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Cohesive, Consistent Messaging

Learning Effective Advocacy Strategies with Lisa Thomas of the American Federation of Teachers

Lisa Thomas and RespectAbility Fellows standing and seated in a posed photograph, smiling for the camera

Lisa Thomas with RespectAbility Fellows and Staff

Rockville, Md., June 28 – “The lack of cohesive, consistent messaging is the Achilles heel of the disability community,” Dr. Lisa Thomas told a group of RespectAbility Fellows earlier this month. “We do have competing priorities.”

Thomas, the Associate Director and Special Education Policy Analyst at the American Federation of Teachers, spoke about strategies and tactics advocating for employment of people with disabilities. Fully one-in-five Americans have a disability and polls show that most of them want to work. However, of the 22-million working-age people with disabilities, only one-in-three are employed. This leads to poverty and costs taxpayers billions of dollars in disability benefits.

“Really look at the return on investment,” advised Thomas. Employees with disabilities are not only contributing members of society, they are “less likely to require additional taxpayer funded services.”

Thomas also emphasized the importance of using hard data and building coalitions to support your advocacy. “The team is not complete unless you have representatives from all of your constituent communities,” she said.

Thomas, whose daughter has a disability, said her advocacy is driven by a belief that “real dollars create real opportunity.”


RespectAbility is a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities for and with people with disabilities. Learn more about the National Leadership Program and apply for the next cohort! Contact [email protected] for more information.



Meet the Author

Justin Chappell

Justin Chappell first joined RespectAbility in the summer of 2015 as part of the democracy team and currently is a Communications Fellow. He brings more than 15 years experience in public policy, resource development, marketing and community organizing to RespectAbility. During the fall 2015 and winter 2015-2016 cohorts, Chappell spent months on the trail engaging presidential candidates in the early primary states.

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