The Nation's Premier Autism and Disabilities Conference

November 16-18 | Columbus, OH

The Nation's Premier Autism and Disabilities Conference

November 16-18

Columbus, Ohio

2015 OCALI Awards

2015 OCALI Awards banner

The 2015 OCALI Awards recognize the impact, leadership, and accomplishments of individuals with autism and low-incidence disabilities as well as the parents and professionals who contribute to their development 
and success. These pioneers, innovators, and champions make things happen across Ohio, the United States, and beyond.


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And I have the opportunity to present the first award today, the first of several to come. And the award I'm going to recognize today is for Lisa Ebersole.



Let me tell you a little bit about Lisa. Lisa, I live here in Columbus, and even here in Columbus I recognize that even in an urban area like this it could still be difficult at times trying to find resources and different things that are going to aid our family, and our children, and different things who are living with autism. Lisa comes from more of a rural area, in Ashtabula County, and so she had an opportunity to to do exactly that. She was able to found a group called the Ashtabula County Autism Action Group, and it is precisely so that she can help families like her own. She is a parent also of a child with autism, and to try to help other families in her community find those sometimes hard-to-find resources and different things that we need, so that we could try to help make our lives and the lives of our loved ones much more comfortable.

She was able to do this by working with parents, getting them to come together on a monthly basis to give out new information about new providers, IEP goals, and other information, and also to have some social events so that our children can enjoy many of the activities that go on in our community. So with that, I would like to recognize Ms. Lisa Ebersole.


Well, I'm very overwhelmed and humbled to receive this award. It validates a lot of hard work from a lot of moms and a lot of families. This group was started with five moms who wanted to change the face of their community for their kids. So I appreciate it, I thank you very much. Tammy and Stacey, who are here to support me, I thank them, and Beth Thompson for the nomination from Milestones. I thank you, too. And this just spurs us on to continue working, and to work harder, and to bring more services and opportunities for our kids. So thank you.


Lisa Ebersole – Excellence in Family Impact
Roaming Shores, OH

Excerpt from nomination – "Rural counties rarely have adequate access to resources for individuals with disabilities; this is true for Ashtabula, but Lisa made it easier for parents to find the connections with professionals and parents they needed to with her parent-founded group – Ashtabula County Autism Action Group."

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I am Kay Brown, and I am from the Regional Autism Advisory Council, southwest Ohio and have had really the privilege of serving on the OCALI Advisory Board for about six years now. And I feel very fortunate to have been asked to give the Community Engagement Award to James Williams today.

I met James about eight years ago. And we shared a common interest, and it was autism. James engaged me once he learned that I was from Cincinnati. And his granddad was in a senior center in Cincinnati, and he used to come to Cincinnati regularly, staying for three, four weeks at a time to visit his grandfather. And James once shared with me that his grandfather was the one person that really got him, and they had a very special relationship.

And James-- he's bright, he's inquisitive, he's philosophical, he's passionate, and he is caring. And he's written two books. And he happens to have autism.

James actively shares his personal perspective and knowledge about autism with families with autism, their children, and those that support their children. And he does that from a really deep understanding of his own autism, how it has impacted him. And he makes sure that he talks about the possibilities, the competencies that persons with autism have, and the possibilities in their lives. He speaks, again, from his deep understanding.

And this has really become James' life's work. James travels the country, by bus ordinarily. He knows more about bus schedules across the nation, s and he really has more connections and networks than Verizon does, quite honestly.

And his is really that message of support. It's one of engagement. I am so thankful in my life to have been engaged by James and to have met him and to have learned from him. And I can think of no one more worthy of having this award today, the 2015 OCALI Community Engagement Award. James.


Thank you. It has been such an honor to have come to OCALI for the past eight years. And it's not been an easy road. I was diagnosed with autism when I was three in 1991. And the doctor who diagnosed me told my parents, your son has autism. He will do nothing in life. He will amount to nothing in life. He will never have friends. Get used to it.

My parents wanted to prove that doctor wrong. And they did.


I think it is of utmost importance as we work in our communities to know that everyone in this room is lucky to be here. There are so many families and people who don't always have access to conferences like these. And I believe it is our duty, whether we are self-advocates or professionals, to look beyond our abilities, sometimes speak for people that might not have gone through what we've gone through, but we still can, and to support one another.

I will close with the immortal words Martin Luther King said in his beautiful "I Have a Dream" speech, "We cannot walk alone." Thank you. 

James Williams – Excellence in Community Engagement
Northbrook, IL

Excerpt from nomination – "James Williams learned that he had autism when he was eight years old. Gradually he evolved from a shy kid who read from a script to a seasoned presenter who could speak spontaneously before any size audience. James also found a second calling as an advocate, coach, and mentor to other children with ASD."

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I have the pleasure and honor of giving the award today to a friend who has come further than anyone else here, all the way from Scotland. Jim Taylor has been coming to OCALI for many years. And I mentioned at the beginning being inspired. Jim travels the world over. I mean we talk about that, but he travels the world over to make sure that he is doing best for those all across Scotland, and is pulled in, and has been doing this for 36 years. And so Jim always talks about it comes from a place of strengths and looking at the strengths of all individuals. We are truly blessed that, because of Jim's strengths, because of what he does, he makes the world truly a better place. Jim, thank you. Thank you for your time, your true commitment, and your excellence. Thank you, Jim.

Thank you very much, Shawn. I never ever thought I'd manage to stand up here. I always thought I came to OCALI so that I could be very anonymous and sit and learn from you. I was thinking this morning that I'm a very long way away from friends and colleagues. And then as soon as I thought that, I realized that I was amongst friends and colleagues. And we were trying to pinpoint today what it was about OCALI that kept bringing me back. And I think it's the people that I meet, the presentations, and the conversations that I have with people around the place. So thank you very, very much for that.

I became very obsessed a few years ago with people talking about what can we do to make a difference. And I decided it wasn't enough just to make a difference. We had to find out what it was that was making all the difference. And it's my view that OCALI is one of things that make all the difference. All of you who are here to learn must go out and make all of the difference to people with autism.

I'd like to thank OCALI for welcoming me here every year. I'd like to thank Shawn for befriending me and talking to me. And I'd like to thank everyone who's spoken with me over the last few days. I'd like to thank Jill Hudson. And this all started because Jill met me-- this is very exotic. Jill met me in a corridor at a conference in Cape Town in South Africa and said, "Would you like to come to Ohio?" And I thought Cape Town, Ohio, yeah, I'll give it a bash. I'll see how they get on. I might go. And then nine years later, I'm still here. Thank you very much OCALI and thank you every one at the conference. Thank you. 

Jim Taylor –Excellence in Educational Leadership
Stirling, Scotland UK

Excerpt from nomination – "Jim Taylor has worked in autism for 36 years. Former director of education, Scottish Autism, he designed New Struan School, A Centre for Autism, one of the world’s first buildings designed specifically around the learning styles of pupils with ASD."

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Good morning. My name is Ginger O'Connor and I too am on the OCALI Advisory Board and feel very blessed to be standing up here to tell you about our next award winner. Play is the work of children. But for children with disabilities, play itself can become elusive.

Toys purchased by parents for their children can easily find themselves in the back of a closet, untouched, because the child who received the toy did not have the necessary skills to engage or interact with the toy, and his parents did not know how to help. For a toy company with the mission to bring joy and play to children and their families around the world, this was not acceptable.

The Hasbro toy company paired with their philanthropic partner, The Autism Project, also known as TAP, to find a solution to this unsettling problem. A bit of research revealed that the classic Hasbro toys, such as Mr. Potato Head, were frequently finding themselves in classrooms and therapy settings where, with supplemental materials, children who were differently abled could play with them.

Hasbro and TAP joined forces to create the Toybox Tools Program to provide structure to play with toys through a series of tools rooted in evidence-based practice. The instructional videos, printable materials, and play mats are designed to help families, caregivers, and teachers unlock the power of play and to make play more fun and enjoyable at the pace of each individual child.

In addition to helping to develop the materials to make toys accessible to all children, Hasbro has supported TAP by providing grants and toys for social skills groups and by donating toys to their annual fundraising walk, where hundreds of children participate. This past summer, Hasbro provided volunteers for a summer camp for children and teens with autism.

It is not surprising that Hasbro's philosophy of philanthropy is play for children who otherwise would not be able to experience that joy, service through employee volunteerism and the empowerment of youth through service, and hope to children who need it most. It is my pleasure to present the award for Excellence in Innovation for Supporting Child Development to the Hasbro toy company.


Thank you guys so much. Joanne and I are so happy to represent Hasbro and The Autism Project and our little Toybox Tools Team down in Rhode Island. So Hasbro's mission is to create the world's greatest play experiences, for all children. And this product is really trying to get any child to learn how to play with our toys, no matter of ability.

But it's not really just about the kids. It's about you guys. Our goal has always been to try to make your lives just a little bit easier. And for what we've been hearing at the booth the last two days, it seems like it's working. So please, come to our booth. Let us know what you think about our tools. This really is your project. Thank you guys so much.


I'll be quick, I promise. I was that mom who threw the toys to the side every time my son wouldn't play with them, until somebody told me about visuals and first then. And I've been talking with Hasbro for a couple of years. And I want to thank OCALICON for recognizing this great company that thinks outside the box. And thank all of you for all what you do. Thank you.



Hasbro, Inc. – Excellence in Innovation For Supporting Childhood Development
Pawtucket, RI

Excerpt from nomination: "What started out as a local collaboration between Hasbro and The Autism Project has gone global with ToyBox tools. ToyBox Tools helps children experience the joy of play with three levels of tools available for those who need support: basic play, expanding play, and social play levels."

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Award Winners Stephanie Childers 

Good morning. My name is Amy Bixler Coffin, and I'm the Autism Center program director at OCALI.

Hi. I'm Julie Short. And I'm a regional consultant for OCALI.

There are many people who do great things for individuals with diverse learning needs. One such person was Stephanie Childers. Stephanie was a dedicated educator to children with special needs for over 35 years. She was highly respected and thought of as a leader, advocate, and champion for individuals with low incidence disabilities, autism spectrum disorder, and their families.

Stephanie had a passion for collaborating with educators, professionals, and families within the State Support Region 15, which is located in southern Ohio. She worked every day to help empower families and professionals by providing them with knowledge and skills, whether it was by working alongside of them in the classrooms, providing professional development, or building professional learning communities in order to improve the quality of life for children with autism spectrum disorder and low incidence disabilities. She truly valued education and did everything she possibly could to make sure that all children-- and she meant all, no exceptions-- had an opportunity to learn by staff who understood their diverse learning needs. Stephanie was dedicated to making a difference and changing mindsets on how people viewed individuals with disabilities and their families.

Stephanie believed that in order to make change, collaboration was necessary. She truly believed in the quote it takes a village. OCALI was fortunate to collaborate with her on many projects in her region, including comprehensive program planning, district autism training, and the preschool autism training series. She was a collaborative member on the PBIS statewide network and the ASDLI Leadership Collaborative, was a member of the Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development, International Reading Association, Southern Ohio Mental Health Association, and the Council for Exceptional Children, as well as a board member of the Society County Board of Developmental Disabilities.

Despite her illness, she continued to work and make impact on those in southern Ohio, and providing support and access to resources. She showed up for work with a smile even on days when she wasn't feeling well, and would often send out a quote or reminder to those of us in the field who needed that sense of encouragement. I have received many of those that I will forever cherish.

One of my greatest quotes that she sent to me was "Your greatest test is whenever you're able to bless someone else while going through your own storm." Stephanie did bless me and many others while going through her own storm.

On August 16, 2015, the education system lost our very dear friend to cancer. Get it together. It is with great honor and our privilege to recognize Stephanie for the outstanding work that she has done over the past 35 years for individuals with disabilities. On her behalf, we would like to present the Excellence in Educational Collaboration Award to her family, who could not be present today, and to her co-workers at the State Support Team Region 15. Stephanie's work and efforts have led to lasting and reverberating changes in southern Ohio and around the state. Her tireless efforts and contributions leave behind a legacy of hope, inspiration, and achievement.

Accepting on Stephanie's behalf is George York, the State Support Team 15, and her colleagues at the ESD.


Good morning, everyone. I was doing pretty good tell I saw Steph's picture. I want to say, first of all, hello to Stephanie's husband Steve, her son Steve, and grandson Zack, who could not be here today. Our SST team members visited Stephanie. What an honor it is for our SST Region 15 team to be here to celebrate the work and life of our colleagues Stephanie Childers.

Stephanie approached her illness like she did her work-- with strength and determination. Her passion for work and providing the education for students with disabilities was genuine and contagious. She'd come to work even though she was feeling ill after a treatment. She would not accept assistance in carrying her materials to and from work and to trainings. She always said, no, I have a system.

I told her one day she was -- my wife said use the word independent. Down home, we probably wouldn't say independent. I told her she was hard-headed. She got a kick out of that.

She was dedicated to help districts close the gap. Many, many times in staff discussions, she would say how will that close the gap?

She was small in stature, soft-spoken, but carried a mighty stick. She once told a principal in one of the districts in which she worked she was old enough to be his mother, and she would talk to him like she was he was her son.

The SST staff knew this Stephanie was not only a colleague, but a mentor, a role model, but most of all, a friend.

Our SST team members visited Stephanie during her final days. She found the strength to interact with all of us. When my wife and I visited her shortly before her passing, my wife asked for a hug. I asked for us a little hug. And she said no, I'm going to give you a big hug. I thought, how typical for Stephanie to say that. She always saw the big picture, had such a big heart for students with special needs.

She would have been embarrassed today to be upon the stage to receive this honor. In fact, she probably would have found a way to avoid being up on the stage altogether, because she always reminded us, it's not about us. It's about the kids.

Her legacy for improving the education of students with disabilities will always live on through the people whose lives she touched. Our SST team members, we miss her every day. And as we celebrate her contributions today, there's probably a smile on her face, reflecting the fact that she did not have to be on this stage after all.

We love you. And we miss you, Stephanie.


Stephanie Childers – Excellence in Educational Collaboration
Portsmouth, OH

Excerpt from nomination – "Stephanie was a dedicated educator to children with special needs for over 35 years. She was highly respected and thought of as a champion for individuals with low-incidence disabilities, autism spectrum disorder, and their families. She contributed to many boards and associations and penned numerous grants and presentations."

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Today I have the privilege to introduce this next award recipient, Margaret Burley, and I must tell you, I'm really, really nervous, because I can think of no other person more deserving than Margaret Burley. We're going to recognize her for 48 years of contribution to the field of special education, and Shawn says I have two to three minutes. It's gonna be five minutes.


Is he be--


OK. All right, thanks. With her is her husband, Bill, and other family members I'm sure she'll want to introduce, but I want to acknowledge Bill, I don't want to forget him, because he's been a big part of the journey for both Margaret and Tom. And Margaret figures he's driven her probably about two million miles across the country in 48 years. So we want to get this right.

I'm nervous, there's no way I could really do justice to all her accomplishments. And I'm going to break this up into three pieces as quickly as I can.

Why did they get involved in education? Well Margaret and Bill had three children. Margaret, housewife, Sunday school teacher, was exposed to rubella. Their fourth child, Tom, was born with congenital rubella, with multiple disabilities in 1962.

When they approached their local school that was willing to take Tom in a public school they found out that they had to have state approval, if I got this correct. And there used to be things called E-1 exclusion cards that children that were deemed too difficult to educate could be excluded from public education. And Tom was one of the individuals that was deemed too difficult to be in our public schools.

And for those of you that are fairly new in the profession, or just youthful, I think it's important you know how far we've come in 40 plus years in education across this great country. I don't want to be demeaning, but a couple things I wrote down about 1967 is that some children that were deemed non-educable, were denied access, I already mentioned that, they were provided several services, but not equal.

If you think about Brown versus the Board at Topeka, Kansas, they were denied their civil rights in 1967 through 1975. Today, some of us have no idea how primitive the public school system in this country was in addressing the needs of children with disabilities, nor do we realize the extent of discrimination against children with disabilities, along with our schools' low expectations for success of children with disabilities and a lack of resources allocated to help our most fragile children. It was not uncommon that children with disabilities, that they were in public schools, didn't get textbooks. Or teachers started out teaching in closets and boiler rooms, when they started the programs.

What started out as a personal and significant need and cause for their son Tom, Margaret has transformed into 48 year crusade for all children. I repeat the term or word all, A-L-L in caps. Those of us who have worked with Margaret know that she is driven by high expectations for all. And I want to say one more time, Margaret probably would be up here, she'd pound the podium and said "all means all." It's not just a phrase to her, it's reality and a goal for her that all children are equally treated and included.

And I'd like to share with you some of Margaret's accomplishments to date, and I apologize to Margaret because I didn't write all these down over the last 48 years. First, rebuilding and then leading the Ohio Collation for Children with Disabilities for over four decades. In addition, Margaret has directed the federally funded Ohio Parent Training and Information Center, which is also supported by funds from ODE, Office for Exceptional Children. She wrote a letter to President Nixon and visited Chief of Staff James Baker III in the White House, and maybe she'll mention that.

She advocated for the passage of public law 94.142, the Educational Handicap Act, which is now IDEA. The bill was passed 40 years ago on Wednesday. A round of applause for IDEA.


Margaret helped that to come about. In 1976 Margaret helped write Ohio House Bill 455, which is Ohio Companion Law, passed to comply with public law 94.142. And what many people need to understand is Ohio with Mississippi was last two states that come to compliance with IDEA, and Margaret led the way to get us in compliance.

She started the Parent-Educator Training Project in 1984. Margaret always challenged participants in her trainings to ask what could they do to help make the situation better, before asking others what they were going to do to help make the situation better.

In 1986 she advocated for the passage of Ohio House Bill 248, I think this is also known as the Guthrie Act, which was the beginning of preschool special education in public schools. Introduced legislation for the long time operation of the parent mentor project in Ohio, which few states can compare to. Started the Family Ties Project, developed a student transition focused, It's My Turn training program.

Organized a very successful parent sit-in-- there's something we don't hear much about anymore. A sit-in of medically fragile children and parents in the outer office of Governor Voinovich to garner support for them and their families. Advocated for increased special education funding in every state budget in the past 40 years.

One of her close friends a lot of years ago said, "Margaret, you're walking too many steps." He bought her a pair of new tennis shoes so she could make the trek between lot of offices. In 1996 testified in front of the U.S. Senate subcommittee regarding the reauthorization of IDEA. Margaret has been involved in every reauthorization of IDEA.

In 1999 Margaret was a co-founder of Project More, a volunteer reading mentoring program for children with disabilities, and it's still helping children learn to read in 200 schools across Ohio. In 2001, proposed and conducted the first financial study, believe it or not, regarding the actual cost of special ed in Ohio schools. Not the Department of edge, excuse me, not the Department of Education, but the coalition led by Margaret Burley.

In 2001, proposed and conducted, I already mentioned, excuse me. In 2002, she worked with a young state representative by the name of John Peterson, to introduce the five weight funding system to replace a three wait system. 2003, was successful in working with State Superintendent Susan Zelman in securing $14 million for a new system of technology for Ohio children with disabilities.

In 2003, Margaret was presented the Ohio Pioneer in Education Award. Currently, Margaret and OCD is leading the way across the country and working with minority and bilingual families who have children with disabilities. Again, groundbreaking work.

She also supported and worked with Representative Peterson in the establishment of this organization OCALI. Margaret has been involved in every revision of the special ed operating standards since at least 1982.

I paused because this next one is a very heartfelt comment to a very dear friend. Margaret has been a friend, a teacher, a mentor, an inspiration, a role model to 100's of individuals, especially myself. Some of the best moments I've ever had in special education and any possible accomplishments I may have had is due to Margaret Burley. So thank you, Margaret.

Maybe Margaret's single most important achievement is that Margaret has met with, listened to, comforted, and counseled literally thousands of parents across Ohio and this nation, in their hour of greatest need. Margaret has consistently shared her compassion, strength, wisdom, optimism, and grit, with each and every child and family member she has met with in the 48 years, and it's still counting. Margaret signifies hope for all.

As Margaret says in her message on her OCECD web page, "I have dedicated my life to all children, your children. And now people ask me all the time, when are you going to retire? Well this Ohio born and raised farm girl just simply cannot and will not ever quit helping our children meet life's challenges, to be all they can be, and to succeed in life."

Ladies and gentlemen, please join me as we recognize Margaret Burley as OCALI's Lifetime Achievement Award winner.


Thank you, Jan. And thank you all of the OCALI advisory committee and the OCALI staff. I know all of you have worked tirelessly for years and years, just the same as we have at the coalition.

I'm kind of speechless, which is different for me. See, you know me, I have friends out there. Jan's right. Our family has all worked together in this journey, and I'd like to get my family members who are here today to stand up. My husband, Bill Burley, the driver.


Only one speeding ticket in two million miles, I think that's a good record. And that was in Kentucky and we were coming down a hill, you know.

Our daughter Lee Ann Derugen who has been first volunteering, and then employed by the coalition, from the beginning from the time that I first started to work there. And who runs our wonderful website, is now the director of the PTI Project, and has dedicated her life as well, over 35 years, to this work, and is the guardian of her brother, Tom, and so she advocates on his behalf all the time.

Our son, Keith, and he is the brother closest to Tom. And the two of them have been buddies since they were little, and wrestling on the floor, and getting Tom to talk which was hard because Tom has been described as non-verbal. But Tom and Keith had that rapport, and the other thing was Keith was holding him flat on the floor and wouldn't let him up unless he--


But you know how that is. And one of our daughter-in-laws, Michelle, our other daughter. And Michelle, for many years, was the editor and publisher of the forum newsletter. And I'm sure many of you remember that newsletter for the Ohio coalition.

So I would say that both Keith and Michelle have worked side by side to advocate for children, and they still do casework and send cases to us. They help families. Keith and his insurance business, sends families to us to help. So I guess perhaps it's something in our family that we just don't quit.

I'll just say one thing. The highlight of my experiences was having the opportunity to go to Washington, to the White House, when President Reagan was in office. And we were in danger of losing IDEA, although it wasn't called that then. It was in 1982, and there was a plan to block grant IDEA, in with other programs and allow school districts to choose whether they would educate children with disabilities or not.

And we were able to get a meeting with the Chief of Staff. My colleagues and I, and these were family and coalition and alliance and a group of organizations all across the country, and three of us were able to get into the White House, into the west room, the West Wing, to meet with James Baker III. Now, he'd never heard of us, he could not figure out how we got there, and we did not tell him.


We had an appointment, but in politics, it's you've got to know the right people. And Sally and Bev Johns from Illinois knew the right people, and we got that appointment. We knew that politicians have a way of wanting to distract you from your subject, and so immediately he wanted to talk about his wife being from Dayton, Ohio, and we told him that we didn't have time to talk about that. That we were here because we wanted to let him know that we had organized all these family members across the United States and that we were all going to withdraw our money from the Republican Party if they didn't quit picking on kids with disabilities.

And he said, "what are you talking about?" He had no idea, didn't even know there was a law. But he picked up his red phone, he did have one, he called Libby Dole, he said, "Libby, get over here, we have a problem."

And I thought, now this is power, this guy has power. She ran down the hall I guess, or wherever she came from, she was there in a short order. Walked in, sat down, and he said, "I don't know what these women want, but whatever it is, give it to them."


So basically, we must never fall asleep at the switch, we must always be vigilant, and we always must be powerful, and we can all be as powerful as we choose to be. May the power be with you. Thank you.



Margaret Burley – Lifetime Achievement Award
Marion, OH

Excerpt from nomination – "Being the parent of a child with a disability has made her aware of the needs of other children with special needs. Seeing the many families and children with special needs over the years kept Margaret focused, always striving to learn more, to reach out more, and to make the needs of the children first and foremost in her endeavors."