Who We Are

Executive Director
Katie Arnold HeadshotKatie Arnold

Katie Arnold is the first Executive Director of the Sibling Leadership Network. Katie has been involved in the Sibling Leadership Network (SLN) since the organization’s inception in 2007 and she has grown in her commitment and leadership of the SLN over the years in various roles.  Throughout the years, Katie has played a key role in planning numerous SLN meetings and conferences and she has presented throughout the country on the importance of siblings and the SLN. As Executive Director, Katie’s focus is on growing the network of members and the capacity of the organization.  At the state level, Katie has been involved in the leadership of the Illinois state sibling chapter, Supporting Illinois Brothers and Sisters-SIBS.

Katie grew up in New Jersey as the second oldest of four siblings with disabilities, including her sister, Patrice, who has developmental disabilities. Katie’s sibling experience has shaped her worldview in many ways. After graduating from the University of Chicago, Katie lived at L’Arche Chicago, a community based on mutual relationships where people with and without developmental disabilities live together. She received her Masters in Disability and Human Development at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She works as the Director of Community Education in the Institute on Disability and Human Development where she provides education and training on various topics which include enhancing the direct support workforce, self-directed supports, supporting healthy relationships and sexuality for people with disabilities, family future planning, and the sibling experience. Katie has received numerous awards, including UIC’s 2009 Humanitarian of the Year award for her dedication to the advancement of human rights of people with disabilities, the 2011 Chicago Young Nonprofit Professional of the Year, and the 2013 National Leadership award from The Arc of Illinois. Katie’s passion for her work stems from her experience growing up with her siblings with disabilities.  Katie lives in Chicago with her husband, Gary, who is also a disability advocate.

Board of Directors

Outgoing Chair
Ed O'NeillEd O’Neill
Edward O’Neill is a Special Education consultant supporting students with significant social, emotional and behavioral needs across the spectrum of disabilities. He has been a Teacher and administrator over programs for students with disabilities.  In his current role, he travels around the country working with school districts to build programs, train educational
and community personnel, and develop systems to create better outcomes for children with social, emotional and behavioral needs. He is also a professor with the SELECT Program at Northern Arizona University and teaches graduate courses in Special Education. Edward has been working through the guardianship process and advocating for his older sister Jacquelyn who has Down Syndrome to increase her access to meaningful life activities.

Sara hansenSara Hansen
Sara Hansen, Ed.D., CED, has an educational background including a minor in Communication Sciences and Disorders, graduate degrees in Special Education and Curriculum & Instruction from The University of South Dakota (USD), as well as a national certification in Deaf Education (CED) through The University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Her professional experience includes 11 years of service at the South Dakota School for the Deaf (SDSD) prior to joining the Sanford School of Medicine/University of South Dakota Center for Disabilities for three years in the role of Assistant Professor of Pediatrics. Sara has recently returned to the fields of Special Education and Deaf Education, working with students with hearing loss and communicative challenges at Wagner Community School in Wagner, SD.

Dr. Hansen has served individuals with a wide range of disabilities from birth through adulthood while specializing in evaluation and plan development. She also has served on teams specifically tailored to assist persons with Autism Spectrum Disorders, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, and Deafness. Sara’s passion and dedication to the areas of disability and diversity stems from her role as a sibling. Sara is the second of five siblings. Her brother, Ted, who is third of the five siblings, has multiple disabilities due to contracting a serious illness as an infant. Sara lives in South Dakota with her husband and their four children.

Vice Chair
Lindsey Polansky smiles for the cameraLindsey Polansky
Lindsey Polansky is originally from outside of Pittsburgh, PA, where she grew up with her sister, Julie, who has William’s Syndrome. Growing up, Lindsey and her family attended many conferences for her sister, but she came away disappointed that there weren’t more opportunities to connect with siblings.
When Lindsey began her current position as Coordinator of Educational Programs at the American
Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD), she was introduced to the Sibling
Leadership Network. She was inspired at the 2017 SLN Conference, and couldn’t wait to get involved.
Lindsey is thrilled to be working with the SLN and looks forward to introducing other siblings to this great organization. She received her BA from Washington and Jefferson College in International Studies and French.

Emily Holl
Emily Holl’s experience with the Sibling Leadership Network began in 2006, when the network was a dream discussed by a handful of siblings sitting in a circle in an otherwise empty hotel conference room.

Over the next few years, as the dream of a national sibling organization grew into the Sibling Leadership Network, Emily served as the New York representative while working with siblings locally to establish sibsNY, the state’s chapter of the SLN. She also served as Communications Committee Chair of the SLN.

Emily, who has an older brother with intellectual and developmental disabilities, has worked in the disabilities field since 2003. She has experience as a communications professional and as a licensed Social Worker. Emily has conducted research and published on sibling issues, and she had the pleasure of working with Don Meyer and several SLN authors in co-editing “The Sibling Survival Guide.”

In 2015, Emily and her family moved from New York to Minnesota, where she currently supports students with disabilities at a community and technical college. She is thrilled to reconnect with the SLN and to offer her support as Secretary.

Jaime McGeady
Jaime McGeady is a born and raised Jersey Girl who lives in New Brunswick, NJ. She has been working in the field of disabilities since she was a teenager. Currently, she works as a Community Supports Educator at the Boggs Center on Developmental Disabilities, New Jersey’s University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities, which is truly a dream job for her! Her sister has Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and her brother has Cerebral Palsy. She has been an active part of both of their lives since a young age; attending IEP meetings starting at fourteen years old! Her experience as a sibling has really shaped her career and her world view. Jaime feels that all people, including people with disabilities, should be active and fully included members of their community. Through her career and her everyday life, she works towards educating others on this philosophy and on Person Centered language and approaches to supporting people with disabilities. In her free time Jaime enjoys anything outdoors that keeps her active and a good movie; with comedy and historical films being her favorite genres.

Research Chair
Meghan BurkeMeghan Burke
Meghan is the oldest of five siblings including a brother, Ryan, who has Down syndrome. Currently, she is a post doctoral fellow in the Department of Disability and Human Development at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She received her Master’s degree and PhD in Special Education from Vanderbilt University. Her research interests include family-school partnerships, disability policy, and families of individuals with disabilities. Previously, Meghan was a preschool teacher for students with disabilities. Meghan has published several articles about siblings of individuals with disabilities. While at Vanderbilt, Meghan co-facilitated sibling workshops for children and teens. Meghan was also a member of the Tennessee Adult Brothers and Sisters Conference Committee as well as the Adult Sibling Research workgroup.

Co-Chair of Research
Caya PicCaya (Chun-Yu) Chiu
Caya (Chun-Yu) initially pursued special education because she has a brother with significant intellectual and physical disabilities. Knowing that building family capacity can improve individual and family outcomes, she decided to move from Taiwan to the U.S. to advance her knowledge and research skills in the areas of special education, families, and public policy. She received her Master’s from Vanderbilt University and just earned her Ph.D. from University of Kansas.

Policy and Advocacy Chair
Rachel Patterson
Rachel Patterson is Chair of the SLN Communications Committee and a member of DC Sibs, the SLN chapter for the Washington, DC metropolitan area. She is currently the Director of Public Policy for the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation. She studied domestic and disability policy at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University, and has previously served the disability community at the Association of University Centers on Disabilities and Burton Blatt Institute. Her sister, Amy, has Wolf-Hirschhorn Syndrome – which causes intellectual and developmental disabilities and significant medical needs – and lives in the Seattle area.

Chair of Network Development
ErinErin Sweeney Hutzelman
Erin Sweeney Hutzelman, M.Ed. is currently a doctoral candidate at the University of Toledo. She also works as a Graduate Assistant there, where she teaches health courses to undergraduate students. Her research interests include: adolescent health, drugs, sexuality, and the health of siblings of individuals with I/DD. Before coming to Toledo, Erin lived and worked in Virginia as a middle school Health and Physical Education teacher. While in Virginia, she received her Masters of Education at George Mason University in Curriculum and Instruction, with a certification in Physical Education. Erin would donate her planning period once a week to go to the special education classroom to teach about health topics. Erin is originally from Pennsylvania, where she earned her Bachelor Degree in Health and Physical Education with a minor in Adapted Physical Activity from Slippery Rock University. She is the middle of three siblings, her older sister has an intellectual disability and her younger brother is a police officer for the city of Pittsburgh, PA.

Co-Chair of Network Development
Barb Sapharas
Barb has worked in the field of developmental disabilities for over 40 years as a speech language pathologist and service coordinator as well as providing training to professionals, self-advocates, families and community members. She is a co-founder of Ohio SIBS and a previous Chair of Ohio SIBS and the SLN. She currently is retired and works as a consultant providing information and training in Person Centered Thinking and Practices, self-determination, and supporting families.

Her passion comes from her life experience as the big sister to two brothers with disabilities who she encouraged and supported to live the lives they valued. She lives in the Cleveland, Ohio area.

Chapter Representatives

California Chapter Representative
Julie Neward
Julie Payne-Neward is a Chapter Representative on the SLN Board, as well as the President and Co-Founder of the California Chapter of the Sibling Leadership Network. The story behind the launch of the chapter can be found in this article on sibling support groups, in which Julie is quoted. She is the eldest of four siblings spanning 8 years; her next sibling and eldest sister- Natalie Rose, is diagnosed as “Encephalopathy Unknown Origin.” She was born typical, but fell into a coma that left her brain damaged when she was a toddler. Julie has chosen a career in retail real estate as the General Manager of a shopping mall in Northern California and is looking forward to working with the local special needs community on employment efforts. She received her International MBA from the University of San Diego and her BS in Business: International Concentration from Saint Mary’s College in California. She lives in the San Francisco East Bay, a short distance from her mother and sisters, with her husband and two kids who keep her on her toes!

Colorado Chapter Representative
SheaTanis-photoEmily Shea Tanis
Emily Shea Tanis, PhD is the Associate Director of the Coleman Institute for Cognitive Disabilities and faculty in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus.  She also serves as the research coordinator for the State of the States in Developmental Disabilities Project of National Significance funded by the Administration on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, which investigates the determinants of public spending for Intellectual and Developmental Disability Services in the United States and contributes to the project of Public Spending and Services for People with Disabilities examining cross-disability public spending in the United States. Tanis has been a co-author The State of the States in Developmental Disabilities Monographsince 2011.  Tanis is the sibling of a man with a traumatic brain injury and is past-chair of the National Sibling Leadership Network and co-founder of the Colorado Sibling Leadership Network Chapter.  She has published articles on the definition of intellectual disability, the construct of self-determination, the impact of assistive technologies and cognitive accessibility, supports for families of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and supported and customized employment. She received her PhD from the University of Kansas, Department of Special Education, MA from Rhode Island College, and BA from Brown University in psychology.

Illinois Chapter Representative
Nora Handler
Nora Fox Handler is a committed sister to her three brothers with developmental disabilities, Marty, Patrick, and Michael. Michael also has a serious mental illness. She is a passionate advocate for people with disabilities and their families. She shares the story of her family’s experience and the consequences of their lack of planning for the future. Her story is published in Thicker Than Water: Essays by Adult Siblings of People with Disabilities.

Nora is a founding member and treasurer of Supporting Illinois Brother and Sisters (SIBS) in Illinois and on the Board of Directors of the national Sibling Leadership Network. She also serves on the Advisory Committee of the Sibling Support Project. Nora is an advocate advisor of the Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Aging with Developmental Disabilities (RRTCADD) and the Institute on Disability and Human Development at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Nora received the Family Advocate award from The Arc of Illinois and is a Board member of The Arc of Illinois.

Members at Large

University of Illinois at Chicago Representative
Tamar Heller
Tamar Heller, Ph.D. is Professor and Head of the Department of Disability and Human Development, University of Illinois at Chicago and director of its University Center of Excellence in Developmental Disabilities for the State of Illinois. She also directs the Rehabilitation Research and Training Center (RRTC) on Developmental Disabilities and Health, the Advanced Training in Translational and Transformational Research to Improve Outcomes for People with Disabilities grant and is Co-PI of the RRTC on Community Living Disability Policy and the Family Support RTC. Her research focuses on health and long-term services and supports interventions and public policies and their effects on individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families across the life course. She has over 200 publications including 5 co-authored books.

Sibling Support Project Representative
Don Meyer
Don Meyer is the director of the Sibling Support Project. Don is probably best known for creating Sibshops, lively programs just for young brothers and sisters of kids with special needs. Currently, there are over 450 Sibshops in eight countries. Don also created SibKids and SibNet, no-cost listservs for young and adult brothers and sisters which allow hundreds of siblings from around the world to connect with their peers. A sought-after speaker, Don has conducted hundreds of workshops on siblings, fathers, and grandparents of children with special needs and trainings on the Sibshop model throughout the United States, Canada, Ireland, England, Italy, New Zealand, and Japan. Don was a founder of the SEFAM (Supporting Extended Family Members) program at the University of Washington, which pioneered services for fathers, siblings, and grandparents of children with special needs. Don is the senior author or editor of Sibshops, and the children’s books Views from Our Shoes and the Sibling Slam Book. His most recent book is Thicker than Water:essays by adult siblings of people with disabilities.

Self Advocates Becoming Empowered (SABE) Representative
EricM cVayEric McVay
Eric McVay is a board member of the Sibling Leadership Network and a member of Self Advocates Becoming Empowered (SABE), the national self-advocacy organization for people with developmental disabilities.  He is also an active member of his state self-advocacy organization in Maine called Speaking Up For Us.  Eric is also part of the Consumer Council System of Maine, a voice for consumers of mental health services.  He is active in advocacy and knowledgeable about policies that impact people with disabilities.  Eric lives in his family home in Maine.  He has a close relationship with his younger sister.