March is Women’s History Month. This gives us the platform to highlight the contributions and achievements of the women with disabilities at SDI who are marking history right now, both historically and in contemporary society.

Asked what she feels is her greatest contribution to SDI and how she feels to be a woman with a disability in this era, each Starkloff woman proclaimed:

Tina Vinson, Director of Community Outreach is legally blind due to the measles virus that she had when she was young.

Tina has a Masters in Rehabilitation Counseling and represents SDI in the community by building relationships with corporate, university and community partners.

“I bring to SDI a rich and diverse level of skills and experience, with 23 years in the field,” Tina shares. “I am a utility player – my experience allows me to have fluidity to utilize my talents in numerous areas and programs. I can screen candidates, teach our Capstone course, meet and greet the public, train corporate managers and share our mission to all types of people.”

Tina’s enthusiasm and passion for her work is contagious, as she recruits candidates for the Starkloff Career Academy and brings people closer to our mission.

“I am proud to be a strong woman with a disability,” Tina brags. “My disability journey started before the ADA was in place. I feel I am part of history and want to continue to move our rights forward.”

Debbie Davis, Executive Administrative Assistant is a cancer survivor.

Diagnosed with breast cancer in 1993, she had lumpectomy surgery that was followed by chemotherapy and radiation. Debbie thought she won the battle. But in 1996, the cancer came back in the same spot. Since 2001, Debbie has been treated at the Siteman Cancer Center, which fosters teaching and research through its practice. Debbie is pleased with the fact that people are learning from her illness. She is helping other cancer survivors.

Debbie’s professional career has centered on making a difference in the lives of others through her extensive work with nonprofits.

“One of my responsibilities is to answer the phones here at the office and I know that I am the first voice the callers hear.  I am kind to each person who calls,” says Debbie.  “When given the opportunity, I love to motivate people to live their lives to the fullest, no matter what the disability.”

“There are always amazing moments in life to be enjoyed.”

Ann Kiburz, Senior Editor, SDI Connections had a severe brain stem injury in 1994.

Ann earned her college degree at Richmond, The American International University in London. While there, she helped produce the student newsletter, Sideline.

“Before my injury, I worked at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch,” Ann says. “Post-injury, I have worked at a wide swath of institutions, companies and organizations as a writer, editor and copy editor,” she explains. “I think my greatest contribution to SDI is getting their word out well. I value and enjoy this. It satisfies me to keep the community updated as to what’s going on with us, as well as keep myself up on all of our currents.”

Known as “The Churner” at SDI, Ann is able to write and edit stories well at whirlwind speed. “It seems as if I’ve always been working on time-sensitive materials, so it’s become second nature for me to put things out in accordance with deadline,” she reveals.

Ann is content with being a disabled woman in this era. “From the moment I was injured to now, my prognoses have been dismal. I enjoy a great sense of accomplishment doing things that no one ever dreamed I’d be able to do. ‘Bring it on’ is my mantra.”

She is pleased to be part of Starkloff’s newsletter production. “SDI Connections is the disability community’s word.”

Lori Becker, Chief Operations Officer, Director of Development and Communications is legally blind due to a genetic condition called Stargardt’s Disease. Lori holds a Bachelor’s in Organizational Studies from Saint Louis University. In her professional career, Lori has consulted on political campaigns and community initiatives in the areas of public relations, fundraising and grassroots outreach.

Lori thinks that since she’s been at SDI, her greatest contribution has been energy. “My background in political campaigns molded me into an extreme multi-tasker who works at lightning-fast speed. Due to my disability, or it may be just the way my brain works, I am hyper-organized. So I set the bar high for my colleagues.”

“Through my role as Development Director,” Lori explains, “I have also been able to instill a deep sense of stewardship among the staff. We are grateful to those donors who make our work possible, and we work diligently to be good stewards of their gifts.”

In this era, Lori feels like she’s in the defensive mode being a woman with a disability. “When the President of the United States openly mocks a person with a disability, I feel like it is ‘open season’ for discrimination.”

“However,” Lori says, “I do take great solace in witnessing the millions of people across the country that came out for the Women’s March back on January 21. I was attending SDI’s board retreat that day, but I channeled my solidarity to all those participating.”

Susan Menhard, Program Director of Starkloff Career Academy has quadriplegia after an accident 14 years ago. She has a Masters of Social Work from Washington University and is dedicated to the success of the candidates of the Career Academy.

Colleen Starkloff, Founder, Co-Director has ADHD, like many visionaries of our time. Colleen is proud to tell you about it. She has been named a Woman of Achievement 2017.

Colleen has been involved in the formation and advancement of the Independent Living/Disability Rights Movement in the U.S. and other nations worldwide since 1973.  She married Max J Starkloff in 1975 and began a career of advocating the full inclusion and independence of people with disabilities, and continues to do so today.

During her career she has met with disability rights leaders from many other countries; headed up the organization of the ’91 and ’93 Japan/USA Conference on Persons with Disabilities; created the Universal Design Summit series of national conferences; developed international internships for youth leaders with disabilities from Japan; helped to form one of the largest independent living centers in the world; advocated for local, state and national disability policy change; fostered independent living services; built a Disability Studies program at the university level; worked to increase employment options for college-educated people with disabilities; and recently produced the Dream Big initiative to encourage disabled youth to expand their career horizons.

She now is focused on further increasing disability employment through Colleen Starkloff Talks Disability and helping to organize a new disability hiring advising business, SDI Consultants.  “My passion is creating a world that welcomes all people with disabilities,” Colleen says.

She is so grateful to live long enough to see the efforts she and Max worked so hard for, improving the lives of people with disabilities in her lifetime!  She and Max are the proud parents of Meaghan, Max and Emily Starkloff.

Join the party! Recognize the many accomplishments of our dedicated women.

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