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!
Penn State University
Elijah Armstrong is an upperclassman majoring in Education and Public Policy at Penn State University. Elijah founded the student-led project Equal Opportunities for Students to foster self-advocacy and inform students, families, and community stakeholders of their education rights under federal law. He is an alum of the 2018 AAPD Summer Internship Program where he interned for Senator Bob Casey.
Elijah is also a public speaker on equity, inclusion, and advocacy. He has given speeches at Columbia University’s Teachers College, New York City Public School Department of Inclusion and given a TED Talk at Johnson and Wales in Miami. He has also been a guest on NPR, discussing the economics of disability. Elijah began his advocacy work after experiencing seizures and sickness related to epilepsy. As a junior at a Jacksonville college prep school, he struggled with the lack of appropriate accommodations and bullying. This caused him to develop strong self-advocacy skills and a desire to support other students with disabilities.
For fun, Elijah performs stand-up at comedy clubs and theatre roles. One of the most inspirational moments of his life was standing in the Rose Garden listening to President Barack Obama and the Prime Minister of Italy Matteo Renzi discuss the importance of human rights and valuing every person.
Bowling Green State University (OH)
Val Erwin is a first-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 in the Center for Leadership.
Val 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.
Val 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.
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
Syracuse University (NY)
Ptahra Jeppe is in her second year at Syracuse University College of Law and is pursuing a Juris Doctorate and Master of Science in Cultural Foundations of Education with a Certificate of Advanced Study in Disability Studies.
In third grade, Ptahra was diagnosed with severe dyslexia. Thanks to a great family, great educators, assistive technology, multi-sensory education, and accommodations, she was able to navigate academia and the world beyond that. In fact, Ptahra was able to graduate high school with a New York State Regents Diploma. She then graduated magna cum laude along with other honors from Adelphi University and became program director at Everyone Reading (formerly New York Branch of the International Dyslexia Association). Ptahra then served as Chief of Staff for New York State Assembly member Jo Anne Simon before leaving to attend law school.
Ptahra is currently serving as a Board Member of Disability Rights, Education, Activism, and Mentoring; Vice-President of Disability Law Society; member of the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates Membership & Social and Racial Equity Committees; and member of the Churchill School Alumni Board. Upon graduation, Ptahra hopes to be able to continue to help individuals with disabilities and others in need.
University of Minnesota Law School
Maddie O’Meara is a first year law student at the University of Minnesota Law School and a graduate of Grinnell College. She hopes to work in the field of disability law and is particularly passionate about mental illness and the intersection of identities with the experience of disability.
During her time at Grinnell College, Maddie was involved in a number of committees, advocacy groups, and student organizations related to various causes including disability, mental health, queer and trans rights, and survivors’ rights. Maddie recently won the Association of Higher Education And Disability's Student Recognition Award at their annual national conference as she was "instrumental in educating students, faculty, and staff about accessibility" at Grinnell while she was there.
Her advocacy work is informed by her own identities and experiences, including being a queer person living with psychiatric disabilities and chronic illness.
Syracuse University (NY)
Priya Penner is a sophomore at Syracuse University (SU) majoring in Political Science and Citizenship and Civic Engagement. In addition to her advocacy/activist efforts on campus and belonging to several different disability-focused student organizations, she is currently the President of the Disability Student Union (DSU), a student org that gives disabled students a space to socialize with each other.
Priya was born with arthrogryposis multiplex congenital (AMC for short) in Coimbatore, India. At the age of 3 and a half, she was adopted by a disabled couple in Rochester, New York. Her mother taught her the foundations of disability dights and disability pride, and as a result, Priya got involved in ADAPT, locally and nationally, at the age of 14. In the summer of 2015, she, along with four other individuals, presented at the National Council on Independent Living’s Conference. These connections lead her to travel to Japan to speak to the Japanese Independent Living Movement about her role in the U.S. Independent Living/Disability Rights/Disability Justice Movement.
Moving forward, Priya hopes to continue her advocacy/activist efforts on the Syracuse University campus as well as within ADAPT, build DSU and strengthen the SU disability community, and go on to law school upon completion of her B.A.
Valencia College (FL)
Jesus Ramirez is a sophomore student at Valencia College working on a Bachelor of Health Sciences degree. A Leukemia diagnosis in 2008 at the age of eleven steered Jesus toward a career as an Anesthesiologist. When a patient is going through such stressful, frightening situations, they just want a bit of warmth and safety and to be aware that everything will get better. As a 8-year cancer survivor, nothing will stop Jesus from solving any problems to get where he wants to be. As Plato wrote, "The first and greatest victory is to conquer yourself; to be conquered by yourself is of all things most shameful and vile."
Danny Thomas Vang
San Francisco State University (CA)
Danny Thomas Vang is a blind undergraduate student at San Francisco State who wishes to combine the disciplines of social work and labor studies to conduct policy analysis and program evaluation in municipal government. His observations of the complexities around Supplemental
Security Income and workplace experience coupled with the lackluster infrastructure set in place for affordable housing in San Francisco served as a catalyst for his interest in gainful employment and sustainable housing. On his spare time, you might find him exercising at the gym or watching anime with friends.
At the age of 15, Danny lost 90% of his vision due to glaucoma (high pressure in the eyes) and cataracts (cloudy lens). The negative messages that he received about his “bleak future” in this transitional phase from family, friends, and teachers prompted him to join Survive or Thrive (a support group and mentoring program for people with disabilities) as a organizer to provide a platform for
students and their families to access educational information and social networks.
At the moment, Danny is a fellow at the Longmore Institute, where he conducts research on community center models and current disability trends for the creation of the first disability cultural center in San Francisco. He was an intern with elected official Supervisor Norman Yee, with the USDA Food and Nutrition Service, and with the Wells Fargo Home Mortgage Executive Office.
Johns Hopkins University (MD)
Madelynn is a junior at Johns Hopkins University, double-majoring in Sociology and Psychology. Active in campus life, Madelynn is President of Adoremus (an a cappella group), Vice President of Delta Xi Phi Multicultural Sorority, Junior Class Senator in the Student Government Association, and a member of the Sexual Assault Resource Unit.
As a person living with disabilities, Madelynn is also the proud Co-Founder of Advocates for Disability Awareness, a John Hopkins University student advocacy organization. She coordinated student-led efforts calling on the university to support the rights of students with disabilities as well as including disability as a key part of the diversity programs on campus. Working with the Johns Hopkins administration, Madelynn and her group have generated progress on many of the specific demands.
Madelynn is the inaugural Dinah Cohen DREAM Fellow in Disability Mentoring. As part of this fellowship, she is developing a toolkit for disability disclosure for those transitioning to work.
Madelynn's long-term objectives focus on the one third of female college students with a disability who report being sexually assaulted – and an even higher percentage for people with intersecting identities. Madelynn plans to either go on to graduate school for a PhD in Sociology, or work for a disability and/or sexual assault advocacy group.
University of Washington
K Wheeler is double majoring in Law, Societies, and Justice and Disability Studies in the Interdisciplinary Honors Program at the University of Washington. They are President (Headmaster) of the UW Harry Potter Club and a member of the Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society. K works as an office assistant for Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology (DO-IT), a transition program for students with disabilities from high school to college and college to careers.
K has won numerous medals and broken U.S. and world records as a Team USA Paralympic swimmer, including winning 4 golds at the 2015 CanAm Para Swimming Championships. While K has qualified to compete in the Paralympic Games, the lack of events for their classification prevented them from attending. K has since retired their swim cap to focus on their academic and career goals.
After graduation, K plans to attend law school and become a disability rights lawyer with a focus on policy. After working as a lawyer for a few years, K has plans to work their way up the political ladder with the hopes of one day being President of the United States. K has a passion for accessibility born through their personal experiences of being a congenital amputee and the experiences of people around them. One of their biggest passions is researching the connection between sexual assault and disability, which the topic of their honors thesis.
Miami University (OH)
Megan Zahneis is in her fourth year at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio as a Stamps Leadership Scholar, majoring in journalism and interactive media studies with a minor in disability studies.
In addition to being active in campus media, Megan serves as the co-president of Miami University’s Students with Disabilities Advisory Council (SDAC), which was recognized as the university’s Outstanding New Student Organization of the Year in 2016-17. Among the initiatives Megan and SDAC have supported are a peer-to-peer mentoring program for students with disabilities and the creation of a model accessible classroom. Megan regularly shares her disability experience in class visits and on various culture and hiring committees at Miami. She has also served as an undergraduate assistant in several disability studies courses, presented at conferences on disability, diversity and technology, and will have a chapter published in an edited volume on disability in 2019.
Megan is also a member of the executive team at the Ohio Youth Leadership Forum (YLF), an annual four-day program that teaches high school students with disabilities leadership, advocacy and independent living skills. There, Megan assists in curriculum programming and communication as well as serving as a small-group counselor.
Born with a very rare neurological disorder that rendered her unable to feel pain, temperature and touch to the same degree as others do, Megan has also been diagnosed with several other chronic illnesses and is profoundly deaf. She uses bilateral cochlear implants.
Megan is passionate about sharing the stories of people living with disability and difference – including her own – and hopes to attend graduate school.
Kimberly Elmore - Texas Tech University (TX)
Kim Elmore is a doctoral candidate in Technical Communication and Rhetoric with a concentration in disability studies at Texas Tech University. Her passion is collaborating with individuals from marginalized communities to navigate and develop available resources and problem solve to achieve their goals. Kim drew on this passion as high school teacher and college instructor in English and as an executive officer of graduate student organizations at three universities. Kim has been a part of DREAM leadership over 5 years and currently works as the DREAM Coordinator at the National Center for College Students with Disabilities.
Kim interviewed Deaf and disabled college students about their struggles and successes transitioning to college for two co-authored chapters in Navigating the Transition Between High School and College for Students with Disabilities (2018). Her essay on including autistic users in the user-centered design process, “Embracing Interdependence: Technology Developers, Autistic Users, and Technical Communicators,” appears in Rhetorical AccessAbility: At the Intersection of Technical Communication and Disability Studies (2013).
Kim identifies as Neurodivergent with chronic illnesses and an autistic parent. She supports cross-disability, cross-disciplinary, and cross-community activism and advocates for better learning, working, and living conditions for college students with disabilities.
Wendy Harbour - Director of the National Center for College Students with Disabilities