Over the past decade Open Doors Organization has developed a nationwide network of associates and supporters who help us realize large-scale projects and keep us abreast of local and regional developments of importance to the wider disability community. These individuals, who represent many types of disabilities and areas of expertise, work with us on a regular basis as advisers and consultants. In addition to its Board of Directors, ODO has an active Advisory Board drawn from a wide variety of corporations, non-profits and educational institutions. We also benefit from and help to nurture interns from various Chicago-area undergraduate and graduate programs, many of whom go on to careers in disability-related fields.
- Brittany Stern
- Jerri Voda
Eric Lipp, Founder and Executive Director of the Open Doors Organization (ODO), started the organization after personally experiencing the restrictions that people with disabilities face in everyday life. A day before his 30th birthday Eric was diagnosed with Von Hippel Lindau disease, which had resulted in a tumor growth on his spinal cord. Eric was told that due to the trauma of the surgery he might never regain his ability to walk. This diagnosis and subsequent spinal cord surgery have not stopped Eric from participating in life to the fullest. This experience was the catalyst in encouraging Eric to found the Open Doors Organization.
Eric’s single most outstanding contribution to improving the quality of life for people with disabilities is in understanding the need for access into the larger domain of society. His ability to insist on helping businesses achieve equal access beyond simple compliance opens doors for people with disabilities. To this end, he initiated the 2002 and 2005 ODO/Harris Interactive studies on travelers with disabilities, which the travel industry views as the definitive source for statistics on travel by Americans with disabilities.
Before starting ODO, Eric worked for seven years as the National Account Executive for MIS Computer Corporation in Chicago. Prior to MIS, he was an Outbound Account Representative for CDW Computer Centers, a Fortune 500 company. Eric holds a B.S. from the University of Arizona and currently resides in Chicago with his wife and two children.
Laurel Van Horn
Director of Programs/Editor
Laurel Van Horn has specialized in accessible travel and hospitality since 1987, working as a writer, educator and access consultant. Since joining Open Doors Organization in 2004, she has taken the lead on major projects such as the award-winning ODO Easy Access Guides and Airline Complaint Resolution Official CRO and Amtrak training programs. She is also their “go-to person” on regulatory issues.
Formerly the executive director of SATH (Society for Accessible Travel & Hospitality), Laurel also edited their magazine, Open World for Disability and Mature Travel. She has since written for numerous disability magazines, websites and scholarly journals, reporting on developments in inclusive travel worldwide. Laurel has extensive experience overseas, having conducted access projects and awareness training in Thailand, India, Egypt, Dubai, South Africa, Peru, Chile and Panama. She has served on a variety of transportation-related advisory boards: Greyhound Lines, Northwest Airlines, Project Action and the US Access Board’s Passenger Vessel Access Advisory Committee. A long-term resident of New York City, Laurel has an M.A. in Economics from the New School for Social Research and a B.A. from Bryn Mawr College.
Emma Schwartz graduated from Cornell University in May 2009 where she earned a B.A. in Political Science. She has worked for the Epilepsy Foundation of America in the Legal and Government Affairs Department, where she supported the Vice President in fighting for the American with Disabilities Restoration Act and compiled a white paper on the issue of generic substitution. She began working for Open Doors Organization in October 2010 as a Program Coordinator, organizing and executing current programming including Amtrak Customer Service Training.
Brittany Stern is currently a Program Coordinator at Open Doors Organization and has held this position since 2009. Her many responsibilities include educating the travel industry through training, event planning, and program development. Brittany has traveled to speak to businesses worldwide on accessibility issues of importance to people with disabilities.
Brittany received her B.S. degree in Special Education and English Education from Indiana University. Prior to joining ODO, she held a variety of positions working directly with people with disabilities. She finds great passion in advocating for the needs of others and plans on continuing in disability-related endeavors. Brittany was diagnosed with low vision shortly after being born. Having a disability has helped Brittany to better relate to and represent the disability community throughout her career.
Jerri Voda has been employed at the Open Doors Organization in Chicago since 2004 as the Administrative Coordinator and Assistant to the Executive Director. Her major responsibilities include administrative and clerical duties, assisting with fundraising projects and events, organizing symposiums and conferences, individual and group travel arrangements, financial recordkeeping and office management. She is also a trainer on ODO’s CRO, Amtrak and other customer service programs.
Jerri previously was a speech and language pathologist for 31 years, specializing initially
in traditional speech therapy with an intensive long-term emphasis on augmentative
communication system service provision for children and adults in both rehabilitation
facilities (such as the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago) and educational institutions
(such as the Chicago Public School system).
She graduated with high honors from DePaul University in 1970 with a B.S.
in Communicative Disorders and obtained her M.S. in Speech-Language Pathology and
Audiology from Southern Illinois University in 1971.
Board of Directors
Eric Lipp – Executive Director
Jeffrey D. Lipp
Jeffrey S. Margolis
Jay Cardinali – Walt Disney Parks & Resorts
Chef Joe Cosenza
Dr. Michael Falender
Tom Fike – St. Johns University
David Nelson – Amtrak
Mark Peysakhovich – American Heart Association
Ray Prentice – Alaska Airlines
Dr. Don Robinson
Lesley Slavitt- Roosevelt University
Constantine “Gus” Zografopoulos – Kostas Z Foundation