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RespectAbility Enables Talented Leaders with Disabilities to Enter Field of Philanthropy

Rockville, MD, August 3 – While CDC data shows that one in four adults have a disability, a report from the Council on Foundations showed that less than one percent of full-time staff at foundations are people with disabilities. Sadly, foundations are missing the lived experience of people who know the challenges and talents of people with disabilities. Thus, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation is supporting RespectAbility’s efforts to enable philanthropy to benefit from the energy, skills, and insights of talented people with disabilities.

The MacArthur Foundation is granting funds for RespectAbility to expand their National Leadership Program to include a diverse talent-pipeline of people with disabilities that will work directly in philanthropy. Participants (Fellows) in this “earn while you learn” program will gain skills and experience while working alongside RespectAbility for the first part of the grant period. They will then transition into a role with a host philanthropic partner in a foundation or philanthropy serving organization (PSO).

Fellows will have the opportunity to cultivate practical and leadership skills while simultaneously assisting with the day-to-day operations of the host organization they partner with. This will create further openings for Fellows to find employment in philanthropy while making positive changes for other people with disabilities and strengthening the philanthropic sector.

This project is housed within RespectAbility’s larger National Leadership Program, which has been successfully operating since 2015 and has 215 graduates to date. Fully 85% of alumni from the program have found and retained employment and many are already on the forefront of disability and nonprofit leadership. The program shifted to be virtual during the pandemic and will continue to be virtual so that it can include the best participants and host organizations from all over the country.

“It is vital for diversity programs to include people with disabilities,” said Hon. Steve Bartlett, Chair Emeritus of RespectAbility. Bartlett was lead co-author the Americans with Disabilities Act when he served in Congress. “We have come a long way on disability rights, but we need to ensure that people with disabilities are at all decision-making tables – and that includes in philanthropy. We are grateful to MacArthur for recognizing the importance of full inclusion and access for people with disabilities.”

The pandemic created a powerful shift in attitudes on telework, a way that many people with disabilities can gain access to employment. Zoom and other technology newly allow for automatic captioning, making it easy for any organization to employ people who are Deaf. Websites are becoming more accessible and screen-reader technology is now built into computers and phones. This can level the playing field for people who are blind. Microsoft and Google have added to their accessibility features, and now have built-in speech recognition technology which means that people with limited mobility can more easily use computers. Further, the smoothness with which Americans adopted to remote work during the pandemic has shown that it makes sense to offer opportunities to prospective employees who cannot easily commute. “I look forward to working with Fellows throughout the country who are motivated to diversify the philanthropic community,” said Ben Spangenberg, RespectAbility’s national leadership program director.

RespectAbility’s expansion of their National Leadership Program will have three goals:

  1. Provide students or recent graduates with disabilities the skills, professional networks and experience needed to enter careers with grantmaking organizations or PSOs
  2. Prepare the Fellows to solve disability-related issues and become even more confident leaders and self-advocates as they enter and move up the professional ladder in their career in philanthropy. They will receive certification in RespectAbility’s Disability, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion credentialing program.
  3. Fellows will serve as a positive role model in the workplace and thus help reduce stigma and unconscious bias that often prevent the inclusion of people with disabilities in the workplace. This includes improving public speaking skills and ability to bring lived experience and disability networks to strengthen the field of philanthropy.

Over a six-month period, participants in the National Leadership Program will work virtually with both RespectAbility and philanthropic organizations. RespectAbility will provide job training, skills development, networking opportunities and assistive technology to facilitate greater synergy. Franklin Anderson, RespectAbility’s Director of Inclusive Philanthropy and Development, will oversee day-to-day management. The program is a cohort model, meaning that groups learn and work together, while accumulating skills, contacts and jobs. Every Fellow will have access to mentors, including many BIPOC disability leaders.

The National Leadership Program is geared towards directly helping young professionals with disabilities. Most Fellows are recent college graduates or people with disabilities who lost their jobs during COVID-19 and are looking for new employment opportunities. Non-graduates with significant work experience are also eligible. They can be students, people who are actively looking for work for the first time or people who are looking to return to work after being displaced during the pandemic. All Fellows will be persons with disabilities or a history of strong allyship in the disability community.

Because intersectional challenges can create additional barriers for people with disabilities who also belong to other minority groups, RespectAbility is committed to hiring Fellows from diverse backgrounds. Applicants with disabilities of varying disability types, race/ethnicities, genders and sexual orientations are strongly encouraged to apply. We have the potential to impact the 61 million people with disabilities in this nation and want to focus on everyone within that demographic.

To apply to this apprenticeship program, email your resume and cover letter to BenS@RespectAbility.org and fill out our online application.

This Fellowship opportunity comes at the same time as an opportunity for 5 dedicated leaders with blindness or low vision which was funded by the Fox Family Foundation. Learn more about that opportunity at RespectAbility’s website.

Meet the Author

Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi

Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi is the President of RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities for people with disabilities. She regularly works with disability organizations, national, state and local policy leaders, workforce development professionals, media, employers, philanthropists, celebrities and faith-based organizations in order to expand opportunities for people with disabilities. To reach her, email JenniferM@RespectAbility.org.

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