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Industry Panelists

Jacob Blaeser

Managing Director, Ventures ATL. After graduating from the Georgia Institute of Technology with a B.S. in Industrial Engineering, Jacob worked in management consulting for Insight Sourcing Group from 2015 to 2016. In 2017, Jacob helped start Ventures ATL as the organization’s first employee and is responsible for all aspects of its operations and growth. Ventures ATL’s mission is to provide meaningful, sustainable employment for adults with autism and related developmental differences. The unemployment rate within the autism community is above 80%. Ventures ATL aims to bridge this gap with an innovative approach and currently employs eight adults, with a goal of 20 by year-end.

John Bricout, PhD, MSW

Director and Professor, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities School of Social Work. Dr. Bricout’s research focuses chiefly on social technologies and the community participation of people with disabilities. In particular, his work focuses on, online community participation, user engagement, and the ethical design of socially assistive robotics for extending the capabilities and opportunities of people with disabilities. He has a current research project examining models for socially assistive robots as temporary (respite) caregivers for people with developmental disabilities and their aging parents. This is in collaboration with multi-disciplinary teams from Georgia Tech’s Wireless Inclusive RERC, where he is a task leader for the Engaged Futures Research, and UTA. John has also taught courses on research, program evaluation, diversity, ethics, community work, and human behavior. He has a strong interest in international work, having served as a Fulbright Specialist in the Republic of Georgia and written scholarly publications on comparative disability policies across countries.

Lorna Heid

Founder and Owner, Independent Grounds Cafe. Lorna is an entrepreneur who left behind a career in the legal field to open a coffee shop, Independent Grounds Cafe, in Kennesaw, Georgia, that primarily hires adults with special needs. As the mother of a special needs child, Heid has the unique experience of being able to plan for her daughter's future while also creating an employment path for others. Heid hope this business model will inspire other employers to also hire adults with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities.

Eliseo Jimenez, PhD, BCBA-D

Assistant Professor, Georgia State University. Dr. Jimenez is an assistant professor in intellectual disabilities in the Department of Learning Sciences. He earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Western Michigan University in 2004, a master’s degree in special education with a specialization in autism and developmental disabilities from the University of Texas as Austin in 2006 and a doctoral degree in special education from The Ohio State University in 2014. He is also a Board Certified Behavior Analyst-Doctoral (BCBA-D).

His research interests include teaching daily living skills to students with moderate to severe intellectual disabilities, teaching employment skills to students with intellectual disabilities, video prompting, technology, preference assessments and teacher preparation.

Johnetta Maccalla, PhD

Chief Executive Officer, Zyrobotics. Dr. MacCalla is an executive with over 30 years involvement in outreach programs involving elementary, high school, and college students interested in science and technology. This includes MESA, MEBP, NSBE, and the LABPE EXCEL Program. She has extensive expertise in teaching, coordination, training and program development. She also has extensive experience as a manager, consultant, engineer, and advisor for technical companies and government agencies. She is currently the Chief Executive Officer of Zyrobotics, LLC, which is focused on developing AI-powered STEM tools and learning games for early childhood education.

Prior to Zyrobotics, she was the CEO of Automated Switching and Controls Inc., a communications & controls company with over $8M in annual contracts with city & state transit. Before that Dr MacCalla was President of Advanced Systems Concepts Inc., overseeing approximately $3M in DOD contracts for military communications and control systems. As Chairman of the LA Metropolitan Transit Authority Foundation she managed their $100M endowment, and was a board member of the California High Speed Rail Commission. She is a member of the California S&T Policy Fellowship Review Board. Dr. MacCalla has degrees from Brown University, Stanford University and a Ph.D. from the University of Southern California.

Brandon Winfield

Founder and Chief Executive Officer, iAccess Innovations. In 2008, at the age of 14, Brandon was injured in a motocross accident that left him paralyzed from the waist down. Faced with the decision to either let this dramatic event slow him down and stop him from truly living the life he wanted,  or take this setback and turn it into a set-up for an opportunity to triumph in the face of tragedy, Brandon chose the latter. He continued his love for racing in the form of four wheels, entered sprint kart racing, and won numerous events. He continued to travel the country with his best friends, spending time in Southern California, Vegas, Miami, Tampa, Orlando, and other locations. While on his adventures he realized that although most places he visited were ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant, many areas were grandfathered in and never forced to retrofit to accommodate the mobility impaired.

These experiences sparked the idea for a mobile app that would allow people with mobility impairments to rate & review the ease of accessibility and post photos of venues such as restaurants, lounges, clubs, and bars that they were visiting. Through his start-up iAccess Innovations, Brandon aims to empower users with mobility impairments to seek new adventures with confidence.

Self-Advocacy Panelists

The disability self-advocacy panel, led by Kylie Moore, is presented in partnership with the Bobby Dodd Institute’s Ambassador Leadership Program. The program is designed to teach young adults with developmental disabilities to become active and influential leaders in their communities.


Kylie is 30 years old and lives in Roswell, Georgia. She currently works at the Bobby Dodd Institute, where she is the creator and facilitator of a unique leadership self-advocacy program called the Ambassador Program. She has a psychology degree from Reinhardt University and graduated from All About Developmental Disabilities’ Partners in Policymaking Program in 2011. Kylie has also worked for the non-profit Great Prospects, served on the advisory board for the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities, and completed the Georgia LEND fellowship through the Center for Leadership in Disability at Georgia State University. Kylie has been a disability advocate for seven years, and can't wait to continue to make a difference in the lives of others!


A. Emmanuel is 33 years old and lives in Dunwoody, GA. He graduated from Dunwoody High School and currently works at Ventures ATL, a company that hires neurodiverse employees and provides order fulfillment and data entry services for commercial companies. He is a graduate of the LEAP (Learn, Experience, Adapt, Prepare) program at Eaton Academy, an innovative program helping young people gain their independence. A. Emmanuel has been an autistic self-advocate for one year and recently graduated from the My Voice, My Participation, My Board program at the Center for Leadership in Disabilities at Georgia State University, which is a leadership training curriculum for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.  


Eren came from the very first class of advocates Kylie Moore trained 5 years ago. Thanks in part to her tutelage, Eren was able to become a respected networker and public speaker in business and advocacy circles. When not serving as an analyst for the Piedmont Group of Atlanta, Eren leads the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network - Atlanta Branch, alongside vice president Kayla Rodriguez, a later successful graduate of Kylie's program.

Jesse Leonard

Jesse is an advocate in the ambassador program at the Bobby Dodd Institute. Jesse enjoys giving speeches in the community about himself and autism, and is a fun-loving member of his family.

David Lebaron

David is 23 and lives in Roswell, Georgia on the weekends and in Cave Springs, GA during the week.  He is in the Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation program at the Cave Springs Center where he learns life skills. He also attends Georgia Northwestern Technical College in Rome, Georgia, where he will graduate with a diploma in auto mobile collision repair in May 2019.  David plans on continuing his education to earn a diploma in welding at North Georgia Technical College in Blairsville.    

Kayla Rodriguez

Kayla is a 22 year old autistic self advocate, Bobby Dodd Institute Ambassador, and fellow in the Georgia LEND program at the Center for Leadership in Disability. Kayla is also the Vice President and Chief Ambassador of the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network - Atlanta Branch.

Other self-advocates include Lionel Conyers (a student in the Georgia Tech Excel program) and Tim Beighley (a Georgia LEND Fellow).


The design workshops are facilitated by representatives from Georgia Tech’s Innovation and Design Collaborative.

Trevor Hyman

Trevor is currently a Master of Industrial Design Candidate at Georgia Tech. He is an alumnus of Stanford University’s Product Design Engineering program and Varsity Men’s Soccer team, where he won back-to-back NCAA Division 1 National Championships and back-to-back-to-back PAC-12 Championships. At Georgia Tech, he leads a studio class for non-design majors and teaches qualitative design research methods to second-year undergraduates. He has worked closely with Georgia Tech’s on-campus accessibility initiative, Excel, guest lecturing in classes, developing curriculum, and teaching summer workshops.

Alex Flohr

Alex is currently pursuing a Masters of Industrial Design degree at Georgia Tech. Her work predominantly revolves around user research (in which she was the Design Bloc TA for the Excel Capstone) and design strategy using her unique background that combines her technical engineering training with designing thinking principles. Alex also has interests in the realm of digital fabrication and how it can impact sustainable, affordable, and responsible designs in a custom manner. She received her Bachelors of Science in Mechanical Engineering from Georgia Tech. 

Berri Berto

Berri is a third-year industrial design major at Georgia Tech. With Georgia Tech’s Innovation and Design Collaborative, Design Bloc, she brings a wealth of knowledge in industrial design, facilitating in professional workshops and branding initiatives. She currently leads engagements between Design Bloc and the Excel program at Georgia Tech and has served in multiple capacities as a mentor, coach, and student advisory board member. Berri intends to pursue a career in accessible design. 

Rishma Mendhekar

Rishma is a Master’s of Science in Human-Centered Design Candidate at Georgia Tech. With a background in computer science, fine arts, and activism, she uses technology as a tool for empowerment and advocacy. Rishma intends to pursue a career in user experience research.