Conference Access Blogs: Brenda Muhammad

by Brenda Muhammad

Greetings. I’m Brenda Billins Muhammad, the Executive Director of Focusing Our Resources for Community Enlightenment (FORCE), which is a small nonprofit organization in Syracuse, NY. At FORCE, we are all volunteers and have no paid staff.   We donate our time with the hopes of improving our community, with programming such as Disaster Preparedness workshops, First Aid and CPR training/demos, SafeSitter babysitter training, Community Conversations, and by partnering with other organizations to address community needs.

I am grateful for the opportunity to serve as a 2019 NeighborWorks Disability Ambassador for the Conference Accessibility Initiative by JPMorgan Chase and the World Institute on Disability (WID). With the generous support of JPMorgan Chase and WID, I was able to attend the NeighborWorks Training Institute (NTI) in New Orleans, Louisiana. With an operating budget under $5,000.00 annually, I would not have been able to attend NTI without them. The accessibility initiative removed financial barriers by providing me with conference registration, lodging, and travel. I struggle with mobility issues, and their rental mobility scooter allowed me to navigate between the two hotels.  The scooter was available to me from the moment I checked in until the moment that I checked out. The Conference Accessibility Initiative also provides sign language interpreters, closed captioning, screen readers, mobility devices, and other assistance to help people with disabilities have access at conferences.

3 people smiling, left to right: a black woman sitting in a mobility scooter, a white man standing with his white cane, and a white genderqueer person standing.
Disability Ambassadors Brenda and Richard smile in front of the WID Disability Concierge Desk with WID staff member Moya.

I attended two classes during the NeighborWorks Training Institute: (1) HO200 Ready, Set, Prep: Tackling the HUD Counselor Exam Step by Step; and (2) HO210 Practice, Study, Success: Test Strategies for HUD’s Counselor Certification Exam. Over the course of the week, I was able to learn about the six counseling areas that comprise the exam: Financial Management, Housing Affordability, Fair Housing, Homeownership, Avoiding Foreclosure, and Tenancy. The classes will be beneficial to me both personally and professionally.

Syracuse, NY has been rated with one of the highest poverty rates in the country. It is suffering with a housing crisis that includes problems with accessibility, affordability, gentrification, and poor housing stock. The city is preparing to dismantle Interstate 81, an aging highway viaduct, which will require 4,000 public housing residents to relocate. Finding affordable replacement housing for these residents will be difficult, much like finding a needle within a haystack. It will be even harder to find accessible housing for a person with a disability, who not only faces physical barriers such as the presence of steps and narrow doorways, but they may also face biases and discrimination from landlords.

I would like FORCE to be able to play an active role in meeting the impending need for housing counseling services that will descend upon the City of Syracuse. By attending the classes, I feel confident that I should take the HUD Counselor Certification Exam and make strides to align our nonprofit with a HUD Certified agency to help serve our community in any way possible.


Would you like to be a Disability Ambassador with WID and JP Morgan & Chase? Keep an eye out for applications for 2020, coming soon!

To read more about our Disability Ambassadors’ experiences at NeighborWorks Training Institute 2019, follow either link below:

Melissa Mitchell’s NeighborWorks blog
Richard Rueda’s NeighborWorks blog

For more Disability Ambassador blogs, return to the Conference Accessibility Initiative 2019 main page.

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