Policy & Advocacy

NDSC Self-Advocate Speaker’s Bureau

The NDSC Self-advocate Speakers Bureau has been established to connect self-advocate speakers to public forums in which they can offer a positive voice of continuing education, motivation, inspiration and disability awareness. Each member of the Speakers Bureau tells a unique story, sharing his and her experiences and wisdom.

Interested in being a speaker?

Send an email to info@ndsccenter.org with your biography and link to video (if available).

Have a member of the NDSC Self-Advocate Speaker’s Bureau at your event

The NDSC Self-Advocate Speakers Bureau was established to connect self-advocate speakers to public forums in which they can offer a positive voice of continuing education, motivation, inspiration and disability awareness. Each member of the Speakers Bureau tells a unique story, sharing his or her experiences and wisdom. If you are interested in having a self-advocate speak to your group or organization contact the speaker directly if information is provided if contact information is not provided please contact NDSC.

The NDSC is posting this list of self-advocate speakers for informational purposes only. Interested parties work directly with the self-advocates regarding any proposed engagement. Moreover, it should be emphasized that the views expressed by a self-advocate are his or her personal views and not necessarily the views of the NDSC. The NDSC disclaims any responsibility for, or association with, the views expressed by a self-advocate.

Meet the members of the Speaker’s Bureau.

Austin – Dallas, TX

After attaining the rank of Eagle Scout, Austin Davenport graduated in 1998 from Lake Highlands High School in Richardson Independent School District in Dallas, Texas where he was active in theater, choir, as well as visual arts. He attended Richland College, also in Dallas, where he continued his study of theater. Austin has performed in over twenty plays in the area. He has spoken encouragement as a self-advocate to many groups around the country and has served on the boards of the National Down Syndrome Congress and the Down Syndrome Guild of Dallas. He currently serves on the Program Advisory Committee at Special Care and Career Services which provides supported employment and serves on the Self-Advocate Council of the National Down Syndrome Congress.

Austin loves his church where he is active with the singles group and sings in the choir. Austin works full time at the law offices of Baker Botts in Dallas and lives on his own in a duplex which is a block from his church, his bank, Blockbuster, the grocery store, several restaurants, and Marble Slab.
Work Experience in Dallas TX
Baker Botts law firm (Aug 2007 to present)
Delivers mail to six floors of offices at least twice a day

DocuCorp International, (2000 to Aug 2007)
(Company was bought by Skywire and moved out of the county)
Responsible for distribution of mail to 200+ employees
Prepare, address, and mail packages of software to customers
Input data of completed orders

Braum’s Ice Cream Store, 1998 to 2000 (part-time)
Responsible for completing food orders of various ice cream dishes and beverages
Greeted all customers and conducted customer area clean up


Richland College, 1998-2000
Lake Highland High School, Graduated 1998

Community Service

Serves on Program Advisory Committee at Special Care and Career Services
Serves on National Down Syndrome Congress Self-Advocate Council
Served on Board of Trustees of the Down Syndrome Guild of Dallas 2004
Served on Board of Trustees of the National Down Syndrome Congress 2001-2003

Awards and Accomplishments

Chosen as Outstanding Dallas Self-Advocate, Dallas Mayor’s Committee, 2003
Selected by peers to be Emcee for LHHS Senior Show, 1998
Attained Eagle Scout rank, 1996

Skills and Interests

Actor: Performed in over 20 plays and musicals in the greater Dallas community
Speaker: Addressed large audiences at numerous organizations across the country about Down syndrome including keynote speaker twice at the National Down Syndrome Congress and once at the annual meeting of the Down Syndrome Association of Central Florida. He was keynote speaker at the Richardson Independent School District Employer Recognition Luncheon for employers of people with disabilities.
Artist: Participated in one-man art show at Borders Books 2001, sold numerous commissioned prints to individual buyers and an Atlanta-based company, as well as designed commissioned seasonal greeting cards for several organizations
Enjoys dancing and racquetball
Uses Quicken to record personal finances

Christi – Walnut Creek, CA

Confident and poised, Christi Hockel shares the “Ups and Downs” of her life with candor and humor.

Punctuated by her PowerPoint presentation, Christi outlines the successes as well as the disappointments she has encountered, first and foremost as a human, and secondly, as a young woman with extra challenges. Christi makes it very clear that people who have Down syndrome can enjoy full and meaningful lives, and ought not be considered disposable by society. Her joy in life is unmistakable.

Craig – Luling, LA

Craig Blackburn is a 2000 graduate of Hahnville High School. Craig graduated with a regular high school diploma, meeting the same and all requirements as his classmates and never failing a grade or a class.

He is also a peer and self-advocate who has met with representatives both on the state and national levels advocating for individuals with disabilities on education and life issues and has represented Down Syndrome Association of Greater New Orleans at six National Down Syndrome Congress conferences. Craig is pursuing a career as a motivational speaker and delivers a powerful message which results in both laughter and tears for his audience. Craig sits on numerous boards and advisory committees and is the recipient of many national awards as a result of his initiatives in behalf of individuals with disabilities.

Craig is the Best Buddies Director for individuals with Special Needs, Tulane chapter in New Orleans and participated in the Best Buddies Leadership Conference in Indiana last summer. Craig was invited to speak at the BB International Staff convention in Miami last January.

Craig’s speech is given from his own perspective as a person with Down syndrome and his message leaves his audience feeling empowered and full of hope. Please don’t miss a chance to hear this dynamic speaker give his perspective on having Down syndrome and what ALL people can accomplish.

Eden – Lomita, CA

Link to my presentation “What a Wonderful World.”

My name is Eden Rapp. I’m 21 years old and I have many abilities. I enjoy making a difference in people’s lives. I was born in Orange County and was raised in Central California, but in 2008 my family moved to the Southern California area. Ever since I was a baby my family started to create a community around me called inclusion it was a lot of fun. So I went to concerts, musicals, museums, acting classes, hiphop class, swimming, soccer and basketball and volunteered at the library. I also do sign language for praise team at church, and help my piano teacher with her show choir kids through her organization called Musical Connection through Inclusion.

Sixth through tenth grade I was homeschooled through South Bay Faith Academy. I finished high school in 2015 at the Humanities and Arts Academy of Los Angeles (in Harbor City). When I attended the Center for Advanced Transition Skills (CATS), I attended Harbor College taking a reading and writing class because I love writing and I want to become an author. Through CATS I worked at Gulf Avenue Elementary School in the cafeteria. Also I enjoy sign language and have studied it at El Camino College and at church.

Now I am in Project Search. It is at Kaiser Permanente Hospital in Harbor City and I really really like it. I am doing office work in the administration office. Before this rotation I was in Maternal Child Health doing office work.

I would also like to grow as a Self Advocate to help people with Down syndrome learn how to continue to blossom and stand up for themselves. I went with my mom to a conference on disabilities and I learned a lot. I learned that even with different stories of peoples lives you can make a difference if you be more observant and look around beyond yourself. You have to think about what is going on around the world.

Sometimes I go to Wikipedia and read about Down syndrome and sometimes about the world. It is very fascinating but also a little bit sad because there are people all over the world with disabilities who don’t know what to do or to say and it is hard for them to stand up for themselves.

I started a club that I call UpVoice. It is where young adults with Down syndrome get together to be stronger self advocates and better readers. I am writing a proposal for NDSC convention for next year in Texas, The purpose of my proposal is to get the self advocates focused on their dreams and goal and to tell their story. It is the golden rule in becoming a self advocate.

We need to be more independent, and do things on our own without our parents. And that is hard to do. But we can try.

Emmanuel – Grafton, IL

Emmanuel Joseph Bishop, International Self-Advocate Speaker [December 21, 1996]
Social Media: https://about.me/emmanuelbishop
Curriculum Vitae: Emmanuel’s first presentation at age 3 was sight-reading flashcards in French. At 6 he delivered a welcoming statement in 3 languages at the National Down Syndrome Society Annual Conference plenary session. At 12 at the 10th World Down Syndrome Congress (WDSC) in Ireland he gave a breakout session presentation and played the violin at the plenary session; at 18 at the 12th WDSC (India) he gave a plenary keynote presentation and a violin recital with the Madras Chamber Orchestra, winners of two Oscars for Slum Dog Millionaire. For World Down Syndrome Day (WDSD), Emmanuel has been to Turkey to perform with the Antalya Devlet Senfoni Orkestrası (2012) and Bando Komutanlığı Orkestrası (2013) and gave his presentation “My Abilities” at the Karincanin Yolu Konferansi. In Mexico he keynoted for WDSD at the 1st Encuentro Internacional de Personas con Síndrome de Down (Veracruz 2016). For the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, Emmanuel spoke at the 1st Congreso Celebrando la Discapacidad (Cancún 2016) and ت ناغم مدر سة – Harmony School ( Jordan 2017). At the Albanian Presidential Ball (2015) he gave a violin concert with the Orkestra Simfonike e RTSH and a workshop on Early Literacy and Down Syndrome to Down Syndrome Albania. He keynoted in French at the Congrès Canadien de la Trisomie 21 (2016) and performed with a Montreal Symphony Orchestra string quartet. Emmanuel has keynoted in Spanish at the 1st & 2nd Congreso Nacional de Discapacidad Intelectual y Simposio de Síndrome de Down (México 2014 & 2017); I Congreso Internacional de Síndrome de Down (Nicaragua 2014); VII Congreso Argentino de Síndrome de Down (2015); 1st Seminario Internacional Pro Inclusión (Bolivia 2016) . At the 9th Festival Internacional de Mentes Brillantes (Puebla 2016) Emmanuel spoke in Latin on the value, dignity and full humanity of people with Down syndrome. In Mexico he has performed with the Cuarteto Clásico de Cuerdas Cancún (2016) and the Orquesta Filarmónica de Acapulco (2014) and with the following Youth Symphony Orchestras: Mexico (Naucalpan, Puebla, Veracruz, Acapulco), Argentina and Bolivia. Emmanuel was selected to perform at the Opening Concert the Pyeongchang Special Music & Art Festival (Korea 2016); 10th Annual Young Musician Series with the Manhasset Strings (Chautauqua, IL 2017) and the National Down Syndrome Society Leadership Summit with the Premier String Quartet (Washington, D.C. 2017). In Asia (2017), he gave three presentations: Inclusion Conference (Macau), Hong Kong Down Syndrome Association and Down Syndrome Parent Support Group (Bangkok) and in the Middle East at Shalva [Israel Association for the Care and Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities] (Jerusalem). In the USA he has spoken at the 3rd Annual Trisomy 21 Conference (Houston); Lincoln Land Down Syndrome Society (Illinois); Eastern Pennsylvania Down Syndrome Center; Down Syndrome Association of Greater Richmond (Virginia) and The Arc of Illinois 66th Annual Convention. Emmanuel has played the violin at Mass at the following Churches: Insigne y Nacional Basílica de Santa María de Guadalupe (Mexico); Inmaculada Concepción de María (Nicaragua); Nuestra Señora de Luján (Argentina); Basilica of the Apostle St. Thomas (India); Papal Basilica of St. Peter (Vatican); Basilique Notre Dame de Montréal (Canada); Catedral Basílica de Nuestra Señora de la Inmaculada Concepción (Puebla, Mexico); Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception (Washington, D.C.); and the Church of St. Catherine (Bethlehem).

Emmanuel was raised bilingual English/Spanish and studies French and Latin. He sight-read at age 2; studied Suzuki violin since age 6 in an inclusive environment. Emmanuel has been awarded three scholarships: the O’Neill Tabani Enrichment Fund, an educational grant by the National Down Syndrome Society (2015); Ruby’s Rainbow postsecondary scholarships to further his musical studies (2015 & 2017). Down Syndrome International presented Emmanuel with the World Down Syndrome Day Award for outstanding self-advocacy (2017) to be presented at the 13th Triennial World Down Syndrome Congress (2018 Glasgow). Emmanuel set six World Junior Down Syndrome (DSISO) swimming records at age 13, is the current Junior DSISO 800 and 1500 meters world record holder and has won multiple Special Olympics Illinois gold medals in golf, has had two holes in one; at Special Olympics Macau Golf Masters (Macau 2017) he won Level I gold medal in Golf Individual Skills and bronze Level II representing Team USA.

Emmanuel Joseph Bishop
528 Grafton Hills Drive
Grafton, IL 62037 USA
(618) 786-2917
E-mail: ebishop@gtec.com

Jenny – Columbus, OH

Jennifer Cunningham is a 31 year old self-advocate from Columbus, Ohio. Jenny just bought and moved into her own condo. In grade school, Jenny was voted into the Hall of Fame. From there she was recognized by the state of Ohio for self-determination, competed on her high school gymnastics team, ran the Olympic torch, and landed a part in a Stephen King mini series, Kingdom Hospital – all with a lot of perseverance, determination, and a little luck.

Jennifer has spoken at the National Down Syndrome Convention, at a local graduation, and at local businesses about Down syndrome awareness. She contributed to Dr. Pueschel’s book Adults with Down Syndrome.

Laurie – Memphis, TN

My name is Laurie Hobson. I am 23 years old. I was included in regular classes since I was in pre-school. I love to advocate for people with Down syndrome. I am serving on the board of the NDSC. I love it. I have a boyfriend named Kenny. I work at Kroger. I am planning to attend a school out of town and stay in the dorm. I like to present to groups and classes and tell people about the abilities of people who have Down syndrome.

Lee – Kansas City, MO

Lee graduated from Graceland University in Iowa in 2000 with a B.A. degree in Recreation and a minor in Theatre. Since that time, he has been living independently and pursuing a career that utilizes his education and experience. Presently, he is a fitness attendant at Sylvester Powell Community Center in Mission, KS and has been certified as a personal trainer. Wednesdays are one of his favorite days because he teaches an exercise class for people with disabilities called “Fitness with Lee.” He is also an intern at the Kauffman Foundation where he works in the legal department.

Lee is a former board member of the NDSC and currently serves on the Self-Advocate Council. In 1997, he received the Outstanding Citizen Award given by National Down Syndrome Congress in recognition of his actions in creating a positive public awareness through work as a leader and role model.

In 2003, he was asked to be a keynote speaker at the NDSC National Convention and spoke to a group of 1400 attendees on setting and achieving goals. Since that time, he has traveled to more than ten states to present at many state and local conferences, and the feedback has been outstanding.

Lee’s Message:

Everyone, whether they have a disability or not, has the right to have their very own dreams. Dreams let you explore the future without being tied to what is reasonable or expected. They let you be free to imagine what you want and what is important to you. But at some point, it is important to turn your most important dreams into the reality of actually living those dreams. Goals and planning can get you there. The purpose of Lee’s speech is to use his experience as both a person with dreams and a person with Down syndrome to explain the benefits of setting goals and not letting words like “reasonable expectations” stand in the way. Lee will use his experience to give you some examples of how to do this.

To check Lee’s availability and learn more about his presentation, call 501-206-4915 or send an email to lee75@sbcglobal.net.

Melissa – Owings Mills, MD

Hi! My name is Melissa Silverman. I am a young adult with Down syndrome and live in Owings Mills, Maryland.

I graduated from high school in June 2001 with a full academic diploma from the State of Maryland. I attended 2 years at the Community College of Baltimore County where I earned a 90-hour child care certification. I am a teacher’s aide in an after school program. I am a member of the Board of Directors for the Chesapeake Down Syndrome Parent Group; and I was also on the Board of Directors for NDSC from 2006 to 2009.

I fight for the rights of people with disabilities by visiting my senators and congressmen in Washington, D.C. and my State senator and delegates in Annapolis, MD.

I am active on the Special Olympics Swim and Soccer teams. I belong to a book club, a drama club and a social club called the Wild Ones. I am a member of the International Brotherhood of Magicians and the local Baltimore magic club.

I enjoy speaking to various groups such as parents, teachers, future teachers, graduate and high school students and religious groups about Down syndrome. My speeches always include what terrific possibilities there are for people with Down syndrome, and I use myself as a positive example. In addition to this, I always make magic a part of my presentation because my dad and I perform professionally all over the country.

Meredith – Neligh, NE

Meredith Martin, is a self-advocate from the Northeast Nebraska community of Neligh.

She enjoys sharing her story of growing up in a small community, setting goals, working with the school district to try new programs and establishing an independent living experience. She has served on the National Down Syndrome Congress Board of Directors.

Meredith’s speaking experiences began in high school with Family Consumer Community Leaders of America competitions. She has given workshops, been on panels and given the welcome address at the National Down Syndrome Congress Convention in Philadelphia. In addition to her NDSC experiences, she has presented to college classes, dorm groups and groups of special education providers.

Meredith’s book “The ABC’s of Growing UP with Down Syndrome” was published in 2014. Meredith is an avid kick boxer, enjoys Pilates, dancing, staying fit and eating healthy.

Meredith lives by the S.T.A.R. philosophy:
S–Surround yourself with positive supportive people;
T–Teach others about your disability (or abilities);
A–Always advocate for yourself and others;
R–Reach for your North Star!

Tracy – Murfreesboro, AR

Hello, my name is Tracy Hile. Some would think “49” is OLD but I don’t feel old & “they say” I don’t LOOK old! I was born in 1968 in Baltimore, MD. I have lived (besides Maryland), in Colorado, Kansas and Texas before moving to Arkansas in 2008.
Soon after I was born my parents met Dr Mary Coleman. She was doing research in Washington DC on Down syndrome. I entered her program- She changed our lives! She told my parents “to treat me in a normal natural manner; not think of me as so special I needed to be carried around on a ‘silver platter’. To be strict with me & not let me be spoiled or selfish! To do the same thing as others”.
I feel my Advocacy role is best by “getting up & going about my daily activities as my peers” – to live my life “more alike” than different!
Beside my job, I love to keep in touch with my friends from Colorado, Kansas & Texas, and my family! I have a laptop, my tablet & my cell phone – so I’m totally high tech!
I enjoy exercising with youtube; listening to music, reading & word search. I am active in the community, my Church’s Mission House, and at our town’s Fall Festival, I have a table to Raise Awareness for Down syndrome by displaying our Book Project.

My Education:
Klein TX High School Diploma 1990
Sign Language Level 1 Certificate 1991
Texas Teacher’s Aide I Certificate Issued 1990

Work Experience:
Cypress Creek Tx Library: Coded Books 1987-89 (Volunteer)
Teacher’s Assistant In Texas Public Schools -1988-2008 (20 yrs)
Queen of Diamonds Inn Murfreesboro AR 2008-Present

Speaking Experiences:
National Down Syndrome Congress: General Session Featured Speaker:
TV Interviews: “Something Beautiful” Kansas City TV Talk Show & 700 Club: 1984 & 1986
Radio Interview with Tony King: KRMD, 1989 in Shreveport, LA
Sam Houston, Prairie View A&M, & St Thomas University 1988-2008
Louisiana Annual Super Conference on Special Ed 1992
Council of Exceptional Children Annual Convention, Indianapolis, IN 1995

Sam Houston University, Education Department Plaque
Picture Published In Medical Care In Down Syndrome By Paul T. Rogers, Mary Coleman, M.D
Awarded Meritorious Service Award From The NDSC: 2005
Served 3 Yr Term On The National Board Of The NDSC 2002-2005
ABCD (Above and Beyond The Call Of Duty) Annual Award: Spring TX ISD: 2006

Tony – New Iberia, LA

Hi, my name is Tony Piontek. I was born in Guayama, Puerto Rico on January 16, 1974, but my family relocated to New Iberia, Louisiana when I was seven years old, and I now live with my parents there and I’m a Cajun’. We are a big family. I have four older brothers and two older sisters. Along with my parents, they have always been my models, teachers and supporters.

My high school curriculum was as a combination student, regular/special ed . I was a Peer Tutor and active in the Library Club. I graduated from New Iberia Senior High in 1994. Our 20th reunion will be 2014.

I have worked at our Main Library, fine restaurants and in catering. I have worked for Lowe’s Home Improvement for several years. My job is in Customer Service, Safety, and Returns. I’m in training now and working on a level II Paint test right now.

Scouting is a major part of my life. I am an Eagle Scout and continue to help a troop as their Assistant Scoutmaster. I still strive to be an example and to inspire the young boys to live the Scout values. I teach at the University of Scouting and recently helped develop a program for adults wanting to charter troops for boys with special needs. To solve any communication problems, I took sign language classes and earned my Interpreter Strip at the Diocese Deaf Action Center.

Every year I train and compete in Special Olympics Aquatics even at International Games. This will be my twenty-third year and I’m excited about it, as always. My hope now is to renew my Athlete as Officials requirements as a Stroke & Turn and Timer or to compete – either way is GREAT for me. Who knows this could be swimming again or maybe tennis or cycling? “Pray and WISH me the best.”

I often speak to groups about perseverance and reaching goals. I really hope my message helps others to follow their dreams.

I am on the Advisory Board for the Down Syndrome Association of Acadiana as their Self-Advocate. For their special events, I’ve been everything from Santa Claus to photographer to being on T.V. promoting fundraisers. As a new NDSC Board member, I’ve been thinking of ways to highlight DS awareness on a National level and would like to research what it would take to have a DS Awareness U.S. Postal Stamp. I’ll keep you “posted.”

Although I have a big family, my six siblings live away. and I still enjoy being home with my parents. This is “grand central station”, you know! I plan on living on my own some day. They always seem to live in exciting places, so I’ve been able to travel with family to Italy, France, Corsica, Poland, Germany, Austria, Mexico and many other cities in the U.S. over the years.

Lastly, I keep myself busy in my free time and these are the things I do:

Catholic activities:
Youth ministry, adult retreats, alter serving, school parade mascot (I’m a manda), flower bed ministry

Community Volunteering:
St. Francis Diner, Trash bash, hurricane relief, public speaking to schools and civic organizations

Special Olympics:
Competitive swimming, (attended two International Games 1995 new Haven, CT as Stroke & Turn and Timer Judge, 1999 Raleigh Durham, NC as an official athlete swimmer). Cyclist. Athlete As Official and Global Messenger only for our State of Louisiana to attend the World Summer Games.

Down Syndrome Association of Acadiana:
Local Self-Advocate, Advisory Board, Past Acadiana Board of Director, SAC member, Self-Advocate Leadership Council, International Coalition For Life, (IDSC) Self-Advocate interpreter to communicate with people who are hearing impaired to give them a voice.

Catholic Committee on Scouting Religious Awards received:
2011 William J. McGoffen Award (received on October 12, 2011)
2010 St. George Award
2009 Bronze Pelican Award
2008 Scouting Scroll of honor