Dave Steele is an award-winning poet, author, public speaker, singer, and advocate for the blind. Diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP) in 2014, this genetic eye condition left Dave “severely sight impaired.” Together his wife, Amy, the family grappled with the difficult diagnosis as RP quickly left Steele an unemployed father of four. Feeling the stressors of financial debt and the loss of his independence, Dave turned to social media for support with his RP journey. He was also struck by the numerous misconceptions and stories of injustice being experienced by so many blind/visually impaired people all over the world.
When a member in one of these online groups learned of Dave’s singing background, they invited him to perform at a meeting for those living with RP and Usher Syndrome. The experience inspired Steel’s idea for his “Stand By Me RP” song. Using the classic song by Ben E. King, Dave altered the lyrics to relate to how he felt losing his own sight to Retinitis Pigmentosa. In December 2014, Dave sought permission from the band Elbow, to alter the lyrics of their song “One Day Like This.” With the band’s blessing, Steele performed his version of the song at Joanne Milne’s “Breaking the Silence” book launch.
Dave created his own “Stand By Me RP” Facebook page in 2015. Since it’s conception, the page has become one of the largest social media RP groups in the world. As his eyesight continued to decline, the words did not stop flowing. Dave began writing two to three poems per day about his struggles and experiences. Part creative genius, part therapy, Dave’s writing became a catalyst for helping others and himself through RP.
Steele’s first book, Stand By Me RP Volume I, was released in February 2016. That same day, he received the call that he had been matched with a guide dog. During its first week, Stand By Me RP Volume I, went on to become the #1 poetic release in both America and Australia.
In March of 2016, Dave left his family for 10 days to be trained with his guide dog, Christopher, a yellow Labrador retriever. He released his second book, Stand By Me RP Volume II, in February 2017. It became the #1 poetry release in Europe within its first day. In February 2018, Steele’s third book, Stand By Me RP Volume III was released, completing his trilogy.
Dave has been featured in a short film by Cambridge university called Blindsighted. He has also appeared on a special called the Blind Poet for RNIB radio, BBC TV, ITV and That’s Manchester TV news.
His advocacy work continues to be recognized both locally and internationally. In 2018 Dave was honored by Henshaws with the “Impact Award” and was the recipient of the Pride of Bury “Community Hero Award.” He currently serves as a local ambassador for Henshaws and as a global Ambassador for the American company, Two Blind Brothers.
Dave’s legion of followers greatly identifies with his poetic realism. With over 700 poems and songs dealing with the fears and struggles associated with sight loss, Steele’s work is helping to diminish many of the misconceptions associated with blindness. His mission through his poetic verse is “to help those who are being isolated by a condition that strips us of our independence, let them know that they aren’t alone, and help educate loved ones on how we feel.”
Laura Ferrari is a 28 year-old Frederick, MD resident. She grew up in a large family with her parents and four brothers. In high school Laura was a cheerleader and Special Olympics Athlete. Laura is best known for her dancing, sweet smile, and gusto for life. If there is music playing, you will find Laura busting a move close by. She enjoys time with her siblings, bowling, brunch dates, cycling, and indulging in a good movie night.
Laura has spent the past few years working in the fitness industry, helping to operate a family owned athletic performance studio. She has since joined The Sexy Side of Life online coaching team, where she helps to inspire other women to live their best life, sharing tips on happiness and mindfulness.
Laura is now taking her life inspiration to the stage, sharing her insight on living a fulfilled life through her motivational talks. Laura's story of loss, perseverance, and triumph will leave you feeling uplifted and ready to conquer your dreams.
Laura has aspirations to one day become a model, advocating for the special needs community. She also plans to launch her own fashion line for Down Syndrome Women, empowering them to express their most confident self. It is Laura’s mission to show others that being who you are is the most beautiful thing you can be!
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The Vocational Rehabilitation program receives 78.7% of its funding through a grant from the U.S. Department of Education. For Federal fiscal year 2018, the total amount of grant funds awarded were $44,234,054. The remaining 21.3% of the costs ($11,971,860) were funded by State appropriations.