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Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi Announces Transition from RespectAbility; Search for New CEO Begins

Headshot of Jennifer Mizrahi, smiling and facing the camera wearing a red blazer color photo

Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi

Washington, D.C., December 2 – RespectAbility Founder and CEO Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, a serial social-impact entrepreneur who is a pioneer in the area of disability advocacy and impactful leadership, announced publicly today she will transition from the organization she co-founded. The hope is to identify her successor by early 2022, with Mizrahi staying up until June 2022 to support a successful transition.

Mizrahi officially informed RespectAbility’s Board of Directors in July, and the board convened a search committee co-chaired by RespectAbility’s Vice-Chair Randall Duchesneau and Treasurer Linda Burger. On the committee’s recommendation, the Board hired David Hinsley Cheng of DHC Search to launch a nationwide search for Mizrahi’s successor.

RespectAbility is a diverse, disability-led nonprofit that works to create systemic change in how society views and values people with disabilities, and advances policies and practices that empower people with disabilities to have a better future. RespectAbility shifts narratives and creates progress by centering people with lived disability experience in leadership roles, ensuring authentic representation in entertainment and news media, advancing successful public policy, and pushing for faith-based and other inclusion.

“Since RespectAbility’s inception, my passion has been to build an organization focused on fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities so people with disabilities can fully participate in all aspects of community,” Mizrahi said. “Building this organization and working with every member of the extended RespectAbility family has been a fantastic experience. Each of our chairs – Donn Weinberg, Calvin Harris, Steve Bartlett and Ollie Cantos – have been terrific partners, as have all our board members, staff, Apprentices, consultants, members of our speakers’ bureau, and volunteers. We are all a part of RespectAbility’s success story.”

Ollie Cantos smiling in front of an American flag

Ollie Cantos

“With her drive, innovation and commitment to fighting ableism and working for systems change, Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi has spearheaded real progress for people with disabilities,” said RespectAbility’s Chairperson, Ollie Cantos. “Under Mizrahi’s leadership, we have built a tremendous team, launched a new strategic plan, and are on solid financial footing. We gratefully recognize her many years of game-changing disability advocacy and are committed that her successor will continue her tremendous record of disability progress. This executive will have a proven track record of leadership and management, a deep record in disability advocacy, and a real commitment to equity for all.”

Mizrahi expressed her gratitude to the Board of Directors, staff and team for the opportunity to serve. “The best part of RespectAbility are the people – from the amazing Apprentices to every member of the professional and volunteer teams,” she said. “Whomever becomes the new CEO will find this amazing team pulling together so that diverse people with disabilities can achieve their dreams, just like anyone else.”

The following are RespectAbility’s core programmatic areas:

  • Entertainment and News Media – Increase diverse and authentic representation of disabled people in media, both on screen and behind the camera/keyboard, so people with disabilities are seen for what they can do, instead of what they cannot.
  • Leadership Development – Enable diverse people with disabilities to participate fully in decision-making and have seats at decision-making tables.
  • Public Policy – Break down barriers and promote best practices in education, employment, entrepreneurship, civic engagement, and access.
  • Faith Inclusion – Ensure the inclusion of people with disabilities in faith-based communities.

As someone with dyslexia and ADHD, Mizrahi advanced “Nothing About Us Without Us” philosophy and practices. Under her tenure, 229 people graduated from RespectAbility’s unique National Leadership Fellowship/Apprenticeship Program. Graduates, who include diverse people with disabilities and allies, gain the skills, training, and contacts they need to enter careers where they can work toward the continued success of people with disabilities. Additionally, 83 people have graduated from RespectAbility’s Summer Lab for Entertainment Professionals with Disabilities, and are now working for a variety of studio partners including Nickelodeon, Paramount Pictures and The Walt Disney Company, as well as in writers’ rooms for Netflix’s Mech Cadet, CW’s 4400 and Showtime’s Dexter. Since 2015, RespectAbility has advised on nearly 300 entertainment media productions to promote authentic portrayals of disability in Hollywood and beyond, helping fight stigmas that limit expectations of people with disabilities.

Mizrahi has worked with the White House and met 1-1 with 48 governors to advance education, employment, and inclusion for people with disabilities and provided testimony in every state and at the federal level. She published more than 100 pieces on disability issues. These efforts were effective, as there has been substantial progress since 2013. In fact, current employment levels for people with disabilities are higher than they were pre-pandemic, though there is a long way to go.

Mizrahi’s work has received regular recognition on every level, from local to international. Such acknowledgements include winning the Zero Project Award, which enabled her to deliver a keynote in front of more than 3,000 people at the United Nations in Vienna, Austria; the Farfel Award by Jewish Family Services of Houston; and an award for being a role model for women by Culver Academy. She was honored by Sulam and JCPA and was named as one of the 50 most influential Jews in the world by The Jerusalem Post. RespectAbility received a 2021 NOD Award. She is proud of RespectAbility’s Platinum Level from Guidestar, as transparency is so important for nonprofits. Mizrahi’s advocacy was covered in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, PBS NewsHour and other media.

Mizrahi, who co-founded the Mizrahi Family Charitable Fund with her husband in 2000, co-founded RespectAbility along with other philanthropists as an outgrowth of work through the Jewish Funders Network Disability Group. She donated funds to start the nonprofit and worked as a volunteer as RespectAbility’s CEO for more than half of her tenure. Today, the organization has 17 full-time staff members, an active 30-person board, more than 30 consultants working on entertainment media productions, and more than 60 members of RespectAbility’s speaker and disability inclusion training team. On sound financial footing, RespectAbility’s new CEO position is expected to pay between $140,000 – $170,000 plus benefits and any needed disability accommodations.

Said Cantos, “Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi is a positive sheer force of nature who has an incredible ability to bring out the superpowers in others. Hers are big shoes to fill, but we know we are poised to succeed.”

RespectAbility provides equal employment opportunities (EEO) to all employees and applicants for employment without regard to race, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, national origin, age, disability, veteran status, or genetics. In addition to federal law requirements, RespectAbility complies with applicable state and local laws governing nondiscrimination in employment. This policy applies to all terms and conditions of employment, including recruiting, hiring, placement, promotion, termination, layoff, recall, transfer, leaves of absence, compensation, and training. People with proud disability identities are especially encouraged to apply.

The position description is listed online. Interested applicants should email David Hinsley Cheng at [email protected].

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 [email protected]

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