Rachel-SimonBIO
Although her first three books were critically acclaimed and established a following, it was her first memoir, Riding the Bus with My Sister, that put her on bestseller lists. Focusing on the relationship between Rachel and her sister Beth, who has an intellectual disability, it was adapted for a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie starring Rosie O’ Donnell as Beth, Andie McDowell as Rachel, and was directed by Angelica Houston. Rachel’s following disability-themed book, The Story of Beautiful Girl, became instant , New York Times and Independent Booksellers Best Sellers.

Awards and Recognition for Riding the Bus with My Sister:
• School Library Journal Best Nonfiction of 2003
• Secretary Tommy G. Thompson Recognition Award for Contributions to the Field of Disability from the US Department of Health and Human Services
• TASH Image Award for positive portrayals of people with disabilities
•Media Access Award from California Governor’s Committee for Employment of People with Disabilities
• Selection of numerous One Community-One Book programs nationwide

Additional Honors:
• One of the only authors to have been selected twice for the Barnes & Noble Discover New Writers Award
• Creative Writing Fellowship recipient from the Delaware Division of the Arts, the Pennsylvania Council of the Arts, and the Ludwig Vogelstein Foundation
• Adaptations of stories and books have been produced by the NPR program “Selected Shorts”; the Lifetime television series The Hidden Room; the Arden Theatre Company in Philadelphia; and Hallmark Hall of Fame


KEYNOTE
From Darkness to Light: Helping The Beautiful Girls Lead Beautiful Lives (50 mins.)
How do we help people with intellectual and developmental disabilities live lives with meaning, dignity, and respect, fulfilling their innate potential? How can we ensure that all people live in freedom, rather than hidden from the world? Rachel Simon’s novel, The Story of Beautiful Girl, illustrates these themes. Using original artwork, family photos, and archival photos, Rachel will discuss our shared history, her personal history, and how we can all make a difference. This talk touches on many issues familiar to those in the disability community: the abuse and dehumanizing conditions in the institution, the advent of deinstitutionalization, and the value of dedicated Direct Support Professionals, who work to enhance the lives of people with disabilities. Rachel also weaves in issues such as the right to community living, romance, self-expression, spirituality, and independence.

Riding Through Life With Cool Beth: My Sister’s Journey To Independence, My Journey To Embracing My Sister (60 mins.)
Rachel Simon’s sister Beth is a spirited, independent woman who has an intellectual disability and who has forged a unique alliance with her community through her travels on the local buses. Rachel Simon’s bestselling memoir, Riding The Bus With My Sister, chronicles the year she spent riding the buses with Beth, as well as their lives together from birth to middle age. In this lively, moving talk, illustrated by photos from the past and present, Rachel takes you on a journey – her journey as a sister, and Beth’s journey as she moves from childhood to adulthood and into an independent life. This talk incorporates such issues as discrimination, parental struggles and victories, the concerns of siblings throughout the life cycle, the transition to adulthood, self-determination, travel training, and the importance of friends in the community.

I’m Her Family, You’re Her Provider: Let’s Collaborate (30 mins.)
Rachel Simon’s sister Beth lives independently with the support of a service provider. When Rachel reconnected with her sister through Beth’s favorite pastime of riding city buses, she found herself struggling to understand a system that had never reached out to her, and that viewed an individual’s family as parents, not siblings. This entertaining and honest presentation is illustrated by family photos and relevant images from the movie Riding The Bus With My Sister. Rachel will talk about how she did and didn’t feel welcomed into the world of the professionals, why siblings need to be acknowledged in an ongoing way, and how service providers can form more effective partnerships with families.

Giving Voice to Those Who Can’t Speak For Themselves (20 mins.)
Only eleven months older than a sister with developmental disabilities, Rachel Simon grew up helping the world understand her sister, and helping her sister understand the world. At the same time, Rachel discovered that she had an ability to write stories that made readers laugh, cry, and stay up all night until they’d turned the last page. In this heartwarming and uplifting talk, Rachel shares how she recognized that she could use her skills as a writer to advocate for those who have been ignored by society or kept hidden from the world, and how she has made that her life mission.

For more information about Rachel’s keynotes and presentations, please contact justin@damonbrooks.com