Conference Header
Conference Header

Opening Plenary


Achieving Equity: Access to Health and Community for All

How do we ensure that all people have equal access to health? It’s more than just health care. From housing to meaningful employment, to access to vaccination sites and a safe trip to the grocery store, people with disabilities and their families experience daily disruptions and are often marginalized when it comes to accessing a broad array of needed services. We look forward to exploring health equity, the social determinants of health, and the steps needed to ensure that every person is provided with the best opportunities possible.

The Plenary will begin with AUCD Board Chair and Director of the Mailman Center for Child Development at the University of Miami, Danny Armstrong, in conversation with Marcella Nunez-Smith, MD, MHS, Associate Dean for Health Equity Research and Professor of Internal Medicine at Yale and the recent Chair of the White House COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force. Dr. Nunez-Smith will talk about her work examining the effects of social and structural determinants of health, systemic influences contributing to health disparities, and health equity improvement, all centered on community engagement. She’ll also discuss the work of the COVID-19 Task Force and its recommendations. A native of the Virgin Islands, she will also address the disparities in places like Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and other island nations.

The conversation will continue with a panel discussion led by Carol Salas Pagán, Director of the University of Puerto Rico’s UCEDD, AUCD President-Elect, and 2022 AUCD Conference Chair. We will be joined by Taryn M. Williams, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Disability Employment Policy, who will discuss the Department’s policies and programs and how the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) is promoting evidence-based policy that improves employment opportunities and outcomes for people with disabilities. Alison Barkoff, the Principal Deputy Administrator and Acting Administrator and Assistant Secretary for Aging at the Administrative for Community Living (ACL), will also share about ACL’s priorities and what her team is doing to support the expansion of home and community-based services (HCBS) that make community living possible. In addition, Andrés Gallegos, Chairman of the National Council on Disability (NCD) and founder and Chair of the law firm of Robbins DiMonte (RD), will discuss NCD’s health equity framework and his focus on improving access to healthcare and wellness programs for people with all types of disabilities.



Image of white male with grey hair wearing glasses and suit and ties smiling at the camera.

Daniel Armstrong, PhD
Director, Mailman Center for Child Development, University of Miami

Dr. Armstrong is Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, with multiple leadership roles related to child health at the University of Miami and the Holtz Children's Hospital and Women's Hospital Center at the UM/Jackson Memorial Medical Center, including Executive Vice Chair for the Department of Pediatrics, Director of the Mailman Center for Child Development (UCEDD), Co-director of the University of Miami Sickle Cell Center, Program Director of the University of Miami's Masters of Science in Clinical And Translational Investigations, and co-leader of the Biobehavioral Oncology Program at the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center. On the hospital side, Dr. Armstrong is Associate Chief of Staff for the Holtz Children's Hospital. Dr. Armstrong's research focus is on neurodevelopmental mechanisms and outcomes of children with chronic diseases (sickle cell disease, cancer, HIV/AIDS). He has served as part of the scientific leadership of a number of National Institute of Health (NIH) multi-center clinical research trials for the NCI and NHLBI. He was chair of the NHLBI's Congressionally-mandated Sickle Cell Disease Advisory Committee, and is a member of the NCI PDQ Supportive Care Editorial Board. He has been a consultant to the Institute of Medicine at the National Academies of Sciences, the Director of the NIH, the Food and Drug Administration, the HRSA/Maternal and Child Health Bureau, and White House.  Dr. Armstrong is actively involved in state and local issues and organizations related to developmental disability and chronic illness, including the Florida Division of the American Cancer Society (President & Chair), Early Learning Coalition of Miami-Dade County (Board Member), Florida Biomedical Research Advisory Council (Member), and a number of foundation boards and medical advisory panels.


Image of an African American woman with long black braids and wearing a blouse and sweater jacket smiling at the camera.

Marcella Nunez-Smith, MD, MHS
Yale University Associate Dean for Health Equity Research and C.N.H. Long Professor of Internal Medicine of Epidemiology and of Public Health

Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith is Associate Dean for Health Equity Research; C.N.H Long Professor of Medicine, Public Health, and Management; and Founding Director of the Equity Research and Innovation Center (ERIC) in the Office for Health Equity Research at Yale School of Medicine. ERIC’s research focuses on promoting health and healthcare equity for structurally marginalized populations with an emphasis on centering community engagement, supporting healthcare workforce diversity and development, developing patient reported measurements of healthcare quality, and identifying regional strategies to reduce the global burden of non-communicable diseases. In 2021 Dr. Nunez-Smith served as Senior Advisor to the White House COVID-19 Response Team and Chair of the Presidential COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force at the Department of Health and Human Services. Previously, she served as co-chair of the Biden-Harris Transition COVID-19 Advisory Board and community committee chair for the ReOpen Connecticut Advisory Group on behalf of Connecticut Governor Lamont. She is the principal investigator on several NIH and foundation-funded grants. Dr. Nunez-Smith is also Director of the Center for Research Engagement (CRE); Associate Director for Community Outreach and Engagement at the Yale Cancer Center; Chief Health Equity Officer at Smilow Cancer Hospital; Deputy Director of the Yale Center for Clinical Investigation; Core Faculty in the National Clinician Scholars Program; Director of the Pozen-Commonwealth Fund Fellowship in Health Equity Leadership; and Co-Director of the Doris Duke Clinical Research Fellowship. An elected member of the National Academy of Medicine, Dr. Nunez-Smith is board certified in internal medicine, having completed residency training at Harvard University’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital and fellowship at the Yale Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholars Program, where she also received a Masters in Health Sciences. Originally from the US Virgin Islands, she attended Jefferson Medical College, where she was inducted into the Alpha Omega Alpha Medical Honor Society; she earned a BA in Biological Anthropology and Psychology at Swarthmore College.


Image of a Latinix woman with shoulder length brown hair wearing a blouse and smiing at the camera.

Carol Salas Pagán, PsyD
Director, University Center for Excellence on Developmental Disabilities, University of Puerto Rico

Dr. Salas has been the Director of Puerto Rico's University Center for Excellence on Developmental Disabilities (UCEDD) since November 2015, and before that, she was the Associate Director for almost three years. A Doctor in Clinical Psychology and previously a PR/UCEDD trainee, she also graduate from the National Disability Leadership Institute. She represents the PR/UCEDD in the Multicultural Council and on AIDDs National Diversity Advisory Committee. Currently, she is faculty of the Graduate School of Public Health of the Medical Sciences Campus of the University of Puerto Rico. She is also an appointed member on the Puerto Rico P&A office board and member of the Puerto Rico-DD Council, and serves on the Board of Directors for the Association of University Centers on Disabilities. Locally, Dr. Salas is an active member in diverse Advisory Councils and boards of nonprofit organizations for the Protection, Advocacy, and independent living movement for Individuals with Developmental Disabilities, and violence against women. As UCEDD Director, she consults with special projects with two LEND programs to coordinate intercultural learning experiences for their LEND trainees.


Image of a white woman with shoulder length brown hair wearing a sweater and blouse smiling a the camera

Alison Barkoff
Acting Administrator and Assistant Secretary for Aging Principal Deputy Administrator, Administration on Community Living

Alison Barkoff was sworn in as Principal Deputy Administrator on January 20, 2021, and is currently serving as ACL’s Acting Administrator and as the Acting Assistant Secretary for Aging.  She provides executive leadership and coordination for ACL programs nationwide and advises the HHS Secretary on issues affecting people with disabilities and older adults.  A sibling of an adult brother with developmental disabilities and a civil rights attorney, Alison is a lifelong advocate for community living – both professionally and personally – and has been at the forefront of national efforts to expand the home and community-based services (HCBS) that make community living possible.  As part of countless coalitions of people with disabilities, older adults, and advocates, she has fought to uphold the rights of people with disabilities and older adults and advance policies to ensure their access to health care, housing, employment, education, and all other facets of community life. She has testified before Congress and the US Commission on Civil Rights on disability rights and community living.


Andrés Gallegos, Esq.
Chairman, National Council on Disability

Andrés J. Gallegos was designated as the Chairman of the National Council on Disability by President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. on the afternoon of his inauguration on January 20, 2021. Andrés concentrates his practice on disability rights and healthcare law.  He founded and is the Chair of the RD’s disability rights practice, where the firm’s main emphasis is to improve access to healthcare and wellness programs for persons across all types of disabilities, across the country. To attain accessible healthcare services for persons with disabilities and effectuate systemic change, our firm utilizes a three-prong approach of: education (for consumers and providers); advocacy; litigation, when required.


Image of an African American woman wearing a suit and peral knecklaces with the American flage behind her.

Taryn Williams
Assistant Secretary, Labor for Disability Employment Policy

Taryn Mackenzie Williams is the Assistant Secretary of Labor for Disability Employment Policy. In this position, she advises the Secretary of Labor on how the Department’s policies and programs impact the employment of people with disabilities and leads the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP), which works with employers and all levels of government to promote evidence-based policy that improves employment opportunities and outcomes for people with disabilities. Previously, Williams was the managing director for the Poverty to Prosperity Program at American Progress, which works on progressive policies focused on a broad range of anti-poverty strategies. Before joining American Progress, she worked at ODEP on a variety of issues related to education, workforce policy, Social Security, Medicaid and civil rights. In her role as director of youth policy, Williams led agency efforts to coordinate education and employment policy in support of improved labor force outcomes for disabled youth. From 2014 through 2016, Williams served as ODEP’s chief of staff. She also undertook detail assignments as associate director for public engagement and liaison to the disability community at the White House from 2014 through 2015 and as a policy adviser on the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions from 2012 through 2013.