Board of Directors Roster

Board of Directors Roster

Board of Directors

Photo of Sheri Farinha

Sheri Farinha


Sheri Farinha is a nationally known civil rights advocate on behalf of deaf and hard of hearing people in the areas of education, employment, and telecommunication. She has been the CEO for NorCal Services for Deaf & Hard of Hearing for more than 30 years. Sheri graduated from Cal State University, Northridge with both her BA and MA, her MA in Special Education. However, her career choices led her to become a life-long education advocate. She is a well-known activist who argued that the LRE ("least restrictive environment") policy had the opposite effect on deaf students who were isolated when placed in local public setting without support services and specialized instruction by certified teachers of the Deaf. Sheri continues to advocate against such blanket inclusion policies that can escalate harm to learning. 

As the Director of LEAD-K (Language Equality and Acquisition for Deaf Kids) national campaign for policy changes for 0-5yr old Deaf and Hard of Hearing Infants and toddlers, she advocated for states’ accountability to ensure Deaf children are kindergarten ready when they arrive to school. The first such legislation passed in California in 2015 which became a model for other states. The new California law required the California Department of Education to disseminate information about language milestones, assess and track language development of Deaf children under 5 years old and publish aggregated language outcomes data in an annual report. To date, 23 States passed their own LEAD-K bills with ACLU’s partnership.  

Since 2020, Sheri is serving the Principal Investigator of the Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA) federal grant program, LEAD-K Family Services at NorCal providing Early Start Referrals for families with infants who have been identified as deaf or hard of hearing through the California Newborn Hearing Screening program. LEAD-K Family Services connect families to support including early intervention with the goal of ensuring every Deaf child have early exposure to language.

Sheri’s legislative experience includes testifying before Congress on access, educational and employment issues for deaf and hard of hearing people and assisting legislation in California to establish onsite Deaf and Hard of Hearing support of Division of Labor at the Employment Development Department and the budget augmentation to Department of Social Services line item for the Deaf Access Programs in California. 

Sheri’s advocacy for access to 9-1-1 began in 1991 when she filed a complaint against Los Angeles Police Department with the U.S. Department of Justice for their failure to respond to her 911 TTY call.  The resulting 1994 settlement between LAPD and the U.S. Department of Justice was instrumental in the DOJ enforcement of 911 TTY access in 150 cities under Attorney General Janet Reno's leadership. Sheri continued her advocacy for access to 911 when she was appointed by the FCC to the Emergency Access Advisory Committee in 2011. In California, she assisted with the passage of SB 1211 that required all PSAPs to deploy text-to-911 service by January 1, 2021. 

Sheri is responsible for facilitating the creation of the state’s Disaster Response Interpreter (DRI) curriculum working with the late Richard Devylder who was the Director of the Office of Access and Functional Needs at the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services. The DRI curriculum has become a statewide standard for ensuring that the Deaf people have access to information during natural disasters by training and preparing qualified interpreters to interpret during disasters. Having DRI interpreters available and present for news conferences was significant in ensuring that Deaf people have access to information during the pandemic and the recent natural disasters.   

Sheri is a task master and a team collaborator with the ability to bring different stakeholders from the Deaf and Disabled communities with representatives from government programs and entities to the table to discuss best ways to achieve effective communication and access for all.  Sheri has received multiple awards and recognition for her advocacy and leadership, locally, statewide, and nationally.  

Photo of Keris Jän Myrick

Keris Jän Myrick

Vice Chair

Keris Jän Myrick is a leading mental health advocate and executive, known for her innovative and inclusive approach to mental health reform and the public disclosure of her personal story (as featured in the New York Times series: Lives Restored). She has over 15 years of experience in mental health services innovations, transformation, and peer workforce development.

Keris is known for her collaborative style and innovative “whole person” approach to mental health. She is the Vice President of Partnerships at Inseparable, the policy liaison for The National Association of Peer Supporters (N.A.P.S.) and on the Mental Health of America board of directors. She is the developer and host of the podcast “Unapologetically Black Unicorns” focusing on mental health, race equity and lived experience.

Keris was formerly the Chief of Peer and Allied Health Professions for the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health and has served as the Director of the Office of Consumer Affairs for the Center for Mental Health Services (CMHS) of the United States Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and was the Board President of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). She is a Co-Editor of the Journal of Psychiatric Services “Lived Experience and Leadership” column and has authored numerous peer reviewed journal articles and book chapters. Keris has a MS in organizational psychology from the California School of Professional Psychology of Alliant International University and an MBA from Case Western University’s Weatherhead School of Management.

Photo of Anthony Sauer

Anthony “Tony” Sauer


Anthony received a Master’s degree in Management and Disability Services from the University of San Francisco. He also served as a Fellow at Sierra Health Foundation and University of Southern California (USC) School of Policy, Planning and Development’s Health Leadership Program.

He began his advocacy career as the Executive Director FREED Center for Independent Living and then later as the Director of the California Department of Rehabilitation. Anthony is a long-time disability rights activist and has been a paraplegic for more than 40 years. He has been involved with many organizations and boards, including the State Administrators of Vocation Rehabilitation’s Human Resource Development Committee and the California Foundation for Independent Living Centers.

For more than 25 years, Anthony has worked in some capacity next to Disability Rights California (DRC) and has always respected DRC’s efforts and passion. He has four daughters, two grandchildren, enjoys woodworking and used to be a motorcycle racer and mechanic. He lives with his wife, Katherine, in Grass Valley, California.

Photo of Kathleen Barjas

Kathleen Barajas


Kathleen Barajas is a Disability Rights Advocate, an accountant, and President/Founder of Project AIR. She has an Associate of Arts degree in Business Administration, an Associate of Arts degree in Media Arts, a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Information Systems, and an Advanced Certificate in Accounting. She also recently earned a Certificate of Completion from Disability Voices United for their Emerging Leaders Program. 

Kathleen was born with cerebral palsy and has been a Disability Rights Advocate since 2010. She has become more actively engaged in the disability community throughout the years, including serving on various committees such as LAX’s Disability Access and Accommodation Advisory Committee, the Department of Rehabilitation’s Assistive Technology Advisory Committee, PASC’s Registry Review Committee, and the State Council on Developmental Disabilities’ Regional Advisory Committee. 

From 2018 to 2020, she served as the President, Newsletter Editor, and Web Mistress of Californians for Disability Rights, which was the oldest and largest membership organization of persons with disabilities in California. From 2020-2022, she was appointed to the State Independent Living Council, where she served as Vice-Chair of both their Communication and Collaboration and State Plan for Independent Living Committees, along with being their representative on the Cal Able Board. She currently serves on Los Angeles Metro’s Accessibility Advisory Committee, where she is the First Vice Chair.

Kathleen received the Access Award from Los Angeles County Commission on Disability, District 5, and the Community Service Award from Disabled Resource Center, Long Beach. She was also crowned Ms. Wheelchair California in 2016 and won the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Ms. Wheelchair America 2017 Pageant in Michigan. During this time, she was honored to speak on various disability issues as a Disability Rights Advocate throughout California. 

Kathleen is excited about serving on the Board of Directors to be a strong voice for individuals with significant disabilities, especially those who use augmentative communication and require long-term services and supports. She takes pride in working on issues that improve accessibility in our communities, improve our needed services, and serve as a spokesperson throughout the Los Angeles area.

Photo of Mariza Ochoa de Anzar

Mariza Ochoa de Anzar

Mariza Ochoa is working towards obtaining a Bachelor's degree from the University of the Pacific to become a Spanish literature teacher. She was the winner of the Jan Good Award in 2019.

She is a former president of "Fuerzas Unidas," empowering families with children who have a disability through education and advocacy. Since 2017, she has been a member of California's Gamaliel organization, fighting for equal opportunity for all communities.

She advocates for families with children with disabilities, fighting for social justice and equal rights in housing, migration, and education for those where not knowing the language impedes learning about their rights. She focuses on barriers to education and comprehensive development.

Mariza lives in Stockton and is the mother of a 10-year-old boy diagnosed with autism, apraxia, and ADHD.

"I am very excited to belong to the Board of Directors of DRC because they fight for children and families to have a better life."

Photo of Alison Brunner

Alison Brunner

Alison Brunner is the CEO of the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley, a leading nonprofit that uses the law to address social injustices like poverty, inequity, discrimination, and child abuse and neglect. The Law Foundation provides free legal services to over 10,000 low-income people annually in three areas of critical need – housing, health, and children – in addition to engaging in a wide-range of systems change work.

As a disability and housing rights attorney, Alison has fought for access to justice and equity for all members of our community for almost 25 years. She obtained her bachelor's degree in political science from the University of California, Los Angeles, and juris doctor degree from Santa Clara University Law School.

Photo of Lauren Clark

Lauren Clark

Lauren Clark holds a Ph.D. in nursing and is a Professor of Nursing at UCLA, where she holds the Shaprio Family Endowed Chair in Developmental Disability Studies. She’s also the Associate Dean for Academic Programs in the School of Nursing. Over her twenty-five-year career, she served on various academic and professional leadership groups, committees, and taskforces at local, national, and international levels. She served on professional editorial boards for the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, Qualitative Health Research, and Global Qualitative Nursing Research. And she also served on the Ethics Committees of two large national professional groups, the American Anthropological Association and the American Academy of Nursing. 

Lauren is also an elected Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology, the American Academy of Nursing, the Western Academy of Nursing, and the Transcultural Nursing Society. She is serving her second term on the Board of Governors of the Western Institute of Nursing (2023-24 as President-Elect, 2024-26 as President, then 2026-27 as Past President). 

Lauren is the mother of two children with developmental disabilities and has advocated for their rights in education, employment, transportation, healthcare, and community life.

Lauren describes why serving on Disability Rights California’s Board of Directors is important to her, saying, “The mission of the drc is aligned with my personal and professional passions, and I’m honored to join the Board to assure that Californians with disabilities enjoy equal rights, dignity, choice, independence and freedom from abuse, neglect, and discrimination. As a Board member, I would like to add a focus on health and healthcare, beginning with healthcare provider education and accountability. In nursing, we know that health is more than the absence of abuse, neglect, and discrimination, and includes exercising choice and independence to thrive in safe and supportive environments.” 

Photo of James Janz

James “Jim” Janz

Jim Janz holds degrees in Civil Engineering and Urban Planning, and a J.D. and MBA from the University of Chicago. He has an extensive background in public service, serving on the Planning Commission and City Council for Atherton, California, including serving twice as mayor.

He has been involved with many organizations and boards, including the San Francisco Hearing and Speech Center and the Squaw Valley Community of Writers.

Jim became involved in the disability community when he & his wife Kathy were told their son was developmentally delayed, and their family had to advocate for their son’s rights.

Photo of Sherrie Nuyen-Kariotis

Imari S. Nuyen-Kariotis

Imari S. Nuyen-Kariotis is a life-long disability rights advocate, having both professional and personal connections to the disability community and disability policy researcher, focusing on federal, state, and local issues related to housing, transportation, public access, and emergency management. Imari went to college to become a Paralegal. Imari is a primary caregiver and is the Chair of the Imperial County Political Council where we are advocating for and responding to the rights and needs of people with disabilities and seniors, their caretakers and empowering the community-wide resilience, and optimizing outcomes for all.

Imari is a multiple disabled women (intellectual, developmental, and physical disabilities) who has Autism and Bipolar Disorder. Imari is a bi-sexual activist of color, with grassroots organizing experience on the local, state, and national levels. To help ensure those in marginalized communities, especially those who are multiply marginalized, are heard. Imari has dedicated her life advocating to end the institutional bias, and making systems change that allows all people with disabilities to have the right to live in the community with the services and supports needed to live independently- just as her daughter Caurel has been able to for the past 29+ years. Caurel is autistic, epileptic, aproxic (she does not speak), and bipolar.

Imari is also a Domestic Violence survivor and mental health advocate with lived experience. She currently lives in Salton City California a very remote area that is also a big part of her disability work for rural communities with her family: her second husband John Kariotis Jr, son Anthony Nuyen, daughter Caurel Nuyen and my youngest son Seth Gray. Imari’s love for life, outgoing personality, passion for music and art, love of sci-fi, and acting, not caring who is watching or what they are saying and just being herself. Her marriage to John Kariotis Jr has been an inspiration for what a relationship can be. You see the love they have for each other and how humor is such a big part of making it last.

Imari has worked many disasters, from historic flooding, hurricanes, fires, earthquakes, and up to the Covid-19 Pandemic. Imari’s expertise lies in integrating leadership, design, and organization. For over nearly two decades of disability community-focused disaster response, she has proven to be particularly adept at problem-solving and understanding the principles and requirements for leading in disability rights community organizing, disability-led disaster response, and empowering community resilience and optimizing outcomes for all locally, statewide, nationwide, and across the world. In developing this body of knowledge, it has earned her reputation as an SME (Subject Matter Expert) in disaster services for people with disabilities.

Imari joined the board of Disability Rights California in 2019 and sits on the Executive, Finance, drc Ad Hoc Governance, Principles Ad Hoc, Bylaws Committee, and Co-Chair of PAIMI (Protection and Advocacy for Individuals with Mental Illness Act) Advisory Council. The Council members give advice about services for people with mental health disabilities. We review PAIMI goals and priorities. We assist with the annual PAIMI Program Performance Review process.

Imari is also involved in various Non-Profits and advocacy groups there’s DRUUMM, EqUUal Access, Disability Integrations Solutions and Riverside Dickens Festival to name a few. Imari Kariotis is an embodiment of the philosophy: “Nothing About Us Without Us” -“I want to advance Disability Rights California’s mission by being able to use my expansive knowledge in organizing, disaster response, and disability rights to ensure the disabled community is in the forefront and never an afterthought.”

In her nonexistent free time, Imari loves to act, to go on car trips with her husband, play with her three cats, and her Queensland Healer Creamy, create art, poetry, howl at the moon and be there for her community.

Photo of Deaka McClain

Deaka McClain

Deaka has a B.S in journalism from Cal State Long Beach and received her Master's Degree in Public Administration and two graduate certificates in urban Executive Management and Employer-Employee Relations and Personnel Management.

Deaka has been active with several organizations and boards, including the Citizens Advisory Commission on Disabilities, Harbor Regional Center Client Advisory, and LA Care Health Plan.

She was born with cerebral palsy and weighed just a pound-and-a-half. Doctors were not sure if she would live. Because of her background, Deaka has made it her mission to tell her story – including her advocacy work that began in college when she advocated for reasonable accommodations.

Her motto in life is, “She lives her life with the mindset of making a difference and being a voice for those who cannot speak for themselves.”

Photo of Jillian Parramore

Jillian Parramore

Jillian Parramore has a B.A. in Applied Arts and Sciences Liberal Studies, emphasizing Elementary Education and Bachelor's in Child Development with a credential.

Jillian has taught early childhood, elementary, middle school, and university level for the past ten years. For the past six years, Jillian has been training special education departments on inclusive education in school districts throughout Southern California. She also provides health education for her community through People First of California. She also volunteers for Beyond Awareness Celebration events in school districts. Jillian participated in TEDxChula Vista to discuss inclusion in society through her lived experience with Cerebral Palsy and living on the Autism spectrum. The video can be found here

Jillian and her partner live together with their three rescue dogs, including Starbuck, a 21-year-old chihuahua.

"Serving on the Board of Directors for DRC is important to me because it gives me the opportunity to serve my community in California and to create a more inclusive society for those with disabilities in this beautiful state that I call home."


Kavya Parthiban

Photo of Sandra Smith

Sandra Smith

Past Chair

Sandra has a B.A. in Child Development and certificates in culture and diversity, clinical, social, and behavioral compliance.

Sandra has been active with several organizations and boards, including Behavioral Health Action, UC Davis institutional review board, California State Council on Developmental Disabilities (SCDD).

Sandra Smith describes herself as a “seasoned disability consumer, parent, and child advocate trainer.” She is the parent of 36-year-old Chad, an artist who is autistic and African American. “Autism and being a black male can create many civil rights concerns.” She is passionate about helping families in need of advocacy, particularly as it related to intellectual developmental disabilities.

Photo of Debi Toth

Debbie Toth

Debbie Toth believes that a person should never age out of the ability to experience joy. She is the President & CEO of Choice in Aging where she develops and provides leadership for community-based social and health solutions that bring independence and dignity to elders and adults with disabilities. Under Debbie’s leadership at Choice in Aging, she has expanded it to include the Multipurpose Senior Services Program for Contra Costa, Napa and Solano Counties; the California Community Transitions project in Contra Costa, Solano and Sacramento Counties; and the Prevention and Early Access for Seniors mental health program in Solano. In 2017 Debbie realized her dream of adding intergenerational programming to CiA when Choice in Learning Montessori preschool was integrated into the Pleasant Hill Campus.

Debbie was appointed to California’s Alzheimer's Disease and Related Disorders Advisory Committee and most recently served on the Governor's Master Plan for Aging Stakeholder Advisory Committee, shaping the blueprint to create a California for ALL. Through advocacy, policy shaping, and relentless grassroots organizing, Debbie hopes to see a long-term care continuum that allows people to age with community in place. Debbie fell in love with the aging population in high school while working at the Motion Picture and Television Fund’s independent senior housing and has spent more than half her life ensuring that dignity, joy and independence are cornerstones of aging. She has been honored with numerous awards for her work and advocacy, including Woman of the Year in 2015 in Susan Bonilla’s Assembly District 14. She is a graduate of UC Irvine and uses her degree in Sociology and Political Science regularly.

Debbie is the mother of three children, grandmother of chickens, cats, reptiles and amphibians and loves her two fishermen at home. She is a tireless advocate for seniors, persons with disabilities, and the underserved.

Photo of Candis Welch

Candis Welch

Born and raised throughout Los Angeles and its surrounding areas, Candis was diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy at the age of 18 months, however, she never let that stop her from achieving her goals.

Fueled by her desire to earn a higher-level degree she attended California State University, Northridge and went on to receive her B.A in Journalism with an emphasis in Public Relations and a minor in Psychology and her Master’s in Public Administration with a focus on Public Leadership. Recently, she earned a certificate in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion from Cornell University. On September 8, 2023, Candis Welch was appointed by Governor Gavin Newsom’s to be an elected member of his State Rehabilitation Council.

Currently, Candis works at the Los Angeles Homeless Service Authority as a DEI Practitioner where she continues to create and implement several organization-wide equitable initiatives, plans, and facilitates monthly culturally diverse programming and monthly dialogue and employee resource series. She has developed and facilitated DEIA Training series for national and local non-profits through her non-profit, I AM ABLED. Inc. 

Candis proudly serves on California State University of Northridge- Master of Public Administration Advisory Committee, Metro Los Angeles Public Safety Advisory Committee, the California Democratic Disabilities Caucus, and the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder Voter Accessibility Advisory Committee to bring visibility to the safety, and a true accessible experience for disabled community.

On March of 2023, Candis was crowned as Ms. Wheelchair of California by the Ms. Wheelchair of California Leadership Institute. Their mission is to recognize the achievements of women in wheelchairs.