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Tuesday Leading Change Sessions


Influences on Network Engagement: Channeling the Leader Within You

In this interactive session, panelists with lived experience share how they navigate networking opportunities and reflect on the forces and sociocultural experiences that have shaped their leadership styles and networking skills. The current “Shape of the Future” normalizes their experiences of living with disabilities. Approaching disability as a negative instead of as an advantage of abilities should be challenged. During Network engagement, when these panelists meet able bodied individuals who view them as difficult, they find that there is a need to expand the sociocultural view that having a disability is a burden. Instead, the differences should be celebrated. Disability leaders should continue to activate and create opportunities for the next generation of leaders.



Kenneth Kelty was born and raised in West Palm Beach, South Florida. He is a graduate of the Western Carolina University Participants UP Program at Western Carolina University, a two-year inclusion program for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities. While at WCU Kenneth studied criminal justice and political science. Upon graduating, Kenneth began employment at The Arc of The Triangle (now Triangle Autism and Disability Services) in 2014 and the Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities (CIDD) in 2021. Kenneth has also participated in advanced leadership training in the disability community at the CIDD and Alliance of Disability Advocates. Kenneth is a blogger, podcaster and motivational speaker on life with disabilities and has a public Facebook page Kenneth Kelty Public Speaker and Author. As an award-winning advocate, Kenneth’s work is known on a local and national level.


Melanie Davis lived experience as a person with a disability has afforded her many opportunities in the advocacy space – to become a better-informed advocate for herself and others and to build her professional knowledge and experience.  Some of these opportunities have included participating in Minnesota’s Partners in Policymaking series and completing two years of extensive training within the Nebraska UCEDD as well as her completion of the AUCD leadership academy.



Robin Ennis, LCSW, LLC, is the LEND Self Advocate Discipline Director with JFK Partners, as well as being the Founder of Robin Ennis, LCSW, LLC. In 2007, Robin graduated from the University of Denver with a B.A. in Sociology and Communication. Continuing on the path to helping others, in 2009, Robin received her MSW in Clinical Social Work from the University of Denver, and is currently a licensed Clinical social worker in the state of Colorado. In addition, she holds national certifications in the areas of Life Coaching and Grief Recovery. She is currently serving on the Colorado Developmental Disabilities Council. In 2020, Robin completed a LEND (Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities) Self Advocacy Fellowship, through JFK Partners. She has served on the Colorado Medicaid Healthcare Policy Finance Behavioral Health Taskforce, JFK Partner’s Advisory Council, Denver Regional Mobility Access Council’s Transit Advocate Task Force, and National Hydrocephalus Association’s Patient Partner Committee. Robin has worked with groups who have faced major life transitions, such as matters regarding personal loss. In addition, she helps guide the future and current generation of Social Workers, through the offering of clinical supervision. She has conducted employee trainings in the areas of disability, compassion/self care and conflict resolution.


Timotheus “T.J.” Gordon Jr., MFA, MS, is a research associate at the Institute on Disability and Human Development at University of Illinois at Chicago. Gordon uses his passion for self-advocacy, racial equity, disability culture, and autism acceptance to create webinars, training sessions, and publications on autism and race, inclusion in communities of color, exploration of sexuality in the disability community, coping with COVID-19 pandemic, mental health emergency services, and more. He is also a co-founder of Chicagoland Disabled People of Color Coalition (Chicagoland DPOCC), which is supported by the Institute on Disability and Human Development. Chicagoland DPOCC is a group of disabled people of color in the Chicagoland area that promote disability pride, self-advocacy, and inclusion in communities of color throughout the Chicagoland area.


Kent Schafer, Ph.D., NCSP, currently serves as the director of counseling and evaluation for Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf. He previously worked for the Alabama Department of Mental Health, providing inpatient psychological services and administrative oversight for deaf individuals with severe and persistent mental illness at a psychiatric hospital while maintaining a small community caseload as a therapist. His first master's was in Alcohol and Substance Use from the University of Illinois at Springfield, clinically treating substance use or challenging youth via prevention education. His second master's was in School Psychology from the University of Wisconsin at Whitewater, educationally challenging students, parents, then teachers to dare to make a difference. Whether clinical or educational, Dr. Schafer has created differential registers and modalities merging deaf mental health and deaf education. Dr. Schafer continues to be vested as a nationally certified school psychologist, promoting the consultation/collaboration model for a visual language foundation. Inside his circle, he is affectionately known as the "research man" who enjoys disseminating strategies through deaf eyes. His doctoral dissertation focused on building psychometric value to Roger Williams and Charlene Crump's Communication Skills Assessment, which Mental Health Centers across Alabama utilize in their treatment plan by matching communication preferences. His predoctoral internship consisted of rotations at Civitan-Sparks Pediatric Clinic in Birmingham, AL with a focus in pediatric psychology and Bryce Psychiatric Hospital in Tuscaloosa, AL working with forensic and/or involuntary commitments. In the past, Kent has worked on numerous media-related projects for an executive agency in Illinois. As a current board-at-large member, former president, or President-Elect of national deaf organizations, ADWAS, DDGA, and ADARA, he continues to have a vested interest in addressing policy and program concerns to promote best practices for behavioral health and social services. Dr. Schafer continues to be a visiting guest lecturer for multiple universities, challenging students for the greater good. He relishes opportunities to expand the six inches of grey matter between your ears. Outside the work sphere, as a recent Hall of Fame inductee, Kent can be found somewhere chucking round plastic objects towards metal-encaged baskets in the sport called disc golf or spending time with his wife and two daughters.





Finding Connections Within a Big Network

How do you make a big Network of AUCD members smaller so that it’s easier to make connections? Why is it important to get out of your comfort zone and take the opportunity to grow? In this session, panelists share the different ways they developed as a leader within the AUCD Network and what helps them to stay connected. From a new leader to director-level, the AUCD Network has an on-ramp for individuals at every stage of their career. Finding a place to grow and connect matters—personally and professionally. The AUCD Network goes beyond the workplace. It’s a community. Panelists share their experiences of stepping outside the box and tips on how to develop as a leader in a Network that can feel overwhelming.



Aliana I. Romero, AuD, CCC-A, is a bilingual pediatric audiologist based at the Mailman Center for Child Development, University of Miami. She is the daughter of Cuban and Puerto Rican immigrants and is originally from Atlanta, Georgia. Dr. Romero received her Doctor of Audiology degree from Nova Southeastern University and received her undergraduate degree in Health and Human Performance with a concentration in Exercise Science from Georgia College & State University. She is an active member in the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) and the Florida Association of Speech-Language-Pathologists & Audiologists. She currently serves on the board of the Association of University Centers on Disabilities as the Emerging Leader. Additionally, Aliana serves as co-facilitator of the Emerging Transformational Leadership Program at the University of Miami. She devotes herself to creating positive healthcare experiences for her patients and their families. Aliana is dedicated to educating and mentoring students/future leaders and transforming systems of care for people with developmental disabilities in the community.




George S. Gotto, IV, PhD, joined UMKC-IHD, Missouri’s University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (UCEDD), in 2009 and was named Associate Director of Research in 2016. In 2018, George became the Director. He holds a joint appointment as Research Associate Professor in the Department of Biomedical and Health Informatics, UMKC School of Medicine. George received his Ph.D. in 2007 from the University of Kansas in medical anthropology with an emphasis in community-based research and cultural perspectives on disability. He spent his early career as both a student and employee at the Institute for Human Development at Northern Arizona University (AZ-UCEDD) and the University of Kansas Beach Center on Disability.

Canyon Hardesty, M.S., CHES, is the Associate Director of WIND, the Director of Community Education and Training, and the Director of the Wyoming Telehealth Network. She is also adjunct faculty at the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Utah, serving as public health faculty for the Utah Regional Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities. In her current role, Canyon also leads the adaption of the ECHO model from health to education and National Training Initiative focusing on children impacted by opioid, substance use, and related trauma (Project SCOPE).  Ms. Hardesty’s research is primarily focused on health services delivery, interdisciplinary care and capacity building through virtual learning communities, and the use of telehealth to address complex health challenges. Before joining WIND in 2013, Canyon worked for seven years at the Wyoming Department of Health. Canyon earned a master’s degree in Health Care Ethics from Creighton University and a master’s degree in Kinesiology and Health from the University of Wyoming and is currently a doctoral student in Public Health Leadership at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Nathaida Moea’i is the Project and Transition Coordinator at the American Samoa University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities. For Nathaida, working at the UCEDD has created opportunities to meet, socialize, and learn about and from the disability community and many others. Consistent networking through the UCEDD has taught Nathaida the importance of teamwork and leading with a purpose, qualities that she also strives to incorporate in her life outside the UCEDD as a single mother providing the best example for her daughter every day. Nathaida lives on the west side of American Samoa, in a village named Leone.

Leann Smith DaWalt, PhD, is a senior scientist at the Waisman Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is also the director for the Waisman Center’s University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities. Her research focuses on the role of the family and community in supporting development for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities across the lifespan. With funding from Autism Speaks, the U.S. Department of Education, and the National Institutes of Health, Dr. DaWalt has investigated life course trajectories for autistic individuals and individuals with fragile X syndrome as well as examined the impact of psychoeducation interventions during adolescence and adulthood.