Anita Shafer Aaron
Anita joined WID in 2010 after serving for twenty years as CEO of the LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, headquartered in San Francisco. Her disability rights work officially began in 1981 as Deputy Director of the Berkeley Center for Independent Living, and she was one of WID’s pioneering staff members in 1983-86.
She has a bachelor’s degree in sociology, a master’s in public administration, and certificates in facilitative mediation and nonprofit management.
Acknowledgements include the Community Leadership Award from Independent Living Resource Center, San Francisco in 2005; an Access Award from American Foundation for the Blind in 2006; an Award for Excellence from San Francisco Mayor’s Council on Disability; the Distinguished Service Award from California Council of the Blind in 2007; and, in 2013, she was one of 50 Notable People in the Disability Community in California.
Anita defines herself as a mother, grandmother, community partner, and agent for disability justice.
Accounting Manager & Contracts Administrator
Cara is WID’s Accounting Manager and Contracts Administrator for the Employment and Disability Benefits Initiative (EDBI). She oversees Accounts Payable and Accounts Receivable processes; federal, state, and international vendor contracts creation; vendor contracts review; grant funding contracts; staff allocations; and she coordinates materials production for the annual audit.
Prior to joining WID in the spring of 2015, Cara worked in the maritime industry as an Accounting Manager. There, in addition to overseeing Accounts Payable and Accounts Receivable, she handled the day-to-day accounting activities, assisted with processing weekly large-scale in-house payroll, and became overly familiar with the United States Coast Guard Vessel Maintenance and Repair Contracting (IDIC) system.
A Native of Berkeley and a Science Fiction enthusiast, Cara has managed overall convention operations for multiple fan-run conventions for over 20 years. She is a voracious reader, a talented story teller, and, to WID’s ever grateful staff, an accomplished baker.
Deputy Director/Access to Assets Program Director
Trained as a tax lawyer and financial planner, Tom leads WID’s business consulting, financial inclusion, and information technology access practice. After more than 30 years of experience in the disability community, Tom authored EQUITY, the first asset building book for people with disabilities. He also serves on the Cities for Financial Empowerment Fund Board and has been recognized by numerous organizations, including the Center for Economic Development (CFED), National Disability Institute (NDI), and Center for Financial Independence and Innovation (CFII) for his financial inclusion work.
Tom is a member of the American Red Cross National Diversity Advisory Council and works closely with national and local disaster and first responders to ensure disability inclusion in America’s emergency preparation, response, and recovery efforts.
Tom is a competitive tri-athlete and ever-hopeful Chicago Cubs fan. His love of travel and golden retrievers (and his necessary pursuit of the ultimate vacuum) compete for his spare time.
Alabama, WID’s Enforcer, has been working at WID since mid-2015, following her release from the kennel for the criminally adorable. Virtually every morning, she assaults team members with a big bark and a tug toy in her mouth. She is a fierce tug’o’war enthusiast, often leaving opponents with sore arms and existential ennui. When she is not prancing about with her ridiculously fluffy tail arched above her, she can be found ravishing a bone and occasionally biting holes in people’s sweaters—the cashmere ones, mostly, because they taste the best.
Chief Morale Officer
Carrera, WID’s Chief Morale Officer, started working at WID in 2007. Though she is nearing 100 dog-years-old, she still loves to play fetch every night. When not translating classical Greek poetry, she enjoys wandering from desk to desk, formally greeting everyone. She has been the subject of countless photo shoots (Ms. Guidedog, May 2006) and is ever so photogenic, now sporting the dignified, silver-tipped coat of her encore career. Carrera officially retired in 2015, but someone as dedicated to disability advocacy as Carrera never truly retires. She periodically returns to the office to remind the rest of the WID team that she is the reed through which the breath of truth sounds its discordant notes.
Policy and Research Specialist
Alex is a Policy and Research Specialist at WID. He is currently managing the New Earth Disability project, which addresses how climate change will affect people with disabilities and how people can prepare. The project has compiled over twenty resources, and features research and policy recommendations on heatwaves, climate-related migration, and more. In addition to climate change, Alex contributes to a variety of WID’s economic empowerment initiatives, including EQUITY and benefits reform efforts.
Before WID, Alex worked at the California Energy Storage Alliance where he wrote regulatory filings on landmark policies, bringing large-scale batteries and other technologies to the electric grid. He has also written for Life in Action magazine where he wrote relationships columns and feature articles, and he is currently a contributor to New Mobility magazine and its blog. Outside of work, Alex performs spoken word poetry and is a singer, with a barbershop quartet in the works.
Manager of Special Projects
Loretta is the Manager of Special Projects at WID, including WID’s international portfolio, supporting WID’s mission and initiatives in Washington, D.C. and business development. From 2011 to 2016, Loretta was the Director of WID’s Add Us In program, supported by a grant from the Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment (ODEP).
Prior to joining WID, Loretta’s work in the disability employment field was in government and support services. Her most rewarding experience was orienting executive-level businesses leaders on the importance of including disability as part of the corporations’ diversity commitment. Gaining trust and assisting decision makers with understanding and implementing disability workplace practices, models, and policies of inclusiveness inevitably led to a sustainable commitment to employing people with disabilities.
When Loretta travels abroad, she is never far away from her work–she makes it a point to talk to anyone and everyone about accessibility and the role people with disabilities have in all societies.
Projects Coordinator II
Elizabeth is a Projects Coordinator II at WID with a focus on conference accessibility. She also has a hand in projects around accessible technology and nutrition. She’s a recent UC Berkeley graduate with a B.A. in English and a minor in Disability Studies.
After taking numerous classes at UC Berkeley in Disability Studies and spending her final semester studying abroad in Rome, Italy, where the cobblestone streets and ancient churches pushed her to think about disability access through an international lens, she returned to the Bay Area with a new sense of purpose.
She now works with WID on a variety of different projects, including consulting with national civil rights and community development conferences about disability-forward practices; maintaining WID’s website; facilitating user experience testing on phone apps and websites; and creating tools to make nutrition accessible for people with disabilities.
When she isn’t working, she enjoys cooking, social dancing, and reading.
Employment and Disability Benefits Initiative Program Director
Bryon founded and directs WID’s Employment and Disability Benefits Initiative (EDBI). He is a longstanding member of the National Academy on Social Insurance and Co-Chairs the National Council on Independent Living’s Employment-Social Security Subcommittee. His background includes establishing competitive, supported employment as a viable California employment strategy in the 1980s.
Bryon manages WID’s partnership with benefit program analysts and technology experts, with focus on public policy education and WID’s multi-media information services on health, benefits, employment, and disability available through Disability Benefits 101 and Vets101. He is sought out nationwide as a trainer and public speaker to promote innovation and excellence in field practice services and policies that net economic equity for Americans with a disability.
From 2000-2004, he participated as a member of the Social Security Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Advisory Panel, an appointment made by President Clinton. Bryon received his B.A. in English from Fordham University. He hikes, sails, and travels widely in his spare time.
Charity is a Projects Coordinator at WID. She is a recent University of California, Davis graduate with a B.A. in English and Psychology. While interning as an event-planner and the Lead Blogger for the Culture C.O.-O.P., she became passionate about social justice and the role of intersectionality in marginalized populations. She has planned and participated in several events that centered around respect for diversity, including the International House Davis’s International Festival (2014), the Culture C.O.-O.P.’s Cupcakes for Equality fundraiser (2015), and Juneteenth celebration (2015).
After her internship, she sought out a position in which she could further aid an underrepresented community. She is excited to have found WID and to work on a variety of projects, such as user testing to improve technology accessibility for people with disabilities and hosting interns with disabilities from various international fellowship programs.
When Charity is not working on a WID project, you can find her on a hike or enjoying an iced coffee outdoors.
Marsha Saxton, Ph.D.
Director of Research and Training
Marsha is Director of Research at WID and lecturer in Disability Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. Marsha loves teaching and training and has presented workshops and classes in Australia, Japan, Britain, Finland, Qatar, Canada, and the U.S. She was the recipient of the Irving Kenneth Zola Memorial Lecture award and has been interviewed on 60 Minutes and Talk of the Nation, addressing issues of reproductive technologies and selective abortion. She has served as a board member of the Our Bodies, Ourselves Collective; the Council for Responsible Genetics; and the Ethics Working Group of the Human Genome Initiative. She has published three books, two films, and over one hundred articles and book chapters about disability rights, personal assistance, women’s health, employment, violence prevention, and genetic screening issues. Most recently she’s focused on improving the disability community’s nutrition and fitness, “taking the challenge to practice what I preach”!
Projects Coordinator II
Josephine joined WID in 2008 and currently works as a Projects Coordinator II who supports the publications, development, administrative, and finance departments in various capacities. As part of her tasks, she has participated in the planning, development, and coordination of WID’s annual fundraiser. She has also fact checked, style and web edited content for many different projects, including Sticks and Stones and EQUITY.
Josephine is committed to increasing communication, information, and education access for persons with disabilities. As a hard-of-hearing person, she is dedicated to raising awareness about hearing loss and has been a guest speaker at graduate-level classes to share her experience of living with progressive hearing loss. She has also been actively involved with the San Francisco chapter of the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA).
Josephine received her B.A. and her M.A., both in English, from Sonoma State University in California. Her research work, “Narratives of Individuals with a Post-Lingual, Post-Vocational Hearing Loss: A Discourse Analysis,” was published in 2004.
Vilissa Thompson, LMSW
Vilissa is the Project Coordinator for the National CareerACCESS Program. She is responsible for spearheading efforts to increase employment opportunities and independence among disabled young adults.
Vilissa is a proud disabled advocate who established her own online platform called Ramp Your Voice, which addresses the intersectionality of race, gender, and disability. She has emerged as a prominent leader in discussing and educating the public about the plight of disabled women of color. In this work, Vilissa has empowered herself as a triple minority member and also, empowered others who hold multiple marginalizations within the disability community.
Vilissa received her B.A. in Psychology and her Master’s in Social Work (MSW) from Winthrop University. She is a Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) in the state of South Carolina. Vilissa currently resides in Winnsboro, SC and plans to relocate to Washington, D.C. where she can continue to make the “good trouble” within disability advocacy.
Director of Strategy and Operations
Kat is the Director of Strategy and Operations (DSO) at WID. Working with WID’s management team, Kat recommends and coordinates activities aimed toward translating strategic opportunities into support for critical issues affecting accessibility and inclusion for people with disabilities. She is also responsible for the smooth and effective operation of WID’s internal functions, including managing HR, IT, and Marketing. Additionally, Kat works closely as a mentor to WID’s international fellows and manages WID events and fundraisers.
Kat received her B.S. in Political Science and B.A. in Anthropology from Florida State University. While working in Azerbaijan as a Peace Corps Volunteer, she gained experience in NGO development, community building and grant writing. As a person born with a neurological disability, Kat is committed to eliminating stigma of hidden disabilities. Until her curiosity kills her, she plans on endlessly traveling to remote destinations, immersing herself in local cultures and taking photos of #StreetArt.
Senior Policy Adviser
Neil Jacobson is spear-heading WID’s CareerACCESS initiative. He is the founder and CEO of Abilicorp, a business innovation consulting company. In 2008, he retired from Wells Fargo as a Senior Vice President
Over the past 40 years, Neil has been an advocate and change agent for the economic development of people with disabilities. In 1975, he co-founded the Center for Independent Living’s Computer Training Program (CIL CTP), a nationally recognized training program, enabling people with significant disabilities to become computer programmers. More than 28 other programs throughout the U.S., Canada, and Puerto Rico now use the CIL CTP as their model. Neil also founded the Association of Rehabilitation Programs in Data Processing and helped create the Neil Jacobson Computer Center in Uganda. He was also the Vice-Chair of the President’s Committee on Employment for People with Disabilities under the Clinton Administration.
Neil received a B.S. in Mathematics from Hofstra University and a M.B.A. at Golden Gate University. His favorite saying is “Go! Go! Go!”
Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) Mandella Washington Senior Fellow
Robert is a trained professional in Social Sector Planning and Management. He holds a master’s degree in this field and a bachelor’s degree in Social Sciences.
He is a specialist in social development and socioeconomic empowerment and has worked with local and international organizations, focusing on children, youth, and people with disabilities, including Handicap International, Leonard Cheshire Disability International, National Union of Disabled Persons of Uganda, Uganda Society for Disabled Children, Uganda National Association of the Deaf, African Youth Panel, UNFPA, and the African Union.
He has traveled widely, presenting papers and advocating for an all-inclusive society. His passion is to ensure that people with disabilities are given equal opportunities at all levels in society.
As a WID Senior Fellow, Robert founded “The Capable Works Disability Initiative,” a social enterprise to economically empower people with disabilities and advocate for their socioeconomic rights.
Robert is Deaf and a sign language user but can lip read.
Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) Mandela Washington Fellow
Alieu has over 8 years of experience working with blind and partially sighted people in the Gambia. He is the founder of Start Now, an organization with the mission to train and empower blind and partially sighted high school graduates with computer skills as a preparation for higher education and employment. He also works as a teacher at the School for the Blind where he teaches keyboarding to blind children. Alieu holds a Higher Teacher’s Certificate from the Gambia College School of Education, specializing in General Science and Agriculture and Acquired Leadership Training on Project Management from Kanthari in India, as well as Blind Technique Skills from Louisiana Centre for the Blind (U.S.). Upon completion of the fellowship at WID, Alieu plans to expand his organization as a regional hub to empower blind adults on ICT and to campaign against societal prejudices and discrimination toward visually impaired people.
Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) Mandela Washington Fellow
Since 2011, Mauot Louis alier Anyang has been a disability rights advocate and secretary of education for the South Sudan Association of the Visually Impaired where he supervises a music-and-drama group known as Hidden Ability Melody. His role is to advocate and lobby for persons with disabilities, especially access to education for the blind. He also mentors students and initiates and supervises the implementation of policies and guidelines developed by the association. He is a co-founder of the South Sudan Union of Persons with Disabilities.
Mauot possesses skills in administration, legal issues, and the media, which he acquired as a third-year law student and through work experience. Upon returning from the Fellowship, he intends to use the skills he has acquired to reform his organization, to contribute to promoting education of the blind, and to establish a magazine, as well as student advocacy groups in secondary schools across South Sudan.
Community Solutions Program (CSP) Fellow
Roshan Samarawickrama is the Program Director of the charity ECSAT (Equality-based Community Support and Training) in Sri Lanka. In 2005, he joined the newly formed charity and has spearheaded its work to integrate people with disabilities and marginalized people into the community. His work is recognized locally where a lack of education and support from government agencies for people with disabilities is a deep-rooted cultural issue.
Roshan has a BA in Psychology and his other qualifications include counseling experience, an MA in Business Studies, a Diploma in Special Education, and he is currently enrolled in a MSSc. Sociology program. As a fellow at WID, he aims to learn as much as possible about the best practices in the USA for people with disabilities. He plans to take back and use these new ideas in practices at ECSAT.
Roshan is planning to enlist a dog on the ECSAT team.
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