David Whalen

David Whalen founded Disability Awareness Training (DAT) in September 2004. He specializes in training law enforcement, 9-1-1 telecommunicators, firefighters, emergency medical services, emergency managers, human service providers, public, private, and school transportation, corporations and businesses, hospitality, municipalities, places of worship, and educators. He has presented to over 700 audiences across the United States, with over 350 for law enforcement, first responders, and emergency management. 

David Whalen has worked in the disability field his entire career. He spent 17 years at Opportunities Unlimited of Niagara serving individuals with developmental disabilities. As Vice President of Program Operations, David established groundbreaking programs recognized statewide, including a fully operational greenhouse, an on-site nature trail, rehabilitation counseling in schools, collaborative certification with the county alcoholism department, and a sensory integration room. He chaired the agency’s safety committee for seven years and developed their wellness program. Dave worked for one year serving low income medically frail seniors as Director in a Long Term Managed Care (Pre-PACE) program. He developed a comprehensive plan to serve seniors with developmental disabilities.

David served on the Western New York Developmental Disabilities Awareness Day (DD Day) committee from 1993 to 2008. A former co-chairperson, he was instrumental in making DD Day the largest single day conference in New York State dedicated to the field of developmental disabilities. 

He served as President of the New York State Association of Day Service Providers, dedicated to Day Treatment and Day Habilitation providers. Under his direction, the Association established collaborative relationships with statewide associations in the field. David has worked with the State of New York in establishing policy, regulations and staff training. 

Dave was instrumental in starting the Diocese of Buffalo’s Disability Action Team. A committee developed with the intent to ensure that the Catholic churches in WNY best serve their parishioners with disabilities. He has taken the initiative and introduced it to other faiths in the area. Dave was commissioned by the Bishop in September 2009 to be the Parish Disability Advocate at SS Peter and Paul RC Church in Williamsville, NY.

Mr. Whalen was appointed to the NYS Office for Persons with Developmental Disabilities Quality Assurance Real Choice committee, addressing the quality of care of individuals with disabilities.

Dave is Past President of the Buffalo Alumni Chapter of St. Bonaventure University, where he received his Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology (1984) and his Masters of Science in Education degree in Counseling Psychology (1986). Mr. Whalen established the four ideals of the alumni association: spirituality, socials, volunteerism and university support. He oversaw some 10 events per year and works with the university on various initiatives and projects. In 2009, he was awarded the Alumni of the Year by the university. He served as President from 1997-2017 and remains active in the chapter.

Dave serves as the Commissioner of the Central Amherst Little League Challenger division. He also is the Past President of the Board of the Williamsville Special Education Parent Teacher Student Association (SEPTSA) and past Vice President of the PTSA council. Dave is past Chair of the Board of Directors of the Parent Network of WNY, a non-profit agency Parent Teacher Information Center serving parents of children with disabilities. He was also appointed as the first Chair of the Town of Amherst’s Committee on Disabilities, serving in that capacity since 2008. He stepped down in 2018 and now serves as the town’s disability resource person while also remaining as committee member. He is a 2007 Partners in Policymaking graduate. He developed the innovative Town Hall Training (Disability Education and Awareness for Municipalities) whereby he trains advocates to work within their municipality on disability matters, including how to start a committee so local governments will understand and be responsive to the needs of individuals with disabilities in their communities. This initiative was presented at the national FEMA Get Real II conference in Arlington, VA. In March 2011, David accepted an invitation to the White House for an historic MOU signing between FEMA and the National Disability Rights Network. In April 2015, he became a FEMA-certified Access and Functional Needs Trainer. In October 2016, Dave and NU received a three-year grant from the NYS Developmental Disabilities Planning Council to develop training on proper response to individuals with disabilities and access and functional needs in emergencies. 

David is co-founder of Access Buffalo, a progressive initiative to ensure that individuals with disabilities can access restaurants and hotels in the Buffalo area. August 2010, he became a certified ADA trainer through the Region II Northeast ADA center.

In January 2010, the New York State Board of Regents appointed him to a three-year term on the New York State Independent Living Council and in the fall of that year he wrote a collaborative grant with Niagara University and received a three-year (extended two years) NYS Developmental Disabilities Planning Council grant to develop Disability Awareness Training for First Responders. Arkansas Council on Developmental Disabilities funded the same program beginning in October 2014 and it has since been funded by the Missouri Council on Developmental Disabilities (July 2016-June 2023) and the South Dakota Council on Developmental Disabilities (CDD) (May 2019-March 2023). In October of 2016 he was awarded another grant from the NYS DDPC to develop training on proper and proactive response to individuals with disabilities and access and functional needs in emergencies/disasters. This has since been funded in Louisiana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Missouri, and Utah. June 2017 brought on a bid award from Virginia Division of Criminal Justice Services to develop law enforcement training as well as stand-alone curriculum on developmental disabilities, dementia, acquired/traumatic brain injury, and in July 2017 the Fire Department of New York (FDNY) contracted to receive disability awareness training for its entire fire department. 

In March 2011, Erie County (NY) appointed Dave to sit on the Disability Advisory Board. He accepted an invitation to join the International Association of Chiefs of Police focus group, “Mental Health of Arrestees and How It Impacts our Officers.” Dave attended the Senate Hearing on April 29, 2014, Law Enforcement Responses to Disabled Americans: Promising Approaches for Protecting Public Safety while also providing written testimony. He was recognized for his consult with the Department of Justice’s Community Relations Services for work on law enforcement disability awareness training and joined them on the International Association of Chiefs of Police Civil rights committee at the October 2015 conference in Chicago.

 In April 2016, Dave was awarded Advocate of the Year from Deaf Access Services of WNY. In May 2021, WNY Independent Living Center awarded Dave the Elayne G. Wels Community Support Award. Niagara University awarded Dave the Vincentian Medal of Honor in September 2019 and St. Bonaventure University awarded him the Gaudete Medal in October 2021.

Dave and his wife Sandy live in Williamsville, NY and are the proud parents of their 27-year-old twins David and Rachel. David and Rachel were born 11 weeks premature, from that David has cerebral palsy, seizure disorder, and a learning disability. He has received his Skills and Achievement Commencement Credential from Williamsville South while Rachel graduated Summa Cum Laude from Cornell University, majoring in English Literature and minoring in Spanish. She then graduated from New York University with her Masters in Fine Arts. David works with his dad at Niagara University in the First Responders DAT office as an Office Assistant and at Duff’s Famous Wings restaurant. 

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