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RGV journalists and students encouraged to compete for Barbara Jordan Media Awards with their print or broadcast stories and images about Valleyites with disabilities, says Omar Ochoa - Titans of the Texas Legislature

Featured: Gov. Greg Abbott, in this undated image taken in McAllen. Abbott was paralyzed below the waist on July 14, 1984, at age 26, when an oak tree fell on him while he was jogging following a storm. He had two steel rods implanted in his spine, underwent extensive rehabilitation at TIRR Memorial Hermann in Houston, and has used a wheelchair ever since.

Photograph Courtesy GOV. ABBOTT FACEBOOK


RGV journalists and students encouraged to compete for Barbara Jordan Media Awards with their print or broadcast stories and images about Valleyites with disabilities, says Omar Ochoa

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With more than 3.3 million Texans reporting a disability, those individuals and their loved ones represent an absolutely necessary part of life in the Lone Star State, says attorney Omar Ochoa of McAllen.

As of 2017, the four-county Rio Grande Valley had an estimated population of 1,370,424, with about  195,774 of its residents reported with ambulatory, cognitive, independent living, self-care, vision and hearing disabilities, according to the Texas Workforce Investment Council, which is an advisory body to the Governor and the Legislature.

Also, Texas has the second-largest number of individuals with disabilities in all the states. The percentage of individuals with disabilities relative to the entire Texas population (11.8 percent) has remained stable over the past seven years, although the Texas population has grown considerably over that same time period. Approximately 54 percent of Texans 75 and older had a disability. Overall, 11.84 percent of females (1,686,794 individuals) and 11.81 percent of males (1,660,211 individuals) reported having a disability.

So it is fitting, Ochoa says, that the Governor’s Committee on People with Disabilities, in conjunction with local committees throughout the state, every year accepts nominations for media professionals and students who have produced print or broadcast material for the public which accurately and positively reports on individuals with disabilities, using People-First language and respectful depictions.

“I am aware of excellent reporting in 2020, and surely every previous year, by Valley journalists and students in the media about people with disabilities,” said Ochoa. “But these communicators and much of the general public may not know that the highest level of state government – the Office of the Governor – wants to recognize and honor such excellent reports, which are based on the truth supported with proof.”

For that reason, Ochoa is encouraging Rio Grande Valley residents to nominate – by the end of this year – the region’s professional and student communicators for their accounts about Valleyites with disabilities “in order to help show the rest of the world about the struggles, courage, talents, skills, achievements and invaluable roles of these many, many individuals in deep South Texas.”

Winners of the competition – which late last spring was awarded in 13 categories – are presented with the Barbara Jordan Media Award.

The Barbara Jordan Media Awards are named in honor of the Houston native and U.S. congresswoman who gained recognition and a place of honor in history. She was known as a remarkable orator who broke barriers and built bridges. She received the Presidential Medal of Freedom and served for one day in 1972 as the Governor of Texas (both Gov. Preston Smith and Lt. Gov. Ben Barnes were out of state). In 1973, Jordan was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and eventually began to use a cane and then a wheelchair. Barbara Jordan passed away in 1996.

The nominations for next spring’s Barbara Jordan Media Awards 2021 would be for journalism produced from January 1 through December 31, 2020, on people with disabilities.

Nominations can be submitted by anyone, including the producer of the print or broadcast story, by completing the submission form and sending it with any necessary supporting materials to the Governor’s Committee on People with Disabilities, he added. 

A panel of judges, including media professionals and people with disabilities, score the entries, and collectively select the winners. Each year the decisions for the judges become more difficult as more quality entries are received in the categories of Print Feature, Print News, Photojournalism, TV Feature, TV Documentary, Special Contribution by an Organization, Internet, etc.

Download the Submission Guidelines in PDF Format
Download the Submission Guidelines in Word Format

In an interview years ago, which is posted by The Governor’s Committee on People with Disabilities, Jordan emphasized the value of the annual media awards which carry her name.

“I really think that this is an exciting event,” Jordan said. “It is exciting because it honors people who are communicators, communicating the reality of life as it is for people who have disabilities.”

Dr. Aaron Bangor, Chair, Governor’s Committee on People with Disabilities, as part of a video presentation in May 2020 about the Barbara Jordan Media Awards, provided his views on the awards and on Texans with disabilities.

“People with disabilities are, by necessity, some of the most well-versed and ingenious problem solvers. We are accustomed to looking at our current circumstances, realizing that the normal ways won’t cut it, and finding new solutions to achieve our goals,” said Bangor. “Disability is not what limits us, but rather it’s what shows our humanity, and why these stories connect with us so deeply. Through stories told by words and images, the media and the message influence our sense of self and the wider world around us.”

More information on the nomination process, along with past winners, can be found on the Barbara Jordan Media Awards page.

“We must speak frankly about how disability is a natural part of the human condition. Society needs to see how that is done. Stories have the power to connect us and thereby strengthen our community,” Bangor added. “But choosing what stories get told, and framing how they are told, takes a great deal of skill and artistry.”

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control:

A disability is any condition of the body or mind (impairment) that makes it more difficult for the person with the condition to do certain activities (activity limitation) and interact with the world around them (participation restrictions). There are many types of disabilities, such as those that affect a person’s:

• Vision
• Movement
• Thinking
• Remembering
• Learning
• Communicating
• Hearing
• Mental health
• Social relationships

A few of the numerous print and broadcast news stories in the Valley in 2020 that featured people with disabilities, by their respective headline, included:

• Abbott appoints police chief, social worker to (Task Force on Disaster Issues Affecting Persons who are Elderly and Persons with Disabilities)
• Eighth-grader becomes first student council elect to have a disability
• Nonprofit aimed to help locals living with disabilities pushes for census participation
• Local advocate group offers aid to people living with disabilities
• Valley mothers start nonprofit to expand job opportunities for people with disabilities
• Disability rights group asking for discriminatory language to be removed from emergency orders
• Foundation hosts virtual activities for Valley disability community
• Special needs families struggle with unique pandemic concerns
• State releases guidance on health protocols; Orders pertain to voting in elections
• Army vet graduates from UTRGV hoping to help other servicemen

The categories for the Barbara Jordan Media Awards for 2020, which were for stories and images produced in 2019, were:

• College Broadcast
• College Print Magazine
• High School Documentary
• High School Journalism
• Photojournalism
• Radio Podcast
• Radio Broadcast (Series)
• Broadcast Feature
• Broadcast Entertainment
• Print Feature
• Print Profile
• Print News
• Print Magazine

The Governor’s Committee on People with Disabilities (GCPD) on Monday, May 21, 2020, announced the winners of the 2020 Barbara Jordan Media Awards for media content created in 2019. Established in 1982, the Barbara Jordan Media Awards recognize the respectful, accurate portrayal of people with disabilities by media professionals and students. 

The winners of the 2020 Barbara Jordan Media Awards, which were announced in May 2020, are:

College Broadcast: Rebecca Sloane, The Battalion (College Station) Year Two: Signing the Midnight Yell

College Print Magazine: Sarah Hoenig, Insite Brazos Valley magazine (Bryan) Beep Baseball: Making Dreams Come True

High School Documentary: Eaglevision Film Productions, Lindale High School (Lindale) Students Miles Hill, Braulio Navarro, Lauren Knox, Jeffrey Ptak, Jude Ratcliff, and Ashlynn Brice Miniature Blessings: Where Community Meets the Classroom

High School Journalism Jordan Ramsey and Jacob Choi, Eagle Nation Network, Prosper High School Run, Mabry, Run

Photojournalism: Lola Gómez, Austin American-Statesman Just Like Me

Radio Podcast:Shelly Brisbin, Relay FM (Austin) 36 Seconds That Changed Everything: How the iPhone Learned to Talk

Radio Broadcast (Series): Laura Isensee, Houston Public Media Texas Students Fighting for Special Education Services

Broadcast Feature: Walt Maciborski, KEYE-TV (Austin) Game On!

Broadcast Entertainment: Teresa Woodard, WFAA-TV (Dallas) I’m Not Less: They have autism, and the video games they develop are hitting it big

Print Feature: Suzanne Garofalo, Houston Chronicle Daughter of the Water

Print Profile: Megan Rodriguez, The Bryan-College Station Eagle Bridget Frank: Facing challenges, pursuing her passion

Print News: Mary Huber, Austin American-Statesman The Long March to Healing: One soldier’s recovery after the Fort Hood shooting

Print Magazine: Britni McAshan, Texas Medical Center’s Pulse magazine (Houston) Shooting for Gold: An elite athlete sets her sights on the Paralympics

In response to the challenges presented by COVID-19 pandemic, GCPD and their partners created a virtual awards program honoring the winners and highlighting their outstanding work. 

Two Valley residents in 2020 were appointed by Abbott to serve on the Governor’s Committee on People with Disabilities:

Jose J. (Joseph) Muñiz

Muñiz of Harlingen is retired. He previously worked as a librarian and the assistant library director for the City of Harlingen, and previously served as president of the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired Governing Board. He is a past member of the Texas Commission for the Blind and past vice presiding officer of the Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services Council. Muñiz received a Bachelor of Arts in History from Texas A&M University.

Evelyn M. Cano

Cano of Pharr is a community relations liaison for Grande Produce LTD. She is a former Texas certified bilingual educator and taught for six years with McAllen ISD. She is director of education, autism, and advocacy programs for the non-profit Capable Kids Foundation and is an active board member. She is also a parent advocate and member of the Council of Parents, Advocates and Attorneys (COPAA). Cano helps parents navigate the often-complicated process of special education and IDEA Federal law for families who are in need of assistance in the public school setting. Cano addresses audiences on the topics of special education, play therapy, and advocacy. 

Canoreceived a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from Indiana University. She received a Texas teaching certificate through the Region One Education Service Center’s Project P.a.C.E.

The Texas Governor’s Committee on People with Disabilities consists of 12 volunteer members appointed by the Governor, seven of whom must be persons with disabilities. Ex-officio members and advisory representatives represent state agencies serving people with disabilities. Committee members meet at least quarterly. Learn more about committee law in the Texas Human Resources Code Chapter 115.

People First language emphasizes the individuality, equality, and dignity of people with disabilities. Rather than defining people primarily by their disability, people-first language conveys respect by emphasizing the fact that people with disabilities are first and foremost just that—people.

As examples of People-First language:

Affirmative Phrase: Person with a disability.
Negative Phrases: The disabled. Handicapped.

Affirmative Phrase: Person who is blind.
Negative Phrase: The blind.

Affirmative Phrase: Person who is hard of hearing
Negative Phrase: Suffers a hearing loss.

Affirmative Phrase: Person who uses a wheelchair
Negative Phrase: Wheelchair-bound.


On Monday, October 26, 2020, the governor appointed Bonnie Notargiacomo of Mission to the State Independent Living Council for terms set to expire on October 24, 2023. The council develops the State Plan for Independent Living and serves as a resource to state and local organizations on Independent Living and related issues for persons with disabilities.

Bonnie Notargiacomo

Notargiacomo is a program specialist for the Older Individual Blind Program at Texas Workforce Commission and has more than 25 years of experience working with people with disabilities. 

She received a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from The University of Texas at Brownsville and a Master of Arts in Vocational Rehabilitation Counseling from The University of Texas-Pan American.

On Wednesday, October 14, 2020, the governor appointed Carlos García of Brownsville and Marco Treviño of Edinburg to the Task Force on Disaster Issues Affecting Persons who are Elderly and Persons with Disabilities. 

The Task Force on Disaster Issues Affecting Persons Who Are Elderly and Persons Who Are Disabled will study methods to more effectively accommodate persons who are elderly and persons with disabilities before, during, and after a disaster or emergency evacuation. 

Carlos García 

García is Chief of Police for the Port of Brownsville. Previously, he served as Chief of Police for the City of Brownsville from 2001 until 2011. He is a member of the Texas Police Chiefs Association and the Texas Police Association. García received a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice from Pan American University at Brownsville and a Certificate of Completion for the FBI National Academy’s 173rd Session. 

Marco Treviño

Treviño is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker at Alivio Counseling Services, P.C.  He is president of the Board of Community Council of the Rio Grande Valley 211 and a member of the National Association of Social Workers. Treviño received a Bachelor of Science in Social Work and a Master of Science in Social Work from The University of Texas-Pan American.


For more on this and other Texas legislative news stories that affect the Rio Grande Valley metropolitan region, please log on to Titans of the Texas Legislature ( 

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