Speaker Bios (Meet your Presenters!)

Trista Adwell
Trista Adwell has worked as a Certified Counselor for the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation since 2014 in the Bowling Green District.  Trista serves as a board member for Kentucky Rehabilitation Association for the past two years.  She currently serves two counties and two schools that are active in the community work transition program.  Trista is a mentor to new hires within the agency and enjoys sharing her passion and knowledge with new counselors. Trista is a 2011 graduate from Western Kentucky University and was a part of the Alpha Kappa Delta honor society.  She then went on to obtain her master’s degree in 2017 in Rehabilitation Counseling from the University of Kentucky. She was also certified as a rehabilitation counselor by the Commission on Rehabilitation.  Trista resides in Glasgow, KY with her husband and two children.  She enjoys, boating, swimming, and anything outdoors as well as spending time with her friends and family.

Dr. Donna Carpenter
Dr. Donna Carpenter is the State Coordinator for the Kentucky DeafBlind Project.  Donna worked as the technical assistance coordinator for the KDBP from 2006-2017 before assuming the State Coordinator Role in January 2017.  Donna is a certified teacher of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Elementary Certified Teacher, Montessori Early Childhood Certified with her doctorate in Educational Leadership.

Julie Christensen
Julie J. Christensen, MSW, PhD, Executive Director and Director of Policy & Advocacy at the Association of People Supporting Employment First (APSE). Prior to joining APSE, Dr. Christensen served as the Director of Iowa’s University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (UCEDD) at the University of Iowa, where she was also research faculty in the Carver College of Medicine, Department of Psychiatry. Dr. Christensen’s previous experience includes her role as the Director of Employment Programs at the Strong Center for Developmental Disabilities at the University of Rochester (a New York UCEDD), where she served as the Principal Investigator and Project Director for the New York State Partnerships in Employment Systems Change project, Co-Director of the New York Employment First State Leadership Mentor Program, and as the New York State Coordinator for Project SEARCH. Dr. Christensen received her undergraduate degrees in advertising and music from Syracuse University, and a Masters in Social Work from Roberts Wesleyan College and her Ph.D. in Health Practice Research at the University of Rochester.

Ivan Garr
Ivan Garr is a professional Peer Support Specialist with Wellspring – a mental health recovery organization in Louisville, KY. At Wellspring, Ivan helps people diagnosed with severe mental illnesses overcome barriers so they can build healthy and hopeful lives. Ivan knows the stigma of SMI and the results of being undiagnosed and untreated which led him down paths of substance use, institutionalization, lost job opportunities, homelessness, and unmet potential for many years. Once diagnosed and treated, along with the support of great people, Ivan began to see a more defined path to personal success. Now, Ivan shares his story with others facing barriers and stigma while providing encouragement and hope to pave their own path to recovery.

India Hammond
India is a Graduate of Eastern Kentucky University with a BA in Anthropology and a Master of Business Administration from Cumberland University.  She’s worked many different positions within the SCL community from Direct Support Professional, to SE Specialist, SE Supervisor, and currently is a Quality Administrator with DDID. She is passionate about seeking and advocating for a more inclusive world for everyone.  Proudly serves on the vestry at St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church, and is a founding member of the LGBTQ Episcopal Advocacy Group of the Diocese of Lexington.   

Bev Harp
Bev Harp is project director for Innovative Supports for Autistic Workers, a project of the University of Kentucky’s Human Development Institute and self-advocate faculty for the KY LEND (Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities.) Bev is an autistic person, not an individual with autism. She often presents with an animatronic colleague, Squawkers McCaw.

Kitty Jones
Kitty Jones is the Director of Employment Opportunities, the division of supported employment for Puzzle Pieces, an Owensboro-based nonprofit that serves more than 400 clients with disabilities. She leads a team of eight supported employment specialists, who, under her leadership, was named the 2023 Education and Workforce Development Institution of the Year by the Greater Owensboro Chamber of Commerce. She has led her team to more than 70 successful client placements and developed key partnerships with local high school and postsecondary schools to provide Pre-Employment Transition Services to those with disabilities. Kitty is an active partner in the development of the OBKY Coalition for Workforce Diversity to promote a more inclusive community.

Michelle Laur
Michele is the Senior Job Analyst for RETAIN KY at the University of Kentucky Human Development Institute. Michele is a Certified Safety Professional with the Board of Certified Safety Professionals. Michele is a 2023 Sarah Bennett Holmes Team Award recipient for Inclusive Job Descriptions from the UK Women’s Forum.  
Michele has extensive experience working with employers performing safety and ergonomic assessments and identifying essential functions of jobs to assist in the Stay at Work and Return to Work process.
Michele supports individuals and employers by updating or developing functional job analyses that will allow healthcare providers to quickly understand a job’s physical, mental, cognitive, and environmental aspects and identify return-to-work options.  She helps support the needs of consumers for successful employment in new or current jobs through the identification of essential functions of a position and potential accommodations when needed.  She assists employers in developing transitional work options by identifying transitional duty tasks for their return-to-work programs that will allow individuals an opportunity to work within their capacities and maintain a productive position while they recover.
Additionally, Michele is working with the Fayette County Schools as they prepare to participate in Project SEARCH at UK HealthCare.  Project SEARCH is a transition-to-work program that offers young people immersive job experience to help them develop new skills, coaching, and instruction tailored to them.
Before this role, Michele worked at the University of Kentucky as a Return-to-Work Specialist with Human Development Institute and as the Injury/Illness Prevention Specialist with the Office of Environmental Health and Safety.
Michele began her career in Occupational Safety with Ford Motor Company in 2000. Michele worked in a variety of roles during her 15 years at Ford in occupational safety and in the human resources salaried and labor relations departments. During her tenure at the Sharonville Transmission Plant in Cincinnati, Ohio, she implemented an innovative return-to-work process and was responsible for the recruitment and hiring of engineers, skilled trades, nurses, and plant management.

Robert McLendon (he, him, his.) I was born in Atlanta, Georgia, but I have spent most of my adult life in Alabama. I am married to a CODA (child of Deaf adult), Dollie McLendon. We have a blended family of six adult children. My hobbies include supporting the Liverpool Football Club, Green Bay Packers, and Louisville City Football Club. Also, I’m a big Star Wars and Stranger Things geek! Currently, I am serving as DeafBlind Customized Employment Specialist for the Helen Keller National Center (HKNC) in the State of Kentucky. I provide one-on-one services to consumers who are DeafBlind with multiple disabilities for the purpose of achieving preferred employment outcomes in their local communities. Additional services we provide include training and technical assistance to families and services providers. Prior to moving to Louisville, I had 26 years’ experience working with individuals who are blind, deaf, hard-of-hearing, deaf-blind, and with multiple disabilities in Alabama. Currently, I am attending the University of Kentucky’s Master of Arts program in Orientation and Mobility. I have a master’s certificate in Teacher of the Visually Impaired from the University of Alabama at Birmingham; educational specialist and master’s degrees in special education from Jacksonville State University; and a bachelor’s degree in public administration from Auburn University.

Corinne Miller
Corinne Miller is the Consultant for the Kentucky DeafBlind Project.  Prior to working for KDBP, Corinne worked as the Kentucky DeafBlind Specialist with Helen Keller National Center and also as a sign language interpreter.  Corinne is a Nationally Certified Interpreter and has a MA in Orientation and Mobility.

Amanda Owen
Amanda Owen left her job as a special education teacher over a decade ago to launch Puzzle Pieces, a nonprofit that serves individuals with disabilities, offering them more opportunities outside the classroom and after graduation. Amanda has grown Puzzle Pieces to serve more than 400 clients with a staff of over 100 and a $5 million operating budget. She has led her organization to develop a supported employment program paired with Pre-ETS since 2018.  Since then, her Supported Employment team has grown to 9 full-time employees, which have successfully transitioned over 75 clients into the workforce. Amanda also played a pivotal role in her community by developing the Coalition for Workforce Diversity, offering networking and education to current and future employers on how to feel confident in successfully employing those with disabilities. Amanda was appointed by Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear to the Employment First Council, which was responsible for Kentucky becoming an Employment First state.

Sheila Runyon
Sheila Runyon is currently the IPS Supported Employment Supervisor for the Communicare IPS Central Division and has served in the roles of Employment Specialist, Team Lead, and Supervisor.   She began working in Supported Employment Services on January 31, 2011, and has enjoyed being a part of a constantly growing, unique, diverse and cohesive team!  Sheila a native of rural Kentucky, she is a Christian, a wife, a mother, and a grandmother. She was a therapeutic foster parent for 15 years working with adolescents and transition aged youth and she is a breast cancer survivor.  She has a passion for community based, integrated, and competitive employment opportunities for all persons with disabilities or circumstantial barriers to employment.  Believing at all times, if you want to see the change, you must be the change. 

Ashley Taylor
Ashley Taylor has worked as an OVR, CRP Consultant in Western KY for 7 years.  Before that Ashley worked as an Employment Program Manager and Employment Specialist for 15 years, providing supported employment, employment and retention, community work transition program services, and work-based learning experiences.  Ashley has also been a member of the KY APSE Board for 17 years and is currently the Vice President.  A 2001 social work graduate of Murray State University, Ashley has served as the recruitment advisor for her sorority Sigma Sigma Sigma for 16 years.  GO RACERS!!  Ashley resides in Murray KY with her 2-year-old labradoodle Darby.  They enjoy spending time with family and friends, camping, playing chuck it ball, traveling, and anything in the sun and surf.

Barry Whaley
Barry Whaley works at the Burton Blatt Institute, Syracuse University.  He is the Co-Principal Investigator and Project Director of the Southeast ADA Center, Principal Co-Collaborator with the University of Leeds (UK) Inclusive Public Spaces project, Co-Collaborator with the University of Queensland (AU) Gender, Equity, Disability, and Social Inclusion Mainstreaming Short Course, and Principal Investigator of the Mid-Atlantic Youth and Self-Advocacy project.  His current research examines the impact of intersectionality of race and disability, on three ADA-related issues: 1) employment, 2) access to digital technology, 3) long and short-term poverty.

Carolyn Wheeler
Carolyn B. Wheeler is a native Kentuckian with many years of experience in program development, training and advocacy on behalf of people with disabilities and their families.   From November, 1990, to the present, Carolyn has been employed on a variety of projects with the Human Development Institute at the University of Kentucky (www.hdi.uky.edu).  
Carolyn wrote the legislation for and was instrumental in the implementation of the Kentucky Hart Supported Living Program.  She is a founding member of Life Plan of Kentucky, which is a pooled special needs trust (www.lifeplanorky.org). Carolyn is certified as a Community Partner Work Incentives Counselor and provides training on the positive financial impact of working for people who receive Social Security Disability benefits. 

Beck Whipple
Beck Whipple is the Suicide Prevention Coordinator within the Kentucky Department for Behavioral Health, Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities. Prior to this position, he had fifteen years of experience in promoting the healing of youth who have experienced complex trauma. Beck is a trainer of the following nationally recognized programs and curriculum: Risking Connection, ASIST (Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training), and QPR (Question, Persuade, Refer). He conducts trainings nationally and throughout Kentucky focusing on providing education and advocacy regarding suicide prevention, trauma, de-escalation and gender identity.
Beck enjoys his fur babies, Benson and Mamba, as well as golfing, physical exercise and dancing. He is originally from Kansas, where he spent most of his childhood on a farm with his family. Beck is extremely passionate about creating safe spaces for the LGBT community.

Jeff White
Jeff is the Quality Assurance Coordinator for Employment Services at the Kentucky Division of Developmental & Intellectual Disabilities (DDID). He has worked in related positions throughout his career, which has spanned over forty years. Jeff serves on the Kentucky Employment First Council, House Bill 144 Employment Subcommittee, the Kentucky Interagency Transition Council, and the Board of Directors of the Kentucky Association for Persons Supporting Employment First (APSE).  Jeff is also a Community Partner Work Incentive Counselor and is the former Project Director of KentuckyWorks.