The DREAM Student Advisory Board
Board members meet online monthly through a method that is accessible for all members to plan DREAM activities and discuss issues of interest to students who are disabled, Deaf, and/or chronically ill.
Are you a student who'd like to share an issue or collaborate with the DREAM Board? Contact us at DREAM@ahead.org
Are you a student who'd like to share an issue or collaborate with the DREAM Board? Contact us at DREAM@ahead.org
DREAM BOARD 2020-2021
My name is Kiara Benson and I am a graduating Senior majoring in Electrical Engineering at Tuskegee University. I am currently the president of the Tuskegee University Chapter of Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineering (IEEE) and I am also a Teaching Assistant for several Electrical Engineering courses. I’m also involved in AccessComputing which is a organization that gives students with disabilities in engineering and computer science a voice to raise their concerns and have people listen and give advice.
I have had the opportunity to complete internships with Lucite International and Eaton Corporation. I have dyslexic and ADHD. I am very grateful to say I have several job offerings to choose from before my graduation, all from a variety of excellent companies.
I can honestly say I know how it feels to be counted out of something I wanted to be included in. Despite these odds and insecurities, I have always worked hard to reach my goals. I can honestly say that I have made great progress and trained myself into being a competent and talented engineer who possesses and impeccable work ethic.
I believe everyone is destined for greatness. It only takes one person to give you the push you need to persevere. I love to motivate and encourage my fellow peers to break their barriers, and inspire them to believe in themselves even when the opposition won't. I have passion for advocating for people to fight for their dreams even if they can’t yet realize them. This reason is why I love my university so much. Ever since being apart of AccessComputing, I felt like I wasn’t fighting my disabilities and challenges in engineering alone. I enjoy advocating for other students who also have similar disabilities while simultaneously helping them find the resources they needed to succeed in college and in the professional world.
University of San Diego
Fanisee Bias is a youth activist and organizer in her community of Boise, Idaho and currently, San Diego, at the University of San Diego. Her activism developed more after she was diagnosed with a spinal disease called Transverse myelitis; she had to learn how to advocate for herself and her disability which made her passionate about advocating for others. At the start of her junior year in high school, she started working at the Idaho Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic violence to be in the youth movement to end gender-based violence and learn more about social justice. Since working at that job, she has participated in other opportunities such as Treasure Valley Teen Council which focuses on reproductive justice and the Sierra Student Coalition, whose work supports environmental justice. She realized that all of these justice-related topics interconnect and is ready to learn more and advocate for equity and equality in the world. She is studying Sociology with a concentration in Social Justice at the University of San Diego to educate herself on everything justice-related and develop her collective organizing in a new environment with new communities. For her first three years at USD, she has been interning at an organization called the United Front Multicultural Commons that focuses on liberating people of marginalized identities and being a resource to underserved communities on and off-campus. Her involvement is very interconnected and intersectional, and recently her calling has been towards disability justice.
She attended Idaho’s Youth Leadership Forum in the summer of 2019 which led her to attend the Association of Programs for Rural Independent Living (APRIL) a couple of months later in Michigan. Being around all of these leaders with disabilities and learning more about disability justice, she applied and got accepted to be Vice-Chair of the APRIL Youth Steering Committee to plan APRIL’s youth conference this past October 2020. Also, during the summer of 2020, she was an intern with the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD), and she looks forward to going physically (instead of virtually) next summer! She speaks for herself but fights for her communities. She has always been very passionate about making the world a better place for all communities, especially marginalized and underserved populations she can be a voice for.
Meenakshi ‘Meena’ Das - Co-Chair
Meenakshi ‘Meena’ Das is a masters student studying computer science at Auburn University. Her research focuses on developing accessible coding curriculums for engaging disabled students in computing fields. She holds a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Mississippi State University (MSU). She has interned at Microsoft and Qualcomm in software engineering roles. Meena has shared about the challenges of having a speech impediment, and now is an advocate for accessibility. She uses her life experiences and education in computer science to emphasize why it's critical for us to work toward accessibility in education and tech. Meena is a free spirit, with a passion to make the world inclusive one step at a time. At MSU, she founded an organization for students with disabilities, conducted a coding camp for visually impaired students, and published a paper on disability inclusion. As a member of the student council of a non-profit organization named Disability:IN, she provides them with a student perspective on disability inclusion. She also leads an online community for individuals with disabilities which has over 1000 active members. She has been quoted by ABC News and Forbes for her views on disability inclusion. While she is not coding and advocating for disability rights, you can find her listening to pop music and writing for her personal blog and Instagram Page.
Clara da Silva
Sage Marie Desovich
Sage Marie Desovich is an undergraduate student in Social Work at Elms College. She has an associates degree in Human Services from Asnuntuck Community College as well. She identifies as disabled as well as someone with mental illnesses. She enjoys fiber crafts, reading and making jewelry in her spare time.
Sage Marie became involved in the disability community when she entered college and found other disabled students on campus as well as on an online community. Through this she became interested in forming a community of other students on campus where they could meet, discuss any issues they’re facing, and get support from one another.
She founded the Student Disability Advocacy Club, an affiliate of DREAM, at Asnuntuck Community College and was the president for three years. Two major events with SDAC included organizing a bathroom accessibility audit and a wheelchair challenge involving the Dean of Students to highlight the inaccessibility on campus. She worked to connect ACC with it’s sister school of Manchester Community College and assisted with mental health awareness through Fresh Check Day. Also at her time at Asnuntuck, Sage Marie was involved as a note taker for the Disability Services Office, was a student representative on the Quiet Reflection Room Committee, was a Senator in Student Government, and was the intern for the Wellness Center and Pantry at ACC.
Currently, Sage Marie is the intern at the Student Accommodations and Support Services office at Elms College. She created multiple guides for professors and staff for information on how to make distance learning accessible on multiple platforms. In the future Sage Marie wants to work as a director in a college disability services office. Her main goal is to increase the accessibility of higher education and the accommodations process for students with disabilities.
Bowling Green State University (OH)
Val Erwin is a third-year PHD student in Higher Education at Bowling Green State University. She identifies as autistic, dyslexic, and someone with multiple mental illnesses. She has an assistantship as a research assistant focusing on disabled college students. She was formerly the program advisor at the Women & LGBT Center for Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. Her interests span the intersections of disability, gender, sexuality, and sexual violence with college students and broadly college access for underrepresented students. She has her Masters in Higher Education from Iowa State University and her Bachelors in History from Michigan State University. She has been a volunteer with the Michigan Disabilities Rights Coalition for the last twelve years focusing on women, youth, education, and leadership. She has in the past advised disability student organizations and was the president of her undergraduate disability group.
Allilsa Fernandez - Co-Chair
Stony Brook University (NY)
Allilsa Fernandez is a senior majoring in psychology who is soon to graduate Magnum Cum Laude. She is the President and Founder of Peer mental health alliance; an organization that provides peer to peer support, information and resources about mental health and helps raise awareness on mental health via performing arts. She is also an undergraduate representative for the President's ADA committee, a mentor for the ACE program under the disability deparment in her University and has participated in the PAR program, which is a research that helps students with disabilities.
Allilsa has won several awards for her work on campus; The distinguished service award, the student organization leadership award and the outstanding leadership award. She has also served in countless of mental health, disability, and LGBTQA+ organizations as a board member.
Spoken word has been a creative way for Allilsa to advocate for disabilities and mental health. Her passion for advocating for disability, mental health, intersectionality, inclusion, and diversity is rooted in her own struggles with psychological disabilities and temporary physical disabilities
Saint Louis University School of Law
Gabriella Garbero is a third year law student at Saint Louis University School of Law. Since soon after beginning law school, she has worked as a faculty fellow performing research and learning about the complexities of disability law, health law, and bioethics. She is also Technical Managing Editor for the SLU Journal of Health Law and Policy, and her student article, "Impossible Choices, Improbable Odds: Disability and the Right to Marry" was one of four student articles chosen to be published during the 2020–2021 school year. Gabriella also co-authored an article called "Sex-Based Discrimination in Healthcare Under Section 1557: The New Final Rule and Supreme Court Developments" that was featured in The Health Lawyer. When she graduates, she will earn a J.D. with a Health Law concentration and she plans to use her degree to help advocate for people with disabilities. Outside of school, Gabriella runs a blog called The Girl Who Sits where she talks about disability issues, and she enjoys participating in disability advocacy and activism wherever she can. In her spare time, she enjoys politics, scary movies, and spending time with her family and her dogs. At thirteen months old, Gabriella was diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy Type Two. SMA, as it is popularly known, is a neuromuscular disease that manifests in general muscle weakness and fatigue, and has caused Gabriella to use a wheelchair since she was about two years old. Through her disability, Gabriella learned from a young age to be a fierce advocate for herself and others and to use her communication skills to teach the people around her.
Cape Cod Community College
My name is Stephanie E Polito and I am 27 years old. I currently live in Mashpee Massachusetts in a supported living community. I am a preschool assistant teacher and I work in a daycare in Bourne, Massachusetts. I have an intellectual disability and also low muscle tone. I attended Riverview School in East Sandwich, Massachusetts and also was a student at Project Forward at Cape Cod Community College.
Anu graduated from Boston University in the summer of 2020 with a degree in Political Science and Philosophy. She currently works at the Boston Center for Independent Living and occasionally as a freelance reporter/ writer. She is also an organizer and is passionate about disability justice, mutual aid, and anti-carceral feminist work. She hopes to pursue these interests in her graduate study. You can follow her on Twitter at @naanandroses.
University of California, Berkeley
Oliver is a public health advocate and researcher committed to social, economic, racial, gender, and Deaf/disability justice and equity through legislative development, advocacy, and strategic action regarding social determinants of health for marginalized populations. Oliver currently is pursuing a Masters in Public Health at UC Berkeley.
Previously, Oliver worked at Lambda Legal Defense & Education Fund, working towards comprehensive policy and litigation on behalf of LGBTQ youth within child welfare and juvenile justice systems. Oliver is also a long-time communications team member with Trans Lifeline, the only crisis hotline run by trans people for trans people. They are passionate about languages, accessibility, health access, hiking, and fun facts.
University of Massachusetts, Amherst
Jeff Edelstein is a second-year Ph.D. student in the Higher Education program at UMass Amherst and a graduate research assistant for the UMass Center for Student Success Research . He has been researching the experiences of disabled students in higher education for over 6 years and is particularly interested in disability identity development and disabled community building in postsecondary education. They have presented research on the experiences of disabled students in higher education at the annual conferences for the Association for the Study of Higher Education, the International Society for Autism Research, and the American Association of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. He has a B.A. in Music and a B.S. in Management Information Systems from Florida State University, where he co-founded the College Autism Network, and an M.A. in Higher Education from the University of Michigan, where he co-founded the disability advocacy collective, Disability Culture @ UM. At UMass Amherst, they serve as a member of the Alliance Against Ableism and provide ableism awareness training to campus community members while building in disabled community on campus. In his spare time, Jeff enjoys spending time with his partner, Nad, their guinea pigs, reading graphic novels, and listening to podcasts.
Wendy Harbour - Director of the National Center for College Students with Disabilities