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.
Gina Jenkins McWilliamsGina lost her right leg below the knee as the result of a car accident 16 years ago. As she delved into the world of adaptive sports, she was continually in search of volleyball opportunities for women with disabilities. She finally found them when asked to attend the first ever women’s sitting volleyball camp, held at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, CO, in February 2003.
Gina has been a member of the U.S. Paralympics Women’s Sitting Volleyball National Team ever since, winning Gold, Silver and Broze medals. She is a mother of two, a healthcare advocate and a certified peer visitor & trainer at Amputee Coalition.
Dylan Rafaty of Plano serves as the Vice Chair of the Governor’s Committee on People with Disabilities. Dylan is currently Director of Business Development & Partnerships for C-Hear, Inc., a company that developed a way to make images accessible and heard. He is Founder / Chief Navigation Officer for DylanListed, LLC, a transition and support services provider for people with disabilities and veterans. Dylan also proudly sits on seven boards/committees benefiting local school districts, nonprofits and community organizations.
Dylan is a self-published author, national public speaker, diversity and inclusion trainer and advocate on important legislative matters in Texas and across the United States. He cares about a variety of issues affecting people with disabilities, such as accessibility, affordable housing, education, emergency preparedness, transportation, workforce, etc. Dylan received his associate degree at Collin College in Frisco and Bachelor of Science degree in Industrial Organizational Psychology at University of Phoenix online.
I went to SMU, Meadows School of the Arts, on a music scholarship pursuing a degree in Vocal Performance and Music Education, hoping to be a professional opera singer. My life took a drastic turn in 1997 when I was hit by a car in front of my childhood home, which altered my path as a classically trained opera singer. This experience, as well as other life changes I experienced as a teenager, made me re-think what I was going to do with my life.
In November 2001, I gave birth to the most amazing son, who would change my life beyond my wildest dreams. My son, Cole, was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder at the age of 6. I knew he was different than his friends because he was this computer whiz kid by age 2. What I didn’t know at the time was that his repetitive nature of doing the same thing over and over was a classic sign of autism. I researched, found the best private speech therapist during his early, formative years, and had support in place for him in the public school setting. Cole is now 17 years old, a junior in high school, and is the most inspiring person I have ever known. I went back to SMU in 2009 and graduated with my degree in Music Education, because I always wanted to complete this massive accomplishment. Attending SMU was a lifelong dream of mine, as well as graduating from Meadows School of the Arts. My degree in music education gave me the tools to become a certified music teacher, as well as a special education teacher. I left teaching in 2017 because I felt a calling to become a special needs advocate.
My company, Erika Warren, The Special Needs Advocate, was created out of the love and support I have given my son, Cole. I also have helped other families through different volunteer organizations, so I decided to turn my passion into a business. I currently help families advocate for their child's educational rights in the public school setting. I have helped facilitate IEP implementation, BIP modifications, created CPI plans, as well as added accommodations for students who have a 504 Plan. I love giving back to those who need help in the special education setting because if you don't receive a Free and Appropriate Education (FAPE)in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE), you are being denied a public education by your school district. I also help in areas of transition planning, modifications of environmental factors, private schools implementing a 504 Plan, as well as support at home.
I have lived an amazing life. I am eternally grateful to help families find their way by navigating and creating a plan to help them be successful at school, in public, and at home.
I am still singing and love spending time with my family! I am also an adaptive music teacher at our local YMCA, and I love seeing the genuine happiness on my student’s faces. I receive so much more than just clocking in at a regular job. I love seeing the relief and satisfaction on my client’s faces when we receive everything we have asked for and more. I have never lost a case because I prepare. My motto in life is preparing to fail is failing to prepare. I am always prepared, and I live life to the fullest!
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!