Local disability activists lead Abilities Expo’s community outreach efforts through ambassador program
Abilities Expo has appointed Ambassadors—members of the local community of people with disabilities—to spearhead community outreach initiatives. These individuals will meet face-to-face with rehab institutions, independent living centers, local manufacturers, service providers and local associations to generate excitement and increase attendance at each event.
Meet the impressive individuals who have chosen to represent Abilities Expo to the Community.
Bob Coomber is a lifelong Bay Area resident, raised in Piedmont and currently calls Livermore home.
Bob acquired juvenile diabetes in his early 20’s and Bob struggled with the illness and its complications, including irreversible osteoporosis. After multiple leg, ankle and knee fractures, Bob finally took his doctor’s advice and began life in a wheelchair.
Wheelchairs may seem a confinement, but to Bob the chair was simply another challenge. A lifelong hiker, Bob soon began experimenting with easy outdoors excursions. Several broken chairs later, one thing led to another and Bob became a staple of local newspaper and television shows—that guy in a wheelchair who won’t believe in limits.
On August 24, 2007, Bob became the first person in a wheelchair to summit California’s 3rd highest peak, the 14,246-foot White Mountain. Bob is also the first in a chair to summit two local favorites, Mt. Diablo and its companion, North Peak, as well as Mission Peak in Fremont.
Bob was inducted into the California Outdoors Hall of Fame in January 2007. He was one of only 27 Americans to receive the President’s Council on Physical Fitness Community Leadership Award in 2008. He’s also been featured in every Bay Area newspaper, as well as the CBS Early Show, ABC’s World News with Charles Gibson and the Hallmark Channel.
In the fall of 2011, Bob plans to summit Africa’s highest peak, Kilimanjaro, and be the first unassisted wheelchair user to make the journey. The trip will also serve to distribute 200 wheelchairs in Arusha, Tanzania, in partnership with The Wheelchair Foundation of Danville. A potential spring warm up summit attempt of Mexico’s Orizaba (18,490’) could also be on the horizon.
Bob has been married to wife Gina for 15 years. They spend way too much time finding new trails to explore all over California and the West.
National Parent Ambassador
Karen Kain—a parent of a medically fragile, vaccine-injured child named Lorrin for fifteen years—teaches parents how to enjoy their children no matter their abilities. She shares how she bridged the gap from special needs to mainstream experiences in all arenas of life: best friends, slumber parties, concerts, camping, beauty pageants, Girl Scouts, school dances, musicals and endless travels.
Karen is committed to helping children who are living a unique life experience by supporting their parents. In 1994, Lorrin was severely vaccine injured and at that time Karen’s world fell apart. Life as she knew it was put “on hold” as she tried everything that she could to “heal” Lorrin and give her the best life possible.
Karen was forced to overcome massive rejection and isolation as she hurdled obstacles and adapted her life to find success as a parent of a unique child. What Karen did not expect on this journey was that she herself would learn, grow and even heal from her experiences. It turned out that Lorrin was always the teacher. She taught Karen that life is full of magic, how to love herself, not to pass judgment, to be present in the moment whether it be at the hospital or Disneyland, beauty comes from within, and that we are all one and each soul is important no matter their ability. Lorrin was totally comfortable with who she was, even though she was cortically blind, nonverbal and a quadriplegic who lived with uncontrolled seizures for her entire life.
When Lorrin was 3, Karen made a pivotal choice to embrace Lorrin’s uniqueness and enjoy all areas of life, living without rules and boundaries. Karen overcame life’s massive roadblocks as she raised Lorrin. Together they held their heads high as they paved the way to giving all parents permission to explore and enjoy life. Karen found that the solution to winning in this life of parenting a unique child started with being committed to having a great attitude and perspective regardless of their situation.
Through her keynotes sessions and workshops, Karen shares the principals that made her parenting experience a success. Her message is simple:
“It is my mission to share our life story in hopes it will support other children and their families who are living a unique life experience. It is my goal to raise awareness of the power and importance of all unique souls. I believe that Lorrin was here to pave the way to a grander attitude of love and acceptance for all. It is my honor as her parent to help spread her life’s message of love and forgiveness.”
Learn more about Karen at www.lorrinsworld.com
Bonnie Lewkowicz grew up in Detroit and knew at an early age that she wanted to be a dancer, yet she never imagined that her dance career would take the form of dancing in a wheelchair. From age five to fifteen she studied all forms of dance (ballet, tap and jazz) until an all-terrain vehicle accident left her a quadriplegic in 1972 and her dream of a dance career seemingly out of grasp. With the harsh winters of Michigan and the difficulties of getting around in them in a wheelchair, she packed her bags and headed for the Left Coast immediately following graduation from high school. It was at her new home in California that she discovered a way to be the physical person that she was prior to her accident and where she learned to embrace Ghandi's philosophy to, "be the change you want to see in the world."
Driven by the desire and need to be physical, she explored wheelchair sports. (At this point, she had never seen anyone dance in a wheelchair and did not even consider it as an option.) A newly created adapted PE program at Santa Rosa Community College offered wheelchair racing and swimming and, after trying both, Bonnie felt like she had found her place. She went on to compete and medal in track, field and swimming events for 10 years. Following per participation in a quad rugby exhibition game at one of the Wheelchair Games, she and some fellow athletes fell in love with the sport and formed the California Quad Rugby League where she competed for eight years with the team she founded, Quadzilla. In the summer of 2010, she received the honor of an induction into the Northern California Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.
Because her life-affirming experience and the effect that sports and recreation had on other people with disabilities, she decided to study recreation therapy. In 1985, she graduated from CSU – Sonoma with a Bachelor’s degree in Adaptive Recreation and relocated to Berkeley to work for Bay Area Outreach & Recreation Program (BORP) as the Adult Sports Coordinator. While at BORP, she organized sports activities and outdoor adventures for people of all ages and abilities. It was through leading these excursions that she discovered her new passion—travel.
For more than 25 years, Bonnie has been advocating for greater access to outdoor recreation and travel for people with disabilities. First, she specialized in accessible travel as a travel agent and, then in 1997, she founded and became the director of Access Northern California (www.accessnca.org), a not-for-profit organization committed to expanding opportunities to accessible (inclusive) tourism and outdoor recreation. She consults with the travel industry about accessibility, conducts disability awareness trainings and writes about travel. She authored a book titled, A Wheelchair Rider's Guide: San Francisco Bay and the Nearby Coast, about accessible trails and produces an access guide to San Francisco. Her latest project includes creating a website of accessible trails along the entire California Coast (www.wheelingcalscoast.org).
During her years of blazing accessible trails, Bonnie—always open to new discoveries—attended a dance workshop in 1987 and awakened the formant dancer within. Armed with this new set of skills, she began to explore a new way to dance with a group of like-minded people. This venture quickly grew into the internationally acclaimed contemporary dance company, AXIS Dance Company. For more than 20 years she performed, taught, and toured extensively with the company, venturing as far away as Siberia. In addition to performing, she was instrumental in developing the Dance Access/Kids program, the educational component that teaches creative dance to youth and adults with and without disabilities. Today she only performs locally but continues to teach youth, adults and educators. She firmly believes that the opportunities afforded her by being a part AXIS far outweigh those had she been a dancer without a disability.
When not working she enjoys hiking, gardening, singing, cycling and hanging out with her husband of 19 years.
Ashley Lyn Olson
Ashley Lyn Olson has lived in the San Francisco Bay Area all her life, but ventured south to go to school at the University of Southern California where she received a full-ride scholarship and graduated with honors. She is motivated for life and becoming paralyzed at fourteen has not slowed her down one bit. To Ashley, everyone has their barriers to overcome—some are even unseen.
Ashley wants to see and experience the world, so after more than three years at her first job working as the Executive Assistant to Marketing and Production for the Concerts at Wente Vineyards she left to invest her full time into wheelchairtraveling.com—a California not-for-profit. The site is a community for people with limited mobility who are interested in travel, whether it is a far-off destination or local gem. Wheelchairtraveling.com also provides the tools and tips for people to plan an independent adventure or organized tour, including resources on lodging, transportation, activities and the equipment that makes access possible
Ashley was an all-star athlete before her injury and has carried this drive into all she does. She is very active with all kinds of outdoor recreation from hiking to skydiving. Additionally, she is a peer mentor for the Christopher Reeve Foundation to help the newly injured with the transition. There have also been many barriers Ashley has overcome, but she loves life and knows her journey is as unique as everyone else's. She successfully advocates accessibility around the world while she travels and speaks to universities, support groups and other institutions about the progression and realities of travel. She wants everyone be able to get out and interact with people and their environment if they so wish.
Eliza Riley wants to encourage young people to speak out, to know that they have a story and it needs to be told.
Youth Leadership and Outreach Coordinator for Silicon Valley Independent Living Center, Eliza, who herself has cerebral palsy, was an early promoter of self-advocacy for people with disabilities “I want to be a role model for working in a new and different way," she explains.
A Santa Clara native, Eliza graduated from Oakland’s Mills College. An activist from a young age, she was a founding member of the Alliance of Professionals with Disabilities. After graduating from college with a degree in theater arts, she dabbled in many different worlds. After doing shows with Alchemy Works/PEP, she eventually needed to transition to the full time employment world.
She subsequently joined Americorps, where she advised community organizations on emergency planning for disabled populations. In 2007, County Supervisor Ken Yeager appointed Riley to the Santa Clara County Advisory Commission for Persons with Disabilities. Here she was able to see things on a broad level and bring important issues to the board from the many different communities and organizations within the county.
Her advocacy skills eventually brought her to the world of employment. She served as a Disability Navigator for CONNECT! Job Seeker Center.
Now, Eliza's mission is to make sure the needs, thoughts and actions of teens and young adults with disabilities are seen and heard. She has weekly youth leadership classes where the youth learn about their wonderful history and begin to take pride in their culture. She works with them on what laws and people are out there to provide support. Most importantly, she teaches that they have a big future and voice that needs to be heard.
Eliza has also worked on the first annual West Coast Disability Pride Parade! This was a great event full of a lot entertainment and chances to learn. Eliza’s favorite part of the day was hearing, “We are here! We’re Loud! We’re DISABLED and PROUD!” as it reverberated through the streets of San Jose. It will be back next year, even bigger and better!
She is also featured in an ad for the Unity Center. The Unity Lab will give youth a chance to encounter a unique experience each time they visit, as they contribute their own voices to an ever-expanding database of personal testimony, professional expertise and creative expression, incorporated throughout The Lab’s experiences and shared with our partners’ programs.
The Rossiter Family: Ainsley, Briley, Kamden, Rooster and Lori
As the first ever National Ambassador Family, the Rossiters are truly honored to represent Abilities Expo across the nation. Ten-year-old Ainsley is an amazing young girl living with INAD, an extremely rare, terminal, progressive disorder of the nervous system. Years ago, Ainsley participated in a marathon where her father, U.S. Marine Major Kim "Rooster" Rossiter, pushed her in her stroller. Ainsley's elation over the experience was the inspiration for Ainsley's Angels of America, an organization which helps people with disabilities participate in long distance events as a team. They are the "captains" in the wheelchairs pushed by "angels" through the races. Many of you might have met the Rossiter family during the 2014 Houston Abilities Expo, where they offered expo guests the unique opportunity to test drive the Ainsley's Angels athletic ride-along experience created for children, teens, adults and veterans with disabilities who normally would not be able to experience endurance events.
Rooster, currently in his 20th year of active duty service, serves as the President of Ainsley's Angels of America, the Vice President or Executive Director for more than a dozen independent Ainsley's Angels public charities, and as the Chairman of the Board for Team Hoyt New England. He and Lori, his wife of 16 years, hail from Lake Charles, Louisiana and are parents to Briley, Kamden and Ainsley. After serving tours in North Carolina, Washington DC, California, Okinawa, Africa, Korea, Norway and Operation IRAQI FREEDOM, the Marine Corps currently has the family stationed in Virginia. Over the last four years, 13-year-old Briley has pushed Ainsley in more than 30 road races as a way to ensure the two sisters share special moments together. When she was 11-years-old, Briley wrote the children's book Born an Angel to share their inspiring true story and to spread the message of inclusion in all walks of life. Published in 2013, the story of sibling love will warm your heart and encourage any reader to change someone's world for the better. For more information about the family and their efforts, visit www.AinsleysAngels.org.
National Disability Law Ambassador
Stephanie Woodward is a passionate Disability Rights activist and proud disabled person. She is the Director of Advocacy at the Center for Disability Rights, Inc. (CDR) a disability led, not-for-profit Corporation that works for national, state, and local systemic change to advance the rights of people with disabilities. Stephanie is also a member of ADAPT, a national grass-roots community that organizes disability rights activists to engage in nonviolent direct action, including civil disobedience, to assure the civil and human rights of people with disabilities to live in freedom. Stephanie has been arrested multiple times while advocating for Disability Rights.
Prior to joining CDR Stephanie worked as a litigator in Miami, Florida focusing on Disability Rights. Stephanie attended Syracuse University College of Law where she earned her J.D. with a certificate in Disability Law and Policy and her M.S.Ed. in Disability Studies. Stephanie previously worked for Senator Tom Harkin (IA) and assisted his Disability Counsel on the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions by researching, drafting legislation, and making recommendations for legislative action in regards to disability rights issues. Most recently, Stephanie, along with fellow members of ADAPT, assisted in drafting the Disability Integration Act (DIA) – a piece of legislation that, if passed, would affirm the rights of people with disabilities to receive long-term services in their homes, rather than nursing facilities and other institutions.
While Stephanie’s work spans across all areas of Disability Rights, she is particularly interested in deinstitutionalization, community living, ending violence against people with disabilities, and improving access in the community. She loves talking about legislation that will impact the Disability Community and helping others to become activists for Disability Rights. When Stephanie is not doing Disability Rights work, she can be found playing with her adorable nieces, taking care of her four cats, and eating copious amounts of cheeseburgers and onion rings.Pre-Register for Abilities Expo Today...It's Free!