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 and their families—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.
Autumn Grant was born and raised and continues to live in Massachusetts. Autumn received a BA in Humanities with a concentration in Classics from Providence College, graduating summa cum laude and with the Directors Award for Excellence in the Humanities in 1996. She also received a MA in Higher Education Administration from Boston College in 2000.
Autumn was diagnosed at the age of 10 with Limb Girdle Muscular Dystrophy; this came as quite a shock since she had been very physically active, especially in dance. In 1996, shortly after graduating from college, she started using a wheelchair. Grant soon learned that her wheelchair was actually her key to a more independent life
Autumn currently serves as the Senior Academic Advisor in the Academic Achievement Center at Bridgewater State University. As such, she coordinates all academic advising for first year and transfer students. In addition, she mentors students in academic difficulty and serves as an advisor for students studying Elementary Education.
As Ms. Wheelchair Massachusetts 2006 and Ms. Wheelchair America 2007, Autumn promoted her platform “Independence through Education.” Autumn feels that education is the first step towards obtaining independence and spent her year working to eliminate barriers keeping people with disabilities from becoming involved in post secondary education. She hopes she has demonstrated that “Independence through Education” is possible by sharing her own personal story with those she has met. Autumn is the current State Coordinator of the Ms. Wheelchair Massachusetts Foundation and served two terms on the Board of Directors of Ms. Wheelchair America Inc.
Autumn’s hobbies include reading, traveling and spending time with her fiancé Kenny and their “babies,” two dog and three cats. Her love for travel prompted her to create her own travel agency VacationAbility, to help people with disabilities make their travel dreams come true. Autumn is an active volunteer with the Muscular Dystrophy Association and received an MDA State Personal Achievement Award in 2002. In addition, Autumn is involved in many professional organizations and enjoys presenting at regional and national conferences. She was recently selected as an Emerging Leader by the National Academic Advising Association.
Susan was born and raised in Massachusetts and currently resides in Wrentham, MA with her husband Joe. She graduated from Massachusetts Hospital School in Canton and went on to study Social Services at Massasoit Community College.
Susan was born with Spina Bifida, a birth defect resulting in paraplegia. When she was born the doctors told her parents "she would never walk, never sit up and would probably have intellectual disabilities" they were advised to put her in an institution and go on with their lives. One nurse advised them to "take her home and treat her like the rest of your kids." She is forever thankful this is the advice they took. As a child, she used long leg braces and crutches for her mobility, but these days she uses a manual wheelchair for the increased mobility and independence it provides her.
Due to the dedication of a favorite high school, teacher Susan became actively involved in advocacy at an early age, often attending protests and legislative hearings in Boston pre-ADA. As a high school senior she was elected to attend the 26th Annual Student Government Day at the State House in Boston; where she spent the day performing as a State Senator. After graduation Susan had the honor of attending the President's Committee on Employment of the Handicapped in Washington, DC.
Susan has worked since she was 15 when she spent summers teaching arts and crafts to children with disabilities as part of her town's summer kids program. After college, Susan was employed in the Durable Medical / Custom Rehab Equipment industry. Susan is currently the Branch Operations Supervisor for Hudson Seating and Mobility in their Franklin, MA branch. As an industry professional Susan had previously served several terms as a board member for HOMES (Home Medical Equipment & Services Association of New England).
Susan continues her advocacy work by serving on several boards and commissions, including current President of the Ms. Wheelchair Massachusetts Foundation, Chairperson of the Wrentham Commission on Disability and President of the Massachusetts Hospital School Alumni Association. For the last several years, Susan has attended the National CRT Leadership and Advocacy Conference in Washington, DC to lobby for Custom Rehab Equipment to become a right rather than a privilege for people with disabilities.
Susan's hobbies include a monthly book club, weekly trivia competitions, attending shows and dining out with friends, and spending time with her husband and family.
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.
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!