Professional Development & Continuing Education Programs

Global Accessibility Awareness Day: Let’s Talk About Accessibility!

Thursday, May 20, 2021, from 10:00 AM -12:00 PM EST


Held Virtually | Harrisburg University of Science and Technology

Description: Help us celebrate the tenth Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) by talking, thinking, and learning about digital accessibility and inclusion for people with disabilities!  We plan to talk about topics like:

  • What is digital accessibility?
  • Why is it important?
  • Who does it impact?
  • Services available to citizens with disabilities
  • Services available to employees with disabilities

GAAD Schedule of Sessions & Speakers

10:00 – 10:05 AM |    Welcome from Harrisburg University of Science and Technology 

10:05 – 10:10 AM |    Introductory from the Commonwealth of PA- “What is GAAD?” 

  • Speaker: Ellen Strom, Chief Accessibility Officer, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
  • Speaker Biography: Ellen Strom was named Chief Accessibility Officer for the commonwealth in January 2020.  In this role, Ellen is focused on ensuring that the state’s digital content is accessible to its citizens and employees alike.  She works with state agencies to define best practices, design, and implement strategies to educate and influence organizational culture, improve procurement processes, and organize communities of practice. Ellen has been in the digital customer experience field for more than 15 years.  For seven years prior to joining the commonwealth, she concentrated on designing and implementing a digital program to improve the web and mobile banking experiences for customers with disabilities.  She is a Certified Professional in Accessibility Core Competencies (CPACC).

10:10 – 10:30 AM |    Panel: “What is Digital Accessibility?”

  • Speaker #1: Karissa Demi, Software Engineering Manager, City of Philadelphia
  • Speaker #2:  Laura Sorgini, EIT Accessibility Coordinator, Law School Admission Council
  • Speaker #3:  Philip Vorhees, IT Manager III, Penn State University
  • Facilitated by: Ellen Strom, Chief Accessibility Officer, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania

10:30 – 10:40 AM |   Session:  “Overview of the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation”

  • Speaker: Shannon Austin, Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR) Executive Director 
  • Speaker Biography: Shannon brings 25+ years of combined experience in human resource management, workforce development, and vocational rehabilitation.  She currently serves as the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR) Executive Director which includes: Bureau Vocational Rehabilitation Services (BVRS), Bureau of Blindness and Visual Services (BBVS), Bureau Central Operations (BCO), Hiram G. Andrews Center (HGAC), and Office for the Deaf & Hard of Hearing (ODHH). Throughout her professional career, she has worked tirelessly to develop and nurture strong collaborations between government agencies, businesses, education institutions, community agencies, and partners to bring about true inclusion. Shannon’s career at OVR began in 2007 at the Bureau of Vocational Rehabilitation Services (BVRS) in Pittsburgh. During her tenure at BVRS, Shannon worked as a vocational rehabilitation counselor, vocational rehabilitation supervisor, business service & outreach division supervisor, and assistant district administrator.

10:40 – 11:05 AM |    Session: “Disability Awareness & Etiquette”

  • Speaker: Russell Goddard, Statewide Coordinator of Deaf, Hard of Hearing, and Deafblind Services, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
  • Speaker Biography: Russ Goddard works for the PA Office of Vocational Rehabilitation as the Statewide Coordinator of Deaf, Hard of Hearing, and Deafblind Services.  In his position, Russ provides technical assistance to OVR field staff and central office staff with issues related to the provision of services for deaf, hard of hearing, and deafblind OVR customers.  He also worked in his capacity as the program director for the Summer Academy for High School Students who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing for the past three years.  Russ has a total of 22 years of experience in vocational rehabilitation, first as a rehabilitation counselor for the deaf and hard of hearing in the state of Ohio, then continuing in the same capacity for PA OVR before being promoted to his current position.  Russ himself has a hearing loss, bringing into this position a wealth of personal and professional knowledge about adult services, educational and transition services for high school students with hearing loss.

11:05 – 11:30 AM      Session: “Turn Awareness into Action”

  • Speaker: Justin Laffey, VR Assistive Technology Specialist, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
  • Speaker Biography: Justin Laffey is an Assistive Technology Specialist working for the Pennsylvania Office of Vocational Rehabilitation Bureau of Blindness and Visual Services.  In this role, Justin creates assistive technology-specific programming for transition-age youth who are blind or visually impaired, trains staff on document accessibility best practices, and assists commonwealth agencies in the manual testing of web-based content. Prior to working for the commonwealth, Justin worked as an independent contractor who trained individuals who are blind or visually impaired in the use of assistive technology to improve or maintain employment, education, or independence.  Justin is also pursuing a master’s degree in Orientation and Mobility, which is teaching individuals who are blind or visually impaired independent travel skills.

11:30 – 12:00 PM      Session: “Accommodations | Overview of the Office of Equal Employment Opportunity”

  • Speaker: Martin Kearney, Equal Opportunity Specialist in the Office of Administration, Bureau of Equal Employment Opportunity Policy and Appeals (BEEOPA), Commonwealth of Pennsylvania 
  • Speaker Biography: Martin Kearney is an Equal Opportunity Specialist in the Office of Administration, Bureau of Equal Employment Opportunity Policy and Appeals (BEEOPA).  In this role, Marty addresses requests for accommodation and provides training on disability-related issues for commonwealth managers and supervisors.  He also reviews appeals of internal discrimination complaints and provides technical assistance and guidance to state agencies on all EEO-related matters.  Marty has been in the civil rights field for nearly two decades.  Prior to joining BEEOPA in 2015, he worked for the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission for more than 10 years investigating discrimination complaints, providing training and outreach, and consulting with community organizations on civil rights matters.

Additional Resources & Links

Thank you to the GAAD Sponsors and Partners!