MARIA R. PALACIOS is a feminist writer, poet, author, spoken word performer, professional presenter, polio survivor, mother and disability activist whose message of hope and empowerment pulsates and breathes through her work. Maria’s work has been featured in anthologies, articles, audio interviews and other multimedia publications. Known in the artistic world as  The Goddess on Wheels, her multicultural background and passion for onstage performance have come to life through various events over the years.
Her work embraces self-acceptance, empowerment and social justice surrounding women with disabilities, gender and sexuality and a wide spectrum of issues as they relate to diversity.  Maria R. Palacios is the author of several publications and the founder of the National Women With Disabilities Empowerment Forum.

DR. MARGARET (Peg) A. NOSEK received a PhD in Rehabilitation and a Master of Arts in Rehabilitation Counseling from the University of Texas at Austin, and a Masters of Arts in Music from Case Western Reserve University. Dr. Nosek is currently a professor in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas. Dr. Nosek is the founder and Executive Director of the Center for Research on Women with Disabilities (CROWD). The Center has conducted research studies on wellness and health, health promotion, sexuality, independent living, and access to health care for women with disabilities. Some recent research projects include: violence against women with disabilities; a research and demonstration program focused on reducing risk factors of abuse among low income minority women with disabilities; health promotion for women with physical disabilities; and aging and self-esteem for women with disabilities. The most recent CROWD grant awards research the impact of secondary conditions on women with physical disabilities, and intervention studies on stress management and depression on women with physical disabilities. As a person with a severe physical disability, she has been both a pioneer and an activist in the disability right movement, including vigorously supporting passage of the ADA. The President’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities has honored her as a “Disability Patriot


is an Associate Professor and full graduate faculty scholar at Nelda C. Stark College of Nursing at Texas Woman’s University in Houston, Texas. Prior to accepting a full time position at Texas Woman’s University, Dr. Freysteinson had extensive experience across the continuum of care. She has worked in skilled nursing and emergency, neurosurgery, medicine, home health and hospice.

For 15 years, she was a Director of Nursing for the largest non-profit home health in the Southwestern United States. Dr. Freysteinson is keenly interested in empowering elderly and disabled patients toward independence. She worked with a home care housing expert who helped her therapists understand ways in which a home could be made more functional and safe. Dr. Freysteinson established and directed the first low vision specialized home care team. She also opened and directed a home and inpatient hospice program in this organization.

Dr. Freysteinson’s primary research focus is body image. Her studies of the experience of viewing self in the mirror for individuals who have suffered a recent visible body disfigurement due to surgery and/or trauma or suffer from a terminal illness has resulted in sensitive meaningful nurse-patient communications and interventions. Her work with homeless women veterans has led to a greater understanding of the embodied experience of military sexual trauma as experienced in the mirror, in society, and in intimate relationships. Her work has led to several published articles and has made numerous local, national, and international podium presentations.

In service to the community, Dr. Freysteinson is President for the Honor Society of Nursing Sigma Theta Tau Beta Beta Houston Chapter. She the Founder and Director of the Saint Elizabeth Anne Seton’s Parish Nursing Ministry. She is the past Vice President and a founder of a St. Vincent de Paul Society which works with the poor and sick. She is First Vice President and a founder of the National Women with Disabilities Empowerment Forum. Dr. Freysteinson is the primary caregiver for a legally blind family member who has suffered a significant spinal cord injury.

On January 23, 2000, Meena suffered a spinal cord injury that left her a T12 paraplegic functioning permanently from a manual wheelchair.

In April 2005 she published her first book, ‘A Moment In Time’. This book personalizes the accounts after her accident. She candidly shares her personal struggles with divorce, raising children as a single mother, regaining independence, dating, and returning to work.

Eventually, finding love again, Meena re-married in 2006.

On June 12, 2008, Meena published her second book, ‘Mattie Has Wheels’, which is the introduction to an eight-year-old girl by the name of Mattie. The young girl is in a wheelchair and invites the readers to come into her life to see how she does things. It was also at this time that Meena began to blog about her daily trials and tribulations as a Mom in a wheelchair on her blog, “Mom on Wheels”.

In 2010, Meena unexpectedly became pregnant. This was also the birth of what would become her main advocacy, Inclusive Parenting.

The next of the series, ‘Mattie Has Wheels Traveling on a Plane’ was released in 2014.

Her books were now available online and on some bookstands including Barnes and Nobles Booksellers.

She was first runner-up for Ms. Wheelchair Texas 2014 promoting her platform ‘Inclusive Parenting’ to provide resources to those who wish to become pregnant, or need to know more about pregnancy with a disability.

In 2015 Meena was awarded The Wallace Bennett Award for Excellence in Journalism, as well as, recognition from a Library in the United Kingdom for ‘A Moment in Time’.

In addition to writing books, Meena has gone on to writing blogs for several companies including and with series’ like ‘Injured to Independent’ and ‘Shaken, Not Stirred’ where she also discusses her recent diagnosis of Myasthenia Gravis, a rare Neuromuscular disease which added further limitations, requiring her now to be in a power wheelchair. She also found herself writing for a screenwriter for a filmmaker, and assisting other Authors in editing their work in order to be accepted by publishers.

As apart of her advocacy for community support, Meena continues to help with the creation and development of support groups in Houston. Successfully creating one with United Spinal Association called Connections Peer Network matching program and Connections Peer Network Support Group, Meena went on to help advocate for other groups such as Amazingly Abled Support Group in Sugar Land, Texas.

She is also one of the leaders and active part of assisting with the advocacy, support and research leading to a cure for those living with Myasthenia Gravis, through the Myasthenia Gravis Support group for The Greater Houston. The Myasthenia Gravis Foundation of America is now supporting the group. (MGFA).

Meena will be releasing the next book to the Mattie Has Wheels Series later this year.

Being featured in many magazines, radio blog shows and local news stations to Houston, Meena has spoken about her life as a Disabled Woman, Wife and Mother.

For Fun, she was one of the three women to roll down the runway of The Houston Fashion week twice. Her involvement in bringing awareness has allowed her to also share her love for fashion stemming from her early years in London where she began helping her Uncle in his high end fashion stores.

Her experience working for a Public Relations Company in the United Kingdom has allowed Meena to use her knowledge; along with the education she was awarded from Institute of Children’s Literature in Connecticut in writing for Children and Teenagers to enhance her writing career. She received her diploma in May 2012.

Currently, Meena is working with TIRR Memorial Hermann, who she believes is the main reason as to why she is a living proof of independence today. From volunteering as a TIRR Peer, to attending Social Concerns meetings, which involve speaking to those who are very new with a spinal cord injury. In addition, she volunteers in participating in the research at TIRR by contributing her time and knowledge to advisory boards in hopes of continuing the exemplary rehabilitation that was offered to her in two moments of crisis within her life.

Happily bringing her love for support home, she has partnered with the team at TIRR Memorial Hermann in Sugar Land to lead and help facilitate Conquerors Support Group for All Disabilities. After all, this is the very city that her journey as a disabled woman, Mother and wife began.

DR. CHITRA VISWANATHAN is currently an Associate Professor of Radiology in Houston, Texas. She suffered a cervical spinal cord injury in 1998, her last year of medical school, which completely changed her life. She broke her neck and lost all function, feeling and sensation below the level of C7/8. She spent about 10 days in the ICU with two surgeries, before going to TIRR (The Institute for Rehabilitation and Research, Memorial Hermann, in Houston) for her therapy. Through the support of her family, friends and mentors, she was able to finish medical school, residency, and fellowship. Her work primarily involves interpretation of imaging of patients with a cancer diagnosis. She herself was diagnosed and treated for an early stage breast cancer in 2012 with surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. Her passion is helping others with disabilities, encouraging inclusion in all activities, and encouraging health care promotion and cancer care and prevention. She currently volunteers her time outside of work with United Spinal Houston in their Connections program, Ms. Wheelchair Texas, MD Anderson’s MyCancerConnection to help other patients with the same diagnosis, and adaptive sport events.

SARA FREEMAN SMITH 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 has worked for major corporations such as BP, First Data and GE Oil & Gas. Sara has been legally blind for the past 12 years & understands the challenges working with a disability from both perspectives –as an employer & employee. She is a native Houstonian and graduate of the University of Southern California & University of Phoenix.  She is active in the community and volunteers to speak to a variety of groups on job search skills and career planning.

CORY SILVERBERG is an award-winning educator, public speaker, and author.  He speaks regularly across North America on increasing access and inclusion in public work about sexuality and gender.  He was a founding member of the Come As You Are worker co-operative, the chair of educator certification for the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors, and Therapists and has worked as a media consultant both behind and in front of the mic and camera for over 20 years, contributing to television and radio in his homeland of Canada.  

Now living in Houston Cory is the author of a series of bestselling books for kids on gender and sexuality (Seven Stories Press), and is co-author of The Ultimate Guide to Sex and Disability (Cleis Press).  Cory most recently collaborated on a course at Rice University on disability, identity, and politics.

LAURA FISCAL is a web designer and graphic artist whose passion for technology brought empowerment and independence to the lives of students with disabilities when she taught Assistive Technology at a disability rights organization in Houston.   Laura holds a Bachelors Degree from the University of Houston, and despite no longer working in the disability rights field, she continues to volunteer her time to disability related events, and has been a supporter of NWwDEF since the organization launched its first conference in October of 2010.

SANDY CRISP is a Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor (LCDC), Certified Sexual Assault and Interpersonal Domestic Violence Emergency Responder as well as a peer counselor for the Amputee Coalition. Sandy holds a bachelors degree from .University of Houston-Clear Lake and is completing her masters degree in Rehabilitation Counseling at University of North Texas. Sandy became a member of the disability community when she lost her hands and lower legs in a sudden case of septic shock. One day she was an average woman, and the next she went into a coma for 3 weeks prior to the amputations. Sandy literally went back to work just a couple of days after discharging from the hospital facing life as a quadruple amputee head on. Her philosophy is: Life does not stop because you get a disability.

Sandy’s passion for life along with her extensive professional experience in the field of social services has also brought her to become involved with disability rights and self esteem development for disabled women.

DR. DENIKA Y. DOUGLAS is a Licensed Psychologist and a Licensed Specialist in School Psychology. She earned a B.A. in Psychology from Texas A&M University and a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Houston. After completing her degree at U of H, Dr. Douglas worked in the Psychological Services and Special Education Departments of the Houston Independent School District. There she conducted suicide risk assessments, carried out crisis intervention, and assessed students to determine their eligibility for special education services.

In 2011, Dr. Douglas was involved in a car accident which left her with third and fourth degree burns and resulted in her having her right leg and part of her left foot amputated. In the months following her accident, Dr. Douglas sought out a new career path; one that required less mobility while still allowing her to work in her beloved field of psychology. As a result, Dr. Douglas accepted a position as an Assistant Professor in Texas Southern University’s Department of Psychology where she teaches and mentors both undergraduate and graduate students. Her research interests include body image following physical and psychological trauma, suicide prevention, and mental health care disparities.

WENDY WILKINSON is an Attorney. In law school she served on law review and spent her third year in law school as an Intern for the Florida State Supreme Court. After moving to Houston she began working at Independent Living Research Utilization (ILRU). ILRU was founded in 1977 and provides research, education and consultation in the areas of independent living, home and community-based services, and the Americans with Disabilities Act. During her 25 year tenure at ILRU, she served as director of the Southwest Center on the Americans with Disabilities Act, Clinical Assistant Professor at the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, (Baylor College of Medicine), Principal Investigator on the research project: “Legal Protections for People with Disabilities, Research and Training Center on Managed Care and Disability” and other projects. Wendy also co-chaired the Disability Issues Committee for the Texas Young Lawyers Association, served on the State of Texas Disability Issues Committee, was a director on the Miller Theater Advisory Board, an Obermann Fellow: Americans with Disabilities Act and a graduate of Leadership Houston Class XVII. She was also trained as a Key Bridge Mediator. She has made numerous presentations on the ADA and other disability laws and has written and/or co-authored several publications, including:

Murphy, K.M., Markle, M., Nguyen, V., & Wilkinson, W. Addressing the Employment-Related Needs of Cancer Survivors: Literature Review and Upcoming Research Initiatives. Work: a Journal of Prevention, Assessment and Rehabilitation.

Wilkinson W., Frieden L. Glass Ceiling Issues in Employment of People with Disabilities. Northwestern University, 2000

Anderlik M., Wilkinson W. The Americans with Disabilities Act and Managed Care. Houston Law Review Vol. 37, No. 4 2000
Wilkinson W. Judicially Crafted Barriers to Bringing Suit Under the Americans with Disabilities Act. South Texas Law Journal, Vol. 38, No. 3, July, 1997.
Frieden, L, Smith, L, Wilkinson, W, Redd, L, Smith, Q. Spinal Cord Injury and Managed Care: A Consumer Viewpoint, Topics in Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation, Gary Ulicny, PhD., special issue editor, 1998, Vol. 3, No. 4, pp. 80-88.