Health & Disability Advocates 
Staff Biographies

Barbara Otto has been the Executive Director of Health & Disability Advocates since 1994. Under her leadership, HDA has grown into a nationally known advocacy organization and resource on health care, employment supports for people with disabilities, and inclusive public policymaking. Barbara is a sought-after speaker, giving workshops throughout the United States, and she serves as Adjunct Faculty for Cornell University’s Program on Employment and Disability, and as a consultant with the Virginia Commonwealth University, providing technical assistance to states working to increase employment opportunities for people with disabilities. In 2000, the Coalition of Citizens with Disabilities in Illinois awarded Barbara the Justin Dart Award for Advocacy, and in 2003 she received a national commendation from the Social Security Administration. Barbara’s work prior to HDA was in health policy and welfare issues and she is a graduate of Marquette University.

John Coburn currently coordinates HDA’s workforce development efforts supporting people with disabilities who want to work. He directs the Illinois Work Incentive Service Center, including the Benefits Planning Technical Assistance Training Center and Employment Network Coalition, and leads training workshops throughout Illinois and the U.S. on Social Security work incentives, the Ticket-to-Work Program, and other Social Security, public benefits, and employment issues. Prior to coming to HDA in 2003, John developed and ran the Protection and Advocacy Program for Beneficiaries of Social Security at Equip for Equality, Inc. and worked as an HIV/AIDS project attorney at the Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago. He also worked as a staff attorney and advocate at legal services offices in Ohio and North Carolina. John has a law degree from Duke University School of Law and a B.A. in Political Science from the University of Illinois.

Laura Wilhelm has been an attorney for HDA since 2000 when she started as the Staff Attorney for Project Access, a medical-legal collaborative between HDA and two area hospitals that wrapped up at the end of 2004.  The project helped families obtain the financial, medical, developmental and educational supports they needed for their infants and themselves. She has written and presented on Project Access and  its  findings at national research conferences, including the Society for Pediatric Research, the American Public Health Association, and the International Conference on Urban Health.  Laura is now using what was learned through Project Access to contribute to several other grants currently underway at HDA.  Prior to HDA, she worked in Washington, D.C. as staff to a member of Congress. She holds both a law degree and a Master of Social Work degree from Washington University in St. Louis and a B.A. in Government from Georgetown University.

Marsie Frawley is the Project Coordinator for HDA’s Work Incentives Support Center and also facilitates the Illinois Self Employment Resources Network, a statewide organization focused on increasing self-employment opportunities for people with disabilities. In addition, she manages the Vocational Futures Planning project for students with disabilities and trains extensively on public benefits and work incentives for people with disabilities. Marsie also coordinates HDA’s work with the Chicago Mayoral Task Force on Employment of People with Disabilities and the Chicago Jobs Council Workforce Development. Prior to coming to HDA in 1998, she worked as lead employment specialist for the Pioneer Center of McHenry County and as a job coach for individuals with traumatic brain injuries. She holds a B.A. in Psychology and Sociology from North Central College and has completed graduate studies in vocational counseling at Northeastern Illinois University.

Ellyce Anapolsky joined HDA in early 2005, bringing extensive legal and financial skills to the organization. She serves as a Staff Attorney and as HDA’s Chief Financial Officer, supervising and managing numerous operational, financial and administrative responsibilities. She represents clients in individual actions and works on advocacy issues in the areas of Social Security and Medicare. Before coming to HDA, Ellyce was the Chief Administrative Officer at the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws, Director of Administration at the National Senior Citizens Law Center, and Chief Financial Officer for the Lab School of Washington D.C. Her legal experience includes clerking for the Cook County Circuit Court, and working with Community Legal Services in Philadelphia and Legal Assistance for Seniors in Oakland as a member of the VISTA Volunteer Legal Corps. Ellyce is a Certified Public Accountant, and holds a law degree from John Marshall Law School in Chicago and a Master of Science in Accounting from California State University.

Julie Justicz, an attorney who specializes in children's disability issues, public benefits and health care for people with disabilities, is currently Of Counsel to Health & Disability Advocates. From 2000 - 2004, Julie was director of Project Access, a medical-legal collaboration between HDA and two area hospitals that provides case management and legal services to children with disabilities. Julie is an accomplished speaker and author on children’s disability issues, and conducts numerous seminars for parents, caregivers, social service providers and community organizations. Prior to coming to HDA in 1999, she was the Children’s SSI Project Director at the American Bar Association’s Center for Pro Bono, directing a national campaign to recruit and train attorneys to represent thousands of children who had lost SSI benefits. Julie also served as Executive Director of the AIDS Legal Council of Chicago and was an attorney with the Legal Assistance Foundation. She holds a law degree from the University of Chicago Law School, and a B.A. in English from Emory University.

Melissa Wittman is the Project Director for the National Consortium for Health Systems Development housed at HDA, a technical assistance center for states developing systems that support employment for people with disabilities. She serves as a national policy expert on employment issues, Medicaid and Medicaid "buy-in" programs, and work incentives, and facilitates technical assistance for 41 state Medicaid Infrastructure Grant projects. Melissa also coordinates information sharing forums for the states, including regional and national conferences, and provides consultation on strategic planning, inclusive public policymaking, and comprehensive infrastructure development. Prior to 2001, she was a policy analyst with the Pathways to Indepen-dence Project at the Wisconsin Department of Health and Family Services. Melissa holds a Master of Public Services Management from DePaul University and a B.A. in Political Science and French from Marquette University.

Seomara Sanabria has been HDA’s Administrative Assistant since 2001, assisting the HDA Executive Director, Chief Financial Officer, and staff members with all aspects of the office’s daily operations. She serves as HDA’s receptionist, and is fluent in both English and Spanish. Seomara also handles a multitude of administrative responsibilities, including data entry, accounts payable, scheduling, and accounting. Prior to HDA, she worked in the retail and restaurant industries and has completed coursework at Las Piedras University in Puerto Rico.

Stephanie Altman joined HDA in 1999 as a staff attorney specializing in Medicaid, Medicare, and health insurance issues. She represents children and adults in individual and class actions and also advocates for quality, accessible health care through administrative and legislative avenues. Stephanie co-authored Medical Assistance Programs in Illinois and the Illinois Medical Assistance Action Plan and conducts presentations and workshops on Medicaid and other disability topics for family and community groups, medical providers and hospital staff, and the legal profession. Prior to coming to HDA, she was an Assistant Professor of Clinical Practice at the Chicago-Kent College of Law, specializing in health and disability law, and a staff attorney with the Legal Assistance Foundation of Chicago. Stephanie has her law degree from Loyola University School of Law and a B.A. in English from Grinnell College.

Thomas Yates has been with HDA since 1996, and is responsible for policy analysis, advocacy, and legal representation on health care and Social Security benefits for children and adults with disabilities, and elders with limited incomes. He provides individual representation, class action litigation, and administrative and legislative advocacy in the areas of Social Security, Medicaid, and state-funded assistance programs, and has published and spoken extensively on each of these areas. Before coming to HDA, he worked for a private law firm in Chicago representing individuals on Social Security disability claims, and he worked for over a decade as a legal services attorney for the Legal Assistance Foundation of Chicago and Northeast Kentucky Legal Services. He has a law degree from the University of Iowa College of Law and a Bachelor of Special Studies in Economics and Philosophy from Cornell College.


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