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Shelly Christensen

Shelly Christensen, Senior Director of Faith Inclusion

Shelly Christensen smiling headshot

Shelly Christensen, Senior Director of Faith Inclusion

Shelly Christensen, MA, FAAIDD, is the Senior Director of Faith Inclusion at RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities so people with disabilities can fully participate in all aspects of community.

Shelly is a pioneer and leader in the faith community disability and mental health inclusion movement. Her passion for this work is anchored by her experiences as the parent of a child with autism. Long before she was an emerging leader in the field, Shelly was trained as a parent advocate, unwaveringly holding the school accountable for her son’s rights to a free appropriate public education as mandated in the IDEA. The family’s synagogue and religious school their three sons attended treated all children with equity and respect, seamlessly adapting education to meet each child’s needs and ensuring a lifelong connection to their Jewish identity and community.

As program manager of the Minneapolis Jewish Community Inclusion Program for People with Disabilities for nearly thirteen years, her innovative leadership approach supported synagogues, schools, community centers, and other agencies. Shelly blended theology with person-centered thinking, organizational strategies, and community collaborations to create innovative practices that encourage a growth mindset and a shift to diversity, equity and inclusion across the lifespan.

After publication of her book, The Jewish Community Guide to Inclusion of People with Disabilities, she was in demand as a keynote speaker, trainer, and consultant for other communities. She founded Inclusion Innovations to expand her capacity to work with diverse faith-based organizations.

In 2009, Shelly co-founded Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance, and Inclusion Month (JDAIM). The mission of JDAIM is to coalesce communities and organizations to raise awareness about disability inclusion and address obstacles to belonging. Shelly coordinates this grassroots initiative, held in February. Through Shelly’s leadership, JDAIM is recognized around the world by local, national and international organizations.

Shelly is actively involved in leadership for a variety of interfaith disability inclusion organizations. She serves on the Core Council of the Institute for Theology and Disability, and on the board of Faith Inclusion Network. Shelly is a past president of the Religion and Spirituality Network of the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD) and has earned Fellow status for her contributions to the field of religion, spirituality, and disability.

In 2019 Shelly was awarded the prestigious Reimagining Spirituality Leadership Award from the Religion and Spirituality Network of AAIDD in recognition of her inspiring leadership, innovation, and outstanding contributions in the field of disability and mental health inclusion.

Shelly is the author of From Longing to Belonging—A Practical Guide to Including People with Disabilities and Mental Health Conditions in Your Faith Community. She is a popular keynote speaker, training professional, and consultant. In 2020, in response to the pandemic, Shelly co-created the web series, “Everyone’s Welcome-A Fresh Conversation About Disability,” in which guests from diverse faiths, practices, interests, and lived experiences share their stories and their work.

Shelly earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism from the University of Minnesota and her Master of Arts degree in Developmental Disabilities from St. Mary’s University of Minnesota. She is a graduate of the National Leadership Institute on Developmental Disabilities, and earned a certificate in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Workplace from the University of South Florida Muma School of Business.

Contact Shelly Christensen

Reach Christensen at ShellyC@RespectAbility.org.

Meet our Staff

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 LaurenA@RespectAbility.org.

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