2024 Conference Breakout Sessions


Link to Breakout Sessions Presentations and Handouts

Registration & Continental Breakfast/Exhibitor Fair/Client Assistance and Services Help Desk*  
8:30am – 9:30am

*DRNC advocates and attorneys will be onsite to answer questions and provide information.

Breakout Sessions 1

9:30am – 10:30am

Presenters: Holly StilesLisa Grafstein

As we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Olmstead decision, the fight for the rights of people with disabilities to live and receive services in their community is ongoing. This session will delve into DRNC’s ongoing legal efforts to 1) support adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) in community living, 2) enable disabled working-age individuals to access services for competitive integrated employment and 3) advocate for disabled foster children with behavioral needs to receive home and community-based services instead of being placed in psychiatric residential treatment facilities (PRTFs).      

Presenters: Lisa NesbittKirby Morrow

Join us for an overview of the Medicaid service system in NC. Designed with parents and advocates in mind, this session provides practical information about how to navigate the Medicaid system, what kinds of services are available,  tips on good advocacy, and resources.

Presenter: Lena Welch

Often, individuals with mental health conditions are covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and have a right to job accommodations. Requests for reasonable accommodations by employees are on the rise. This session will cover the reasonable accommodation process and evaluating leave as an accommodation, discuss legal issues around mental health disabilities in the workplace and provide practical strategies that can be used to ensure ADA rights for people with mental health disabilities are realized.


Presenters: Susan PollittCari CarsonCraig Waleed, EdD

Solitary confinement poses significant harm to individuals, with a disproportionate impact on those with disabilities. In North Carolina, both children and adults are subjected to solitary confinement, confining them to an 8′ x 6′ cell for 22-24 hours a day, spanning days, weeks, months, and even years. The detrimental psychological and physical effects of solitary confinement have been extensively documented over decades.

Prolonged isolation is inherently traumatic, resulting in severe mental health consequences such as memory deficits, anxiety, depression, physical ailments, and psychosis; for individuals with pre-existing mental illnesses, the repercussions are exacerbated. This session aims to shed light on the conditions of solitary confinement in NC DJJ, County JJ Detention facilities, and the NC Department of Adult Correction.

During this session, we will explore the profound impact of solitary confinement on individuals, delve into relevant case law, examine national trends, and consider alternative solutions. The goal is to ensure the safety of those living and working in facilities while promoting a less traumatic, therapeutic, and rehabilitative approach for individuals subjected to solitary confinement.


Breakout Sessions 2

11:00am – 12:00pm

Presenters: Kelly Friedlander, Cameron Kempson, M.Ed., Kelly Woodall, Hannah Shumaker

Join the Ability Leadership Program of North Carolina (ALP-NC) for a dynamic session where practical exercises meet strategic discussions, equipping you for impactful advocacy in behavioral health. This interactive workshop begins with a practical advocacy exercise, sharpening your abilities to advocate for change effectively. The session transitions into a stakeholder engagement forum, creating a space for meaningful discussions on pivotal topics within the behavioral health sector. Participants will receive insights into current and emerging avenues for influencing policy to improve service delivery. This session is tailored for individuals with lived experience, their families, community caregivers, and professionals keen on engaging with and learning from those directly impacted by systemic challenges. Learn how you can be part of a united push for systemic transformation and become an active participant in shaping a behavioral health system where inclusivity and responsiveness are not just ideals but realities.

Presenters: Gabriella BushAndy AndersonKaterin CastroBarbara DanielsConnie DixonKiara McleodAshleigh Swayze

DRNC’s rep payee team is at the forefront of the latest P&A program, operating under the umbrella of the Strengthening Protections for Social Security Beneficiaries Act of 2018. Over the course of their work, the team has engaged with thousands of individuals with disabilities in NC, contributing to the collective achievement of over 1 million beneficiary interviews within the network since the program’s inception. This session will delve into the distinct aspects of this work, shedding light on strategies to uphold the principles of dignity, respect, and choice in financial affairs and money management for beneficiaries of SSI/SSDI. Join us to explore the intricacies of the SSA benefits rep payee program approach and the impact it has on the lives of those served.

Presenters: Sara HarringtonDane Mullis  

The number of people diagnosed with substance use disorder (SUD) has significantly increased over the last decade, along with the number of reported overdose deaths. Disability rights laws have an important role to play in combatting this crisis. These laws provide people with SUDs equal access to lifesaving medical and rehabilitation services. In this session, you will learn about the background on the opioid epidemic In North Carolina, treatments for SUD, how to determine whether substance use disorder is a protected class, and examples of SUD/OUD discrimination in healthcare settings.

Presenters: Mellonee Kennedy, Virginia Knowlton Marcus and panelists Tracy Boggiano, Bobby Livingston, and Chad Perry

Involuntary Commitment (IVC) is a legal mechanism designed to protect people from potential harm during a mental health crisis. While North Carolina law guides a process that should result in safe treatment and improved mental health, that is often not the case. Following a legal overview, a panel representing individuals with lived experience, professionals and community members will share their experience with involuntary commitment law as it plays out in their professional and private lives.


12:00pm – 12:45pm

Plenary Speaker: Bishop William Barber II in a Conversation with DRNC CEO Virginia Knowlton Marcus

12:45pm – 1:25pm

Join us for a compelling conversation between Bishop Barber and DRNC CEO Virginia Knowlton Marcus. They will discuss Bishop Barber’s December 2023 disability related discrimination experience at a Greenville movie theater, the intersection of disability, race and poverty, and reflect on living in North Carolina twenty-five years after the pivotal Olmstead decision that declared the unjustified segregation of people with disabilities in facilities is unlawful discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Don’t miss this enlightening discussion on the progress and challenges in the pursuit of racial and disability justice. 


Breakout Sessions 3

1:35pm – 2:35pm

Presenter: Holly Stiles

If you work in the legal field, you probably have or will encounter clients or witnesses with disabilities. This session will provide valuable insights to enhance your understanding of accommodating disabled individuals in the legal process. Get answers to your questions about notarizing documents for clients unable to hold a pen, ensuring blind clients have accessible deposition transcripts and other litigation documents, protecting deponents from having to face their abuser when that person is a party to the case and has a right to attend the deposition, and more.

Presenter: Lisa Nesbitt

Tenants with disabilities commonly request that housing providers grant a “reasonable accommodation” to their no pet policies so that the tenant may have their assistance animal live with them without fear of eviction. Requests for assistance animals are some of the most common reasonable accommodation requests made to housing providers, and also some of the most common requests denied. This session will discuss both Service Animals and Emotional Support Animals in the context of the Fair Housing Act along with the rights and obligations of both landlords (or other housing providers) and tenants under the Act.

Presenters: Lisa GesslerDane Mullis 

Opioid Use Disorder (OUD) is a treatable, chronic medical condition and may be protected as a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This session will examine the legal foundations mandating jails and prisons provide Medications for OUD (MOUD) in accordance with the ADA and the U.S. Constitution. The discussion will cover legal precedents, as well as the effectiveness and benefits of providing treatment during incarceration. Join us to hear insights from the legal advocates spearheading DRNC’s MOUD in NC Jails project, as they unveil their analysis of policies and practices within North Carolina jails and recommendations for fostering positive change.

Presenters: Cari CarsonJolona KinlawDebbie Thome

The individualized education program (IEP) is the cornerstone of a quality education for each child with a disability. Session participants will explore what an effective IEP looks like, gain confidence in navigating the IEP process, learn strategies for advocating successfully in IEP meetings, troubleshoot common problems with IEPs and their implementation, and identify tools that can be used when something goes wrong in the IEP process. Participants will also develop familiarity with special education legal rights.


Breakout Sessions 4

3pm – 4pm

Presenter: Dawn Crawford

The healthcare workforce shortage has a critical impact on North Carolina’s disability community. DRNC is building a public service campaign to bring visibility to direct care workers, the needs of people with disabilities, and how boosting the healthcare workforce can build stronger communities in our state. In this interactive session, you will help drive the heart of this campaign. Your ideas and feedback will help DRNC decide on the campaign logo and start to collect individual stories. “Stronger Together NC” will add a new voice to the many agencies, organizations, and individuals who have already addressed this issue. Join us to share your initiatives/campaigns, exchange ideas, and help identify the stories of individuals and communities to spotlight in this communications-based initiative.

PresentersKishona Mimms

A trauma-informed approach to working with children with disabilities can strengthen advocacy and ultimately improve outcomes. Studies indicate that one in three special education students are victims of neglect, physical or sexual abuse. Children with disabilities are four times more likely than their non-disabled peers to be physically abused. And, students of color are four times as likely to be secluded or restrained at school compared with their white peers. This session will provide guidance to help build more effective relationships and better outcomes when working with disabled children to ensure necessary service needs are met to support their current and future well-being.

Presenters: Derek DittmarChris Hodgson

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed at a time when a new technology – the World Wide Web – would soon emerge and fundamentally change how our society interacts and processes information. This session will cover how thirty years later courts and lawmakers are still grappling with how to apply the Americans with Disabilities Act to ensure people with disabilities have access to digital content from the web and their mobile devices.

Presenters: Susan PollittLisa GesslerDesiree Gorbea-FinaletDane MullisDr. Craig WaleedLuke Woollard  

Explore the intricacies of how disabilities are reflected, identified, treated, and managed in the North Carolina criminal legal system. DRNC’s criminal legal team of attorneys, researchers, and advocates shed light on the critical need for enhanced screening, treatment and accommodation of disabilities. The goal of this panel discussion is to share relevant research and raise awareness on topics such as Opioid Use Disorder, jail and prison conditions, solitary confinement, brain injury, and the importance of proper reentry protocols. Attendees will gain valuable insights into the innovative projects undertaken by this team, focused on elevating systemic standards and enhancing programs within the criminal and juvenile legal system. Don’t miss the opportunity to develop an insider’s perspective on the impactful work of this dedicated team.



Closing Session
4:15pm – 4:45pm

Additional Details

Sessions and session times are subject to change.

*Speak with members of DRNC’s CASE team (Client Services Assistance & Engagement) Our advocates and attorneys will be onsite to answer questions and provide information.


Sign up to receive news and updates.

Get Involved

Check out our current campaigns.

Questions Or Comments?

How to reach our staff.