Rachel Simon is best known for two books featuring characters with intellectual and developmental disabilities: the memoir Riding The Bus With My Sister, which was adapted for a Hallmark Hall of Fame film of the same name, and the novel The Story of Beautiful Girl. These works have established Rachel Simon as one of the leading literary voices writing about characters with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
For over twenty years and across forty states, Rachel has also been a public speaker whose presentations focus on diversity and disability. Her books are also frequent selections of book clubs and school reading programs around the country. Her work has been adapted for film, television, radio, and the stage.
Among Rachel’s many honors are the prestigious American Book Award, a special recognition award from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and a TASH Image Award for positive portrayals of characters with disabilities. A frequent guest on television and radio programs, Rachel has appeared on public radio numerous times and on the PBS News Hour With Judy Woodruff.
Chris Downey is an award-winning architect who, in 2008, unexpectedly lost his sight. As profiled in January 2019 by Lesley Stahl on 60 Minutes, Chris’ life was transformed, of course, but so was his practice. Today, he helps designers innovate with the disabled in mind, but also makes a strong case that designing for and with the disabled actually improves everyone’s experience. In all of his work, he endeavors to achieve greater access, not only of space and information, but also to “delight.” Chris teaches accessibility and Universal Design at the University of California, Berkeley, serves on the Board of Directors for the LightHouse for the Blind & Visually Impaired and has a gubernatorial appointment to the California Commission on Disability Access.
As one of the few practicing blind architects in the world, Chris has been featured in local, national and international media stories and speaks regularly about his many “outsights” (aka insights) since losing his sight. He’s graced the TED stage, among so many others, leaving audiences with a sense that silver linings are sometimes made of pure gold.
Josh Davies is passionate about helping others make a difference in their lives, jobs, and community. Through his work as a speaker and trainer, he has engaged and encouraged professionals across North America, the Middle East, and Asia. His engaging and connecting speaking style combined with relevant content make him an in-demand speaker, consistently giving more than 60 keynote presentations and workshops to education, workforce, and corporate events annually. Mr. Davies was awarded the 2022 H.G. Weisman Award by the National Association of Workforce Development Professionals for his exceptional service to workforce development nationwide. He was also named by Education 2.0 as one of 2022’s Outstanding Leaders, and by the Global Forum for Education and Learning as one of 2021’s Top 100 Visionaries in Education in recognition for his contributions to education globally. Additionally, he was awarded the 2021 Spirit of CHART Award by the Council of Hotel and Restaurant Trainers for his commitment to the hospitality industry throughout the pandemic.
Davies is currently the CEO of The Center for Work Ethic Development, an organization committed to developing workplace skills in the global workforce. Partnering with organizations in all 50 states and 7 countries, they equip trainers and teachers to build the workforce of the 21st Century. A graduate of American University, Josh is also active in various boards and commissions. He finished serving his second term on the Executive Board of the Colorado Workforce Development Council, where he chaired the State Education and Training Steering Committee. He also led the P-Tech Selection Committee for Colorado and served on the board of the Colorado Opportunity Scholarship Initiative. In addition to his work in the public sector, Josh also served on the Board of Directors for the National Association of Workforce Development Professionals, was President of the Council of Hotel and Restaurant Trainers (CHART) and co-chaired the Colorado State Youth Council.
MARIA CROWLEY, MA, CRC
Maria Crowley is the Director of Professional Development for the National Association of State Head Injury Administrators (NASHIA), planning and coordinating programs to enhance the knowledge and skills of the brain injury community, focusing on state government needs. She also serves as a primary consultant for the TBI Technical Assistance and Resource Center, funded by the Administration for Community Living, supporting State TBI grantees and other stakeholders. She has worked in the disabilities field for 34 years, and specifically in brain injury since 2000, to help individuals in home, community, and employment. Maria was the State Head Injury Program Director for the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services (ADRS), designated lead agency in Alabama for traumatic brain injury (TBI) services, for 14 years.
Maria started working in the rehabilitation field as a job coach, then later as a Business Relations Consultant with ADRS, facilitating the job placement of individuals with a wide variety of disabilities and providing customized employment training and consulting for businesses statewide. In addition to conducting a wealth of training on numerous issues related to traumatic brain injury, she has trained rehabilitation, social service and employment professionals on a wide array of topics, including the Americans with Disabilities Act, employment law, disability awareness/etiquette, specialized placement and accommodations.
Specific to TBI, she has led a number of initiatives and provided technical assistance related to behavioral health, juvenile justice, advocacy, concussion, management, intimate partner violence, employment trust funds, advisory boards, service coordination and trauma/surveillance registries within business, state government, nonprofits and partner organizations. Her experience also includes budget operations, grant writing, pediatric and adult staff supervision, program guidance, and grant project administration.
DR. JODI OWEN, PSY.D.
Dr. Jodi Owen grew up in Fort Pierre, SD where she participated in 4-H rodeo, basketball, gymnastics, and track. She attended University of Minnesota Morris obtaining her BA in Psychology in 1992. She then spent the next three years playing saxophone and singing in a band, traveling in the Midwest, Canada, and Alaska. In 1995 she began graduate school for Clinical Psychology at Florida Institute of Technology School of Psychology where she earned both her masters and doctoral degrees. Her internship was at William S Hall Psychiatric Institute where she gained experience in treating children, adolescents, veterans, and assisting with forensic examinations for competence-to-stand trial and criminal responsibility with patients accused of murder. She graduated in 2000 with her doctorate, spent one year obtaining her license in South Carolina at Bryan Psychiatric Institute, a state inpatient psychiatric hospital for seriously mentally ill patients, and then returned to central South Dakota where she served as clinical director of Capital Area Counseling in community mental health and addictions for 13 years. She supervised several clinicians to licensure, provided psychological evaluations for vocational rehabilitation, local courts, and school systems, and offered individual, couples, and family therapy in a generalist practice, although she specializes in trauma treatment. In 2010 she was commissioned into the South Dakota Army National Guard as a behavioral health officer where she served 10 years as an army psychologist and earned the rank of Major. She engaged in part time private practice for the next several years providing disability determination evaluations and did some travel psychologist work with both Wisconsin at Thedacare, an outpatient facility, and in Washington state as a behavioral health department supervisor at Coyote Ridge, a male correctional facility. Currently, she and her husband live in southern Mississippi on a hobby farm where they have rescued several horses and a donkey. Dr. Owen provides telehealth services through an online platform and is preparing to offer equine assisted psychopath psychotherapy with rescue horses.
KYLE WALKER, MRC, CRC, CRL, CPM
Kyle Walker was born in the San Francisco Bay Area of California and grew up on the Navajo Reservation in Northern New Mexico. Kyle graduated from Utah State University with a master’s degree in Rehabilitation Counseling and a bachelor’s degree in Sociology. Kyle is a nationally Certified Rehabilitation Counselor, Certified Rehabilitation Leader, and Certified Public Manager. Kyle has received numerous awards during his career including the 2014 Utah Governor’s Award for Excellence in Leadership. Kyle has had the honor of receiving appointments by three Governors, he was appointed to the Licensed Vocational Rehabilitation Board by Utah Governor Gary Herbert, he was appointment by Utah Governor Jon Huntsman to serve on the Governor’s Taskforce to Make Utah State Government a Model Employer for People with Disabilities, and he was appointed by South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley to serve on the South Carolina Advisory Council for Education Students with Disabilities.
Kyle began his vocational rehabilitation career at the Utah State Office of Rehabilitation serving in various capacities for over 15 years. Kyle served as the Director of the Division of Rehabilitation Services in his final two years with the agency. In 2015 Kyle was appointed as Director of the Division of Consumer Services within the South Carolina Commission for the Blind. In South Carolina Kyle was instrumental in implementing the Workforce Investment and Opportunities Act (WIOA) and designing and implementing Career Boost a program that provides Pre-Employment Transition Services to students with disabilities.
In 2019 Kyle was appointed as the Executive Director of the University of Wisconsin-Stout Vocational Rehabilitation Institute (SVRI). Kyle is the co-founder of the National Training Center for Transformational Rehabilitation Leadership a partnership between SVRI and the University of Massachusetts-Boston Institute for Community Inclusion and the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification (CRCC). Kyle has been an active leader in the rehabilitation counseling profession having served on state, regional, and national professional membership organization boards. Kyle is currently the President of the CRCC Board of Directors.
Kyle has been married to Linda for over 32 years and has 3 adult children and 5 grandchildren. Kyle and Linda reside in Eau Claire Wisconsin.
Ashlea Lantz is a Senior Consultant with Griffin-Hammis Associates. She provides training and technical assistance around Customized Employment, Supported Employment, Self-Employment, Benefits Planning, and Agency Capacity Building. Before joining Griffin-Hammis Associates, Ashlea was the Director of Employment of a community-based rehabilitation agency. She has extensive experience in working with families both personally and professionally. Ashlea is a certified benefits planner and has a Master's degree in Rehabilitation Counseling from Drake University.
South Dakota Services for the Deaf
SD Long Term Services and Supports
SD Parent Connection
SD Division of Developmental Disabilities