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 collaborates with and challenges other designers to innovate within the disability experience while making a strong case that designing for and with people with disabilities actually improves the experience for everyone. In all of his work, he endeavors to achieve greater access, not only to space and information, but also to “delight.” Chris teaches accessibility and Universal Design at the University of California, Berkeley, served for eleven years on the Board of Directors for the LightHouse for the Blind & Visually Impaired and continues to serve through a gubernatorial appointment to the California Commission on Disability Access – now serving as its chair.


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 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 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 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. 


Jaze Sollars is the Waiver Administrator for the South Dakota Department of Human Services Division of Developmental Disabilities. In her current role, she oversees compliance with federal regulations for the two Home and Community Based Services (HCBS) waivers the Division of Developmental Disabilities operates; CHOICES and Family Support 360. Jaze is a recent transplant to South Dakota after earning her Master of Public Health (MPH) with a concentration in Health Behavior Health Promotion at the University of Arizona and continuing her career there working for the Sonoran University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (UCEDD). At the UCEDD, Jaze worked on the HCBS Person-Centered Planning Project, where the UCEDD provided technical assistance to AHCCCS, Arizona’s Medicaid Agency, in creating and implementing a uniform system for Person-Centered Service Planning across the Arizona Long Term Care Services home and community-based settings and managed care organizations in conformity with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ HCBS Regulations.

Barb Hemmelman is the Employment & Community Life Engagement Manager within the South Dakota Department of Human Services Division of Developmental Disabilities.  In her current role, she works to assist our state in ensuring individuals have access to employment opportunities that match their interests and abilities.  The overarching goal is to support all individuals to achieve their vision of a good like and specifically how employment plays a part in that good life.   Barb began her work with the Division of Developmental Disabilities in 2019.  Prior to this position, she had worked in state government for 27 years ensuring access to after school childcare, early intervention services, special education services and supports, and medical care.  In addition, Barb taught children ages 3 through 8th grade, with most of her teaching years in Mitchell.  Barb was born and raised in eastern South Dakota in a farming community.


Rachael Majeres, MS, LPC, CAC is a Licensed Professional Counselor and a Certified Addiction Counselor in the state of South Dakota. She currently works as a Program Specialist for the Department of Social Services-Division of Behavioral Health specializing in publicly funded mental health programs across the state. Rachael has a history of working with addiction and mental health disorders beginning in 2014. Her career started as an Addiction Counselor at Mike Durfee State Prison and Carroll Institute. Prior to her current position, Rachael was working as a therapist for Plains Area Mental Health.

Leslie Bartscher, MA, LAC is a Licensed Addiction Counselor and currently works as a Program Specialist on the Support Services Team for the Department of Social Services-Division of Behavioral Health. She has worked with the Department of Social Services as a Chemical Dependency Counselor and as a Resource Coordinator for 7 years with Correctional Behavioral Health before starting her current role. Leslie has her undergraduate degree in Health Sciences majoring in Addiction Studies from University of South Dakota and her masters in Arts majoring in Addiction Studies from the University of South Dakota.


Jodi Schnider, BS DCOM, MA ECSE, K-12 Sped and TOD endorsed, started her teaching career in Lennox as an Early Childhood Sped/Head Start combination classroom teacher. She then went on to teach ECSE in Harrisburg and has now been with South Dakota Services for the Deaf for 13 years. A total of 24 years (Yikes). During her time at SDSD she trained in Person Centered Transition Assessments and has since completed 30+ transition evaluations. As her own children have seen the "benefit" of the PCTA, she is able to relate completely to "The last day of high school should look like the first day of a full life" -Brenda Smith

Alissa Hutchinson, BA Deaf Education/Elementary Education, EIPA certified interpreter, began teaching in Elkton, SD as a Deaf educator.  Her career led her to teach Deaf education in Dell Rapids school and the Harrisburg School District.  While in the Harrisburg District she taught in the high school deaf education classroom and taught transition skills.  Alissa currently works at South Dakota Services for the Deaf and has been there for seven years.  Throughout her time at SDSD Alissa has been involved with many transition evaluations and has been trained in Person Centered Transition Assessments.  The PCTA and transition process has become a passion for Alissa, she enjoys supporting students in moving confidently into their next stages of life.  


Julie Johnson Dresbach (SD Parent Connection) is a former Resource Coordinator/Program Specialist with the Division of Developmental Disabilities. Julie has numerous years of experience working in the field of developmental disabilities, including working with families and providers to find and maintain appropriate services. Julie has been a strong advocate through her career in state government, for people seeking and/or receiving services and the providers, and has worked on multiple initiatives for the betterment of all SD communities.  Julie holds substantial knowledge in all aspects of human services and continues to serve her community through board positions, consulting  and mentoring.  

John Hamilton (Disability Rights SD) has a B.S. in Business Administration, USD, J.D., USD School of Law, and MBA, USD School of Business. He began working for Disability Rights South Dakota (DRSD) in 1986. He is the Legal Director and works in the Sioux Falls field office. John has been part of the Minnehaha County JDAI Partnership Committee since 2013 and served as Co-Team Lead of the Minnehaha County JDAI Facility Inspection Team in both 2012 and 2022. He received the Governor’s Distinguished Service Award in 2022. He received SD Voices for Children’s Champion for Children Award in 2009 and was a South Dakota Parent Connection Board of Director member from 2000 – 2006 (President 2001 – 2003). John served on the Liberty Center/Here4YOUth Board of Directors, 1999 – 2008, 2009 – 2014 (President 2003 – 2007), and South Dakota Advisory Panel for Children with Disabilities, 1988 – 1994 (Chairman 1992 – 1993). John has also been involved in many significant court cases over the years. John is married and has 1 daughter and 3 dogs. He enjoys playing softball, gardening, photography, and golf. He enjoys singing with the Singing Legionnaires (Post 15) and spending time with his family.


Betsy Drew is a retired Elementary Principal. She holds a Master’s Degree in Elementary Education and a Master’s Degree in Elementary Curriculum. She has served as a 504 Coordinator, a university instructor, and a classroom teacher. As an administrator she implemented a Junior Kindergarten Program, Ready to Start summer program, and a Response to Intervention Program for her elementary school. Betsy is a graduate of Partners in Policymaking. She has one daughter who has a complex and rare disease.


Rhonda Erickson is a Certified Work Incentive Planning and Assistance Benefit Specialist for Black Hills Special Services Cooperative.  She has been helping people understand their Social Security Disability benefits since October 2012.  Prior to that she worked at Northern Hills Training Center, a community support provider agency from 1996-2012, the last 8 years as the Vocational Director.