Picture of Lady Justice, Registration is Open for the 2017 Disability Advocacy Conference

Meet Our Board

Ernie Baldwin (Mountain Region)

Ernie is a native North Carolinian who now resides in the Charlotte area with his partner. As a young man, he was diagnosed with cancer, and he was treated with a large infusion of chemotherapy that left disabling side effects. Ernie has a wealth of experience in the pharmaceutical, computer, and construction industries. He was a Senior Analyst in the IT field for more than 30 years. Ernie is enthusiastic about Disability Rights NC, stating without reservation that when he commits to something he goes “all in.” His goals as a board member are to engage in and support Disability Rights NC’s advocacy and enforcement activities.

Board Member James Booker

James Booker (Piedmont Region)

James Booker is originally from West Virginia and graduated from West Virginia Wesleyan College. He moved to North Carolina a little more than a decade ago. His work in the field of disabilities began when he worked as a counselor at a summer camp for children with disabilities. After graduating, he became a teacher’s assistant in public separate schools, working primarily with children with profound medical needs. He has since become a clinical supervisor to a direct care provider, and he has served on the Deaf-Blind Advisory Council. He and his wife have spent the last several years as foster parents to children with disabilities. The biggest influence in James' life is his son, who he adopted at the age of three. His son suffered a TBI as a result of Shaken-Baby Syndrome and is deaf and blind. Not a day goes by that James doesn’t learn something new from his son, and he will do anything to make his life just a little easier.

Dr. Crystal Bowe

Dr. Crystal Bowe (Mountain Region)

Crystal is a family physician from Ahoskie, NC. She attended North Carolina A&T University for her undergraduate studies, University of North Carolina - Greensboro for graduate studies in romance languages, and East Carolina University for medical school and residency. Prior to becoming a physician, she was a teacher in the Greensboro area. Crystal’s interest in disability rights stems from her experiences caring for her aunt and uncle, who both have intellectual and developmental disabilities. She is a strong advocate for her patients (young and old) and works to help them achieve the goal of full inclusion and independence in life.

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Carol Cannon, PAIMI Advisory Council Liaison (Eastern Region)

Carol Cannon is a North Carolina native currently residing in Greenville. She has a bachelor's degree in special education with a minor in early childhood education from East Carolina University. She has 15 years of public school teaching experience in northeastern North Carolina and is now retired. In 2002, Carol became an active member of the Consumer Family & Advisory Committee with Roanoke Chowan Human Services, serving as chair and as a board member. Carol was an employee for the mental-health provider Recovery Innovations International as an outreach coordinator. She is a former board member of NC Consumer Advocacy, Networking and Support Organization (NC CANSO), and she continues to support its vision. She is currently a North Carolina Mental Health Consumers Organization member, an active NAMI Pitt County member, and a participant on the NAMI Consumer Council.  She is trained to present In Our Own Voice. Carol is the current 2016 PAIMI Advisory Council Chair for Disability Rights NC. After 15 years of misdiagnoses, she finally received through proper evaluation the correct one of PTSD, which she openly speaks out about. Carol is a mother of an adult daughter and adorable young grandson, and she is the caretaker of an aging beloved pet.

Adebola Desalu

Adebola Desalu (Central Region)

Bola relocated to Raleigh from the northeastern part of the United States for a management position with Sprint’s RelayNC program, a service that facilitates telephone calls for people with hearing impairments. She travels the state and has heard many frustrating tales of discrimination against deaf people. Bola, who has a hearing impairment, has volunteered with national and state organizations serving people who are deaf. Upon learning about Disability Rights NC, she felt a connection to its cross-disability mission as a way to put critical mass behind issues of civil rights, advocacy/law enforcement, and policy development. She has degrees in PR and social work, using the latter in an earlier career counseling people with mental illness.



William Donohue (Piedmont Region)

Dr. Donohue was born and raised in Iowa, attended Michigan State for his graduate education, and served as dean/vice chancellor for student life for 33 years across 6 states. He capped his formal work life as executive director of The Special Children’s School in Winston-Salem. In retirement he plays golf, raises popcorn, and shares a wonderful life with his wife Deborah and three children, Carrie, Jeremy, and Lindsay. His background with disabilities includes family members with polio, ALS, Down syndrome, Alzheimer's and Muscular Dystrophy.

Bryan Dooley, Secretary (Piedmont Region)

While earning a degree in history at Guilford College, Bryan won numerous leadership awards and scholarships, wrote for The Guardian newspaper, and worked as a diversity coordinator. Bryan is now a journalist and columnist with Camel City Dispatch and a board member at The Adaptables Center for Independent Living in Winston-Salem. Bryan, who has cerebral palsy, is an advocate for people with disabilities. He began advocating from a young age, earning state and national awards by high school, including the Yes I Can award in assistive technology from the Council for Exceptional Children and the Matthew Graziadei Achievement Award. He participated in the Youth Leadership Forum and numerous youth groups, including the National Youth Leadership Network and the American Association of People with Disabilities. He completed the NC Council on Developmental Disabilities Partners in Policymaking program in 2014 and actively participates in the Advancing Strong Leadership in Development Disability Initiative, NC Post-Secondary Education Alliance, Community Emergency Response Team, and the Centerpoint Consumer and Family Advisory Committee.

Board Member Victoria Ekstrand

Victoria Ekstrand (Central Region)

Victoria (Tori) is an assistant professor in the School of Media and Journalism at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, where she teaches media law and researches web accessibility for people with disabilities as a First Amendment issue. She spent ten years teaching at Bowling Green State University in Ohio after receiving her Ph.D. from UNC in 2003. Before that, she worked for The Associated Press in New York for nearly a decade; her last position there was as director of Corporate Communications. Tori has students, colleagues, friends, and family members with various physical and mental health disabilities. She shuns “inspiration porn” in media stories about people with disabilities and firmly believes that disability law and policy must be crafted with and by those it affects: “Nothing About Us Without Us.”

Rachel Fuerst, Vice-Chair (Central Region)

Rachel is a partner with Henson & Fuerst, a law firm founded in eastern NC by her father and two friends. Much of her professional work involves clients who have been abused, neglected, or injured in group homes and nursing facilities. She represents clients before the Department of Veterans' Affairs and the Social Security Administration. As the granddaughter of a person with sensory and age-related disabilities, she is keenly aware of the challenge of disability on the family and wider community. Rachel appreciates Disability Rights NC’s focus on systemic change as a way to proactively impact institutions and policies. She is especially interested in improving conditions in group homes and nursing homes, saying "If more North Carolina citizens are involved with disability rights, then we have a better chance of convincing those who make the laws that more is needed to protect those who are most vulnerable."

Kim Lan Grout

Kim Lan Grout (Central Region)

Kim Lan is a writer, photographer, and disability advocate in Durham. She is the founder of the Redefining Disabled Project and a co-founder of the Accessible Icon Project–Durham, NC. When she was 18 years old, after a long saga with a congenital vascular syndrome, Kim Lan elected to have her left leg amputated above the knee to save her life. What most people would consider her disability, she considers her liberation. Now, 15 years post-amputation, Kim Lan lives a full life alongside her husband and their two daughters, the younger of whom was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes at just two years old. It is with this love for life and love for her “broken” body that she works to make our world more inclusive and aware; fights the able-istic status quo; and seeks to show our community that disabilities don’t have to be the end of one’s life, but rather can be a source of love, tolerance, patience, and determination.

Itnuit Janovitz Freireich, Treasurer (Central Region)

Itnuit was born in Mexico and grew up living in both Mexico and France. She graduated from North Carolina State University with a doctorate in mathematics and was a professor at the Center for Research and Advanced Studies (CINVESTAV) in Mexico City and later at St. Augustine's University in Raleigh, NC. She currently works as a children's book distributor. Having had very difficult experiences with navigating the special education and early intervention systems, she is interested in helping parents of children with special needs gain easy access to the assistance and information needed to ensure their children receive the services and education they require. She also is interested in advocating for better inclusion services in the public school system.

Denise "D" Jones, Chair (Eastern Region)

D is an individual with autism who seeks opportunities to share her tools for living an independent life with other individuals with autism. She has been a Physical Therapist Assistant for more than twenty years and has served in that role with Lenoir Memorial Hospital since 2008. She received her associate’s degree in Physical Therapy Assistance at Union County College and her bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Rutgers University. She has traveled across the United States participating in Power Tumbling competitions. D first became involved with Disability Rights NC when she attended the two-part DATE volunteer training. She wants to be a voice for those who don’t have one.

Natalie Miller (Piedmont Region)

Natalie is an elder law attorney who lives in Mooresville. She has three close relatives with disabilities (autism and hearing impairments) and regularly works with a population whose age leaves them vulnerable to disability. Natalie has become a local and state resource on guardianship, estate planning and community access issues. She is the president of the state chapter of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, serves on state guardianship law committees, and has published and lectured in the field.

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Alyssa Ng (Eastern Region)

A North Carolina native, Alyssa currently lives in Wilmington. She contracted spinal meningitis and encephalitis at age 13, which left her temporarily paralyzed and legally blind in one eye. Despite her vision loss, Alyssa looks for the best in everything. She is passionate about human rights for both the LGBTA and disability communities. She is currently in college and working to become a speech pathologist. She loves meeting people of all backgrounds and her hobbies include spending time with friends and family, cooking, painting, playing with her four animals, and shopping.

Board Member Jill Britton Scercy

Jill Britton Scercy (Eastern Region)

Jill has lived in North Carolina for more than 35 years. She lives in Greenville with her husband and has three grown children. She graduated from East Carolina University and is a licensed marriage and family therapist. She worked in public mental health and then private practice with families and children with mental health challenges and developmental disabilities. Eleven years ago she began working for the UNC- Chapel Hill TEACCH Autism Program and is now the director of the Greenville center. Jill has been involved both locally and on the state level with advisory councils for public education. As the mother of a son with Autism, she co-led a parent support group for 14 years. Jill is honored to serve on the board where abilities are emphasized and all rights for individuals are protected.

Janna Shisler (Central Region)

Janna lives in Chapel Hill and has been a North Carolina resident for a few years. She has first-hand knowledge of the joys and challenges faced by people with disabilities. In 1979 during her sophomore year in college, Janna suffered a spinal cord injury in a hayride accident. She graduated from Indiana University with a bachelors degree in political science, received her juris doctorate degree from the Indiana School of Law in Indianapolis in 1988 and, several years later, returned to law school and completed an LL.M. in Health Law, Policy and Bioethics. She spent most of her active legal career as general counsel for the Hoosier Lottery where she handled a broad spectrum of legal, human resources, and policy issues in a corporate setting. Janna has a special interest in access to healthcare issues and ensuring that people with disabilities are considered and included as reform progresses. 

Deborah Whitfield (Mountain Region)

Deborah joined our Board of Directors in 2012. She is an Assistant Clerk of Mecklenburg County Clerk of Superior Court in the judicial hearings division, where she supervises the civil commitment, adoption and default judgment units. Before joining the Court, Deborah practiced law at the Council for Children’s Rights in Charlotte for nine years, representing children who were abused, neglected, dependent and delinquent with mental health conditions and developmental delays. But many in the disability community may know her better as the Program Director of North Carolina’s Partners in Policymaking program, a nationally replicated leadership and advocacy training program funded by the NC Council on Developmental Disabilities. She is co-founder and executive director of Advocacy Institute, Inc. In 2011, Deborah was appointed to the NC Board of Education/Department of Public Instruction Council on Educational Services for Exceptional Children. She earned her bachelor of arts degree from Hampton Institute in Sociology, a master’s degree in city and regional planning from UNC at Chapel Hill, and a juris doctorate degree from North Carolina Central University School of Law. She is licensed and practiced law in Texas where she served, for a time, as a municipal court relief judge before returning to her home state of North Carolina in 2002. She is the proud parent of two daughters, the youngest of whom is an 18-year-old with Down Syndrome. 

 

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