services from the Hope House Foundation. I am a self-advocate. I will have my driver's license by the end of July. I believe that people with disabilities should have the same opportunity as a person without disabilities. People with Disabilities can and do live, work, and play in the same community as a person without disabilities. This is my motto."


Lisa Coates is the director of Children and Youth with SOAR365; a former 23 year-veteran special education teacher leader. As a professional in the field, and as a sibling of two brothers with disabilities, she understands the many complexities that siblings and families face. She has worked at the federal level on disability policy as a School Ambassador Fellow with the United States Department of Education and was appointed a White House Champion of Change Educator by President Obama for work with individuals with disabilities. Lisa is a member of the National Center of Advancing the Person-Centered Practices and Systems Leadership Collaborative (NACCPPS).  Her passion is empowering youth to self-advocate for their futures and developing pre-employment programs that prepare youth with disabilities for integrated employment.


Karen Douglas is Professor and Co-Director of the Virginia Inclusive Practices Center at Radford University. She teaches special education courses at the undergraduate and graduate levels in positive behavior supports and adaptive curriculum and also supervises students in placements at the elementary and secondary levels. Prior to teaching in higher education, she taught high school students with disabilities for four years  promoting inclusion, community-based instruction, and vocational-based instruction. Her research interests include using technology, literacy, and communication supports to enhance the academic and life skills of individuals with severe disabilities. She contributes to the field by writing articles published in professional journals and presenting at conferences. She received her doctoral degree from the University of Georgia.


Kathleen Gibson is the  Early Childhood Specialist with the Parent Educational Advocacy and Training Center.   She helps families of young children with disabilities understand their role as their child’s first, and most important, teacher. Kathleen arms families with information and resources to help empower and support them throughout their child’s educational journey. As a parent of young children, one with disabilities, she understands many of the challenges that parents face.  She is passionate about equitable access to quality education and community life and advocates for inclusion and accessibility for people with disabilities at local, state, and federal levels. She believes in collaborating for systemic change and promoting inclusive education for all students, starting in early childhood.


Bryan Harris is in his seventh year as the Director of Development at The Arc of Piedmont in Charlottesville, Virginia. He possesses extensive knowledge and experience with nonprofit events, corporate and private donor relations, fundraising, marketing, and public relations. As part of The Arc’s Leadership Team, he promotes sustainable organizational growth while supporting the visions and goals within The Arc’s overarching strategic plan. Bryan has raised more than one million dollars over the course of his tenure at The Arc, money which has helped shape the overall mission to build a future where all people with developmental disabilities and their families experience their best lives possible. Prior to The Arc, he was the Senior Community Director at March of Dimes, where he managed various events, campaigns, donors, and partnerships across a large territory covering over ten counties. With over 15 years of development experience, Bryan is eager to share his knowledge with others and finds great joy in making connections with and between folks in the local community. Most recently, Bryan was selected as one of eight participants in the Emerging Leaders Program through the Center for

Nonprofit Excellence in Charlottesville.

Susan Henderson is devoted to community - she started volunteering in middle school and has continued volunteering. She has worked with Americorps, America Reads and numerous other organizations serving people. She has a M.A. in Student Affairs in Higher Education from Indiana University of PA.  Most significant to Susan was the time she spent as an advisor to the Best Buddies Student Club, an international organization that facilitates friendships between college students and adults with developmental disabilities. It was through Best Buddies that she knew that she wanted to work with adults with disabilities.  She began began her career with Hope House Foundation in 2003, and now works with Admissions and supervising Team Leaders and Coordinators. And of course, in her free time, she volunteers — at her daughter’s school, at a 4-H camp, and at Hope House events.  Susan is also an Endorsed Positive Behavior Support Facilitator through Virginia Commonwealth University.

Monica Karavanic has 25 years in human services and is a self-described passionate advocate for advocate for social justice and inclusion for people with developmental disabilities and mental health issues.  She has worked in various roles for 14 years at The Arc of Southside, where she was key to the agency's successful transformation of facility-based congregate services to an array of inclusive, best in practice Home and Community Based Services.  In May 2022 Monica was appointed Executive Director of The Arc of Southside.  She is active in many organizations in Danville and the Commonwealth.   She graduated from Marshall University with a degree in Counseling and Rehabilitation. 

Janice Keener is the Director of Psychological and Assessment services in Developmental Pediatrics at CHKD. She currently serves on the Special Education Advocacy Committee for the Virginia Beach School District and on the board for St. Mary’s Home for Children. She has extensive training in the assessment of Autism Spectrum Disorder and obtained her research reliability in the administration of the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule – Second Edition from the Center for Autism and the Developing Brain in 2014. Her research and clinical interests include Pediatric Health Psychology, early childhood assessment, consultation and liaison, and Autism Spectrum Disorder. Janice is certified in the treatment of Tourette Disorder from the Tourette Syndrome Behavioral Therapy Institute Program. She is also bilingual and provides assessment and psychotherapy in Spanish and English.


Brian Kelmar has vast experience as an entrepreneur, business executive at medium and Fortune 500 size companies but most importantly he is the father of an Autistic son.  He is the co-founder of Legal Reform for the Intellectually and Developmentally Disabled. LRIDD is a national non-profit with a mission of advocating for people with disabilities who are involved with the criminal justice system.  Currently he is the Director of Engagement for CA Human Services. In his free time he volunteers as an advocate for legal reforms for people with developmental disabilities based on his own personal experiences in making a positive impact for Virginians and their families. He is a tireless advocate for legislation that will improve the lives of people with DD at the Virginia General Assembly.  Brian is a retired Navy Commander and Naval Aviator, with over 500 landings on the aircraft carrier. As marathon runner and you may see him running all around Virginia. 

Beth Kessler is new to Virginia. She moved here from Oregon in March 2021 with her husband, daughter, and dog after spending nearly 12 years working for the Oregon Council on Developmental Disabilities. She is a Part-Time Project Leader with The Arc of Virginia since November 2021.  As Project Leader, Beth leads The Arc of VA's work with Quillo Connect as we explore how leaders within Virginia can educate, inspire, and encourage our community through technology. With a background in public relations, community development, and strength-based frameworks such as Person Centered Planning and Charting the LifeCourse, Beth values the need for effective and meaningful communication. She believes we are most successful when people feel heard and understood, and when we solve problems by identifying and amplifying our strengths. 

Gina Koke is a dedicated advocate and has spent her career of over 25 years delivering programs for individuals with Developmental Disabilities and co-occurring mental illness. She has managed numerous Medicaid Waiver programs to include residential, day, and workplace services. Gina’s passion and advocacy for people with disabilities led her to the Local Human Rights Committees for Richmond and Hanover; serving as both a Chair and Vice-Chair for more than 7 years. She now provides in-depth technical assistance for those providers seeking to support individuals with more intense support needs, as the Customized Rate Consultant for the State of Virginia. 

Brittney Lee enjoys uplifting people with disabilities and giving them the strength to look within themselves to find their destiny. "It provides character to the individual and willpower to overcome any barrier that is challenging in life." Brittney is a certified Peer Mentor, a graduate of the PAVE program at Reynolds Community College and completed the LEND program at VCU. As a Peer Mentor she strives to help mentees find their strengths and guide them through their journey. Her passion is "inspiring people to soar to their highest level." She was employed for many years in the mental health field providing services to individuals in need.  She is  a member of the Self-Advocacy ALLY Alliance. 

John Littel is the Secretary of Health and Human Resources for the Commonwealth of Virginia.  Prior to this, he led Public-Sector Behavioral Health at Magellan Health, where he also served as President of Magellan of Virginia and Chief External Affairs Officer for the company. Previously, he has served in senior roles at Amerigroup Corporation and Anthem, as well as at both the federal and state government levels. He has taught government, politics and communications at the graduate level, and has also served as a member of the William & Mary Public Policy Board of Advisors. Mr. Littel earned his bachelor's degree in Philosophy and Political Science from the University of Scranton and J.D. from The Columbus School of Law at Catholic University. He is a member of the Pennsylvania Bar. Mr. Littel previously served as the chair of the Virginia Health Care Foundation and on the boards of the Family and Children's Trust Fund, Virginia's family violence prevention agency, and ForKids, a program for homeless families in Hampton Roads. Currently, he serves on the board of The Gloucester Institute, a leadership initiative for young African-Americans based at Robert Russa Moton's historic home. A former rower, Mr. Littel is active as a licensed referee for USRowing. He served as a member of the Presidential Search Committee for the 28th President of William & Mary (2017-2018) and as Rector of the university (2018-2022). 


Paula Manion is the Founder and Chair of Our Stomping Ground - Inclusive Communities.  She is a strong and passionate leader of the mission to create affordable, inclusive communities and meaningful lives for adults with disabilities. Paula’s belief is that the greatest barriers adults with disabilities face are not their disability--they are the barriers to housing, employment, and meaningful social experiences. Paula also serves the community as a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner and Primary Care Mental Health Specialist with a special focus on advocacy and care of children and adolescents with developmental disabilities and mental health issues.  She and her husband reside in Northern VA where they have raised their 3 children, the oldest of whom has autism.


Tia Marsili serves as Director of Trusts for The Arc of Northern Virginia.  Tia has advocated for the rights of people with disabilities for over 25 years. As Director of Trust for 15 years, Tia developed the Trust program that serves all of VA, MD and DC.  Via presentations, consultations, webinars and videos Tia shares her professional expertise and personal experience guiding families through disability systems, navigating the adult and educational world for people with disabilities.  Tia believes that informing parents and providing them ALL the information empowers parents allowing them to make informed decisions.   She educates the community, various organizations, and agencies about comprehensive Futures Planning and Special Needs Trust (SNT) services.  Tia is a multi-lingual, well-traveled professional with decades of experience in the world of disabilities. She's the mother of two daughters with disabilities and is passionate about creating systems that provide equality.

Nichole Martin is the Director of the Office of Community Living at the Virginia Department of Medical Assistance Services where she is responsible for the administration of home and community-based waiver services. She has been with DMAS for 11 years focusing her efforts on long-term services and support. Prior to joining DMAS, she spent over a decade working to achieve health equity in positions at the Virginia Department of Health, American Heart Association, and the Fan Free Clinic. Mrs. Martin is a registered nurse and also holds a master's degree in education from Virginia Tech and a bachelor's degree from Virginia Commonwealth University. She enjoys spending time with her husband and two daughters.

Jesse Monroe I was born 43 years ago with a physical disability called Arthrogryposis, which severely constricts the movements of my joints and muscles. Although I have full feeling, I have no use of my upper or lower extremities, except for my head and neck.  Since 2017, I have lived independently in my own apartment in Norfolk, Virginia with services from my DD Medicaid waiver.  I utilize technologies such as a Google home, Amazon Story, and Dragon Naturally Speaking to live and work more independently through voice recognition.  I'm an advocate both statewide and locally for people with disabilities – including as a board member for the Arc of Virginia, as a member of a state self-advocacy alliance called “A Life Like Yours” and as a member of a local advocacy group, Our Voices. Over the years I have worked alongside fellow self advocates on many issues, with some important successes. We have worked on issues such as, increasing Medicaid waiver slots for those with developmental disabilities, raising the reimbursement rates for providers of services, and recently we were able to halt a guidance from the state of Virginia that would have allowed providers to forcibly seclude someone with a disability that contracted Covid-19. I am looking forward to continuing to fight for what is right.

Tina Norris brings years of experience working with children, adolescents, and families to her position at the Parent Educational and Advocacy Training Center(PEATC) as developer and manager of the Family Engagement initiative. She is passionate about empowering families through education and advocacy.  As a parent who guided her own children through the elaborate education system, she believes that family engagement is essential for the success of all children.  Tina is a skilled trainer in bullying prevention, puberty, and family engagement. Her expertise and practical approach allow her to establish collaborative relationships with schools, communities, and advocacy organizations as an avenue to strengthen family engagement within our communities and schools.

Kate Oppe I am the proud mom of 2 amazing young men, Bright (15) and Hatch (12). My youngest son Hatch has Down Syndrome, Autism and a Speech Language Impairment. Professionally, I spent the previous 17 years in the public school setting, of which, the last 10 in Special Education as a teacher of students with disabilities and served as a Transition Support Specialist the last 4 years. I am currently the owner of Be the Change Virginia Advocates and help families better understand the special education process and how to access community supports and services that might be available to them. Additionally, I am a 2022 graduate of the Virginia Board for People with Disabilities Partner's in Policy Making Program and was one of the many voices advocating to make Appendix K a permanent option for parents.

Carrie Ottoson is a passionate human services worker who has served the State of Virginia and the Developmental Disabilities population for over 10 years. Carrie began her journey as a Social Worker for one of the state’s training centers where she supported the community integration process. Through her work as a social worker she was able to see the true transition and growth of countless individuals who began a new journey in a community setting after being institutionalized most of their lives.  Carrie now serves as a Community Programs Manager at the VA Dept. of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services  where she  works closely with individuals who require additional support to maintain a life they deserve in the community. In her current role she develops and manages specialized funding programs including Customized Rate, that support these efforts. 


Nichole Pangle is the Executive Director of The Arc of Northern Shenandoah Valley. Nichole earned her Bachelor of Social Work degree from Shippensburg University. Nichole began her career with The Arc of Northern Shenandoah Valley in 2008. Several months after joining The Arc, her 2-year-old son was diagnosed with autism. What started out as a part-time position grew into a lifetime love of parent coaching, education, and providing support to families impacted by developmental disabilities. Nichole’s main focus is serving families wherever they are on their journey with compassion, kindness, and a strong knowledge base of support throughout a person’s lifetime.


Andie Plumley is an RYT 500 level yoga teacher with specialized training and focus on therapeutic yoga, including trauma informed yoga and yoga for sensory regulation.  Additionally, she has more than 25 years of experience working with people with developmental disabilities and is a partner at Support Services of Virginia, Inc.  Andie has a master’s degree from University of Oklahoma and is an endorsed Positive Behavior Support Facilitator and a Person CenteredT Facilitator.


Catherine Rey lives in Bon Air, Virginia with her husband Mike and two elementary school-aged boys, JP and Louie, both of whom have ATR-X Syndrome. 


Cheryl Roberts is the Interim Director of the VA Dept. of Medical Services (DMAS)  Previously she was the Deputy of Programs and Operations providing executive leadership and direction.  She has been at DMAS since 2007 with experience in maternal child health, quality, oral and behavioral health, pharmacy and long-term services.  Prior to joining DMAS, Cheryl was Vice President and Chief Operating Officer at Virginia Premier Health Plan and was with Emblem Health as Assistant Vice President of Operations.  She holds a Doctor of Law from Rutgers Law School and a Bachelor's degree in Sociology from The City University of New York. 

Shay Ruff is a Radford University graduate with her Bachelor’s in Social Work. She has been a self and community advocate in Roanoke, VA for nine years. She has worked in the field of disability rights professionally working with individuals and groups in a variety of rules for six years. Currently, she works as a Credentialed Peer Mentor for the Arc of Southside. She is a member of self- advocacy Alliance “A Life Like Yours as a liaison. She has over 30 plus years of lived experience as an individual with Cerebral Palsy.

Patti Scott is deeply committed to equal opportunity, and a world in which all people are included. In 1995, she co-
founded Neighbours, Inc., an innovative agency that affords people with disabilities the opportunity to take control of, and direct, their own lives and the resources that support them. Over the past twenty seven years Neighbours has supported people in New Jersey and Pennsylvania in moving into their own homes, controlling their own supports and resources, and living full, rich lives as contributors in their local communities. Neighbours focuses on creating vehicles for delivering support through a variety of structures and practices: Supported Living; Brokerage; Support Coordination; Fiscal Management Services; and Agency With Choice; all driven by the principles of Self-Determination, Citizenship, Relationship and Asset
Based Community Development. In 2009 Patti founded Neighbours, International, an organization focused on collaborative learning design, technical assistance, consulting, and facilitation of individual, agency, and systems transformation in a variety
of states and countries. Patti is currently the Chief Executive Officer of both Neighbours. She is a faculty member of Validus Education Institute in Zagreb. Patti lives in NJ with her husband, and collaborator, Dave Hasbury. She loves being the proud aunt of four nieces and a nephew, and grandmother to three beautiful little girls.

Kyle Smiddie is a Trial Attorney at the U.S. Dept. of Justice, Civil Rights Division. “Smiddie” is well known by the developmental disability community in Virginia because of his work on the enforcement of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the DOJ Virginia Settlement Agreement to ensure that people can live in with the supports they need. Smiddie’s educational background includes a degree in Political Science, Master’s of Social Work and Juris Doctorate from Rutgers University in 2011.  Always at the Convention, Smiddie tells us where things are going and he comes to listen and learn from individuals and families to inform his work.

Nelson Smith is the Commissioner of the VA Dept. of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services. He has  a wide-variety of experience including the CEO at several hospitals,  a US Army Special Forces Combat Dive Team Leader, and most recently, his experience overseeing Tucker Pavilion at Chippenham Hospital. His responsibilities included coordinating and implementing initiatives that improve access, quality, and efficiency in both the inpatient and outpatient settings.  He has a passion for team building and a proven track record of employee engagement and empowerment. Nelson is a highly trained and skilled servant, team builder, and leader. Before working in the private sector, Nelson was a part of the U.S. Army, 5th Special Forces Group where he received numerous awards and accolades for his outstanding leadership and courage. His awards include the Purple Heart, four Bronze Star Medals, one including the “V” device for Valor, and the Green Beret. Following his retirement as a Special Forces soldier (Green Beret) he received an MBA from Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and began a second career in behavioral healthcare administration. He is committed to ensuring the most vulnerable and overlooked population in our society receive the highest quality of care.

Sara Thompson has over 14 years of experience working with children and adults in the areas of mental health and developmental disabilities. Prior to joining DBHDS as the Supported Decision-Making Community Resource Consultant for the state of Virginia, Sara worked in the Developmental Services Division of a community services board as a support coordinator, intake coordinator, and quality specialist. Sara is a Charting the LifeCourse Ambassador and a Person Centered Thinking trainer. She is excited to be able to use her passion for person-centered practices and advocacy at the state level in order to identify and resolve barriers to more inclusive living for people with developmental disabilities. 

Huan Vuong is a 25-year-old nonspeaking autistic who spells to communicates on a letterboard or keyboard. Huan has surpassed expectations having earned his high-school diploma online and an Associate’s degree at Northern Virginia Community College.  Huan majored in English and wants to be a writer one day. Huan currently lives in an apartment with a roommate, at Gilliam Place, an Our Stomping Ground property.  He enjoys the safety and community life it offers. Everyday, Huan participates in activities with his friends and neighbors, such as hour-long walks, environmental club meetings, a social justice group and book clubs. 


Gretchen Ward is an Occupational Therapist with 13 years experience working with children and youth in school, home, and group home settings with an emphasis on neuro-divergent populations. She is a graduate of the University of Virginia and Columbia University, and frequent presenter at state, national, and international occupational therapy conferences. In 2019 she made a shift in focus to assistive technology and home and community based supports serving as clinical director

for MPower Me and has most recently started a new practice, PowerUp Occupational Therapy Consulting. Her mission is to empower individuals, providers, and organizations to amplify the voice and choice of marginalized individuals through the use of trauma and tech informed neuro-diversity affirming strengths based practice models.


Kendra Wormley is a Project Coordinator with the Parent Education Advocacy Training Center.  A graduate of VCU, she received a degree in Therapeutic Recreation.  While working for a non-profit in Virginia,, Kendra worked with various community partners to establish programs and employment opportunities for people with disabilities. For more than 15 years, she has worked with families, professionals, and organizations to provide support for students and adults with developmental disabilities to increase their independence and improve opportunities to actively participate in their community.

Corey Yates  is an occupational therapist, working in the field of pediatrics for 13 years. She attended undergraduate and graduate school at Utica College and earned a doctoral degree at the University of South Dakota. Her specialty areas include mental health and sensory integration. She is certified in sensory integration, Therapeutic Listening™, and psychological first aid. She is passionate about educating others regarding occupational therapy and her special areas of interest.


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