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Three separate images from trainings in New York City

With Nearly 500,000 Women and Girls with Disabilities Living in New York City, Unprecedented Empowerment Training Series Was Launched for NYC’s Women and Girls with Disabilities

New York City, Sept. 15 – Nearly 500,000 women and girls with disabilities live in New York City, with a stunning 44 percent of New York women with disabilities living below the poverty line. Hence, ensuring the inclusion of diverse women with disabilities in civic engagement, nonprofits, foundations and government sectors is vital. After all, people with disabilities themselves know the solutions that are best able to create progress.

Women with disabilities are underrepresented significantly when it comes to civic engagement in the nonprofit, foundation and government sectors. In the name of inclusion and equity, it is imperative that women – including women with disabilities – take a place and secure a space as active participants and leaders in these civic-centered sectors: as employees, volunteers and board members.

RespectAbility, a national, nonpartisan, nonprofit, fights stigmas and advances opportunities so that people with disabilities can fully participate in all aspects of community. To this end, the organization launched the unprecedented Women’s Disability Leadership, Inclusion & Advocacy empowerment training series in New York City.

The six-part series addressed intersectionality on multiple fronts:  disability rights, women’s rights and civil rights. It represented and addressed multiple subgroups:  Latinas with disabilities; mothers of students with disabilities; female college students with disabilities; Jewish women with disabilities; the intersectionality of disabilities (LGBTQ and other minorities); and one diversity/disability training was for nonprofits and philanthropies.

These convenings brought together leading self-advocates, allies, and leaders from all five boroughs and beyond. Collaborations were cultivated with 32 NGOs, embassy consulates, and higher education institutions, and its speakers and facilitators numbered 46 strong.

“It was a phenomenal experience meeting and collaborating with the NGOs, and identifying and tapping the tremendous talent of the dynamic women with disabilities and allies who then led these trainings,” said its Project Director, Debbie Fink.

Presenters included professors and senior leadership in the CUNY school system; key employees at Fortune 500 companies such as Ernst & Young, BlackRock, and JP Morgan; as well as a renowned sexpert, an acclaimed author, a legally blind dancer from Dancing with the Stars, a librarian, an actress who uses a wheelchair, a 12-time Paralympian, and more.

“Combining these dynamic facilitators with the motivated participants, we convened strength and energy, compassion and wisdom, positivity and possibility – all in one accessible space, time and again,” added Fink.

Vivian Bass, a RespectAbility board member who participated in most of the trainings, said, “I felt like we created communities. The speakers/panelists were the contextual warm up; the empowerment exercises and interactive small group discussions were the essence and magic; and the closing civic engagement and volunteer opportunities were the culmination. By the end of each training, we all felt true kinship.”

The training series upskilled and empowered nearly 1,500 women and girls with disabilities and their allies (blending in-person and online participation). One of its goals was to build community and engage them in New York City’s vibrant civic life as volunteers, board members and employees. Through these trainings, participants left feeling empowered and better prepared to bring the lens of inclusion and equity to civic engagement work. Hence, over time, they will help close the representational gap in participation and civic leadership for this generation and future generations.

Fink added: “Through these trainings, we achieved our goal to empower New York City’s women with disabilities to advocate and educate around the importance of inclusion and access. When women with disabilities become social change agents, our communities will become more accommodating for everyone, everywhere.”

RespectAbility looks forward to the next phase of its training, gearing up for its Speakers Bureau: NYC. This involves training a select cadre of New York City’s women with disabilities, who attended these trainings, to go out to organizations and train others on four fronts:  Physical Accessibility, Digital Accessibility, Social/Cultural Accessibility, and Programmatic / Event Accessibility.

The series was made possible by funding from the New York Women’s Foundation and Coca-Cola Foundation. Guttman Community College and Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan graciously hosted these trainings.

Meet the Author

Debbie Fink
Debbie Fink

Debbie Fink is Director of Community Outreach & Impact for RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities for and with people with disabilities. In addition to this role, she was Project Director for the unprecedented Women’s Disability Leadership, Inclusion & Advocacy Series; and is responsible for RespectAbility’s Volunteer Corps and Jewish Inclusion Project. Ms. Fink brings more than 15 years of diverse leadership experience in public health, education and arts programming to serve RespectAbility’s mission. Fink has a lifetime commitment to enabling people with disabilities to have a better future and is passionate about the constructive impact volunteers can make in the world. To reach her, email

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Respect Ability - Fighting Stigmas. Advancing Opportunities.


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