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Bio – Speakers Bureau

Shelly Christensen, MA, FAAIDD

RespectAbility’s National Disability Speakers Bureau

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Shelly Christensen

Shelly Christensen is a pioneer in the Jewish and interfaith disability inclusion movement. She is an international speaker, author and consultant. Her newest book is From Longing to Belonging–A Practical Guide to Including People with Disabilities and Mental Health Conditions in Your Faith Community.

After one of Shelly’s sons was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, she recognized herself in the literature she poured over to understand ADHD.  Soon after being diagnosed, she earned her Master of Arts degree in Developmental Disabilities at St. Mary’s University. Her graduate research and thesis focused on the experiences of parenting a child with a disability. A few years later, Shelly was diagnosed with depression and anxiety disorder. Shelly candidly shares her living with a mental health condition in her book and her presentations. [continue reading…]

Denise Sherer Jacobson

RespectAbility’s National Disability Speakers Bureau

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Denise Sherer Jacobson

Author/educator Denise Sherer Jacobson, M.A., has worked as an activist, counselor, administrator, and oral historian (at UC Berkeley) in the Independent Living Movement for over 50 years. She penned the multi-layered memoir, The Question of David: A Disabled Mother’s Journey Through Adoption, Family, and Life,  as well as a plethora of disability/Jewish-themed blogs, articles, stories, and poetry published on websites and in newspapers, magazines, and anthologies. In 2015, she was the subject of a New York Times online photo essay. She is the story consultant for the acclaimed 2020 Netflix documentary Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution and a featured personality in the film. She is deeply connected to her Jewish community, helping to establish the Access Committee of  Temple Sinai (Oakland) in 2003, and acting as its first Chair. Sherer Jacobson has given presentations on disability-related issues both nationally and worldwide. As a writer/educator, her goal is “Weaving the Disability Experience into the Tapestry of Living.[continue reading…]

Neil Jacobson

RespectAbility’s National Disability Speakers Bureau

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Neil Jacobson

Neil is the founder and CEO of Abilicorp, a business innovation consulting company. Abilicorp’s mission is to significantly increase the employment rate of people with disabilities by promoting entrepreneurs with disabilities and eliminating employment barriers.

Neil retired in 2008 from Wells Fargo Bank after 29 years. Neil began his career at the Bank as a Proof-of-Deposit programmer. His last position was as a Senior Vice President managing the System Automation Management and Wireless Technology Divisions. Being the Chief Systems Architect for the retail business was also a position that Neil enjoyed. The proudest part of his career was architecting the first 7×24 banking system in the United States. The team, Neil managed implemented the 2nd mobile banking system in the country. Interestingly, Neil cannot use the mobile banking system because of his disabilities. [continue reading…]

Kiah Amara

RespectAbility’s National Disability Speakers Bureau

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Kiah Amara

Kiah Amara (she/they) is a New York City based filmmaker, interdisciplinary artist, producer, consultant, and activist. Their work focuses on identity, fluidity, commonality, misconception, and all things “deviant from normal” – stories from the Disability, LGBTQ+, and Underrepresented Gender Communities.

With over a decade of experience in Disability Art and Education with Nonprofits like Penguin Project, Chicago Children’s Theatre, New York City Children’s Theatre, Co/Lab, Actionplay, and others, they founded IndieVISIBLE Entertainment in 2018 as a way to provide safe and freeing creative space for Disabled artists and knowledge for non-disabled peers. IndieVISIBLE Entertainment has appeared at festivals across the country and consulted with organizations such as TIE (Theatrical Intimacy Education) and The Okra Project. Kiah designs Sensory Friendly Sets, inclusive production processes, and consults on everything from accessible integrated web design to Disability Justice on international and intersectional levels. Valuing a community approach, they have worked on dozens of projects from pre- through post-production with a focus on Production Access Management with Universal Design and fully integrated inclusion practices.

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Erika Abbott

RespectAbility’s National Disability Speakers Bureau

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Erika Abbott

Erika Abbott is a native of Manhattan and was raised in Montclair, NJ. She began her advocacy very early in life as the ringleader of the disabled posse, the small group of children that had varying disabilities at her school. Though she was young, Ms. Abbott perceived the absurdity and poignance of their challenges. Never picked first for any team sport, had there been a Reading Olympics, Abbott certainly would have won!

Abbott is a recipient of the 2016 Bookvana.com Poetry award for her debut book, PORGY’S REVENGE, endorsed by Tom Hanks, “These poems are from the soul, personal and particular. they are not from us, but speak of us….” and Olympia Dukakis, “PORGY’S REVENGE contains the unique writings of an extraordinary poet-a story-teller both in content and in style.”

Read an article about Abbott in The Montclair Times.

Read some of Abbott’s poetry in our Shabbat Smile.

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Jordyn Zimmerman

RespectAbility’s National Disability Speakers Bureau

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Jordyn Zimmerman

Jordyn Zimmerman obtained her bachelor’s degree in Education Policy from Ohio University and is currently a graduate student at Boston College studying Curriculum and Instruction.

Diagnosed as autistic, Jordyn has challenged the status quo in the education system for many years. Technology helped open Jordyn’s world and in 2014, she began advocating for students through a series of national and global speaking engagements. Jordyn has keynoted conferences such as Alan November’s Building Learning Communities (BLC) and National Council of Teachers of English  — sharing an engaging and powerful message that reminds audiences to believe in the dignity of all people. Jordyn has written blogs for companies in Amsterdam and has been featured by educators in Singapore. To learn more about her work, follow Jordyn on Twitter @Jordynbzim or visit www.JordynZimmerman.com. [continue reading…]

Alex Howard

RespectAbility’s National Disability Speakers Bureau

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Alexander Howard

Growing up in Los Angeles, Alex Howard visited various famous filming locations like the LA River in Northridge, where Arnold Schwarzenegger rode his motorcycle in Terminator 2: Judgement Day. That trip was a defining moment in his childhood, sparking his fascination with movies and the mind-bending stories they can tell. Howard earned a Bachelor’s degree in Cinema and Television from California State University, Northridge in 2015. While in College, he was a brother of the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity. He has had several internships, including KTTV, Atmosphere Entertainment and Phoenix Pictures where he worked for producer Mike Medavoy. While interning, Howard fell in love with the development process. He believes the core of every good piece of entertainment is a solid, compelling and interesting story. Most recently, Howard was a temp for Warner Brothers on long-term assignment at DC Comics and a part-time film critic intern for mxdwn.com. This past summer, he was invited to participate in RespectAbility’s Summer 2020 Lab for Entertainment Professionals. [continue reading…]

Rabbi Darby Leigh

RespectAbility’s National Disability Speakers Bureau

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Rabbi Darby Leigh

Rabbi Darby Jared Leigh is a native New Yorker who loves mountains. He is the Rabbi of Congregation Kerem Shalom in Concord MA and is committed to creating an inclusive, caring community with intellectual honesty and spiritual depth. Honored as one of The Forward’s “most inspiring rabbis of 2016,” Rabbi Leigh is a Truth seeker, a passionate snowboarder and a former leading actor with the Tony award-winning National Theater of the Deaf. He was featured in the televised, Emmy-nominated documentary A Place For All: Faith And Community For People With Disabilities. Tablet Magazine listed him as one of “15 American Rabbis You Haven’t Heard Of But Should,” and he has performed on stage with rock and roll bands, Jane’s Addiction and Twisted Sister!

Rabbi Leigh was published in Deaf Identities- Exploring New Frontiers (2019), in which he is the second author of a chapter on Religion and Deaf Identity. Rabbi Leigh also served as a consultant for the Oscar-nominated documentary Sound and Fury and for “Hands On,” an organization that provides sign-language interpreting services for Broadway and off-Broadway productions. He worked with RitualWell.org to create on-line videos of ASL translations of Jewish songs and prayers. He has been a speaker for the New York City Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities, and numerous other organizations where he has taught on issues related to Deafness and disability access.

Rabbi Leigh was selected to be one of the first fellows of “Rabbis Without Borders,” an initiative of CLAL (National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership). Rabbi Leigh has taught at the Academy for Jewish Religion in NY, Hebrew College in MA, and is invited to lecture internationally. Rabbi Leigh has served as the associate/sabbatical rabbi at Bnai Keshet in Montclair NJ, rabbi of The New Shul in NYC, student rabbi of Or HaNeshamah in Ottawa Canada, rabbinic intern at Congregation Beit Simchat Torah in NYC, and as a rabbinic educator with Hillel at Temple and Drexel Universities in Philadelphia, PA. He holds a BA in religion, summa cum laude, from the University of Rochester, an MA in religion from Columbia University and received Rabbinic Ordination from the RRC. He is married to Dr. Randi Leigh and they have three daughters.

About RespectAbility’s National Disability Speakers Bureau

RespectAbility’s National Disability Speakers Bureau offers diverse speakers with disabilities to teach about disability inclusion; and/or to offer their expertise in an array of topics, ranging from Art and Entertainment to Entrepreneurship, Education, Finance, Law, Psychology, Religion (of many faiths) and every vocation in between. Our Speakers Bureau and its divisions are expanding. If this is of interest to you or you know a professional with a visible or nonvisible disability who might be interested, you (or she/he/they) can email its project director, Debbie Fink, at debbief@respectability.org.

Lisa Sage

RespectAbility’s National Disability Speakers Bureau

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Lisa Sage

Lisa Sage was born in Michigan and moved to California when she was five and a half years old, almost six years old.  She then grew up in Palm Springs, CA, and graduated high school. She then went to UC Riverside and earned her Bachelor’s degree in Human Development and graduated in four years. She then went on to California State University, Northridge, where she earned her Master’s degree in Public Health. She then had some volunteer jobs and part-time jobs before getting her full-time job as a Health Educator for the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services. [continue reading…]

Ava Xiao-Lin Rigelhaupt

RespectAbility’s National Disability Speakers Bureau

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Ava Xiao-Lin Rigelhaupt

Ava Xiao-Lin Rigelhaupt just graduated from Sarah Lawrence College (NY) this May with a BA. Ava has been an actor, writer, and advocate for disability and autism representation in the entertainment industry since 2017, when she became a founding member of a new neurodiverse theatre company, Spectrum Theatre Ensemble, in Rhode Island. Ava wrote and collaborated on the company’s first show, “Identity Spectrum,” about living with a disability. During that time she was a neurodiverse intern with Trinity Repertory Company to create their first complete sensory friendly season. (Sensory Friendly makes performances accessible to patrons with sensory sensitivities such as Autism or PTSD). She was also invited to speak on her first panel, at the Theatre Communication Group’s National conference about being a neurodiverse artist. [continue reading…]

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