US Equestrian is pleased to announce that the next DEI Community Conversation, “Harnessing Accessibility and Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities,” will be held via Zoom on Wednesday, April 14, from 12:00 – 1:00 p.m. ET. Hosted in partnership with RespectAbility, this conversation will focus on the lived experience of people with different disabilities in the equestrian industry and beyond, as well as offer 10 tips for disability etiquette. Para dressage rider and disability advocate Alanna Flax-Clark will be the keynote speaker.
“Harnessing Accessibility and Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities” is free to attend and open to all people. You do not need to be a USEF member. Captions and an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter will be provided for this DEI Community Conversation.
Can’t make the live session? USEF members will be able to access the conversation on demand in the Learning Center. Join US Equestrian for free by signing up for a fan membership here using promo code inclusion21.
Meet the Panelists
Alanna Flax-Clark, M.S.Ed. (Glen Gardner, N.J.) is a para-equestrian competing in dressage, as well as an actress, model, and writer. She was a member of the silver medal-winning Adequan® U.S. Para Dressage Team at the 2019 Caledon Spring Jubilee CPEDI3* and was named the 2019 Adequan/United States Dressage Federation Para Dressage Rider of the Year, among many other impressive performances.
Flax-Clark is a disability advocate, mentor to newly disabled members of the community, and aims to bring greater awareness to how sports and an active lifestyle can positively affect people with disabilities. She was diagnosed with a chronic neurological disease when she was younger and contracted a severe case of the influenza virus in her mid-20s that caused her immune system to attack her nerves, leaving her a quadriplegic. Flax-Clark decided to test out equine-assisted activities and therapies after becoming frustrated with her traditional rehab. She fell in love with horses and the sport of para dressage. Full Bio
Ava Xiao-Lin Rigelhaupt is an avid equestrian and a writer, actress, and advocate for disability and autism representation in the entertainment industry. As an Entertainment Media Communications Fellow with RespectAbility, she consults on television shows and movies with studios like Disney and Netflix. Rigelhaupt started her disability advocacy as a founding member of a neurodiverse theatre company and as an inclusion intern at Trinity Repertory Company in Rhode Island. Rigelhaupt wants to write for TV or film and continue her love of acting by working with entertainment companies and professionals to create more opportunities for diverse people with disabilities in the entertainment industry. Full Bio
Abigail Shaw is a long-distance runner and received a Bachelor of Science in Music Industry Studies from Appalachian State University and currently is pursuing a Master of Social Work from Fordham University. She works at Learning Ally, an educational solutions organization serving individuals with learning disabilities and those who are blind or low-vision. She is the College Success Program’s mentorship coordinator and the production coordinator of audiobooks at Learning Ally. Shaw is co-captain of the New York City chapter of Achilles International, an organization promoting mainstream athletics for people with disabilities. Whether by plane, train, automobile, or on foot, Shaw’s preferred method of transportation includes her yellow lab guide dog, Kit, by her side. Full Bio (Photo by Rick Guidotti, Positive Exposure 109)
Rabbi Darby Leigh is a passionate snowboarder and the rabbi of Congregation Kerem Shalom in Concord, Mass. He is an advocate for the deaf community, committed to creating an inclusive, caring community with intellectual honesty and spiritual depth. Leigh is a published author, including a chapter in Deaf Identities: Exploring New Frontiers. He was a consultant for Hands On, an organization that provides sign language interpreting services for Broadway and off-Broadway productions, as well as for the Oscar-nominated documentary Sound and Fury. Leigh has also worked to create online videos with numerous other organizations where he has taught on issues related to deafness and disability access, earning many accolades along the way. He is married to Dr. Randi Leigh and they have three daughters. Full Bio
Jennifer Fink is a routine dog walker of her two retrievers, health care consultant for a D.C.-based firm, and social entrepreneur. Her passion lies in promoting behavioral and community health to empower individuals learning to cope with anxiety and depression. Fink lives with these nonvisible disabilities due to an accident and illness in her mid-20s. Fink had founded a nonprofit and co-authored a children’s book supporting military-connected children. She collaborated with the Obama White House’s Joining Forces Initiative; and due to Fink’s finesse, former First Lady Michelle Obama filmed a video for a USO Asia-Pacific Tour that Fink co-led. Fink offers simple tips in “mental fitness” that can benefit everyone, during and beyond the pandemic. A captivating and relatable storyteller, she weaves in humor and grace as she shares her story, wisdom, and lessons learned from her journey. (Photo courtesy of Jennifer Fink)
Andrea Jennings is a former events planner and the founder of Shifting Creative Paradigms Entertainment and Productions, a production company dedicated to creating and producing inclusive and diverse content for television, film, theatre, and music productions. She is also guest lecturer at California State University, Los Angeles, and advocates for accessibility and disability rights through various advisory committees and as a commissioner. She trains individuals and industry professionals to “level the playing field” by teaching them creative solutions to influence social change in the arts, fashion, entertainment, and more. Jennings experienced a major car accident when she was working for a global advertising conglomerate. The accident left her with multiple life-changing injuries, which affected her ability to walk and work. After the accident, she realized her purpose was to create equitable solutions for social change and accessible events through her lived experience so that she could help others.(Photo by Peter Michelena)
Debbie Fink is the moderator, director, and producer of DEI Community Conversations: Harnessing Accessibility and Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities. Fink is the outgoing Director of Community Outreach and Impact for RespectAbility and the incoming Vice President of Disability, Education, and Inclusion at the Cerebral Palsy Foundation, where she will oversee the national scaling of the disability inclusion school-based program, “Just Say Hi.”
RespectAbility is a national, nonpartisan, non-profit organization that fights stigmas and advances opportunities so people with disabilities can fully participate in all aspects of community. To realize its mission, RespectAbility works collaboratively with employers, elected officials, policy makers, educators, self-advocates, non-profits, faith-based organizations, philanthropists, and the entertainment and news media. Led by diverse people with disabilities and allies, RespectAbility knows that people with disabilities and their families have the same hopes and dreams as everyone else. All six panelists for this DEI Community Conversation are speakers with RespectAbility’s National Disability Speakers Bureau (NDSB). To learn more about the NDSB, and/or to book one of its speakers, email [email protected].
About the DEI Community Conversations Series
US Equestrian’s DEI Community Conversations series will serve as a forum for raising awareness about the various experiences and issues affecting equestrians from under-represented or under-served communities. The series aims to lift traditionally marginalized voices from the equestrian community, and beyond, while building community across the broad network of horse sport enthusiasts. The series is an initiative of the DEI Action Plan’s comprehensive marketing plan strategy, one of 10 strategies to advance DEI in the sport over the next three to five years.