Staff

photo taken from above, two staff members smile up from a DVU booth at a conference

Judy Mark

President

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Judy Mark has an adult son with autism, which led her to become co-founder and President of Disability Voices United. Judy leads DVU’s advocacy and programmatic efforts. Judy was instrumental in the passage of the Self-Determination Law and has been active in its implementation. Judy has written and edited two books on the Self-Determination Program and has spoken extensively throughout California and trained thousands of individuals and families. Judy also leads DVU’s legislative and advocacy efforts and has frequently testified before California’s legislature. Judy has appeared frequently in the media advocating for people with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic and on other major issues such as police violence, access to voting, and the problems with conservatorship.

Judy also serves as a faculty member at UCLA, teaching undergraduate courses on autism in the Disability Studies Program. She led the Autism Media Lab, which produced seven short documentaries on the inclusion of people with non-speaking autism. Her past professional experience includes over 30 years leading communication and development efforts for national policy organizations, most extensively focusing on immigrant and refugee rights.

Judy has a BA from UCLA in Communications Studies and a Masters in Politics and Public Policy from the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University with coursework at the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University. Judy lives in Los Angeles with her husband, attorney Allen Erenbaum, and son, Joshua, and she visits her daughter, Emma, often wherever she may be across the globe. 

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Nina Spiegelman

Director of Policy

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Nina leads DVU’s policy and legislative efforts and assists with DVU programs.

Nina has an adult son with autism and is an active participant in parent advocacy efforts on behalf of the East Bay autism and developmental disability communities. She has played a key role in developing the East Bay Parents Housing Network into an effective family support and education group. She is currently working to focus attention of local agencies on the urgent need to improve crisis prevention and intervention services.

Nina retired in 2018 as an Associate Regional Counsel in the Office of Regional Counsel at the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s Pacific Southwest Regional Office based in San Francisco. For over 30 years she supervised attorneys providing legal support for the agency’s implementation and enforcement of federal environmental statutes.

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Rachel Schlesinger

Director of Outreach & Leadership Training

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Rachel Schlesinger is a disability justice advocate, educator, and certified rehabilitation counselor. She has been a lifelong member of the disability community by being Hard of Hearing and being the older sibling of her sister, who experiences autism. As DVU’s Director of Outreach and Leadership Training, Rachel develops leadership trainings and opportunities for grassroots organizing. 

As a transfer student from Los Angeles, she moved to San Diego, earning her bachelor’s degree in Speech-Language and Hearing Sciences and master’s degree in Rehabilitation Counseling from San Diego State University. While she was in school, she became a disability campus advocate, leading the charge in disability awareness events and programming.  In addition, she was the president of the Student Advisory Board for students with disabilities and supported the establishment of the adaptive sports program.

She is a lecturer at San Diego State University, co-instructing the course, Disability & Society. She also co-authored an electronic textbook titled, Disability & Society. 

Her determination for disability justice propelled her toward finding ways to bridge the gaps between people’s needs (and their rights) and societal oppression of people with disabilities. Rachel has worked in various settings, including community colleges, universities, adult day programs, and state-funded programs that serve people with disabilities.  She found her passion through her experience teaching comprehensive social-sexual education to adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. She also consults with families and local programs to help develop innovative solutions to improve the quality of life of disabled community members. Rachel firmly believes that disability does not discriminate. Therefore, society should not.

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Darlene Hanson

Director of Communication Rights Projects

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Darlene Hanson has her Masters of Arts in Communication Disorders from Whittier College in California. Within her role as DVU’s Director of Communication Rights Projects, Darlene leads the Communication Disabilities Access Network (CDAN) and works on communication access, including strategic planning.

She is currently in private practice in Southern California. Darlene works with individuals, their support teams, and their families to build communication. Her professional experiences have included work in the public schools, private practice, as a Director of Communication Services for a Non-Profit.

As a speech and language pathologist Darlene conducts assessments in the areas of speech, language, and augmentative communication. Darlene has included Facilitated Communication Training in her assessments and practice since 1991. Over the course of the years she has taught at Chapman University, presented at local, state and national conferences, and conducted trainings on Autism, Augmentative Communication strategies, and Facilitated Communication Training through out the United States.

She is also one of a group of Master Trainers for Facilitated Communication Training, and assisted with the writing of the Best Practice Standards for Facilitated Communication Training distributed through the Institute for Communication and Inclusion of Syracuse University. She is now a Board Member of the Wellspring Guild. Darlene has co-authored research and articles on communication for those with severe communication impairments, and is a co-author of Investigation of Authorship in Facilitated Communication, (Journal of Mental Retardation, Aug. 1996).

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Monica Rejniak

Operations Manager

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Monica Rejniak is a human resources and operations management leader. Monica will be working to ensure DVU is compliant with the regulations and compliance issues that dictate how California employers conduct business. Her primary objective is to streamline processes and establish policies that enable staff and volunteers to focus on driving the DVU mission forward.

She brings over 15 years of experience working with the I/DD community and prides herself on being a community builder. In addition, she brings her own experience, as a person who lives with the challenges of epilepsy, to DVU.

Monica earned her BA in Anthropology from San Francisco State University. She uses cultural anthropology to inform and guide her in the business environment. Understanding the people and culture of DVU provides insight on how to best support the team. Monica seeks to listen and learn the “other” perspective in order to build partnerships within DVU. She believes that partnerships, built on mutual trust and respect, are the basis for a successful organization.

Monica is a California native and enjoys exploring the world with her husband, Mick. They have two adult daughters that amaze them on a daily basis.

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Miguel Lugo

Assistant Director of Outreach & Leadership Training

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Miguel is the Assistant Director of Outreach and Leadership Training for Disabilities Voiced United. Miguel’s goals align with the mission statement of DVU, which is to empower the disability community with the knowledge, experience, and encouragement of their given rights.

Miguel lives with a disability known as Cerebral Palsy (CP). Miguel was diagnosed with CP at the age of four, and his parents were told he would never walk. Miguel went on to live the life of a “typical disabled child” by going through special education with the uncertainty of what life after school really meant for him. He gave his first steps at the age of 11yrs old and without realizing it, Miguel made the choice to take his future into his own hands by pushing his parents to enroll him in regular education at the age of 14yrs old.

Miguel then went on to graduate from Montebello High School, and later attended community college. After which he became an advocate for disabled rights and was involved at the city and state levels. For four years Miguel has worked for a non-profit, assisting disabled adults in finding gainful employment and speaking to parents on the importance of not “disabling” their disabled child. Miguel has decided to challenge himself yet again by getting on stage and performing his “sit down comedy” routine. He has performed throughout California and parts of Mexico by raising awareness and infusing humor into what he considers the gift of life.

Miguel run his own business as a motivational speaker. He wrote a film on disability awareness called My Reality which is based on a poem that he wrote as well. In the poem, Miguel talks about how he believes society views his as well as other disabilities. Miguel’s goal is to prove that we can all turn a blind eye to the ‘dis’ and extenuate everyone’s abilities!

 

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Molly Kennedy

Self-Determination Program Fellow

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Molly Kennedy is a woman with cerebral palsy who has been an advocate for persons with disabilities for over 20 years. She has a Masters Degree in Public Administration and has been an administrator for programs that provide services to underserved populations. In her role as the Self-Determination Program Fellow, Molly assists in creating policies that improve health care access for individuals with disabilities.

Molly has served on a local and national Board of Director for United Cerebral Palsy (UCP) along with organizations that promote the independence of people with disabilities.

She has also presented on many topics such as self advocacy & leadership, parenting a child with disability, health care for special populations etc. On numerous occasions she has had the opportunity to educate and lobby local, state, and federal legislators on the issues that impact the lives of individuals who have disabilities. For eight years, Molly was a member (including chairperson for 2 years) of San Mateo County Transportation Citizen Advisory Committee. In 1995 she was a founding member of the Bay Area Emergency Preparedness Coalition for people with disabilities and seniors. This was one of the initial organizations in California that provided education and training to prepare individuals with disabilities for a disaster. Molly has received recognition from local and national organizations for her leadership and advocacy efforts including the 2007 UCP national Life Without Limits Award.

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Ed Hirtzel

Communications & Development Coordinator

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Ed manages the organization’s external communications and facilitates DVU’s development operations through both grant writing and grant management. She assists the board and staff in implementing programs, including the Communication Disabilities Access Network (CDAN) and DVU’s supported decision-making work. She also directs all social media and websites for DVU and coordinates the technical portion of DVU’s public-facing webinars and calls.

Ed Hirtzel holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Millersville University in Pennsylvania and an MFA in Creative Writing from St. Mary’s College of California. Before DVU, she served as the Publishing Manager of River of Words, a nonprofit that uses youth poetry and art to connect students to their watersheds. She also taught rhetoric and composition at St. Mary’s College of California.

Ed is a previously-mainstreamed, Deaf butch lesbian who lives with multiple less-visible disabilities in the form of chronic autoimmune diseases and mental health disabilities. These lived experiences inform her work with and outside of DVU. She is particularly passionate about helping build a world where all people have communication access, as well as maximum choice and control over their own lives. Ed lives on Agua Caliente Band (of the Cahuilla Tribe) land, also called Palm Springs, with her fiancée Aleesha and their cat Absinthe.

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N'nyree Najee'ullah

Program Assistant

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As DVU’s Program Assistant, N’nyree Najee’ullah is able to apply her knowledge and passion for serving those within inter-abled communities of color. Her role is primarily centered around internal communications and ensuring that DVU, as a whole, is running smoothly and efficiently through administrative and program support, project management and event coordination. 

N’nyree Najee’ullah is a recent graduate of the University of California, Los Angeles. Having obtained her Bachelors of Arts in African American Studies and Disability Studies, N’nyree’s personal interests and research background is founded on Critical Race Theory and Critical Disability Theory, which studies the joint operation of racism and ableism within our society. 

Within her own family, N’nyree has two younger cousins on the autism spectrum and understands, from personal experience, the importance of advocacy and legislative work in order to enact change within disabled communities. Working at DVU is much more than a job for N’nyree, it is the opportunity for her to be involved in something greater than herself and contribute her efforts towards supporting those within her family and her communities. Post-baccalaureate, N’nyree Najee’ullah plans to pursue a law degree in the hopes of becoming a Disability Lawyer and ultimately establishing herself as a greater resource and advocate to continue to make an impact.

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Kristina Rizo

Outreach & Training Assistant

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Kristina has been with DVU for the past year and is working on a new Outreach and Leadership Project with Rachel and Miguel.

Kristina Rizo is about to start her last year at University of California Los Angeles (UCLA). She will be graduating with a major in Psychobiology and double minoring in Chicana/o/x Studies and Disability Studies. Kristina is currently working on her medical school application in hopes of becoming a doctor with a MedPeds specialty, MedPeds being a combination of Internal Medicine and Pediatrics. With this specialty, she would like to have her own clinic that will cater towards people with low incomes and people with developmental disabilities.

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Vejas Vasiliauskas

Communication Rights Intern

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Vejas has been with DVU for the past year, with a primary focus on the Communication Disability Access Network (CDAN).

Vejas Vasiliauskas is about to start his second year of the Masters in Counseling, Option in Rehabilitation Counseling program at California State University, Los Angeles. Previously, he earned a bachelors degree in English from Loyola Marymount University. Vejas, who has been blind since birth, would like to become a rehabilitation counselor and help other blind individuals seek employment and learn what opportunities are available.

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William Del Rosario

Communication Disabilities Access Network Intern

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William is a high school student currently in transition. He has autism, is non-speaking and types to communicate. As an intern with CDAN he has been an active advocate for access to communication and education while promoting inclusion.

William enjoys presenting at conferences demonstrating that non-speaking doesn’t mean non-thinking. He would like to seek post-secondary education by attending college to pursue writing and continue with his advocacy work. He enjoys spending time with friends, swimming and traveling with his family.

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