Our Presenters

Yvonne Spicer and Theresa Somerton
Image of Yvonne Spicer and Theresa Somerton.

Yvonne Spicer lives in London, Ontario, Canada, where she is on the New Vision Advocates Committee and is a leader in Community Living and Developmental Services.

Yvonne has spoken loudly for the inclusion of all people, locally, and around the world, presenting at political events. Yvonne encourages people to rely on their strengths by championing their successes. She makes sure that rights for all people are acknowledged.

Yvonne shares her passion for inclusiveness through presentations, keynote speeches, and collaborative projects. She has been recognized for her advocacy on social issues, especially on the topics of human and disability rights, combating poverty, as well as innovative housing, and employment opportunities.

Yvonne has partnered with professionals to support people with intellectual and developmental disabilities to develop their plan and achieve their goals.

Yvonne has just released a book for purchase by the public, titled My Life, My Choice, My Future. In her book, Yvonne focuses on the obstacles and successes that a person may experience in life.

Theresa Somerton lives in Belleville, Ontario. She is an advocate for Quinte Speaks Up and a leader in the Community Living movement besides Developmental Services.

She has been a council appointee board member with The Board of Directors with Community Living Ontario as well as a director at large in the past for 8 years where she has advocated for materials to be fully accessible in plain language.

She has also arranged countless regional meetings in the lakeshore area of the province of Ontario to connect with advocates, supporters, and families to provide updates on what is happening in the developmental services sector through leadership, understanding, acceptance and belonging.

Julia Barol

Julia Barol works on issues relating to employment of people with disabilities as well as transition from school to work. Julia is president of the Pennsylvania chapter of APSE (Association of People Supporting Employment First) and has been working to advance Employment First here in Pennsylvania. She serves as the delegate to the national APSE Board of Directors representing the Mid-Atlantic states. She was awarded the 2017 CESP of the Year by APSE for her work in the development of the CESP (Certified Employment Support Professional) credential in Pennsylvania.

Tess Dally

Tess Dally headshot

About me:

I am queer, female, disabled and aging. I am marginalized even as I know I am a white privileged individual who has benefited from the pain and denial of the human dignity of others. My work is greatly influenced by thirty years as a clinical social worker, as an advocate, a healer, listener, and patient. My lived experience with disability justice intersects with that of other marginalized people including BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, or People of Color), those with mental illness, LGBTQIA+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual, and all of the other identities not encompassed in the short acronym), elders, and those harmed by violence and poverty. I am a social worker, professional dancer and teaching artist, and advocate for human rights and disability justice.

Paige Eddy
Paige Eddy currently serves as the Adult & Partnerships Manager at The Friendship Circle. Paige received her Master’s degree in Recreational Therapy from Temple University in 2018. She is passionate about creating social opportunities for adults that are truly inclusive to all. She grew up in New Jersey and moved to Pittsburgh in 2018. Her favorite things in life are her Giant Schnauzer named Obi, going to the beach, playing board games, and listening to music. She was diagnosed with Epilepsy when she was 14 years old and realized that advocacy needs to go beyond one’s self but to others in the disability community. Favorite program at FC: Trips! I love exploring the great City of Pittsburgh with all of my FC friends.
Courtney Floyd

Courtney Floyd is the Certified Peer Specialist Supervisor for the peer support program at The Mental Health Association in Beaver County. Courtney also provides direct peer support for individuals living with a serious mental health illness. She has been with The Mental Health Association in Beaver County for almost five years and finds great pleasure in helping individuals with their mental health recovery journey. Courtney graduated from Gannon University in Erie Pennsylvania with a bachelor’s degree in health science and a master’s degree in physician assistant sciences.

Helenka Foley

Image of Helenka F.

Helenka Foley

Cub Club assistant at The Woodlands

Kevin Q. Jackson II

Despite doctors saying he would never speak, Kevin Q. Jackson II released his first CD of original tracks on Oct. 15, 2017. Born premature at 28 weeks, Kevin weighed a mere two pounds, his father Kevin Jackson Sr. said, remembering his small newborn body fitting in the palm of his hands. Defying the odds, Jackson celebrated his 29th birthday on Oct. 11. As a toddler, Kevin was diagnosed with cerebral palsy: a congenital disorder affecting movement, muscle tone, and motor skills. Every day presents challenges for Kevin; the incorporation of music into his routine helps him cope and get through each day.


“I sing when I’m happy, I sing when I’m sad, it just helps me cope with a lot of the stuff I go through; it’s therapeutic, I feel like I have to do it because it’s me.”

Kevin wrote his first original piece, “Lost in Your Love,” with musician Tom Maroon 9 years ago when he attended Notes from the Heart Music Camp at The Woodlands in Wexford, PA. The summer program is designed to bring “the joy of music to children and adults with disabilities and chronic illness. As a camper soloist, Kevin has sung many solos through the years, including a solo at the August Wilson Center, downtown Pittsburgh.

Jennifer Jordan

Jennifer has been a journalist for 25 years, and is a part-time direct support provider at Emmaus Community of Pittsburgh. Jennifer’s list of achievements include: ACHIEVA’s Yvonne Zanos Excellence in Media Award, PEAL’s Art of Inclusion award, several Press Club of Western Pennsylvania Golden Quill Awards.
Jennifer was also named on All-Abilities Media’s 2022 Katherine Schneider Journalism Award for Excellence in Reporting on Disability; that’s from the National Center on Disability and Journalism from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University.

Mara Kaplan

Image of Mara Kaplan and her family

Mara Kaplan is an educator, an advocate for inclusive play, and a parent of a child with disabilities. Kaplan is nationally and internationally recognized for her expertise in inclusive play design for over two decades. She speaks around the country about her journey as a parent of a child with disabilities as well as on topics such as universal design, inclusive playgrounds, and playgrounds for autistic children. Kaplan is the founder and co-chair of the Temple Sinai disAbility Task Force and former winner of the Shore-While award for improving inclusivity in the Pittsburgh Jewish community.
Ron Kludo

Portrait of Ron Kludo

Ron Kludo is a Business Analyst working as a consultant for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) Supplemental Nutrition Program. Ron has 20 years’ experience as a Training and Development Professional. This includes working for a major national financial institution where he managed and trained branch staff.
He also worked for the federal government in Washington, D.C. where he trained and coached government employees on various projects, many of which included ensuring that documentation published under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) met Section 508 Accessibility Standards.

Ron finds his current role working for the PA WIC program extremely rewarding, knowing that his efforts contribute to the Commonwealth’s efforts to provide nutrition education and services to the community.

Rachel Kudrick

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Rachel Kudrick, horticulturist and former teacher of the Deaf. Her passion remains teaching. Though it now revolves mostly around plants and gardening, she also tutors many subjects for elementary through high school kids. Rachel lives with diabetes, pain and a genetic heart condition that recently took her brother’s life. She also struggles daily with multiple mental health issues, including binge eating disorder, PTSD, depression, and dissociation. She finds mosaic art and gardening both to be very therapeutic. Rachel is also an active member of the disAbility Task Force, and the founder and coordinator of Temple Sinai’s garden. The garden was designed to ensure that all can help with our mission to feed the hungry. Last spring, Temple Sinai honored the volunteers of the Task Force with the Champion of Change award.
Raquel Mangual

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Raquel Mangual is the Support Services Coordinator at the Institute on Disabilities at Temple University. She assists the Assistant Director of Technical Assistance in providing technical support for the College of Direct Support and College of Employment Services, an ODP funded web-based learning system. She also assists the Associate Director of Policy at the Institute with providing web-based state-wide trainings, supports activities surrounding the Home and Community-Based Services Final Rule (HCBS) and other work surrounding disability-related policies.

Prior to joining the Institute on Disabilities, Raquel provided direct Community Based supports and Supports Coordination service to persons with intellectual disabilities. She holds a BSW from Temple University and is currently finishing her MSW at Temple University.

Ryann Mason

Image of Ryann Mason

Ryann Mason is a disability advocate, registered nurse, member of the LGBTQIA+ community, adaptive athlete, and sexuality educator.

Ryann was born with a rare genetic collagen disorder called Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS) which led her to become a wheelchair user at the age of 26.

Instead of allowing her disability to get her down, she decided to turn towards what she knew best, helping others. Ryann created an Instagram account called Chronically Ry, where she posts photos, videos, and write ups showing her life and experiences living with a chronic illness and degenerative disability.

Over the past few years she has accomplished quite a bit including: being crowned Ms. Wheelchair Virginia in both 2020 and 2021, having her story featured in numerous platforms including Scrubs, Frisson, Teen Vogue, and Forbes magazines, working as the first nurse in a wheelchair at Carilion Roanoke Memorial on the Postpartum Unit, expanding her online presence to include Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, and LinkedIn, as well as amassing a following of nearly, 17,000 people on her original Instagram page.

She was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Ms. Wheelchair America Foundation for her advocacy work and contributions to the disability community.

Ryann could have let everything she’s been through bring her life to a screeching halt, but instead she continues to share her story to educate and inform others about the needs and experiences of the disability community.

Joe Ortman

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Joe Ortman

Autism-Support Paraprofessional at The Hope Learning Center; BS (Psychology, University of Pittsburgh).

Delaina Parrish

Delaina Parrish profile picture.

Delaina’s life story embraces all the drama of a Netflix movie..baby brought back to life after 11 minutes without oxygen…the never-ending therapies with a diagnosis of cerebral palsy and dysarthria…the vision inspired by a relentless drive to become a force of nature in fashion, tech, higher education and disability employment…The improbable rise of a small town girl who attained prominence at a top tier business school, and found herself under the mentorship of major designers and entrepreneurs…. To become a runway model for a major fashion show in NYC! Today, Delaina’s story is still a page turner! Listen in as she shares tips on how innovative collaborations and a fearless mindset can lead you to endless adventure while setting your business on fire!
Alcia Rose

Image of Alicia Rose at the 2023 22Quties Pageant.

Alicia Rose is a talented young artist who is starting out in the professional art industry. Alicia has been interested in making art since she was in 5th grade, when she started making paintings on slate.

 

Alicia started taking art classes as an adult. She enrolled in the Creative Citizens Studio and at the Woodlands Foundation, “We are Art Here.” These programs introduced her to new ways to make art, such as the Modge Podge technique, and helped her learn how to talk about her art to public audiences. Through these programs, Alicia’s artwork has been on display at the Three Rivers Arts Festival. The Butler Chamber of Commerce chose one of her paintings to be featured on their annual holiday card.

 

As an artist, Alicia has a business called “Alicia’s Artistic Abilities” to showcase her drawings, paintings, and other works.

 

Alicia also creates artistic items with Cricut, which is a tool that is used to cut vinyl, leather, thin metal, and paper. She also makes travel mugs and Christmas ornaments with this tool, using epoxy glue. She will be working on these items for sale soon.

 

Alicia is beyond excited to be part of the Butler Coffee Lab where her artwork is displayed and is available for sale. Alicia’s work will also be on display at the Butler Art Center & Gallery as part of the “We’re All Artists” exhibit. Over the summer, Alicia donated three raffle baskets to three different fundraiser events and also did some commissioned art work for local businesses.

 

Her dream is to continue helping others like herself by helping them to become artists. Alicia also plans to become a teacher and mentor one day, to help young artists develop their artistic abilities and talents.

Chloe Rothschild

Chloe Rothschild is an adult with autism who is on a mission to advocate and teach others about autism from her perspective. Chloe is one of the co-authors of the My Interoception Workbook for Teens, Adolescents, and Adults. She also serves on the Arc of the United States national board and the Ohio Center for Autism and Low Incidence (OCALI) advisory board.

Chloe works as a student support specialist at an autism school 3 days a week. When Chloe is not presenting or working, she enjoys spending time with her friends and family, participating in adaptive ice skating and dog agility for individuals with disabilities.

Jason Smierciak

Image of Jason S.

Jason Smierciak

Assembler at Philips Respironics.

Diagnosed with Autism in 2nd grade at age 7, Jason has been an advocate for Autism Awareness from an early age. All through middle and high school, Jason was bullied because of his passion for railroading. However, this has not prevented him from diving deeply into the history of railroads, running locomotives, and today, prioritizing railroad track safety.

Jesse Solomon

Jesse Solomon profile picture

Jesse Solomon is the current Director of Western Pennsylvania for Brighter Days, which provides superior home and community-based services for individuals with intellectual disabilities across all Pennsylvania counties.

Jesse is also a founding Board Member of the United Spinal Association of Pittsburgh and currently serves as the Membership Chair, dedicated to empowering and advocating for people living with spinal cord injuries and disorders (SCI/D) and all wheelchair users, to discover greater independence and quality of life. Jesse was born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pa and is a mother of 2 beautiful children.

She can be reached at (412) 600-4754 and at jsolomon@yourbrighterdays.com.

www.yourbrighterdays.com

Laura Stuart

Laura Stuart profile picture

Laura Stuart is a mixed media artist from Pittsburgh, PA.

 

Laura studied Visual Communications at both The Art Institute of Pittsburgh and Westminster College where she received a bachelor’s degree in visual arts communications. She later went to Carlow University for an Art Education degree/certification. She has taught art within a variety of educational and therapeutic environments that include: teaching art to children through a counseling agency, teaching art within elementary and secondary education schools, and teaching art to artists who are neurodivergent through a number of service providers.

 

Laura is a practicing artist with experience working with a variety of materials since she was a child. Her mother, Sophia is also an artist who greatly influenced Laura’s early love of the visual arts. At a young age, Laura’s mother introduced her to sewing, drawing, and painting. Both her grandmothers were very influential as well. “Grandma taught me how to make beads, jewelry, and rugs out of recycled bits and pieces. My Yiayia (Greek for Grandma) taught me an appreciation for spiritual art with an emphasis on Greek Orthodox and Byzantine iconography.” With those early influences, travel, education, and an exploratory nature, her first love is the use of color and the spatial relationships of color mixed with pattern.

 

In 2017, Laura started an art studio in Carnegie with Not Forgotten Home and Community Service. This studio is called Studio Forget-Me-Not! It is located at 329 E. Main Street in Carnegie; PA. Laura also oversees and directs a variety of activities and programs with Not Forgotten Home and Community Services. For more information visit Not Forgotten Home & Community Services.

Yvonne Spicer

Yvonne Spicer lives in London, Ontario, Canada. She is on the New Vision Advocates Committee, and is a leader in Community Living and Developmental Services.

She has spoken up for the inclusion of all people, locally, and around the world, and has presented at political events. Yvonne encourages people to rely on their strengths by championing their successes. She makes sure that rights for all people are acknowledged.

She has expanded her public profile to share this passion for inclusiveness by presentations, keynote speeches, and collaborative projects. Yvonne has been recognized for her advocacy on social issues, especially on the topics of human rights issues, especially on the topics of disability rights, combating poverty, housing and employment opportunities.

Yvonne represents people with compassion and commitment. She is known to be hard working, dedicated, and enthusiastic about volunteering and pursuing educational endeavors. She is especially experienced with advocating for those with intersectionality.

Yvonne has just released a book to the general public to purchase. She focuses on the obstacles and successes that a person may experience in life. She has many other books in progress, including a children’s book, and is looking for a partner with whom she can continue this journey.

Yvonne has partnered with professionals to support people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, to support their employment, challenges, vision and trends. She is committed to the people she helps, is an effective leader, and a strong communicator.

She can always be depended on to spearhead a drive to create a community in Ontario, where people can live independently in a home of their own. She is a tireless advocate, who is not afraid to speak up, and is confident that her audience can learn from the presentation.

Yvonne can support anyone – and that might include you!

Click here to find Yvonne’s book. Check it out!

Mark Steidl

Image of Mark S.

Mark Steidl is a disability rights advocate and a 2020 graduate of the Community College of Allegheny County, where they majored in Social Work Foundations and served as a student government senator. Mark was diagnosed as an infant with cerebral palsy and uses a variety of technologies to manage his condition. They serve on the youth caucus of the National Council on Independent Living, advocates in a variety of disability rights campaigns, and is a proud member of the LGBT community. They work at Tobii Dynavox, a world leader in electronic communication devices.

Michelle Steiner

Michelle Steiner headshot.

Michelle Steiner lives with an invisible disability. She has articles published on The Mighty, Non-Verbal Learning Project, Dyscalculia Blog, Imagine the World as One Magazine and Word Gathering. She has had her photographs featured in Word Gathering and Independent and Work Ready. She works as a paraeducator in a school with students with disabilities. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two cats.

Ann Talman

Image of Ann Talman

Ann Talman was born in Welch, West Virginia, USA. She is an actress and writer, known for her work on Broadway, Off-Broadway, Film and TV.

 

Ann Talman just appeared at New York’s Laurie Beechman Theatre and 54 Below in her cabaret, The Shadow of Her Smile, about her 18 months on Broadway as Elizabeth Taylor’s daughter and their life-long friendship. It has won a 2023 Bistro Award for Musical Memoir and is a MAC nominee for Best Female Debut.

 

Talman’s short documentary, Woody’s Order! based on her solo play of the same name, premiered at The Tribeca Film Festival and has won awards around the world. It is streaming on iWomanTV. The solo play premiered at Pittsburgh Playhouse.

 

Other stage work, Broadway: The Little Foxes (including LA and The West End) The House of Blue Leaves, Some Americans Abroad and The Women.

 

Off Broadway & Regional: Vineyard Theatre, Ensemble Studio Theatre, Primary Stages, The New Group, Pittsburgh City Theatre, St. Louis Rep, The Long Wharf, Huntington Theatre, The Goodspeed Opera House, Eugene O’Neill

 

National Playwrights Conference, Baltimore Center Stage, The Geffen Playhouse, Soho Rep and Theatreworks Hartford.

 

Film and TV: Woody’s Order!, American Playhouse, Serendipity, Wall Street, Limitless, Seinfeld, Murphy Brown, Law & Order, Criminal Intent, Kate & Allie, Good Advice, The Education of Max Bickford, Love & War and a year on General Hospital.

 

She is proud to be a Founding member of The New Group, Naked Angels and EST/LA and a life member of Ensemble Studio Theatre. Her book Woody’s Order! is forthcoming.

 

Click here to see How It All Started.

Click here to read the manuscript for “Woody’s Order!”

Kara Tjernlund

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Kara graduated from the Commonwealth Technical institute in 2012 in Office Technology, and from The New Horizon School Beaver County in 2010. Kara works part-time, and she is currently a backroom associate at Marshalls.

Grace Whited

Grace Whited currently serves as a Program and Engagement Coordinator at The Friendship Circle. She grew up in South Portland, ME and graduated from Vassar College with a Bachelor’s degree in English and Psychology

Grace joined Friendship Circle in 2021 as a part of the PULSE program, a year-long service opportunity. She is passionate about creative writing, particularly science fiction and fantasy, and creating spaces for people to tell their own stories.

Grace identifies as hard of hearing and finds leadership and empowerment to be a valuable part of her self-advocacy journey.

Favorite program at FC: Cooking Club because people are able to connect and bond by making food together!

Sunset silhouette of some community members