First panel discussion on community resources for individuals with disabilities reaches out

They are a minority, but one that continues to grow. Though one in five people report having some type of disability in this country, the opportunities for support and help can be hard to find.

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Speaker Maria Palacios with the Coalition for Barrier Free Living at the Houston Center for Independent Living.
Johnson Space Center took a step in rectifying this by holding the first-ever Panel Discussion on Community Resources for Individuals With Disabilities on Oct. 24. Jointly, the Disability Advisory Group (DAG) and the JSC Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity (OEOD) brought in four experts representing different aspects of disability assistance. The panel was designed to give attendees the knowledge of available tools and resources that promote a more inclusive and enriching personal and work life for those with disabilities.

Even if you aren’t now affected by the challenges of a disability, one day you could be.

“The disabled community is the only minority that someone could join at any point,” said Maria Palacios with the Coalition for Barrier Free Living at the Houston Center for Independent Living.

“We are still a young movement ... we’re still advocating for the rights we advocated for over 20 years ago,” said Palacios, who’s been part of this minority all her life. “What we are is an empowerment organization.”

Also inspirational was Ana Calvo with the Houston Community College Vocational Advancement and Social Skills Training (VAST) Academy. VAST provides post-secondary transition programs and comprehensive support services that lead to meaningful credentials, employment and independence for “differently abled” people.

“We strive to teach young adults the skills needed to hold jobs as adults,” said Calvo, who was also crowned Ms. Wheelchair Texas 2009, “not only to provide them the skills, but the confidence that they, too, can work out in the community.”

Ana Calvo with the Houston Community College VAST Academy.
Ana Calvo with the Houston Community College VAST Academy.
Some of the VAST Academy’s success stories include students whose parents didn’t even believe their kids would be able to hold part-time jobs. These students later went on to full-time employment.Calvo, a firecracker herself, doesn’t allow her disability to hold her back—and expects the same from her kids in the program.

“I’m trying to figure out how to skydive,” Calvo said, laughing. “My mom’s like, ‘Um, we’re just not going to try to figure that one out.’”

But her students in the program had a suggestion: duct tape. Works for everything, right?

Rosa Clay, a financial planner with Prudential, offered a more sobering look at issues that, unfortunately, need more than duct tape to solve. Through proper financial planning and preparedness, Clay’s goal is that by “providing quality of life for people with disabilities, they are able and capable of doing extraordinary things.”

One hurdle facing many of us is the care for aging parents. They might have long-term care needs they aren’t prepared for or haven’t anticipated, which means the children will have to step in and help.

“Take a snapshot of your finances,” Clay said. “See what you have in place ... then what you could put in place.”

The grim reality is that 70 percent of the population 65 and older will need long-term care, and those already with disabilities have similar financial roadblocks to overcome.

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Rosa Clay, a financial planner with Prudential.
Shelley Townsend with the Parent Education Project offered a different viewpoint. As the family partner and program coordinator to the Families CAN Program, she gave valuable insight and expertise in the range of services available to empower and support families caring for children with chronic illnesses and/or physical disabilities.

“It’s a journey, but it’s not a bad journey,” Townsend said. “As the parent of a child with disabilities, it’s really hard. You have a lot on your plate and it’s a very stressful life.”

Though there are setbacks, it can be wholly rewarding.

“Families feel like they’re discarded because they have a child with a disability,” Townsend said. “We try to get kids support so they can try to be as self-sufficient as possible.”

Shelley Townsend of the Parent Education Project offered a different perspective.
Shelley Townsend of the Parent Education Project offered a different perspective.
By writing up a comprehensive service plan tailored for each family, Families CAN gives direction when it is most needed.

“We want to empower Mom and Dad to be a voice for that child until he can be a voice for himself,” Townsend said.

At JSC, DAG and OEOD strive to give JSC team members with disabilities not only a voice, but the opportunity to meaningfully contribute to our varied missions. If you or someone you know needs additional resources for someone with disabilities, don’t hesitate to contact the OEOD for more resources and tips.


Catherine Ragin Williams
Johnson Space Center, Houston


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Updated: 10/26/2012