Local disability activists lead Abilities Expo’s community outreach efforts through ambassador program
For the Chicago event, 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.
Mike Ervin is a writer and disability rights activist living in Chicago. His plays have been produced in theaters across America.
As a journalist, he has written extensively about the community of people with disabilities for several national newspapers and magazines. Currently, he is a columnist for New Mobility magazine and spinalcord.org. Mike is also a founding member of the Chicago chapter of the direct action disability rights organization ADAPT.
Vanessa Harris, P.E. is an able-bodied/disabled licensed professional engineer and artist who creates short documentaries which can be seen at Fun 4 the Disabled to inspire joy for disabled and non-disabled persons alike about fun topics. She is constantly seeking new subjects around accessibility and aspires to make work that is both entertaining and educational. She documents and shares entertaining people, pastimes and products, because she wants people who are disabled and their friends and families to enjoy life with no one excluded for fun activities. Her short subjects are shown on her website, YouTube, and the Chicago Access Network Television Station.
As an artist and engineer, Harris has always worked to solve problems and is now focusing on how to provide solutions for topics as diverse as: buying an accessible car if you are a wheelchair user; interviewing disabled authors of comics; and discovering a ranch that has therapy equine animals. She covers each subject simply, clearly and with a sense of humor.
Harris has 30 years of experience in engineering and has won ten awards in the Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics arena. Her most recent honor was the Global Leadership Forum Superstar Award. She is an Ambassador for the Chicago Abilities Expo, and has been nominated to be a 2020 ADA25 Advancing Leadership Fellow. She not only loves film, but also music and dance and has featured several integrated dance companies and professional disabled dancers in her documentaries.
For some it would seem like an impossible situation being told that you would never walk again and not to bother, but for Vincenzo it was a challenge worth meeting head on. The former aspirations of becoming an EMT were a thing of the past as, after a fall and a diagnosis of Muscular Dystrophy, he was paralyzed on his whole right side. It would take around five years for Vincenzo to be able to gain enough function in his arm to use a manual wheelchair and begin his journey into a new life he never thought was possible.
In 2016, Vincenzo began adaptive rowing with the Chicago Rowing Foundation and competed in several races, even taking first place home twice. However, his love for rowing was overshadowed by his passion for dance. He yearned to perform again! In November 2016, his dream became a reality when the director of Momenta Dance Company saw him dance in a workshop and invited him to join the company. Since then, he has performed with Momenta, dancing a duet with another male able-bodied dancer, and with the Academy of Movement and Music, which is the school that Momenta calls home. He was also honored to choreograph and perform a solo piece of his own for the 2017 Chicago Disability Pride Parade.
In addition, Vincenzo competed in the 2017 Chicago Triathlon as a parathlete and took home first place in the Wheely Division! He continues to train with Dare2tri, a group that prepares athletes with physical, cognitive and visual disabilities to compete in triathlons.
It is his courage and determination that has brought him to Abilities Expo as a new ambassador. He believes anything is possible as long as you believe and wants to bring others with disabilities the chance to shine.
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