UCP 2022 Annual Convention Speakers and Panelists

(Listed alphabetically)


Pete Bigelow is a senior reporter at the Automotive News in Detroit, where he covers automated and electric vehicles. He hosts the weekly Shift podcast, which explores the future of transportation. Previously, his work has appeared in The New York Times, Car and Driver, Popular Mechanics and other publications. Pete is a one-time pilot who is now grounded near Ann Arbor, Michigan, where he lives with his wife and three children.

Kerry Brennan is a UX Research Manager on the Waymo Insights Team. Her team’s work focuses on understanding how individuals and communities interact with Waymo’s cutting edge autonomous driving technology. In addition to conducting UX Research studies with an accessibility focus, Kerry has spearheaded efforts to ensure a truly inclusive product development process for Waymo. 

Henry Claypool is a Technology Policy Consultant for AAPD. He is the former Director of the Health and Human Services Office on Disability and a founding Principal Deputy Administrator of the Administration for Community Living. He also served as a presidentially appointed member of the Federal Commission on Long-Term Care, advising Congress on how long-term care can be better provided and financed for the nation’s older adults and people with disabilities, now and in the future, and was Executive Vice President of the American Association of People with Disabilities, which promotes equal opportunity, economic power, independent living and political participation for people with disabilities. He is Affiliated Faculty at the Institute for Health & Aging at UCSF and principal of Claypool Consulting.

U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) is a fourth-generation Memphian who has dedicated his life to public service. As a child, the challenges of living with polio taught him how to overcome obstacles through persistence and determination, values which would shape his career as a legislator. Filing to run for office on the same day he first registered to vote, Congressman Cohen stepped onto the path that has defined his life and affected the lives of people in Memphis, across Tennessee and now across America throughout his career in national, state and local politics. During his term as a Shelby County Commissioner, Congressman Cohen cast the deciding vote for the creation of The MED which today, as Regional One Health, has one of the finest trauma care and burn center units in the Mid-South.  This would be the first in a long line of votes during his career that would define his legislative philosophy: fighting to ensure the basic human rights of every American, such as access to health care. Full bio.

Rory A. Cooper, Ph.D. earned B.S. and M.Eng degrees in electrical engineering from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo in 1985 and 1986, respectively. He earned a Ph.D. degree in electrical & computer engineering with a concentration in bioengineering from University of California at Santa Barbara in 1989. He is FISA & Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) Professor and Distinguished Professor of the Department of Rehabilitation Science & Technology, and professor of Bioengineering, Physical Med & Rehab, and Orthopedic Surgery at the University of Pittsburgh (Pitt). Cooper is Founding Director and VA Senior Research Career Scientist of the Human Engineering Research Laboratories a VA Rehabilitation R&D Center of Excellence in partnership with Pitt. Cooper is an adjunct professor in the Robotics Institute of Carnegie Mellon University, and PM&R of the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences, and he was awarded Honorary Professor, Hong Kong Polytechnic University and Xi’an Jiatong University where he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate. Cooper has authored or co-authored over 375 peer-reviewed journal publications. He has over 30 patents awarded or pending. Cooper is the author of two books: “Rehabilitation Engineering Applied to Mobility and Manipulation” and “Wheelchair Selection and Configuration,” and co-editor of “An Introduction to Rehabilitation Engineering,” “Warrior Transition Leader: Medical Rehabilitation Handbook,” “Promoting Successful Integration”, and the award-winning book “Care of the Combat Amputee.”

Colleen Crispino, President and CEO of UCP of Long Island, and has 25-year demonstrated track record of strong leadership skills including program development, strategic planning, corporate communications, team building and staff development. Crispino has a career long passion for enhancing the lives of people with disabilities. She is a seasoned advocate with an extensive history of working collaboratively with elected government officials. A New York native, she comes to UCP of Long Island with more than two decades of experience working with agencies that provide services to adults and children with disabilities. In her previous role, Crispino was the Chief Program Officer for The Viscardi Center on Long Island. She has held positions as the Assistant Executive Director for ACLD and was the Chief Operating Officer for The Head Injury Association. Crispino has a Master of Science in rehabilitation counseling from Hofstra University and a Bachelor of Science degree from Boston University. She has also worked as an Adjunct Faculty Professor for Hofstra University.

Diane L Damiano PT, PhD, is a Senior Investigator at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland and Chief of the Functional and Applied Biomechanics Section in the Rehabilitation Medicine Department. Her research focuses on the design and investigation of activity-based rehabilitation programs and development of robotic devices to promote optimal motor functioning and enhance muscle and neural plasticity in cerebral palsy. She has published more than 125 scientific papers and is an Associate Editor of Neurorehabilitation and Neural Repair. She has served as President of the American Academy for Cerebral Palsy and Developmental Medicine (1st physical therapist & 4th woman in their 61-year history) and the Gait and Clinical Movement Analysis Society. In 2016, she was selected as a Catherine Worthingham Fellow of the American Physical Therapy Association, the highest honor in this profession. She recently received a NIH 2020 Director’s Award on Equity and Diversity for her lifelong research and service for children with disabilities and their families.

Lydia Dawson, Director of Policy, Regulatory & Legal Analysis at ANCOR. She formerly served as the executive director for the Maine Association for Community Service Providers and the Idaho Association of Community Providers, representing agencies supporting individuals with behavioral health and developmental disabilities. Prior to her work as a state association executive, Lydia served as a staff attorney with Maine’s protection and advocacy agency, representing individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Lydia obtained her Juris Doctor from Roger Williams University School of Law with a concentration in public interest and her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from the University of Maine. She has been engaged statewide and nationally as a speaker and trainer on topics related to guardianship and supported decision-making, access and rate reimbursement methodology, and due process in Medicaid.

Jeanne De Sa is Senior Partner & President of Healthsperien X. With more than two decades of experience in health care policy, data analysis, and strategy, Jeanne helps organizations respond to challenges and opportunities in the changing health care policy environment. She draws on her background in the government and the private sector to translate complex developments in health care reform and reimbursement policy for a range of audiences and purposes and offers particular insights into the Medicare and Medicaid programs.  Prior to joining Healthsperien, Jeanne worked at UnitedHealth Group as a Senior Vice President and led an interdisciplinary policy, data analysis, and research team at the company’s Center for Health Reform & Modernization. From 1997 to 2008, Jeanne served as a Principal Analyst at the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) in the Budget Analysis Division’s health care section. She also has experience working with state governments on improving their health care systems through work at the Alpha Center (now part of AcademyHealth) and for the state of Massachusetts.

Craig Dulniak, Craig Dulniak is the Senior Policy Advisor for Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-9, Memphis). His legislative portfolio includes healthcare, armed services, veterans and natural resources. After completing his undergraduate studies at Middle Tennessee State University, Craig worked for the Tennessee General Assembly before moving to Washington, DC in December 2006 to work for newly-elected Congressman Cohen. While working on the Hill, Craig earned a Master’s degree in Public Policy from Georgetown University. He spent several years away from the Hill to work in healthcare before returning to Congressman Cohen’s office in Spring 2021. During his down time, Craig may be found playing sports with his 4-year-old son or in a nearby biergarten.

Robert Espinoza is the Executive Vice President of Policy at PHI, where he oversees its national advocacy, research, and public education division on the direct care workforce. In this role, he also contributes vision and leadership to PHI’s organizational strategy, marketing and business development, and commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. In 2020, he was selected for the first-ever CARE 100 list of the most innovative people working to re-imagine how we care in America today and as one of Next Avenue’s 2020 Influencers in Aging. Robert is a nationally recognized expert and frequent speaker on aging, long-term care, workforce, and equity issues. He serves on the board of directors for the National Academy of Social Insurance, the FrameWorks Institute, and the American Society on Aging, where he serves as Chair Elect. Robert received his MPA from New York University, and his BA in English and BS in Journalism from the University of Colorado at Boulder, where he graduated summa cum laude. He is a 2013 graduate of the Rockwood Leadership Institute, and lives in Brooklyn, NY.

James Garcia is a journalist, playwright and communications and policy consultant based in Phoenix, Arizona. He serves as the communications coordinator for United Cerebral Palsy. An adjunct professor at Arizona State University, James has taught ethnic studies, Latino politics and a wide range of creative and non-fiction writing courses. He is also an accomplished playwright, the author of more than 30 plays, and the founder and producing artistic director of New Carpa Theater Co., which stages Latino and multicultural works.

Karen Harpster, PhD, OTR/L, is a clinician scientist and occupational therapist and has been at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital since 2011.  She is also an assistant professor at the University of Cincinnati and a faculty member for the Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disability (LEND) Program. Clinically, Karen evaluates and treats children with neurodevelopmental disorders with a large focus on infants and children with cerebral palsy and/or cerebral visual impairment.  Her research focus is to develop research and clinical programs for prevention and early treatment for infants at high-risk for cerebral palsy and those with cerebral visual impairment.

Neil Jacobson, AbiliCorp Founder and CEO, is not just a passionate advocate for full inclusion of disabled people in their communities; he is a man who leads by example. He co-founded the Computer Technologies Program (CTP) in Berkeley, CA in the 1970s, which has opened doors by providing an accessible training site and curricula allowing many people with disabilities to find successful careers. During his 29-year tenure as Vice President of Technology at Wells Fargo, he exhibited leadership and management skills as well as the kind of knowledge of disability issues that had a profound impact thru out the formidable management structure at the bank. During the Clinton Administration, he was appointed to serve as Vice Chair of the U.S. President’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities. Jacobson continues to exert a strong influence on Bay Area businesses thru AbiliCorp, a nonprofit organization he founded that focuses on employment skills training and placement services.

Shane Kanady is the Vice President, Workforce Development at Source America. In this position, Kanady focuses on the economic and social inclusion of persons with disabilities. Kanady joined the SourceAmerica team in 2001 and is an experienced nonprofit executive, researcher, author, and policy advisor. Kanady has dedicated his career to the social and economic inclusion of traditionally underrepresented groups, with a primary focus on the disability community. Kanady has appeared on podcasts and webcasts such as On the Evidence by Mathematica Policy Research, AXS Chat, and The Business of Learning by Training Industry, Inc. A frequent public speaker, Kanady has presented at the United Nations Conference of States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the International Labor Organization’s Global Business and Disability Network. Kanady holds a Master of Arts with a concentration in Social Entrepreneurship from George Mason University where he was a 2019 College of Human and Social Sciences Distinguished Alumnus. He also earned a Nonprofit Executive Management certificate from Georgetown University.

Kate McSweeny is President/CEO of ACCSES. Since May 2016, Kate has led ACCSES’s national advocacy efforts, including legislative and regulatory policy and member advocacy. Prior to joining ACCSES, Kate practiced law at the law firms of Chadbourne & Parke (now Norton Rose Fulbright) and Dilworth Paxson in Washington, D.C., while also teaching 22 semesters of legal research and writing as an adjunct law professor. Kate’s pre-law career was spent in broadcasting, including many years as Vice President of Programming and Development for Turner Broadcasting in Atlanta. She moved to Virginia in 1996 to take an executive position at America Online, and later had a successful consulting practice in broadcasting and media. Kate is a magna cum laude graduate of George Mason University School of Law (2004), and a cum laude graduate of Boston College (1980).  She has served on several boards including the Historical Society of the Courts of the D.C. Circuit board, the Woolly Mammoth Theatre board (secretary), the George Mason University School of Law Alumni Association board (president), and the George Mason University Alumni Association board (vice president of advocacy).  Kate was named President & CEO of ACCSES in December 2021.

RJ Mitte is best known for his portrayal of Walter “Flynn” White, Jr. for five riveting seasons of AMC’s Emmy and Golden Globe Award-winning dramatic thriller “Breaking Bad.”  Mitte is an actor, advocate and philanthropist who has carved out his niche in Hollywood by breaking down stereotypes and changing people’s mindsets with his easy-going demeanor and positive outlook. As Walt Jr., referred to by fans as “The Breakfast King,” Mitte acted as the cerebral palsy afflicted son of Walter (Bryan Cranston) and Skyler White (Anna Gunn). He will be seen next in Triumph, starring alongside Oscar winner Terrance Howard, as a high school wrestler overcoming all odds to make his dreams happen. Ahead of the COVID-19 lockdown, RJ was in mid-filming of ISAAC, a thriller, starring opposite Disney star Dove Cameron. RJ is also head of his families’ legacy project, Mitte Foundation, aimed at revitalizing South Texas.

Dr. Brandiss Pearson, is a healthcare leader, educator, mentor and motivational speaker for youth, women, entrepreneurs, and individuals. Her journey began as a certified nursing assistant, then licensed practical nurse. Later, she earned a bachelor’s degree in social work from Syracuse University and nursing degrees from St. Joseph’s College of Nursing, Le Moyne College & SUNY Upstate Medical University.  Dr. Pearson received her education doctorate in executive leadership from St. John Fisher College. Her overall goals are to help people remove self-limiting beliefs in order to become the best version of themselves and to create pathways to equity and inclusion at the organizational level. She is the proud mom of 2 extraordinary young men, Shaun and Brandon. Brandon is an individual with Down syndrome who defies odds everyday, thanks to the unwavering support of his village of friends, family and direct support providers.

Valerie Pieraccini MS, OTR is the Director of Clinic and Homebased Therapy Program & Early Learning Center and has practiced as a pediatric occupational therapist for over 30 years, working with children at United Cerebral Palsy of Central Arizona since 1994. Valerie received her bachelor’s and Master’s in occupational therapy at Western Michigan University and A.T Still University respectively. Her current focus is on implementation of evidence practice for children with cerebral palsy. She is a member of the American Academy for Cerebral Palsy and Developmental Medicine. Valerie is a co-chair for the UCP Research Committee and a member of the UCP Professional Learning Series committee. She is the lead author of Handprints: Home Programs for Hand Skills and has lectured often on children’s hand skills.

Andrea Stoesz is the director of External Affairs for Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare, where she focuses on advancing patient advocacy initiatives, working on federal policies for kids who have complex medical conditions, rare diseases and traumatic injuries and Gillette’s community engagement efforts. Over the years, Andrea has worked in a variety of roles in policy and healthcare. She began her career working for Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota. After earning her Master’s at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, she researched antibiotic use and antibiotic resistance at The Pew Charitable Trusts in Washington D.C. She then moved to the Minnesota Medical Association as a Policy Analyst where she oversaw issues related to healthcare finance, economics and quality improvement.