Speaker Biographies

Ashley Adams 

Ashley Adams is a Speech Language Pathologist who provides Early Intervention services for the Highlands and Mt. Rogers Infant Toddler Connection programs. She specializes in feeding therapy and has over 19 years of experience. Ashley is a Certified Infant Massage Instructor (CIMI) for the International Association of Infant Massage.


Liz Altieri

Liz Altieri is a professor at Radford University where she teaches special education and adapted curriculum at the undergraduate and graduate levels and supervises the education collaborative placement 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.

Senator George Barker

Senator George Barker is a Senior Member of Finance and Appropriations in the Virginia General Assembly.  He has been in the senate since 2008 representing District 39 in Northern Virginia. Senator Barker has been a champion for people with disabilities throughout his tenure in the General Assembly with a focus on ending the wait list and providing more Developmental DD Waivers. He is the Executive Director of the Greater Prince William Community Health Center and was educated at Harvard College and University in Health Policy and Management. 

Patrice Beard

Patrice Beard is the Mental Health Liaison for the Center for Family Involvement at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Partnership for People with Disabilities. Currently, Patrice volunteers as Board Chair for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Central VA Board of Directors. She is certified to teach/present on the following (NAMI) topics: Basics; Family to Family, Children’s Challenging Behaviors; Ending the Silence and Parent and Teachers as Allies. Patrice holds certifications for the National Council for Behavioral Health Youth and Adult Mental Health First Aid USA, Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) and High Fidelity Wraparound Family Support Partner.

Ann Bevan

Ann Bevan oversees the policy and operations related to services provided to those with developmental disabilities in her current position as the Division Director for Developmental Disabilities 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 Bachelor’s in Psychology from Virginia Commonwealth University, where she also received the Stalnaker-Wright Award for outstanding achievement in academics and community service.


Ben Breaux

"I am a non-speaking austic young adult who communicates with a letterboard and ipad. I used to be able to speak until I developed regressive autism as a young child. I have now made my life intention to advocate for communication and disability rights as well as educate myself as much as I can about the world." 

Kelly H. Brooks 

Kelly Brooks lives in Henrico, Virginia with her husband and three children, the eldest of whom has cerebral palsy. She is an advocate for inclusive education and improved supports for families caring for those with disabilities so that they can remain an integral part of their communities. In addition to caring for her daughter, Mrs. Brooks serves as an assistant project coordinator for a nonprofit providing quality improvement for dialysis patients. 

Donna Budway

Donna Budway is an advocate, community volunteer and program director at Gilliam Place, a City Center NOVA community where her daughter Emma lives. She serves on the Developmental Disabilities Committee of the Arlington Community Services Board and chairs the Arlington Autism Family Group.  Donna earned a Masters of Education in Community Health from Virginia Tech. Donna is a communication and regulation partner with Emma.

Emma Budway

Emma Budway is a 23 year old autistic who spells/types to communicate.  She is a student and advocate and loves reading, walking and being with her friends.  Last year she moved into her own apartment with supports and is thriving in her new community!

Alex Campbell

Alex Campbell is an advocate for students with disabilities and the Executive Director of Campbell Advocacy. He presented at The Arc of Virginia’s 2019 Convention and previously received the Catalyst for Change Award from The Arc of Virginia. He works as the Director of Social Media for the Alliance Against Seclusion and Restraint and is part of the education team at the Human Projects. Alex is enrolled in Powhatan High School’s Advanced College Academy program. He was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder when he was 3 years old. When he was in elementary school, he was subjected to multiple counts of restraint and seclusion for disciplinary reasons. In 2014, Alex began advocating for the need to regulate the use of restraint and seclusion. Alex has inspired the creation and passage of three laws in Virginia and hopes to continue inspiring others. He has been invited to provide testimony to the Commission on Youth, the Virginia House of Delegates, Virginia Senate Subcommittee on Public Education, the U.S. House Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education, the Virginia Department of Education and to a Congressional briefing and asked to re-introduce the Keeping All Students Safe Act to the United States House of Representatives. He is the recipient of numerous awards and has been featured in many major media outlets.

Robin Church

Robin Church is the Director of New Path Family Support Network with The Arc of Virginia where she uses her lived experience to support families through the Early Intervention process. New Path supports families by providing individualized consultation and information about resources and connecting families to other families going through the same overwhelming process.

Eric Cottrell

Eric Cottrell works at Piedmont Regional Feeding Clinic in Danville Virginia, where patients receive therapies to improve eating and health.  Eric grew up in Pittsylvania County where he graduated from Chatham High School and later moved to Danville.  He has worked in several types of industry, and has always come back to the helping field and says his passion is helping people.  Eric has presented on his experiences to attendees of The Arc of Virginia’s Annual Convention in 2019 and was interviewed for a video on Supported Employment, created by Virginia Commonwealth University’s Rehabilitation Research and Training Center. 

Jeannie Cummins Eisenhour

Jeannie Cummins Eisenhour is the Senior Regional Housing Coordinator in the Office of Community Housing at the Department of Behavioral Health & Developmental Services.  She has over 25 years of experience in disability advocacy, service development and affordable housing.  Jeannie has played an instrumental role in the development of the State Rental Assistance Program, Flexible Funding and other housing resources for people with developmental disabilities.  She holds a Bachelor's degree in Human Services from Cornell University, a Master's degree in Social Work from the University of Michigan and an Education Specialist degree in Rehabilitation Counseling from George Washington University.

Karen Douglas

Karen Douglas teaches special education courses at the undergraduate and graduate levels in positive behavior supports and adaptive curriculum at Radford University and also supervises students in placements at the secondary level. 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 functional skills of individuals with severe disabilities contributing to the field by writing articles published in professional journals She received her doctoral degree from the University of Georgia.


 Janelle Gilmer

I am a 26 year old autistic and intellectually disabled person. I live with my parents and reside in Prince William County, VA. I would like to start off by saying I have speech impairment. I am  a part of some advocacy groups that I volunteer with such as the Alliance, Crip Camp, Lions Club, Autistic self advocates of VA and The Arc of Greater Prince Wiliam - Front Desk Aide and  Self Advocates. I have been to conventions and conferences before where I had participated in some sessions, and gave a speech. I am looking into services, the waiver options and more advancement with inclusivity and I want a life like yours and to make a difference in the disability community. I accept all people despite their gender, orientation, pride, etc. I want justice for all survivors despite uncircumstance and for a more better and kind world. Things I like to do are bowling, dancing, painting, movie night, party’s, watching music videos and tv, playing board games and other sports for fun, going to the roller skating rink, mall and eating out, etc. I am your typical girl and am a person of color. I am working on living on my own someday, getting a higher education, getting a job and getting my license and more.

Senator Emmett Hanger

Senator Emmett Hanger is a Senior Member of Finance and Appropriations Committee in the Virginia General Assembly. He has been in the Senate since 1996 and previously was in the House of Delegates from 1983-1992. With his deep knowledge about the disability system and in his leadership role, Senator Hanger has been at the helm to bring about many improvements in Virginia’s community based services. He represents the 24th District that stretches from parts of Culpeper and Rockingham counties, and all of Madison, Augusta and Green counties. He graduated from James Madison University and holds a Master’s in Management and Economics which he has put to good use in commercial real estate and in the Virginia General Assembly.

Nicole Jorwic

Nicole Jorwic is the Senior Director of  Policy at The Arc. Prior to joining The Arc policy team Nicole served as Senior Policy Advisor and Manager of the Employment First Initiative in Illinois. Prior to that appointment, Nicole served as the CEO/President of the Institute on Public Policy for People with Disabilities. Nicole is also an accomplished special education attorney and an advocate for students with disabilities, with a focus on transition-aged youth. Nicole received her JD and Child and Family Law Certificate, from Loyola University Chicago. She received her BS from the University of Illinois. Nicole is also a sibling, her brother Chris who has autism.

Diane Kelly

Diane Kelly is an Occupational therapist at Middle Peninsula-Northern Neck Infant and Toddler Connection, serving children with a wide range of needs from birth to three years of age across a multi-county region. Diane holds a Doctorate in Occupational Therapy from Mary Baldwin University. Diane’s fieldwork is in various settings from pediatrics to geriatrics: in-patient rehabilitation, skilled nursing school system, outpatient clinic, early childhood, etc.

Brian Kelmar

Brian Kelmar tackles the victimization of people with developmental disabilities by the criminal justice system.  He and his son have trained and educated thousands of victims, families, lawmakers, law enforcement personnel around the country, resulting in a social movement and the development of the Legal Rights of Individuals with Developmental Disabilities group. He is the father of 3 adult sons, husband, triple bypass surgery survivor, marathon runner, businessman, a retired US Navy Pilot and business owner.

Karen Kimsey 

Karen Kimsey was appointed Director, of the VA Department of Medical Assistance Services (DMAS) in 2019. Prior to this role, she served as the Chief Deputy for the Medicaid Program, and operationally led the expansion of the new Medicaid benefit for over 421,000 low-income adults.  Prior to her appointment, she was the Deputy Director of Complex Care and Services at DMAS. Karen has 25 years of extensive experience working with the Medicaid program. She has Bachelors and Master degrees in Social Work with a Certificate in Aging Studies

Allison Land

Alison Land was appointed the Commissioner of the VA Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (DBHDS) in 2019. She previously served as the Vice-President for Behavioral Health Services for Sentara Healthcare. Mrs. Land is a Fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives and has served on numerous committees and boards including Georgia State University’s Institute for Health Administration, The Free Clinic of Rome, Georgia Hospital Association, and the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association.

James F. Lane,EdD

James F. Lane, EdD became Virginia’s 25th superintendent of public instruction in 2018. As state superintendent for the VA Dept. of Education, he is the executive officer. Previously he was a superintendent in Chesterfield, Goochland and Middlesex counties.  He holds a  doctorate in education from the University of Virginia, a master’s degree in school administration from North Carolina State University, and master’s and bachelor’s degrees in teaching from the University of North Carolina.


Ann Ledgerwood

Ann Ledgerwood is a Physical Therapist who provides Early Intervention services for Highlands and Mt. Rogers Infant and Toddler Connection programs and also PT services for Smyth County Public Schools.  She has worked in the field of physical therapy for 40 years. Ann is a Certified Infant Massage Instructor (CIMI) for International Association of Infant Massage and is adjunct faculty at the School of Health Professions at Emory & Henry College, team teaching pediatrics to PT students.

Brittney Lee

Brittany Lee advocates for people with disabilities at every opportunity including the Virginia Public Budget Hearings. This spring she raised her voice to advocate for proper PPE to be available for Direct Support Professionals and people with disabilities to stay safe. She did so during virtual 'community conversations' held by Governor Ralph Northam. Living independently with supports in her own home, Brittany inspires others to reach for their dreams because “You Can Do It”.  She was recently featured in ForbesWoman Magazine for her advocacy and leadership. When she isn’t busy advocating and organizing with others she is writing a book about her life.

Ann-Bailey Lipsett

Ann-Bailey Lipsett, M.Ed., is the founder of Lipsett Learning Connection, a special education consulting service with a mission to empower families, caregivers, and independent schools in giving children the developmental support, learning opportunities and skills needed to live a full, literate, and enjoyable life.  Ann-Bailey coaches parents and teachers in creating strong plans to foster children’s social/emotional, inclusive, and academic needs. Ann-Bailey holds an advanced certificate for DIR/Floortime, a Master’s Degree in special education from the University of Virginia and is a graduate of Washington and Lee University. She is currently a Fellow in the Infant-Parent Mental Health Fellowship at U-Mass Boston. Ann-Bailey is the co-author of PREVENT Problem Behaviors: Seven Contemplative Discipline Steps.

Denise Stile Marshall

Denise Stile Marshall, M.S., Chief Executive Officer has led the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA) since 2005. She graduated from Johns Hopkins University with a Master of Science in Applied Behavioral Science. Denise has over 40 years’ experience in the field of disabilities in a variety of support, management, and advocacy capacities. She has a wealth of non-profit association management experience and is a dynamic trainer, experienced in leading sessions for participants of diverse abilities and experience levels.  Read more about COPAA at www.copaa.org  

Jonathan Martinis, Esq., J.D.

Jonathan Martinis, Esq., J.D., is Senior Director for Law and Policy with the Burton Blatt Institute at Syracuse University. He leads the Institute’s supported decision making research and policy initiatives. A disability rights attorney, Martinis has represented and advocated for people with disabilities for more than 20 years including in Virginia. He joined BBI following his work on the nationally acclaimed “Justice for Jenny” case (Ross, et al. v. Hatch).

Nichole Martin

Nichole Martin is the Director of the Office of Community Living at the Virginia Department of Medical Assistance Services. She has held positions with the Virginia Department of Health and the American Heart Association where she developed health programs for diverse populations. Mrs. Martin received her M.S. in Education from Virginia Tech and a B.S from Virginia Commonwealth University.  She is a registered nurse and enjoys spending time with her husband and two daughters.  

Benjamin “Ben” McGann

“Ben” McGann is a 24 year old disability advocate who spells to communicate., Born in New York City, Ben spent his early years in Nairobi, Kenya before returning to New York for early intervention services, and finally settled in Arlington, VA.  He recently moved into his own apartment. He is an avid swimmer, and rower; and enjoys studying History, and learning about Art History. Ben currently serves on the Board of ASAN (Autism Self Advocacy Network).

Bertra McGann

Bertra McGann is a mother, and disability rights advocate, active with women’s disability advocacy networks and autism support groups around the world. She spent more than twenty years working in international development with UN agencies and NGOs.  She earned a MA in International Development from The American University. She is mother to three amazing “millennials". Bertra is a communication and regulation partner with Ben.

Colleen Miller

Colleen Miller has served as the Executive Director of Virginia’s Protection and Advocacy System since 2003.  When the P & A was the state agency “VOPA,” Miller managed the organization of 25 -30 staff through notable legal victories.  Most significant was the US Supreme Court decision, VOPA v. Stewart, in 2011, that established the agency’s right to sue to obtain specific confidential information from the state about abuse allegations.   In 2012 and 2013, she lead the agency through a smooth transition out of state government to private nonprofit status, the disability Law Center of Virginia. Prior to her work in Virginia, Miller was the Legal Director of the New Mexico Protection and Advocacy System.  A cum laude graduate of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, Miller began her legal career as an Honors Program staff attorney in the Civil Rights Division of the US Department of Justice.  She was a trial attorney in the Special Litigation section and a senior trial attorney in the Office of the Americans with Disabilities Act (now the Disability Rights Section) at DOJ. Miller is a frequent presenter on disability rights topics at national and state conferences.  She was honored as one of Virginia’s “most influential women” in 2013.

Darren Minarik

 Darren Minarik is a graduate advisor and professor at Radford University, is the co-director of the Virginia Inclusive Practices Center at Radford University and is a senior staff member for the American Civics Center, a nonpartisan civic education organization based in Washington, D.C  He has spent over 25 years in social studies and special education advocating for inclusive practices that open opportunities for young people and adults. He also works in collaboration with the secondary social science teacher education program, supporting pre-service secondary social studies teachers who work in inclusive educational settings. He has presented at the state, national, and international level and has numerous publications. His current research addresses educational intersections between the social sciences and special education, with an emphasis on inclusive educational practices, self-determination, transition to adult life, collaboration, disability history, and citizenship education. He received his doctoral degree from Virginia Tech University.

Jesse Monroe 

I was born 41 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 Hope House Foundation.  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 group, Our Voices.

Sarah Moore

Sarah Moore is a Monitoring Consultant with the Infant and Toddler Connection of Virginia at DBHDS. Sarah previously worked as a Local System Manager for Early Intervention Services and as an Elementary School Counselor. In her current role, as well as previous work settings, Sarah has worked closely with families to support transition from Early Intervention Services (Part C.).  

Governor Ralph Northam

Governor Ralph Northam, the 73rd Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia  has served as an Army doctor, pediatric neurologist, business owner, state Senator and Lieutenant Governor. He graduated with distinction from Virginia Military Institute and then was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the US Army, rising to the rank of Major. He practiced pediatric neurology at Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters in Norfolk and he established Children’s Specialty Group, his current practice.

Jessica Polansky 

A trial attorney in the Special Litigation Section of the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice.  Jessica’s work at the Civil Rights Division focuses on enforcing the requirements of Olmstead v. L.C. to ensure that people with disabilities can live in the most integrated setting that meets their needs.  She is part of the team focusing their efforts on implementing the Virginia Settlement Agreement.  Jessica has also worked on matters in Texas, Oregon, Mississippi, and Georgia.  Prior to joining the Civil Rights Division, she worked at the American Civil Liberties Union and at Children’s Rights, a legal organization that works to reform foster care systems. Previously, Jessica clerked for a federal district judge in Tennessee. 

Kathy Phillips

Kathy Phillips is the Local System Manager for the Middle Peninsula-Northern Neck Infant and Toddler Rural Infant Services Program. She has a Masters in Early Childhood Special Education from Virginia Commonwealth University. Kathy’s fieldwork consists of consulting services in various early childhood settings including community programs, Head Start, etc. 

 Delegate Marcia Price

Delegate Marcia S. (Cia) Price represents District 95, part of the City of Newport News.  She has served in the General Assembly since 2016.  A lifelong Virginian, she is a graduate of Spelman College, GA (B.A., Philosophy, 2002) and Howard University, Washington, DC (M.A., Religious Studies, 2005).

Lavern Rushin 

Lavern Rushin is the mother of Matthew, who spent his 22nd birthday this week in a prison because of an accident resulting in a 40 years sentence.  Matthew has autism and a other health conditions that caused the accident leading to his incarceration.  Lavern is a civil engineer who works for the Dept. of Defense. 

 Jenni Schodt

Jenni is the Settlement Agreement Advisor for DBHDS.  She has been working on the Settlement Agreement since it’s inception in 2012, serving as the Post Move Monitoring Coordinator during SVTC closure. Prior to working for DBHDS, she served as a special education teacher, job coach, and direct support professional in the community

Delegate Mark Sickles

Delegate Mark Sickles is the Chair of the Health & Human Resources Subcommittee in the Virginia General Assembly.  He has been in the House of Delegates since 2004 representing the 43rd district in Northern Virginia. He is a long time supporter for legislation supporting people with disabilities.  A graduate of Clemson University in Forest Management, Del. Sickles holds two graduate degrees from Georgia Institute of Technology in Industrial Management and Technology and Science Policy.

Kyle Smiddie

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.

Tauna Szymanski

Tauna Szymanski Executive and Legal Director of CommunicationFirst. After a 20-year career in environmental policy and law, Tauna Szymanski, JD, MPA, joined CommunicationFIRST in April 2019.  While in private practice, her pro bono and volunteer work focused on disability rights and inclusive education. Ms. Szymanski has multiple disabilities, and expresses herself most effectively by typing, though is able to communicate using speech.

Lia Tremblay

Lia Tremblay, an Emmy-winning writer and editor, lives in Colonial Heights with her husband, Patrick, and their 12-year-old son, Joe. Joe has a genetic syndrome that makes him different from his peers in a lot of wonderful ways, and received early intervention services from infancy until starting preschool at age 2. The Tremblays are active with their local chapter, The Arc South of the James, where Lia serves as vice president. She is on the ballot this November for a spot on the Colonial Heights School Board.

Delegate Luke Torian 

Delegate Luke Torian is the Chairmen of Appropriations Committee in the House of Delegates. 

Since 2009 he has represented the 52nd district in Prince William County.  He has been a pastor for 35 years. Delegate Torian,  He graduated from Winston-Salem Statue University in political science and continued his education by pursuing graduate studies at the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, then earning a Master of Divinity from the School of Theology at Virginia Union University. In 1987, Delegate Torian earned a Doctor of Ministry degree from Howard University School of Divinity.

Walewska Marie Watkins

Ms. Watkins, JD, LLM, is an Eviction Prevention/Housing Attorney at the Legal Services of Northern Virginia. She received her Juris Doctor from Georgetown University Law Center in 2003 and her LLM in Environmental Law from Tulane University Law School in 2010. She is licensed to practice law in New York, California, Puerto Rico, the District of Columbia, and our Commonwealth of Virginia. Prior to joining Legal Services of Northern Virginia, the native Puerto Rican islander gained experiencing as a legal intern for the Chief Magistrate Judge in the U.S. District Court for the District of Puerto Rico and as a litigator and administrative counsel focused on civil rights, environmental regulation and environmental justice, gender discrimination, and First Amendment rights. Ms. Watkins is a graduate of the Partner in Policymaking at the Virginia Board for People with Disabilities and an Ambassador for the Little Lobbyists—a not for-profit organization that advocates for the rights of children with complex medical needs and disabilities. She is a member of the Virginia Latino Advisory Board—which advises the Governor on the economic, professional, education, and civic concerns of Virginia’s Latino community. She is also an appointee to the Fairfax County Community Action Advisory Board, which advises the county’s Board of Supervisors on the needs of limited-income persons and recommends policies to promote meaningful change. Her most treasured role, however, is being the mother of a loving, funny, multi-racial and multi-ethnic 9 year old boy with an Autism Spectrum diagnosis.

Kelley Webb

Kelley Webb is a parent of a 3-year old boy with disabilities. She has lived in the Richmond area for most of her life and started the early intervention process when her son was 6 months old. Alongside her family, she is learning to be an advocate for her son and is navigating various educational pathways to best meet his needs. She is a national board certified Spanish teacher and doctoral candidate at George Mason University.


Bob Williams

Bob Williams, the Policy Director of Communication FIRST, has advanced the rights, opportunities, and supports for children, working age persons and older with significant disabilities adults for over 40 years by creating community living services in Washington,D.C., helping to pass the  ADA and administering the federally funded developmental disabilities and independent living networks.