Mayor's Office for People with Disabilities
My name is Lesa Jackson-Lazard, I was born in Orange County, California, but I have been living in Houston, Texas for over 35 years. I attended Texas Southern University. Bryman Business College, and San Jacinto College in the field of business. I have skills in Customer Services, Business Management, and worked as a Supervisor with the Meals on Wheels (for seniors and people living with a disability). Retired from Sears, after being employed for 18years in several positions held through my career: Store Trainer, Human Resource Supervisor, Vault Supervisor (Balancing Sore Funds and Deposit), also worked as the Lead Commission Sales Associate. In 2006 after becoming seriously ill, and later had a major heart attack, that lead to Chronic Congestive Heart Failure Disease, and a Cardio Defibrillator, along with Degenerating Joint Disease that has alter my life. I have two loving, supportive, successful daughters, and two grandsons who are my pride and joy. I refuse to give up on life, so the volunteering to stay active, stay out of depression, and utilize my experience in a positive way,
My volunteer mission started, at the GLBTQ Community Center to help with depression. I begin to organize a support group for people who were disable and dealing with depression. It was a safe and relaxing place to come and enjoy poetry, art, and discussion. I begin to organize and facilitate a support group for people who were disable and dealing with depression, The Rising Poetry Group, later called the Ladies and Gentlemen of Art. In 2010, we were the Grand Marshall organization at the Pride Parade. Then I enrolled into the Healing Art Program, at the Art League Houston, where I still attend a weekly class on Fridays. I do know firsthand about living with limitations. I am an advocate and motivational speaker for people living with disabilities. The Houston Soul Sisters group was created to help give support to African American women living with Heart Disease, Cancer, Depression, and Diabetes. We are currently working on collecting clothing to give to some of the area Women Shelters, in loving memory of my sister, Gloria who loss her battle to Cancer in 2013. As a Heart Disease survival, I hold an event every year in February for the National Go Red for Heart Disease Awareness. Twice a year I volunteer with the Lesbian Health Initiative in June and November, to support the effect to have more LGBTQ Women, to have necessary checkups and testing that may save their lives.
I currently serve as the new Secretary with the Houston Commission on Disabilities for 2016, Housing & Tenancy chair, serve on the Marketing & Communication Committee (help design our logo on our Commission shirt), serve on the Metro Lift & Transportation Committee. A member on the Disability Awareness Month Kickoff 2016(DAMK), planning team that is headed by MOPD. I also volunteer this year 2016 with; Rev Up Texas (voting awareness for disable citizens), Hurricane Preparation event with MOPD/HOCD information booth, Women with Disability Annual Empowerment Fair, and the 2016 Abilities Expo at the NRG Center.
In July of 2015, I was Ordain to be a Deacon at, Progressive Open Door Christian Center, where I have served on the Leadership Team for the past 4 years. This year 2016, I was appointed to be the new Lead Deacon at PODCC church. Chuck, the Director at the Metropolitan Multi Service Center on West Gray, asked if I was planning to return once a month with my Healing Poetry Hour for people with special abilities. This group helps with mobility by allowing the everyone to have a voice and to do crafts, art, while listening to some relaxing music. Everyone enjoy my healthy snacks also.
To conclude, my goal at this time is to continue to improve my health, attending a rehabilitation Physical Therapy for my back and legs, future meeting with DARS to improve on my abilities to continue my mission to be more active, assistances to go to college to improve on my secretarial skills and to become a counselor, to help others. Life is full of challenges and spiritual growth within. I will continue to strive transform my life into what he has plan for me. The Houston Commission with Disabilities will gain a dedicated and willing Commissioner to serve the team in a positive manner and advocate for the Disability Community at large. God is in Charge.
Maria R. Palacios is a poet, author, spoken word performer, motivational speaker, social change advocate, disability rights activist, and workshop facilitator.
Featured on numerous local radio shows and podcasts, nationally syndicated programs, and in many international publications, Maria's impact on the rights of children, women, people with disabilities, and the Hispanic community is as immeasurable as her artistry is undeniable.
Maria served as Hotline Case Manager for the Houston Area Women's Center (HAWC) from 1993 to 1997. During her time with HAWC, Maria not only trained and supervised hotline volunteers, but also implemented disability awareness trainings for staff and volunteers, enforcing the ADA during its early years as a law, and educating the Center about the need for a TTY line and ASL interpreters to serve the domestic violence needs of the deaf community. Maria also created the Power and Control Wheel for people with disabilities and has facilitated trainings and educational opportunities about the unique issues faced by women with disabilities in domestic violence and sexual assault situations. In addition, Maria was also responsible for overseeing the Safe Harbor Project which offered services to male survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence.
From 1998 to 2000, Maria served as Family Reading Coordinator for The Literacy Advance of Houston, coordinating ESL (English as a Second Language) classes, overseeing reading programs at Boys and Girls Clubs, schools, and public events. She also worked closely with schools in the implementation of the Focus Program which trained teachers and educators to enhance reading ability in children with learning disabilities.
Maria also served as Community Outreach/Information Coordinator for the Houston Center for Independent Living (HCIL) from December, 2011 to January 2016, Representing HCIL, Maria has served on the Houston-Galveston Area Council's Transportation Committee; served as panelist/presenter for the ADRC conference, during which she presented on the importance of community based living and the Supreme Court ruling commonly referred to as the "Olmstead Decision;" advocated for street accessibility; and implemented a consumer based Advocacy Taskforce, numerous empowerment workshops, creative writing classes, and more.
Some of Maria's most cherished accomplishments and positions include her participation in efforts that led to the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, being inducted into the Hispanic Women in Leadership Hall of Fame in 1996 and receiving the Hispanic Excellence Award in 1997, being a member of the International Guild of Disabled Artists and Performers since 2009, exploring her personal connection to Frida Kahlo through live performances of her poetry at Houston's annual Frida Fest celebration for seven straight years, participating in the Gulf Coast Poetry Tour (2009), founding Houston's Annual Women with Disabilities Empowerment Fair, and creating a publishing company (Atahualpa Press) that has brought eight of her titles to life, as well as two by other artists with disabilities. Of particular passion to Maria is Sins Invalid, a performance project of artists with disabilities. With this group she has performed since 2007, co-facilitated their Tongue Rhythm Multi-Disciplinary Poetry Workshop in 2008, and is featured in the 2013 documentary, "Sins Invalid: An Unashamed Claim to Beauty in the Face of Invisibility."
In the artistic world, Maria is known as "The Goddess on Wheels."
Toby Cole is a partner at The Cole Law Firm. His primary practice is personal injury trial law and he also focuses on employment discrimination and med ical malpractice. He is Board Certified in Personal Injury Trial Law. Toby earned his law degree from the University of Houston in 1998 and his MBA that same year. He graduated with honors from the University of Houston in 1995. In 1990, Toby was injured in a diving accident that left him comp letely paralyzed from the neck down. He is on the Board of Directors of TIRR Foundation , the National Spinal Cord Injury Association – Houston, and The Living Hope Wheelchair Association. He has two children, Gage and Parker.
Independent Living & Vocational Rehabilitation Teacher Coordinator (Houston Region), Department of Assistive Rehabilitative Services (DARS), Division for Blind Services
Benigno Aceves has over 16 years of experience in working with individuals of all ages & disabilities. Benigno is currently the Independent Living Coordinator for the Houston Region within the Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services – Division for Blind Services. Benigno provides support to two programs, the Vocational Rehabilitation Teacher & Independent Living Program.
Benigno has chaired city wide events and fundraisers in order to bring awareness & support to those who are disabled, in particular, vision loss. Benigno has conducted countless blind awareness presentations/trainings throughout the city of Houston, as well as statewide. Audiences include various colleges/universities, numerous businesses, Goodwill, Providence Place, Boeing Company at NASA, the 2012 Chinese Delegation, the Texas RehabACTion Network Conference, Texas Chapter – International Association of Workforce Professionals Conference & the 2015 Annual Texas Workforce Conference. In addition, Benigno works in partnership with staff & employers in order to break down barriers in order to develop job opportunities for persons with disabilities. Benigno does this by providing accessible job environments and by helping giving back the confidence to those who are disabled through implementing regional & state-wide trainings.
Prior to the role of Independent Living Coordinator, Benigno worked within DARS as a Vocational Rehabilitation Teacher. Benigno also worked at Lone Star Community College in the Assistive Technology Lab & for Houston Aldine Independent School District working with children with severe to minor intellectual disorders.
Benigno holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Management from University of Houston-Downtown and a Teacher Certification from Lone Star College. Benigno was also provided with two certificates for learning Uncontracted & Contracted Braille. In 2012 & 2014, Houston’s Mayor Annise D. Parker presented Benigno the official proclamation for his leadership in chairing the Houston’s White Cane Safety Day event. In 2012 Benigno was awarded and recognized by DARS as having the highest blind/visually impaired client closure/employed per VR Teacher caseload throughout the State of Texas. Lastly, Benigno was fortunate enough to win the 2015 Mayor's disability Advocate of the Year Award.
Benigno not only possesses the knowledge in working with persons who are blind, but the passion in starting innovative and quality programs that will enrich the lives of those who are disabled. Benigno does this by not focusing on disabilities, but by acknowledging one’s ABILITIES in accomplishing their goals.
Richard Petty is Director of the National Center for Aging and Disability (NCAD) at TIRR (The Institute for Rehabilitation and Research) and Co-Director of ILRU at TIRR. NCAD is a newly formed center that addresses the concerns of persons with disabilities who are aging and of those who acquire disabilities as they age. Petty has served as the Executive Director of the National Resource Center for Participant‑Directed Services and as Research Professor in the School of Social Work at Boston College. Petty serves as Assistant Professor in the Department of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation in the McGovern Medical School at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth). He has also directed several other national programs that foster organizational capacity to support community-based living, including the ILRU New Community Opportunities Center; the IL-NET training and technical assistance program; the ILRU Community Living Partnership; and the Real Choice Systems Change initiative. Petty holds an MBA degree from the C. T. Bauer School of Business at the University of Houston. He writes and presents on disability and aging, nonprofit management, nonprofit financial management, organizational innovation and change, and program evaluation. Petty and his wife Karen Petty live in the Vermont Commons area in District C of Houston and he works in the Texas Medical Center in Houston’s District D.
Commissioner Tina Williams, is a mother of five and grandmother of eight. Her view of the world is from a seated position, which will definitely alter your perspective of things, if you're not careful. Ms. Williams' philosophy on life is, "Your present position doesn't determine your future." If you ask her how she's doing, she will respond, "still winning". That's her mentality when she wakes up in the morning.
Commissioner Williams is a member of New Light Christian Center Church. She volunteers there weekly, as well as participates in every activity that her busy schedule permits. On a daily basis Ms. Williams can be found hanging out and encouraging the children of her community that positive actions bring about positive reactions.
Ms. Williams worked as a council aide for Council Member Stephen Costello, At-Large Position 1. Among her accomplishments, Tina is a board member of Barbara Jordan Endeavors Corporation, member of National Hispanic Professional Organization, Fiel Houston and a life coach for Cool Beans University. She is a graduate of the Hilliard Vocational Bible Institute's Ministry Development Curriculum.
Ms. Williams is also Ms. Wheelchair Texas' Ms. Congeniality 2011. And in 2012 she was 1st runner up for Ms. Wheelchair Texas. Ms. Williams' role model is the Bible's Enoch, simply because he pleased God, and she wants God to be pleased with her actions.
Emmanuel is a resident of Houston Harris County and retired from Airline Service since 2011 for 29 years as a Ramp Agent Supervisor. He has served in activities in various with the Deaf Communities up to this day. Plan to lead people with disabilities to better access.
Roland Bienvenu was born in Bethesda, Maryland (outside of Washington, D. C.), the son of a career U. S. Navy officer. As is the norm with military families, Roland and his family relocated five times until his father retired from the Navy and they moved to their "home country," which was Lafayette, Louisiana. Roland finished high school and college there, then relocated to Houston in 1981 in conjunction with a job transfer. He earned a M. A. degree in Public Administration (MPA) at the University of Houston in 1984, and was employed with the City of Houston's Human Resources Department until his retirement in September 2013 after 28 years of service. Roland has Moebius Syndrome, a rare congenital disorder causing facial paralysis. He serves on the board of directors of the Moebius Syndrome Foundation, which promotes awareness of the condition, provides networking opportunities through their conferences conducted every other year, and funds and supports research into the causes of Moebius Syndrome. Roland resides in Sugar Land where he attends St. Laurence Catholic Church and serves as co-chair of their Adult Singles Ministry.
Dr. Asha Dhuka is a Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (PM&R) physician practicing in the Clear Lake area. As a long-time Houston resident, Dr. Dhuka graduated from Houston Baptist University before going on to complete her medical residency in PM&R at Baylor College of Medicine in 2016. As a practicing physiatrist, she works to treat individuals with disabilities resulting from brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, and sports injuries, as well as disabilities resulting from damage to nerves, joints, and muscles. She has served in various capacities as a volunteer for the Aga Khan Ismaili Community, and as a physician volunteer with Rehabilitation Services Volunteer Project (R.S.V.P). Dr. Dhuka and her husband are proud residents of the city of Houston.
Eddie R. Jessie is a proud graduate of Prairie View Texas A&M University in 1986, earning a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Social Work and minor in Criminal Justice and earning a Master of Arts Degree in 1988, majoring in Sociology and minor in Counseling. My passionate pursuit has afforded me to have labored for the past 30 years in the field of human services by advocating, educating and implementing ways to improve the lives of every individual who is seeking to live a better life with pride, dignity and equality. Currently, I am a Program Manager for Mental Health and Mental Retardation Authority of Harris County (MHMRA), in the Collaboration for Action (CFA) employment initiative program. Our Agency serves over 10,000 unduplicated, child, adolescent and adult services throughout Harris County monthly. CFA advocates for people with disabilities seeking employment and desiring to become independent as a part of their recovery regime. We also assist in developing resources for the disable in the community, by partnering and collaborating with other Agencies. My most recent accomplishment was being honored by the Gulf Coast of Texas African American Family Support Conference on November 7, 2014 and received the, "2014 Service Professional Leadership Award", in appreciation of dedicated services and commitment to strengthen families, communities and individuals with disabilities. I'm most honored and proud to serve as a one of the appointed 2013-2015 Commissioners for the Houston Commission on Disability. I am also proud to serve as an Advisory Board Member of the Jewish Family Services of Houston.
Shelley Townsend is the Director of the Parent Education Project at the University of Houston. She has worked there for 11 years. She originally worked for Texas Southern University as a case manager for the Center on Aging Caregiver Respite Program. Prior to work in Houston, she lived in New York and worked for the Administration for Children's Services Head Start as a Fiscal Assistant. She received her Masters in Social Work in May 2012 at the University of Houston and her Bachelors of Science from Prairie View A&M University. She is a member of the Phi Alpha Honor Society. Currently she serves on the MHMRA-Intellectual Development Disability-Planning Advisory Committee, the Community Resources Coordinated Group, Aging and Disability Resource Committee, the Children's Case Management Committee, and the Professional Advisory Committee for Special Kids Care. She is the mother of a 20 year old daughter who keeps her active and involved in a lot of activities because she has special needs. Ms. Townsend is constantly working to improve her daughter's quality of life as well as other young adults.
Ms. Sims is a speech-language pathologist and clinical educator, supervising graduate students in the University Speech, Language and Hearing Clinic (USLHC) at the University of Houston. She also works as a speech-language pathologist and clinical supervisor at the Houston Aphasia Recovery Center (HARC), serving people who have suffered a stroke and have difficulty communicating (aphasia) as a result. Ms. Sims recently relocated to the Houston area following a long career in Lubbock at Texas Tech University Health Science Center's Speech & Hearing Clinic. Her expertise is in the areas of hearing impairment/ cochlear implants, aural habilitation and rehabilitation and post-stroke language recovery. She currently provides supervision for assessment and treatment of pediatric and adult clients at the USLHC, HARC, Magnolia Multi-Services Center and Sunnyside Multi-Services Center.
Michael McCulloch has been active in the community as an advocate for the independence of people with disabilities in all aspects of daily living, including transportation, social access and life skills since 2007. He grew up around blindness in family members, including his mother, grandmother, and several aunts. Michael began losing his vision in his late 20s due to glaucoma, first in his right eye and then a gradual progressive loss in his left eye until 2006 when he became legally blind in both eyes. Michael is a graduate of Rice University where he received his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Electrical Engineering.
Michael has worked full time since graduating from Rice for The Boeing Company’s Space Exploration Division at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. Michael started out performing Guidance, Navigation and Control analyses on the Space Shuttle program. He also supported 9 Shuttle flights working in Houston’s Mission Control Center. Michael moved over to the International Space Station program in 1996 and continues through the current time in supporting various aspects of mission operations of the International Space Station. Due to his vision loss, Michael had to learn and apply adaptive technologies in analyzing and processing all of the data required in his career as an aerospace engineer. Some of these technologies include telescopic glasses, closed-circuit TV cameras and magnifiers, magnification and speech software and optical character recognition software.
In 2008, Michael volunteered to facilitate and lead the Houston Low Vision Club (HLVC) and has been doing so to the present time. During that time, HLVC has been involved in providing mutual support for members and their families as they begin to cope with blindness and all the challenges it poses. As a person who has lost his vision later in life, Michael is intimately familiar with the devastation, depression, and isolation caused by blindness. HLVC addresses all aspects of blindness advocacy, including educational, social and fundraising activities. Notable speakers at HLVC have included an eye doctor for the astronauts and Jim “Mattress Mack” MacIngvale. Michael led HLVC in coordinating social events for the blind community such as the annual summer concert series, featuring blind and visually impaired musicians and singers from around the Houston area.
As a leader of HLVC, Michael helped found the Houston Area Visually Impaired Network (HAVIN) which helps bring unity to the visually impaired community through networking and sharing resources among the various support groups in the Houston area. He has served on the Board of HAVIN since 2010. HAVIN has been sponsoring the annual Insight Expo held at the University of Houston since 2011.
Michael is most passionate about his involvement with the non-profit organization iBUG Today (iBlind Users Group, www.ibugtoday.com ), for which he is the founder and president. After getting his first iPhone with the VoiceOver screen reader in 2010, Michael quickly saw the benefits of the device for the blind and visually impaired community. He first taught himself to use the accessibility features of the iPhone and then shared his knowledge by conducting a workshop at the Insight Expo held at the University Eye Institute on the University of Houston main campus in March 2011. Michael then founded iBUG Today in May 2011 to assist the visually impaired become more proficient at using Apple iDevices to empower them to be more independent and productive in their daily lives.
iBUG Today conducts monthly face-to-face workshops in the Houston area and weekly Q&A conference calls with users calling in from all over the U.S. There is also a bi-monthly “deep dive” workshop called the iBUG Café, where members delve into the intricacies of a single app or genre of apps for the blind and visually impaired. Additionally, since September 2013, Sight into Sound Radio has been taking the best segments of the recorded iBUG conference calls and created a radio program called the iBUG Buzz that is broadcast weekly. Numerous organizations and medical professionals, such as DARS-Division for Blind Services, Lighthouse of Houston, American Council of the Blind, National Federation for the Blind, American Foundation for the Blind, Cizik Eye Clinic and Center for Sight Enhancement, often refer their members, clients and patients to Michael and iBUG for training with the accessibility features of the Apple iDevices.
Fundraising activities led by Michael have included VisionWalk teams for Foundation Fighting Blindness. Most recently iBUG and HLVC hosted a Luau Party, Texas style BBQ and Summer Concert to raise monies for Foundation Fighting Blindness, Houston Food Bank, Star of Hope Mission and Homeless Veterans of Houston. As part of HLVC, Michael also founded the Visually Impaired Literary Association (VILA), a book club in the Houston area. Another activity Michael and iBUG have recently spear-headed is conducting small group METRORail training sessions in conjunction with METRO’s travel trainers. On numerous occasions, Michael has also assisted METRO in evaluating new websites and software for accessibility by the blind and visually impaired.
In December 2015, Michael brought forward the idea a city-wide project called Disability Pride Houston to the Houston Commission on Disabilities (HCOD). The goals of Disability Pride Houston are to 1) recognize and appreciate all members of the disability community by giving members of the disability community an opportunity to celebrate and express pride in who they are; 2) improve the public perception of people with disabilities by increasing their exposure within the general community by breaking down stereotypes, open communication and foster dialogue with the general public and promoting the integration of members of the disability community into the general society, especially in the work environment; 3) encourage collaboration among all segments of the disability community by tearing down the silos that segregate the disability community; and 4) provide children an opportunity to interact with other disabled children and adults/role models. The HCOD board members approved the project and Michael is currently leading an executive committee through a fact-finding and initial planning stage for the project.
Michael currently serves as a board member of the Houston Council of the Blind and member of the National Federation of the Blind of Texas-Houston Chapter and Visually Impaired Advocates. He served on the transportation committee for HCOD in 2014 under Karen Petty. Michael is also a member of the Houston Heights Lions Club and president of his Caroline-Wentworth Townhomes Homeowners Association, where he is able to pursue yet other avenues of service to the community. He was recognized for his service to the Houston disability community by being awarded the CARE Award in September 2014 by the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities. Michael is committed to serving and empowering the disability community to become independent and productive members in society.
Karen Mayer Cunningham, is a published author, speaker and special education advocate. As the mother of a child diagnosed with autism in the mid-nineties, Karen Mayer Cunningham, found there was little information or resources for families with a new diagnosis of a loved one with an intellectual or developement disability. Working alongside TEA, Karen was on a volunteer call list for families with a new special needs diagnosis and saw the vast needs of these individuals with disabilities. Karen Mayer Cunningham, special education advocate, knows firsthand the many resources, supports, programs and agencies that serve these families and works to educate, equip and teach others how to successfully navigate them. Working with families and guiding them through the Individualized Education Program (IEP) process for children in the special education system in Houston and the surrounding counties, has been one of the most fulfilling rolls of her life. As a voice for those with disabilities, teaching families and individuals to ultimately advocate for themselves is the objective and goal.
Beth (Elizabeth) Delledera is the Director of Neurosciences at CHI St. Luke’s Health - Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center in Houston, Texas. Upon graduating with her BSN from the School of Nursing at The University of Texas at Austin, Beth began her journey through healthcare as a pediatric nurse. She spent many years at Texas Children’s Hospital in acute care, critical care, and as a member of the TCH Critical Care Air and Ground Transport team – The Kangaroo Crew. Driven by her desire to improve the healthcare environment for patients, families, and staff, she chose to obtain her MHA/MBA from The University of Houston- Clear Lake. Beth moved to Virginia in 2005 to pursue a post-graduate fellowship in healthcare administration at The University of Virginia Medical Center. Following her fellowship, she continued to work in Ambulatory Management for the Medical Center; but, the pull of Texas and her family was too strong. Beth and her husband moved back to Texas in 2009 where she worked in Critical Care and Service Line leadership at Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas. Beth and her husband Al resettled in Houston in 2012 and welcomed their twins, Allison and Alexander in the spring of 2013. The Twins are now almost three; and, they are the center of her world. Beth continues to be driven to improve the healthcare environment for all those in need of care and all those who provide care. It is her life’s work.
Paul Matt Russell