Mayor's Office for People with Disabilities

Commissioner Bios

Michael McCulloch

Michael McCulloch grew up in Houston, Texas and is a graduate of Rice University where he received his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Electrical Engineering. After graduating from Rice, Michael worked full time for The Boeing Company’s Space Exploration Division at NASA’s Johnson Space Center until his retirement in 2017. 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. He moved over to the International Space Station program in 1996 and continued through his retirement, supporting various aspects of mission operations of the International Space Station. Michael began losing his vision in his late 20’s due to glaucoma. He is totally blind in his left eye and has light perception and sees shadows in his right eye.

Michael serves as a board member of the Houston Council of the Blind and the Houston Area Visually Impaired Network. He is also a member of the National Federation of the Blind of Texas-Houston Chapter and Visually Impaired Advocates. Michael is a member of the Houston Heights Lions Club, First Christian Church of Houston and president of his Caroline-Wentworth Townhomes Homeowners Association.

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. In September 2016, Michael was inducted into the Who's Who Among Blind Texans Honor Society by the American Council of the Blind of Texas for demonstrating exemplary commitment to advocacy, awareness, education and community service. In October 2016, he was first appointed by Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner as commissioner on the Houston Commission on Disabilities. Michael is committed to serving and empowering the disability community to become independent and productive members in society.

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Lesa Jackson-Lazard

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.

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Maria Palacios

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."

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Tobias A. Cole

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 completely 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.

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George Powers

George Powers has been working as an attorney and legal specialist at the Southwest ADA Center (a program of ILRU at TIRR Memorial Hermann) for the past three years. Working in the disability rights field has been unbelievably fulfilling for Powers. He works with people with disabilities to inform them about their rights; and, works with and trains employers on how to accommodate employees to make the workplace more inclusive and accessible. Powers trains government agencies on making their programs and services accessible. Powers works with housing providers on their obligations under the disability rights laws. He has found the most effective approach is not to explain what individuals must do under the law, but why they ought to be inclusive and accessible. He has an obvious physical disability, but his interest in the disability rights field is not all self-serving. Powers has a long record of community service and currently my volunteers teaching and mentoring students with disabilities at Klein Forest High School, and my previously worked in the immigration field. Powers desires to shape the world, as much as I can, so that others do not experience the pain and disdain that he has felt as a person with a disability.

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Richard E. Petty, Chair

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.

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Tina Williams

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.

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Emmanuel Arizona Eziashi

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.

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Sara Freeman Smith

Sara is a seasoned HR professional with more than 25 years of Recruiting leadership experience. She is self-employed as a Career Coach, Recruiting Advocate for people with disabilities & Contract Senior Recruiter. She received her credentials certification as a Job Coach/Job Placement Specialist for individuals with disabilities from the University of North Texas. She has worked for major corporations such as BP, First Data and GE Oil & Gas. Sara has been legally blind for the past 14 years & understands the challenges working with a disability from both perspectives –as an employer & employee. She is a native Houstonian and honor graduate of the University of Southern California & University of Phoenix. She is active in the disability community as a member of VIA (Visually Impaired Advocates), Houston Council for the Blind, iBUG (IOS Blind Users Group –Apple & Android Products), board member of National Women with Disabilities Empowerment Forum and most recently selected to serve on the board of the Texas Rehabilitation Association. Sara volunteers as a motivational speaker to a variety of community groups & churches on job search skills and career planning.

A wise man once said, “If you love what you do, you will never work a day in your life!” Well, I love what I do, helping people find their career path and achieve their goals especially as a recruiting advocate for people with disabilities.

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Benigno Aceves

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.

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Eileen Edmonds

Eileen Edmonds is a concerned citizen, parent, and professional passionate about making a positive impact in the lives of individuals with disabilities. In 2010 she participated in the Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities’ Disability Leadership Network of Houston and she continues to serve the board of Family to Family Network. Her career is and always has been working for non-profit organizations serving the underserved through the arts. Eileen worked for 16 years with The Boys’ Club of New York as the Cultural Arts Director before joining The River Performing and Visual Arts Center providing arts engagement opportunities for individuals with disabilities. Her personal and professional experiences have shaped the advocate she is today.

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Shelley Townsend

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.

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Asha Dhuka

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.

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Mark Potts

Mark Potts was first introduced to disability on October 30, 2006 when his son Rees was born at 23 weeks premature and left Rees deaf and blind with an intellectual disability. Rees’ multiple disabilities lead Mark to become an advocate for people with disabilities and with the partnership of others established a program that provides access to education and therapeutic tools for parents, therapists and teachers. Additionally, Mark has chaired benefits to raise funds for special projects, managed the West University Challenger baseball league for children with a variety of disabilities, coached the Poe Elementary Special Olympics team and has established a support group of fathers of children with disability needs each month.

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Kafilat Adesokan

Khafilat Oyindamola Adesokan has spent 15 years of her personal and professional career empowering, advocating and dealing with issues that affect individuals with disabilities. She previously worked as a Director with Goodwill Industries Houston for many years where she demonstrated the ability and spirit demanded of in working with individuals in every walk of life. She currently supports a staff that works with at-risk youth primarily in the Southwest side of Houston where the program is making a difference in their lives by exposing them to career options, and placing them in employment.

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Paul Matt Russell

Maria Town, MOPD Director and Ex-Officio Member

Maria Town is the Director of the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities for the City of Houston. In this role, she advocates for the rights and needs of citizens with disabilities, serves as a liaison between the mayor, city council, city departments and other public and private entities on matters pertaining to people with disabilities in Houston, and establishes local and national partnerships to advance inclusion. Her most recent work has focused on Hurricane Harvey response and recovery for people with disabilities and seniors. Town is the former Senior Associate Director in the Obama White House Office of Public Engagement where she managed the White House's engagement with the disability community and older Americans. She also managed the place-based portfolio and coordinated engagement across Federal agencies. Prior to this, Town was a Policy Advisor at the Department of Labor's Office of Disability Employment Policy. While at ODEP, Town led and coordinated numerous efforts to improve employment outcomes for youth and young adults with disabilities. She has particular expertise in areas of youth development and leadership and promoting college and career readiness for all youth.

Before moving to Washington, DC to work in public service, Town graduated from Emory University in Atlanta, GA with a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology. At Emory, Town was a Community and Diversity Fellow at the Emory University Office of the Provost where she aided in oversight, policy formulation, program development, and management to improve access, equity, and inclusion on Emory’s campus. While a student at Emory, she also served as the University-wide Student Government Association President. In addition to her disability policy work, Town is the creator of the popular “CP Shoes” blog where she writes about fashion, design, and disability. She is an alumna of both the New Leaders Council Fellowship program and the Mobility International USA Professional Exchange Program. She was recently named to the Susan Daniel’s Disability Mentoring Hall of Fame and to the inaugural class of Emory University’s 40 Under 40. She hails from Louisiana, where her family still resides.

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