As an eight year old child, Diana Braun found herself living in a state-run nursing home in Freeport, Illinois. Taken away from an abusive family, Diana and her brothers and sisters were scattered. At 12, she was sent to the Dixon Developmental Center. She vowed to one day close state run institutions and has devoted her life to doing just that. In her own words, "Institutions are not a safe place to be."
At 19, Diana left Dixon. After meeting Kathy Conour at a sheltered workshop, a friendship began that lasted 42 years. She took on the ambitious job of personal assistant to her friend and housemate, Kathy Conour. In 2008 Diana and Kathy received the Justin Dart Award from the Coalition of Citizens with Disabilities in Illinois.
Since that time, Diana's activist commitments have led her to be president of People First, a self-advocate group, and a member of the Illinois Council on Developmental Disabilities. Recently, she served on the board of the Illinois Arc, an organization involved in advocacy for people with intellectual disabilities. Illinois is one of the states that still has a large number of people living in institutions, so Diana has her hands full with her advocacy work. Diana is a member of the Sex Ed Implementation Oversight Committee and provided important testimony in support of the law to the Illinois legislature.
Teresa Parks, MSW
Teresa is the Director of the Human Rights Authority, a division of the Illinois Guardianship and Advocacy Commission. In this position, she oversees a state-wide program that investigates allegations of rights violations committed against persons with disabilities by disability service providers. Parks holds a Master's Degree in Social Work from the University of Illinois in Champaign/Urbana and is National Certified Guardian through the Center for Guardianship Certification. Parks has been at the Commission for 30 years working in its human rights programs before becoming the Human Rights Authority Director. Parks has prior work experience with a nursing home ombudsman program assisting nursing home residents with rights complaints, a case coordination service for senior citizens setting up in-home services to prevent premature nursing home placement and the Mental Health Association of Illinois Valley serving as a program manager for mental health programs. She has also served on various disability-related boards, including the Heart of Illinois Down Syndrome Association, a Chapter of the Alzheimer's Disease Association, a Parent Advisory Committee for an Interagency Council for Early Intervention, the Illinois Guardianship Association and Family Matters Parent Training and Information Center, a statewide organization that educates parents on special education rights. She also serves on Committees for Illinois Imagines, an organization addressing sexual violence against women with disabilities, the Woodford County Special Education Association and Aces for Woodford County, a county-based parent support group for parents of children with disabilities. Parks is the parent of two children, including a son with disabilities. Parks is also a recent graduate of Partners in Policy Making and was recently appointed to the Illinois Council on Developmental Disabilities. She also serves on the board of the Illinois Association of Microboards and Cooperatives. Parks is the co-chair of the Sex Ed Implementation Oversight Committee.
Linda Sandman has 35 years of clinical experience working with adults with disabilities, including mental health, intellectual and developmental disabilities (ID/DD). Currently, Linda is a Co-Director of Blue Tower Solutions, Inc., an organization dedicated to empowering individuals, organizations and systems to create cultures of respect, inclusion, dignity and equality for people with disabilities. She is an experienced trainer and consultant to agencies and organizations working with people with disabilities.
Sexuality education and promoting access for people with disabilities has been the major focus of Linda's work over the past 15 years. As a Clinical Assistant Professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Department of Disability and Human Development, Linda played an instrumental role in ground-breaking research on the sexual self-advocacy of people with ID/DD. She also supervised sex education groups at the UIC Family Clinics for 10 years, serving adults with IDD from 17 community agencies and schools in the Chicagoland area.
Linda has been a member of several federally funded state-wide projects to address violence against people with disabilities, another focus of her work. These projects have emphasized collaboration as the most effective model to improve services and response to violence against people with disabilities.
Linda is bilingual (Spanish/English) and bicultural and deeply committed to promoting diversity and empowerment for all. She is a member of the Sex Ed Implementation Oversight Committee and was the co-chair of the Curriculum Committee.