Inclusion Symposium Biographies


Education panel moderator:

Alex Zimmerman is an education reporter at Chalkbeat New York. He covers city government, struggling schools, and special education. Before writing about schools, Alex was a staff writer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the alt-weekly Pittsburgh City Paper. His reporting on transportation, the justice system, education, and the LGBT community has appeared in the Village Voice, Vice, and The Atlantic. He lives in Brooklyn with his boyfriend, and is always looking for a faster bike route to work.

Access panel moderator:

Chancey Fleet is the assistive technology coordinator at the Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library, a branch of the New York Public Library. As a lifelong native user of assistive technology, Chancey is a strong advocate for equitable access to information and self-expression by people of all abilities. Her current library-based projects include group workshops highlighting mobile technologies for independent living and information literacy; programs introducing youth and adults to nonvisual techniques for coding and making with Arduino; and the Dimensions project (a recipient of NYPL’s 2016 Innovation Grant for staff projects), which equips community members with the training and tools they need to create accessible tactile maps, diagrams, graphics and objects. Chancey is a member of the Library Journal Movers & Shakers class of 2017.



Emily Brooks is a NYC-based educator, writer, and public speaker. As a professor of Disability Studies at CUNY School of Professional Studies, her research focuses on education and disability and media narratives of disability. Emily advocates for disability, LGBTQ, and educational rights and justice through writing and individual work with young people and their families. Previously, she has addressed the United Nations, spoken on National Public Radio, and been profiled in National Geographic magazine. Emily is a proud member of the autistic community. For more information, visit



Mark Alter is a Professor of Educational Psychology at NYU and was the founding Chair of the Dept of Teaching & Learning, a position he held for 14 years. He started his career working with youth with DD and over the course of a long, fruitful career amassed an extensive body of publications, has been the recipient of national and international funded grants, and received numerous awards. Mark has witnessed all of the pivotal moments in educating students with disabilities in NYC and  sees the disconnect between theory and practice. A perennial student as much as professor, he is a product of the NYC school system and enjoys an international presence in our field. He remains a passionate believer in our society's ability and obligation to provide its citizens with a sound, basic public education.

Barbara Bookman, with over thirty years of experience in the field of disability services, is the University Director of Disability Services at the City University of New York (CUNY). Her prior CUNY experience includes serving as Director of CUNY LEADS (Linking Employment, Academics and Disability Services) — which prepares students with disabilities across the CUNY colleges for successful career outcomes — and Director of Project REACH (Resources and Education on Autism as CUNY’s Hallmark). Additional CUNY experience includes serving as Director of Services for Students with Disabilities at Queensborough Community College where she was the co-chair of COSDI (CUNY Committee on Student Disability Issues). She completed her undergraduate degree in psychology from Queens College and a master’s degree in Vocational Rehabilitation Counseling from Teachers College, Columbia University.

NYC born and bred, Jane Flanders is a Creative Director, Marketer, and Mom to Clara and Daisy, ages 12 and 14. She is an active participant in her  Brooklyn public schools, including four years as a member of the PTA in an underserved elementary school in a gentrifying neighborhood. Jane and her family also got to know the family on the other side of their row house wall. Her children have known Jack, 14, their neighbor with a developmental disability, since birth and is like their brother. The girls cultivated the expectation that we should all should have: that being neighbors and friends with someone who has a developmental disability is a natural, unremarkable part of living in a community. The two families’ experiences offer crucial perspective on genuine community and encourage us to reexamine what community is. They also help us better understand the power of inclusion as a framework to raise a new generation.

Peggy Groce is a pioneer in the development of travel training for persons with significant cognitive and physical disabilities and in the emergence of the profession of travel training. Peggy initiated Travel Training in the NYC Department of Education in 1970 for students with intellectual disabilities who aged out of school at 17 years of age unless they could travel independently to school.  Over time travel training instructional services were offered to students with diverse disabilities other than blindness in the NYC public schools. Peggy is a strong advocate for the rights of all persons to know their history, their struggles and achievements to obtain equal access to transportation, education, employment, and independent living options in the community. She actively promotes the teaching of disability history and the disability rights movement to youth with disabilities, parents, educators, and staff of service provider agencies.  

Paola Jordan is a program coordinator and advocate specializing in disabilities policy and engaging families from diverse cultural and socio economic backgrounds in advocacy. She received her degree in businesses administration in her native country, Colombia, where she lived until age 22 when she moved to New York City. She was recently promoted to be the Metropolitan Parent Center Co-director as well as continue her role as the coordinator of the Autism Initiative Project. In her new position, Paola is responsible for program's overseeing, grant reporting and expansion of both programs. After her daughter received the Autism Spectrum Disorder diagnosis at age 2, she decided to focus her attention in acquiring the necessary knowledge and skills to help her child, and other kids and families, who were experiencing similar barriers accessing services for their love ones.

Jesse Mojica is a graduate of New York University where he majored in English Literature. The father of two sons — one of whom is an 18 year old with autism, Mr. Mojica has dedicated his life to advocating for children and adults with special needs. He appeared on the Oprah Winfrey show to discuss the topic of autism with several other parents. He and his family also appear in the Autism Speaks documentary "Autism Every Day," and the PBS Newshour autism documentary “Autism Now.” In 2011, Jesse was appointed as the Department of Education's Executive Director for Family and Community Engagement.  He oversaw the Division of Family and Community Engagement and worked to improve family engagement, support, and advocacy on behalf of New York City families. He currently serves as the Executive Director of Parent Leadership at the Department of Education. He has been married for 19 years to Ana Concepcion-Mojica. They have two children: Adam (18) and Miguel (14).

Michelle Norris is a preservation engineer, mother of three and native New Yorker, not necessarily in that order. She is the owner of Norfast Engineering, now in its 22nd year.  Norfast's projects include the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rockefeller University and the Woolworth Building. Michelle served for three years on the Community Education Council for District 30, as the IEP member and for three years as the Public Advocate's Appointee to the Citywide Council on Special Education.  She had focused on accessibility, twice exceptional students and assistive technology. Michelle likes hiking, skiing and listening to records.

Mariko Sakita is Founder and President of Project Job, which partners with organizations to promote the hiring of individuals with disabilities, and coaches candidates through the internship and job search process. Mariko is also a job developer for The City University of New York’s CUNY Unlimited, a college-like program for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Mariko spent 8 years at INCLUDEnyc as an advocate for families of children with disabilities. At INCLUDEnyc, she co-developed the “Transition for Families” curriculum in collaboration with NYSED-funded Special Education Parent Centers and Cornell University. She also co-developed and delivered INCLUDEnyc’s “College Is Possible” program in collaboration with the City University of New York (CUNY), ACCES-VR, and NYC DOE’s RSE-TASC Transition Specialists. Mariko is a parent of three children, her oldest a 26-year-old with a disability. Her personal experiences have enhanced her career as a professional in the field of supporting children and adults with disabilities.

Ronnie Shuster is the retired principal of P94M, a public school serving over 400 students with autism and other disabilities, that incorporated arts education in every classroom based on the belief that the arts are critical to youth development. Ms. Shuster has been awarded the Mayor's Award for Arts and Culture, The New York Historical Society Award for Musical Theater Education, ArtsConnection Linda LeRoy Janklow Award and the VSA NYC Service Award. In 2014, her students participated at the Junior Theater Festival in Atlanta winning the highest award offered. Ms. Shuster is an Arts for All Abilities Consortium Steering Committee Member and an Arts Education and Special Populations consultant.

RueZalia Watkins is the Education Services Supervisor for the Mental Health Association of New York City.  Along with the teams from the MHA Family Resource Centers, Adolescent Skills Centers, Family Link and PROS programs, she helps to find solutions to increase access to instruction and services for students facing emotional, behavioral, attention and mental health challenges.  RueZalia is a former Vice-President of the United Parents Associations, where she served as an advocate for parents of special needs students and has contributed to education policy through her work with NYS and NYC officials, workgroups and advisories. She is one of the founding creators of the Parent Empowerment Program and a current board member of Families on the Move of NYC.

Madison Zalopany is  the Coordinator of Access and Community Programs at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Madison holds a BFA in painting from the Maryland Institute College of Art, and is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Disability Studies at CUNY. Madison She is a practicing artist and disability activist living and working in New York City.