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.
Like many others around the world Garrett Brumfield is no stranger to facing and overcoming obstacles. Having been three months premature with a Grade IV brain bleed, which resulted in his Cerebral Palsy, he's been overcoming those obstacles since day one.
While Cerebral Palsy has always limited his mobility, growing up he never let that stop him from being like his able-bodied peers - as evident by his attendance in regular classes in school, playing basketball on a traditional recreational team in middle school, and even learning to drive by the time he was 17.
When it came time for college both he and his parents were nervous, but he found ways to thrive on his own with little to no assistance. While in college, he joined The Delta Chi Fraternity and began studying radio and television - which lead him to working at the campus radio station. He graduated with honors from Radford University in 2012 with a degree in Media Studies.
Upon graduation, he began working in local radio and television in his hometown of Roanoke, Virginia. While others may have been satisfied with these accomplishments, Garrett quickly realized he was not. He knew something was missing and that he needed to make a change in his life. After months of soul searching and a little counseling, he realized he had never truly come to terms with and accepted his Cerebral Palsy. Prior to this, he tried his best to sweep it under the rug and pretend it didn't exist, which led to much self doubt, depression and anxiety. Over time, however, he began to realize that, since he can't change the fact that he has CP, he must learn to embrace it. He did so right away by getting back into a regular fitness routine and slowly beginning to use his crutches again.
Once he reached that newfound level of self acceptance, he knew he had to help others do same. So, he founded the motivational movement Overcome Yours in January 2014. Through this movement, he strives to empower individuals to overcome whatever obstacles they may be facing by sharing his story and the story's of others who've overcame seemingly insurmountable obstacles. To date, Garrett has delivered dozens of presentations to various schools, colleges, businesses, special interest groups and conferences, which has led to many incredible opportunities including a 27-day cultural exchange mentoring U.S. teens in Cyprus as part of the American Youth Leadership Program. Aside from that, he is also an advocate for the disabled and the less fortunate, which has lead to him partnering with many organizations including but not limited to, Walk2Connect, the Blue Ridge Independent Living Council, Big Brothers Big Sisters - Southwest Virginia, and The Addy Grace Foundation.
Garrett is now pursuing his efforts with Overcome Yours full time while still residing in Roanoke. In his free time he enjoys being outdoors, attending festivals, listening to and playing music, writing and working out.
Laura is a native Texan with muscular dystrophy residing near Washington D.C. as a disability rights advocate. She is an organizer with the local D.C. Metro chapter of ADAPT, a national disability rights group that engages in several forms of direct action, including non-violent civil disobedience, to ensure that people with disabilities have the constitutional right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in the community.
In Texas she was a special education teacher and department head with a Masters in Special Education and Educational Diagnostician Certification. Laura held the title of Ms. Wheelchair Texas 2014 where she educated and advocated to the media, business and political leaders, and the general public on disability rights issues. She also co-founded the North Texas Wheelchair Hockey League and has played on the Northern Virginia Patriots power soccer team.
A deacon at her church and a board member of Chariot of Fire Ministries, Kristen is also active in promoting inclusion and accessibility for people with disabilities in her church—a very big passion of hers.
In 2012, she moved out on her own and found that she could do most things for herself. The one area in life that she knew needed a lot of work was cooking for herself. After hearing that, "Everything is on YouTube," she headed there to search for ways to cook from a wheelchair. She couldn't find many answers. Through further research, it became obvious that there was a huge need for a resource which teaches life skills to people of all ages with limited mobility. This is when Living Able was born!
Living Able is a YouTube channel where Kristen and other subscribers create tutorials to teach those very life skills. They also tackle other disability issues—anything that either helps the person with limited mobility themselves or helps educate the able-bodied on what living with limited mobility is REALLY like.
According to Kristen, the media doesn't do the best job. Her channel is also devoted tackling topics like how "disability" is portrayed in the media because she believes this candid discussion directly impacts the daily lives of those with limited mobility.
Living Able is now more than three years strong! Kristen's favorite part about the channel is the community that has developed around it. She especially loves when someone else with a different disability sends her a video, ensuring that the Living Able message of ability over disability spreads to an even wider audience.
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.
Eric and Lisa Rode
Eric and Lisa both grew up in Northern Virginia and still reside and work there today. Eric was paralyzed at age 4 due to surgical complications during open heart surgery. Through extensive physical therapy he was able to regain some strength and the ability to walk. During this time Eric became interested in adapted sports. He first played adapted ambulatory soccer and then t-ball. Soon after he joined the Fairfax Falcons wheelchair sports team. With the Fairfax Falcons Eric played a variety of sports including wheelchair basketball, track and field, and swimming.
Eric and Lisa first met in high school and dated through college. Eric attended George Mason University and Lisa attended Longwood University. At the end of their senior year, Eric and Lisa began volunteering with the Fairfax Falcons to give back to an organization that meant so much to Eric growing up. After graduating from college Eric and Lisa married. Lisa is currently an elementary school teacher in Springfield, Virginia.
Eric and Lisa have continued to volunteer with the team since 2007. When Eric and Lisa began volunteering with the team there were few players and the team was no longer playing competitively. They have since worked to rebuild the team in terms of numbers, programming, equipment, and opportunities for youth in the area with physical disabilities. The Falcons have increased enrollment dramatically and now field three teams - novice, prep, and varsity. The prep and varsity teams are sanctioned by the National Wheelchair Basketball Association and travel to tournaments across the east coast in addition to competing at the National Tournament. Eric and Lisa are currently helping to coach and manage the team. They are passionate about providing opportunities for youth with physical disabilities to play sports, make friendships, and build independence skills.
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!