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RespectAbility Marks Second Anniversary, As 25th Anniversary of ADA Nears

Bethesda, Md. – In the two years since the founding of RespectAbility, the organization continues to flourish and grow.

Born in 2013, RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization working to empower Americans with disabilities to achieve the American Dream, works to educate, sensitize and engage Americans to focus on what people with disabilities can do, rather than on what they cannot. RespectAbility thereby seeks — steadily, and in a practical way — to help increase the number and percentage of Americans with disabilities who engage in gainful employment, start and sustain their own businesses, lift themselves into the middle class, and participate in their communities.

Picture of RespectAbility Staff and Fellows

Back Row: Lauren Appelbaum, Philip Pauli, Donn Weinberg, Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, James Trout, Charles V. DeLeo
Middle Row: Dahlia Joseph, Tonya Koslo, Evelyn Kelley, Marisa Rafsky, Hillary Steen, Laura Stall
Front Row: Janie Klein, Mary Elizabeth Mellon, Mario D. Carter, Jay Kolodne

“We are deeply grateful to the people who have helped us in our work these first two years and look forward to a strong future for people with disabilities,” RespectAbility Chair Donn Weinberg said. “For decades, approximately 70 percent of working-age Americans with disabilities have been outside the workforce and without a strong, coordinated and bipartisan voice. Thus, we are delighted that the 56 million of us with disabilities in America can stand up for the same rights and opportunities as every other citizen.”

RespectAbility is under no illusions that positive change will be easy. At the launch two years ago, Weinberg continued, “Change will require strong bipartisan cooperation — not something in ample supply today. It will also need public-private partnerships. Every day our team is reaching out to policy leaders, companies, nonprofits, the faith community, philanthropists and media alike.”

After the passing of a jobs bill for people with disabilities (WIOA) one year ago, RespectAbility’s President Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi testified to the United States Department of Labor on key factors regarding best practices for how the new law is implemented. The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act of 2014 is considered by many to be the most important disability legislation since the groundbreaking Americans with Disabilities Act was passed in 1990. In partnership with leading disability rights organizations, RespectAbility created the Disability Employment First Planning Tool, which provides recommendations based on proven best practices and emerging promising practices. The goal of these kits is to ensure that each state puts forward and implements a unified plan based on best practices that will create the most integrated job opportunities with competitive wages for people with disabilities while meeting the talent needs of employers.

In its first two years, RespectAbility met one-on-one with 40 of the nation’s governors to discuss issues of concern to people with disabilities – especially employment. Under the leadership of Policy and Practices Director Philip Pauli, RespectAbility is on the front lines of helping leaders affect positive change under WIOA. RespectAbility is working to inspire smart public-private partnerships that can save American taxpayers billions of dollars a year as citizens with disabilities get what they want — real jobs for real pay.

Director of Communications Lauren Appelbaum has expanded the organization’s outreach to political leaders and the media. RespectAbility is engaging with presidential candidates and their campaigns, as well as with political journalists, in order to help get national attention for these issues. As part of these efforts, Appelbaum launched The RespectAbility Report, a nonpartisan political commentary on the 2016 U.S. elections with a focus on disability issues.

RespectAbility was recently granted final IRS approval as a national nonprofit organization. We are still going through the process of state registrations. We are deeply grateful for the help we got from the Autism-Society of America, which continues to receive tax-deductible contributions on our behalf. In order to continue our work, donations are needed and may be given online.

RespectAbility’s President, Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, is a veteran political and policy advocate whose dyslexia kept her from effectively reading or writing until she was 12 years old. She also knows what it means to be the proud parent of a child with multiple disabilities. Under the leadership of Chair Donn Weinberg, she has guided the organization as its staff grows to achieve its goals, adding experienced professionals as communications director, policy and practices director, and development and operations associate.

Philip Pauli is the Policy and Practices Director of RespectAbility. He works on education and advocacy efforts surrounding the implementation of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). Pauli’s role with RespectAbility includes communicating with state leaders and workforce agencies on best practices for employing people with disabilities under WIOA and addressing issues related to competitive integrated employment. Prior to RespectAbility, Pauli spent several years working on advocacy and policy at a nonprofit focused on traumatic brain injury.

Lauren Appelbaum recently became RespectAbility’s first Director of Communications, bringing more than 10 years of experience in strategic and crisis communications, writing, video and web production, newsgathering and social media. She has coordinated numerous marketing and social media campaigns for a variety of brands, overseeing the redesigns and maintenance of several websites, including the creation of nonpartisan blogs about different political and social issues. In addition, she spent several years working for NBC News as a political researcher.

After successfully completing her fellowship in the summer of 2013 as one of RespectAbility’s first fellows, Hillary Steen returned to RespectAbility in January 2015 to serve as its Development and Operations Associate, performing a variety of tasks around the organization, including fundraising, scheduling, webinar preparation, and donor database management. She also supervises the Fellows at RespectAbility and mentors the Development and Jewish Inclusion Fellows.

RespectAbility has nine summer Fellows, who are assigned to one of our teams: policy, communications, development, or Jewish inclusion. Our Policy Fellows are Mario D. Carter, Charles V. DeLeo, Janie Klein and James Trout. Dahlia Joseph is our Communications Fellow. Our Development Fellows are Jay Koldne and Mary Elizabeth Mellon. Marisa Rafksy and Laura Stall are our Jewish Inclusion Fellows. Working closely with our full-time staff, the Fellows are integral members of our team who also learn invaluable skills to help them in their lives. The Fellows, some of whom are people with disabilities themselves, receive training in a variety of job skills necessary.

“Today, every family has, in some way, been touched by a disability,” Founding Chair Donn Weinberg said. “The growing ranks of children who have been diagnosed with Autism, the veterans returning from foreign wars without limbs or with PTSD, or people with Down syndrome – these and all people have value and can contribute to the productivity of our great nation.”

Meet the Author

Lauren Appelbaum

Lauren Appelbaum is the VP, Communications and Entertainment & News Media, of RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities so all people with disabilities can fully participate in every aspect of community. As an individual with an acquired nonvisible disability – Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy – she works at the intersection of disability, employment, Hollywood and politics. She regularly conducts trainings on the why and how to be more inclusive and accessible for entertainment executives throughout the industry. Appelbaum partners with studios, production companies and writers’ rooms to create equitable and accessible opportunities to increase the number of people with lived disability experience throughout the overall story-telling process. These initiatives increase diverse and authentic representation of disabled people on screen, leading to systemic change in how society views and values people with disabilities. She has consulted on more than 100 TV episodes and films with A&E, Bunim-Murray Productions, NBCUniversal, Netflix, ViacomCBS, and The Walt Disney Company, among others. She represents RespectAbility on the CAA Full Story Initiative Advisory Council, Disney+ Content Advisory Council, MTV Entertainment Group Culture Code and Sundance Institute’s Allied Organization Initiative. She is the author of The Hollywood Disability Inclusion Toolkit and the creator of an innovative Lab Program for entertainment professionals with disabilities working in development, production and post-production. She is a recipient of the 2020 Roddenberry Foundation Impact Award for this Lab. To reach her, email [email protected]

Respect Ability - Fighting Stigmas. Advancing Opportunities.

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