Advocacy Staff

Adam Ballard
Advocacy Manager

Adam has been on staff since 2009. He initially served as our Community Organizer for youth. He became our Community Organizer for Housing in 2011 and supports the Disability Rights Action Coalition for Housing (DRACH). A 2012 Fellow in Access Living's Leadership Training Program, he became the Advocacy Manager in 2014, supervising six community organizing and policy staff. Adam is an emerging leader in the disability community and has co–facilitated a nationwide training on disability housing advocacy conducted by the National Council on Independent Living (NCIL) and Independent Living Research Utilization (ILRU), and is featured in Not Home , a documentary by award–winning filmmaker Narcel Reedus about children and youth living in nursing homes. Adam was the 2013 winner of the Progress Center Annie Hopkins Advocate of the Year award for his work with DRACH to end source of income discrimination in Cook County. He also serves on the Metra ADA Advisory Committee.

Candace Coleman
Community Organizer, Youth

Since 2010, Candace Coleman has coordinated Advance Youth Leadership Power (AYLP), AL's organizing group led by and for young adults with disabilities. AYLP has worked on community issues such as bullying, restorative justice, and transit. Candace received her B.S in Business Management from Grambling State University in 2009. In her current position, Candace supports youth in the fields of mentoring, leadership development and advocacy. Candace has also served as a mentor to the Empowered Fe Fes.

Previously, Candace worked as a Program Coordinator for an after–school program at Fulton Elementary School, where she developed the curriculum and worked on the program budget. Candace currently serves as a board member for the Hip Hop Detoxx and Youth Move IL which promotes positive mental health development for youth in the Chicagoland area.

Rod Estvan
Education Policy Analyst

Rod Estvan was born and raised in Chicago, attending Chicago Public Schools (CPS) and later the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks. After college, he taught in two different CPS inner city public high schools. When his elder child was born with a disability, Rod left the field of education and worked in Chicago's financial and commodities industries for several years. He then decided to return to education by working again for CPS at Calumet High School. He also returned to college and obtained a Masters Degree in Education from Saint Xavier University. Rod's master's thesis was on the fiscal collapse of CPS in 1979 and the creation of the Chicago School Finance Authority. Because of problems with his child's education, he was forced to litigate on his child's behalf with his own employer–––CPS.

This experience led Rod to become a parent advocate at Access Living in 1995. In 1998, Rod took a new position as a monitor for the Corey H. case in the U.S. District Court for Northern Illinois. Corey H. was a case that sought to end the segregation of students with disabilities by label in CPS. In May of 2006, Rod left the monitor's office and returned to work at Access Living as the Education Policy Analyst.

Rod is the author of several journal articles on special education and writes a yearly analysis of the Chicago Public Schools budget for special education expenditures. He has been involved in the development of special education rules in the State of Illinois and is currently a member of the Illinois Attorney General's Select Committee on Special Education.

Michelle Garcia
Community Organizer, Latinos

Michelle has served as Access Living's Latino Community Organizer since 2009. Michelle is the coordinator of Cambiando Vidas, a Latinos with disabilities advocacy group, whose mission is to create social change within the Latino Community for disability rights. Michelle's work is highly personal and she is passionate about educating and collaborating with the Latino community about disability rights and services. Michelle recently participated in an international exchange with disability rights activists from Colombia. Michelle is also a certified Spanish translator. Prior to coming to Chicago, Michelle had been very active in disability rights in her hometown of El Paso, Texas.

Marilyn Martin
Health Access Policy Analyst

Marilyn Martin joined the advocacy department at Access Living in September 2010. Her current priorities focus on implementation of the nondiscrimination clause of the Affordable Care Act, services for people with disabilities in the Illinois Medicaid system, monitoring of the State's Medicaid managed care system, and disparities in health care access for people with disabilities. Marilyn is a licensed member of the Illinois bar. Marilyn previously handled appeals in public defender agencies involving mental health issues, as a policy analyst in mental health and disability rights, and as an attorney in a small personal injury firm. Immediately before joining Access Living, she served as an Americorps VISTA volunteer assisting in curriculum development and program expansion on behalf of low–income grandparents raising grandchildren.

Judy Panko Reis
Health Access Policy Analyst

Judy Panko Reis is a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Community Health leader and former Director of the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago's Women with Disabilities Center. With an M.S. in Communication Management from Northwestern University and an M.A. in Philosophy from the University of Chicago, she is also an adjunct instructor at the UIC College of Nursing.

Judy has published numerous text book chapters and papers on disabled women's healthcare and healthcare access for people with disabilities, such as It Takes More Than Ramps to Solve the Crisis in Health Care for People with Disabilities. Judy has received several education and research grants aimed at provider training to improve health care for people with disabilities, including grants from the Louis Lurie Foundation and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control to promote breast health for women with disabilities, and from the Illinois Department of Public Health's Office of Women's Health to improve access to mammography services for women with disabilities. Judy has worked at the forefront of advocating for new federal guidelines and standards on accessible medical equipment, as well as promoting legislation that would provide for safe lifting equipment and techniques in hospitals and other health care settings.

Amber Smock
Director of Advocacy

Amber Smock oversees the strategic implementation of AL's disability policy and organizing at the local, state and national levels. Amber has a particular interest in the community integration of people with disabilities, as well as youth leadership and issues affecting Deaf/hard of hearing people. She started at Access Living in 2005 as an organizer working with young people with disabilities. Amber currently serves on the Transit Access Committee of the Regional Transit Authority, is a Commissioner on the Illinois Deaf and Hard of Hearing Commission, is a co–founder of Feminist Response in Disability Activism (FRIDA), and is a member of the disability rights group ADAPT. She has been honored many times for her advocacy work, most notably as a 2012 recipient of the Paul G. Hearne Leadership Award from the American Association of People with Disabilities, the 2009 Chicago Disability Pride Parade Grand Marshal, the 2008 Progress Center Annie Hopkins Advocate of the Year, and the 2008 Founder's Award recipient from the Chicago Foundation for Women.

Amber grew up hard of hearing in mainstreamed school and learned ASL in her 20s. She now identifies as a member of the Deaf community. Amber has a bachelor's degree in English and art from the University of California, Berkeley. As a college student, Amber worked as an assistant archivist on the Disability Rights Movement archive at the Bancroft Library. She also has a Master of Fine Arts in Writing degree from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Tom Wilson
Community Organizer, Health Care

Tom Wilson has worked at Access Living since 1990. He is passionate about moving people with disabilities out of nursing facilities and institutions and into the community. He has experience in Personal Assistant Services, deinstitutionalization, long term care and health care policy and in disability advocacy. Tom served for many years as Team Leader of the Personal Assistant Services and Health Care Team. Tom helped advocate for and develop the De–Institutionalization program that Access Living pioneered in 1997. He helped develop the Stepping Stones research and curriculum project in collaboration with faculty and students at the UIC Occupational Studies Department.

Tom continues to do policy work on health care. He also focuses on community mobilization for systems change, and facilitates two consumer based advocacy groups: the Taskforce for Attendant Services (TFAS) and Independent Voices. Since 2010, Tom has been responsible for coordinating hundreds of consumers to advocate for disability rights in Springfield with state legislators.

Tom is a longtime board member of Health and Medicine Policy Research Group.