2021 Annual Forum

June 24, 2021 1:00 – 3:00pm (Eastern Time)


  • Presentation of the 2021 Student Scholarship Award to Sehrish Shikarpurya
  • Presentation of the 2021 AAIDD Religion and Spirituality Leadership Award to Shelly Christensen, MA, FAAIDD

Watch the presentation of the award to Shelly Christensen from past president David Morstad below. You can also learn more about Shelly here.

Panel Presentation:

Including People with IDD in Faith Communities: Perspectives from Diverse Faith Traditions

Watch the full forum including this excellent panel below!

Panelists included:

Rabbi Rebecca Dubowe

A native of Los Angeles, California, was ordained by Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. Rabbi Dubowe has served several synagogues including Thousand Oaks, CA, Hollywood, CA and New Brunswick, New Jersey. Currently, she is the rabbi for Moses Montefiore Congregation in Bloomington, Illinois. In 2016, Rabbi Dubowe was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from the Delaware Valley University, PA and in 2018 she received an honorary Doctorate of Divinity from the Hebrew Union College- Jewish Institute of Religion. In addition to serving the rabbinate full-time, Rabbi Dubowe offers her time to the greater Jewish Deaf Community. This community has a special place in Rabbi Dubowe’s life as she is the first female deaf Rabbi ordained in the world. Rabbi Dubowe has spoken at numerous synagogues throughout the country, written various articles, and led webinars about the importance of inclusion within the Jewish community. 

Imam Nadim Bashir

Imam Nadim Bashir has been a religious leader in the North Texas community for over 10 years. He is a graduate of a prestigious religious seminary in the United Kingdom and is pursuing further education in Islamic Divinity and Chaplaincy. While serving in various capacities and primarily as a religious leader in the community, Imam Nadim recognized that Muslim special needs families were struggling to feel included and to find support. He has dedicated himself to building awareness of special needs and helping families in the Muslim community get connected with resources and education through his group, DREAM. DREAM stands for Disability Resources, Education, and Awareness for Muslims. Imam Nadim strives to build more inclusion for individuals with special needs in the Muslim community and the greater community as a whole through different coalitions and initiatives.

Esther Garcia

Esther is Director of Outreach and Diocesan Relations with the National Catholic Partnership on Disability. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Communications, Master Catechist certificate from the Diocese of Dallas and Bible Studies from the University of Dallas and has over 30 years of experience as a community and ecclesial volunteer, as well as a catechist. She is specialized in leading catechetical programs for children, youth, adults, and families. In addition, she leads formation in special education – autism and other disabilities – and early childhood in multicultural communitiesEsther was Director of Faith Formation at Sacred Heart Parish in the Diocese of Dallas and teacher at the Autism Treatment Center in Dallas. She is currently the Director of Outreach and Diocesan Relations from the National Catholic Partnership on Disability with headquarters in Washington DC.

Shelly Christensen, MA, FAAIDD

Shelly Christensen is the 2021 Recipient of the AAIDD Religion and Spirituality Leadership Award and the author of The Jewish Community Guide to Inclusion of People with Disabilities and From Longing to Belonging—A Practical Guide to Including People with Disabilities and Mental Health Conditions in Your Faith Community. Shelly’s innovative leadership approach has supported numerous synagogues, schools, community centers, and other agencies to significantly adapt attitudes toward people with disabilities and those who love them. In 2009, Shelly co-founded Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance and Inclusion Month with the Jewish Special Education Consortium. The purpose was to coalesce communities and organizations to raise awareness about disability inclusion and designating one month for JDAIM. In 2020 Shelly and colleague Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer co-created “Everyone’s Welcome-A Fresh Conversation About Disability,” a twice-monthly webinar series in which guests from diverse faiths, practices, interests, and lived experiences share their stories and their work.

Sehrish Shikarpurya

Sehrish Shikarpurya is a doctoral student at Texas A&M University. Her research interests include supporting transition processes, services, and post-secondary outcomes for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) from minoritized backgrounds; and understanding intersectionality of faith and disability among young adults with IDD and their families. Prior to this position, she served as a special educator in a faith-based setting in both Texas and Atlanta.