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RespectAbility Congratulates Spring 2021 National Leadership Fellowship Graduates

Talented Young Leaders Are the Future of the Disability Rights Movement

Black and white photos of 15 Spring 2021 RespectAbility Fellows

RespectAbility Spring 2021 Fellows

Rockville, MD, June 9 – Thirteen talented young adults, the majority of whom have disabilities and all of whom are passionate about ensuring equal opportunities for people with disabilities, have just completed RespectAbility’s National Leadership Program. Two Spring 2021 graduates have been offered full-time positions with RespectAbility and a third has been offered a paid internship with Nickelodeon.

The National Leadership Program trains leaders who are committed to disability issues and plan to go into careers in public policy, advocacy, public relations, journalism, the entertainment industry, diversity, equity and inclusion, fundraising, nonprofit management or faith-based inclusion. The program enables participants to gain skills and contacts while making a positive difference for people with disabilities.

Fellows gained the real-world skills required to become highly employable and impactful once they enter the workforce. Each Fellow specialized within areas of the organization that aligned with their career goals, including: public policy, nonprofit management, entertainment and news media, Jewish inclusion and community outreach. Throughout their Fellowship, they gained hands-on career experience, such as attending policy briefings, writing grants, reviewing scripts and editing videos. They also improved their soft skills, such as networking, public speaking and issue advocacy.

“The uplifting culture at RespectAbility and willingness to learn is great,” said Ava Rigelhaupt, one of the 13 Fellows who completed the Program. “My time as an Entertainment Media Communications Fellow with RespectAbility set me up with the skills and connections for future success.” Rigelhaupt, who is a writer, actress, and advocate for disability and autism representation in the entertainment industry, consulted on scripts for major networks and spoke at virtual events, including Sundance Film Festival, throughout her Fellowship. Due to connections made during her Fellowship, she has started a new paid internship with Nickelodeon.

“My Fellowship has forever changed the way I will view disability representation and inclusion,” said Alex Howard, who was an Entertainment Media Fellow. “I felt like my work was truly making a difference.” Howard consulted on scripts for major networks and wrote pieces about audio description (AD) to encourage more productions to add AD to ensure millions of people who are blind and have low vision can fully participate in viewing content. He also assisted with RespectAbility’s Jewish Inclusion work.

“RespectAbility lives up to its name,” said Benjamin Rosloff, who was a Jewish Inclusion Fellow. “They respect each person as an individual, and they appreciate each individual’s talents and abilities.” Rosloff is a filmmaker who is living with autism. He directed and starred in a documentary series, “What Do You Pray For,” which has been rolling out each week in RespectAbility’s Jewish Disability Perspectives Newsletter.

“Being a part of RespectAbility’s National Leadership Program as a Policy Fellow remains one of my greatest highlights, not only as a graduate student but also in advancing my career as a disability rights and inclusion advocate,” said Chinyere Azike. Azike was a Public Policy Fellow who attended events like the Disability Policy Seminar. She learned from and virtually met with stakeholders and leaders on Capitol Hill. “I am so proud to have been a part of the organization.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one-in-four adults in America have a physical, sensory, cognitive, mental health or other disability. But even prior to COVID-19 only a third of them who are of working age had jobs, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. The COVID-19 pandemic has led to even more people with disabilities being out of work. Lack of employment not only puts people at risk of financial insecurity, but it also is the leading social determinant of poor health.

“At RespectAbility, we fight the stigmas that keep people with disabilities from finding meaningful work and build the next generation of leaders in the disability community,” said Ben Spangenberg, the director of RespectAbility’s National Leadership program. “This program is win-win for both its participants and the people who hire them later. This group of people offer great skills, passion, contacts and success to any team who brings them on board. If you are looking to hire great talent – look at these talented young leaders!”

This class is part of more than 210 graduates of RespectAbility’s National Leadership Program. Congratulations to the newest class:

Entertainment Media Fellows

Policy Fellows

Nonprofit Management Fellows

Community Outreach Fellow

Jewish Inclusion Fellows

During the semester, RespectAbility hired two Spring 2021 Fellows onto its fulltime staff. Former Nonprofit Management Fellow Donjeta Sahiti is now the Special Assistant to the President, and former Community Outreach Fellow Jake Stimellis our Associate, Speakers Bureau & Jewish Inclusion. Two other Spring 2021 Fellows will be staying with RespectAbility through the summer: Entertainment Media Fellow Kelley Cape and Community Outreach & Impact Fellow Taylor Ragano.

The Fellowship is for seniors in college and graduate students, as well as graduates and those in the early stages of their careers. It also is for people with disabilities who have lost their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic and currently are seeking new opportunities.

The National Leadership Program includes three cohorts of Fellows – fall, spring and summer. The Summer 2021 Fellowship runs from June 8 through August 5, 2021, with an opportunity for some summer Fellows to continue through the end of August. The Fall 2021 Fellowship runs from September 13 through December 17, 2021. The program is entirely virtual and can be done from anywhere in the United States. Learn more about the program and how you can apply for this Fall at RespectAbility’s website.

Meet the Author

Eric Ascher

Eric Ascher is the Communications Associate for RespectAbility. He is responsible for supporting RespectAbility’s Vice President, Communications in developing and implementing advocacy efforts and communications of various types. Ascher manages RespectAbility’s social media channels, website and emails; organizes and develops webinars; and supervises Communications Fellows.

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