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Bio – Staff

Ariel Simms

Ariel Simms, President and CEO

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Ariel Simms, President and CEO

Ariel Simms (they/them or she/hers) is the President and Chief Executive Officer of RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities so people with disabilities can fully participate in all aspects of community. A queer and multiply disabled social justice advocate, leader, and educator, Ariel has worked to promote equity, justice, and meaningful inclusion of marginalized communities throughout their career. A life-long member of the disability community, Ariel grew into their first disabilities in childhood, while also supporting disabled family members. Ariel understands firsthand the challenges faced by those whose disabilities are not always readily apparent. [continue reading…]

Lauren Appelbaum

Lauren Appelbaum, Senior Vice President, Communications and Entertainment & News Media

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Lauren Appelbaum, Senior Vice President, Communications and Entertainment & News Media

Lauren Appelbaum (she/her) is the Senior Vice President, Communications and Entertainment & News Media, at RespectAbility, a diverse, disability-led nonprofit that works to create systemic change in how society views and values people with disabilities, and that advances policies and practices that empower disabled people to have a better future. She brings more than 15 years of experience in strategic and crisis communications, writing, video and web production, news gathering and social media to the disability agenda. Previously she served as a digital researcher with the NBC News political unit for the 2006 midterm and 2008 presidential elections with Chuck Todd and Andrea Mitchell.

As an individual with an acquired nonvisible disability – Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy – she works at the intersection of disability, employment, Hollywood, and politics. From entertainment professionals to presidential campaigns, journalists to philanthropists, she conducts trainings on the why and how to be more inclusive and accessible.

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 9Story Media Group, A&E, Bunim-Murray Productions, DreamWorks Animation, NBCUniversal, Netflix, Nickelodeon, ViacomCBS, The Walt Disney Company, and Warner Bros. Discovery, 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.

Appelbaum also increases hiring initiatives of people with disabilities behind the camera and enriches the pool of disabled talent in Hollywood by connecting them to those who can assist with their careers, both on the creative and business sides of the industry. She is the author of The Hollywood Disability Inclusion Toolkit, which was created to help entertainment professionals to be as inclusive of people with disabilities as possible, 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.

Appelbaum is a sought-after expert and has been quoted by many national publications including Associated PressDeadlineThe Hollywood Reporter, IndieWire, The Los Angeles Jewish Journal, The New York Times, RealScreenReuters, TabletUSA Today, Variety and The Washington Post. She has spoken on panels at the Association of Health Care Journalists Conference, ComNet, RealScreen Summit, Sundance Film Festival and SXSW, among others.

Appelbaum also is the Managing Editor of The RespectAbility Report, a publication at the intersection of disability and politics. During the 2016 election season, Appelbaum led a team of Communications Fellows in interviewing all of the presidential candidates about the importance of disability employment, reporting all interviews via accessible video and articles in The RespectAbility Report.

She also supervises several Apprentices through RespectAbility’s Apprenticeship Program. Her Apprentices ultimately want to go into careers in journalism, public relations, political communications or the entertainment industry.

Outside of work, Appelbaum is active in community theater. She has served in a variety of behind-the-scenes roles for more than a dozen musicals and plays. Having organized volunteer ASL interpreters and coordinated ADA seating at performances, as well as directing a nonverbal actor with cerebral palsy who uses a wheelchair, she understands first-hand the importance of inclusion of both performers and others with disabilities.

Born and raised in the Philadelphia area, Appelbaum has a master’s degree in Broadcast Journalism from Syracuse University; she also has undergraduate degrees from Columbia University and the Jewish Theological Seminary. She serves on several national and local nonprofit boards. Appelbaum currently lives in Maryland with her husband, daughter, and dog. She travels nationally, often to the Los Angeles area.

Contact Lauren Appelbaum

Reach Appelbaum at [email protected] or on Twitter @laurenappelbaum.

Meet our Staff

Matan A. Koch

Matan A. Koch, Senior Vice President for Strategic Change

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Matan A. Koch, Senior Vice President for Strategic Change

Matan A. Koch is Senior Vice President for Strategic Change at RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities so people with disabilities can fully participate in all aspects of community. A longtime national leader in disability advocacy and a wheelchair user himself, he is a graduate of Yale College and Harvard Law School. Koch oversees RespectAbility’s workforce engagement and education portfolio, and our Jewish and other faith-based programs. He also leads RespectAbility’s California office.

Koch is a leader in disability advocacy, and a strong believer of the power of people with disabilities in the workforce, having himself benefited from vocational rehabilitation. In a virtuous cycle, Connecticut supported him from high school through law school, and later presented the opportunity to give back, as a speaker and trainer to VR programs. He has also spoken and taught at law firms, and at Johnson & Johnson, as well as serving as a subject matter expert to many nonprofit organizations.

A longtime policy expert, Koch began his disability policy career lobbying for a major disability organization in Washington in college and was appointed to the city of New Haven disability commission at the age of 18, while a college junior. This began a lifelong tradition of public service, culminating most recently in a Senate confirmed appointment by President Obama to the National Council on Disability, for a term that ended in 2014.

Considered one of the nation’s leading Jewish inclusion experts, he has developed training and materials for many Jewish organizations, including Hillel International, the Union for Reform Judaism and Combined Jewish Philanthropies. The son of a rabbi and a Jewish educator, he has been speaking on Jewish inclusion since early childhood and has been formally and informally retained by Jewish organizations for the last 20 years. With a BA in religious studies, he is also well-versed in other faiths.

Koch began his legal career as counsel to the Procter & Gamble Company, where he rose to become the primary legal support for a $2 billion portfolio of brands. He then transitioned to an AmLaw 100 Law Firm in New York, where he worked on a broad range of high-value commercial litigation matters and was privileged to do pro bono work in the areas of criminal appeals and guardianship. For his commercial work, Koch was recognized as a “Rising Star” by New York SuperLawyers in 2012 and 2013, a distinction allotted to the top 2.5% of New York metro area lawyers, based on peer recognition and professional achievement. For his pro bono work, Koch was awarded the Legal Aid Society Outstanding Pro Bono Services for 2013, based on a victory at the highest court of New York.

Meet our Staff

Graciano Petersen

Graciano Petersen, Senior Director for Training, Culture, and Leadership Development

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Graciano Petersen, Senior Director for Training, Culture, and Leadership Development

Graciano Petersen is the Senior Director for Training, Culture, and Leadership Development at RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities so people with disabilities can fully participate in all aspects of community. Graciano is dedicated to advancing equity across all sectors and providing accessible opportunities for upskilling and advancement. Graciano holds an MA in Second Language Acquisition from Tulane University, is fluent in Spanish, and is working towards fluency in Brazilian Portuguese.

Prior to joining RespectAbility, Graciano worked in adult education and school leadership. He has over 13 years of Adult Education experience and is passionate about making education accessible to all types and levels of learners. Graciano is currently on the Board at the Adult Numeracy Network as the Equity Officer where he focuses on working with board to make sure there is equity across the inner workings of the board and its committees.

Outside of work, Graciano is a carnivalist (a carnival enthusiast) and can be found engaging in carnival culture and leads the Vavá United School of Samba in DC.

Meet our Staff

Wally Tablit

Wally Tablit, Senior Director of Policy and Workforce Development

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Wally Tablit, Senior Director of Policy and Workforce Development

Wally Tablit (He/Him/His) is the Senior Director of Policy and Workforce Development for RespectAbility. RespectAbility is a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities so people with disabilities can fully participate in all aspects of community.

Tablit is a recognized leader in the field of Supported Employment, with over 25 years of experience working with people with disabilities and leading advocacy and policy efforts that create positive impacts on communities. He has served as a director of several employment agencies in Washington State, serving various populations. He also is a local and national speaker, trainer, and consultant on best practices around community integrated employment, organizational development, and diversity, equity, and true inclusion. [continue reading…]

Shelly Christensen

Shelly Christensen, Senior Director of Faith Inclusion

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Shelly Christensen, Senior Director of Faith Inclusion

Shelly Christensen, MA, FAAIDD, is the Senior Director of Faith Inclusion at RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities so people with disabilities can fully participate in all aspects of community.

Shelly is a pioneer and leader in the faith community disability and mental health inclusion movement. Her passion for this work is anchored by her experiences as the parent of a child with autism. Long before she was an emerging leader in the field, Shelly was trained as a parent advocate, unwaveringly holding the school accountable for her son’s rights to a free appropriate public education as mandated in the IDEA. The family’s synagogue and religious school their three sons attended treated all children with equity and respect, seamlessly adapting education to meet each child’s needs and ensuring a lifelong connection to their Jewish identity and community.

As program manager of the Minneapolis Jewish Community Inclusion Program for People with Disabilities for nearly thirteen years, her innovative leadership approach supported synagogues, schools, community centers, and other agencies. Shelly blended theology with person-centered thinking, organizational strategies, and community collaborations to create innovative practices that encourage a growth mindset and a shift to diversity, equity and inclusion across the lifespan.

After publication of her book, The Jewish Community Guide to Inclusion of People with Disabilities, she was in demand as a keynote speaker, trainer, and consultant for other communities. She founded Inclusion Innovations to expand her capacity to work with diverse faith-based organizations.

In 2009, Shelly co-founded Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance, and Inclusion Month (JDAIM). The mission of JDAIM is to coalesce communities and organizations to raise awareness about disability inclusion and address obstacles to belonging. Shelly coordinates this grassroots initiative, held in February. Through Shelly’s leadership, JDAIM is recognized around the world by local, national and international organizations.

Shelly is actively involved in leadership for a variety of interfaith disability inclusion organizations. She serves on the Core Council of the Institute for Theology and Disability, and on the board of Faith Inclusion Network. Shelly is a past president of the Religion and Spirituality Network of the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD) and has earned Fellow status for her contributions to the field of religion, spirituality, and disability.

In 2019 Shelly was awarded the prestigious Reimagining Spirituality Leadership Award from the Religion and Spirituality Network of AAIDD in recognition of her inspiring leadership, innovation, and outstanding contributions in the field of disability and mental health inclusion.

Shelly is the author of From Longing to Belonging—A Practical Guide to Including People with Disabilities and Mental Health Conditions in Your Faith Community. She is a popular keynote speaker, training professional, and consultant. In 2020, in response to the pandemic, Shelly co-created the web series, “Everyone’s Welcome-A Fresh Conversation About Disability,” in which guests from diverse faiths, practices, interests, and lived experiences share their stories and their work.

Shelly earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism from the University of Minnesota and her Master of Arts degree in Developmental Disabilities from St. Mary’s University of Minnesota. She is a graduate of the National Leadership Institute on Developmental Disabilities, and earned a certificate in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Workplace from the University of South Florida Muma School of Business.

Contact Shelly Christensen

Reach Christensen at [email protected].

Meet our Staff

Tonya Koslo

Tonya Koslo, Senior Director of Finance and Administration

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Tonya Koslo, Senior Director of Finance and Administration

Tonya Koslo is the Senior Director of Finance and Administration of RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities so people with disabilities can fully participate in all aspects of community. Koslo is an experienced administrator whose skills include database management, state charitable registrations, computers, billing, legal requirements of human resource administration, websites and support services.

Prior to joining RespectAbility, Koslo worked for Laszlo and Associates as the Executive Assistant and Office Manager and for eleven years in various capacities for the Mayor, Town Board and Town Administrator Biltmore Forest, North Carolina. In her free time, she volunteers at her church, is the president of her homeowner’s association and is active in local adoption groups.

Contact Tonya Koslo

Reach Koslo at [email protected].

Meet our Staff

Franklin Anderson

Franklin Anderson, Senior Director of Inclusive Philanthropy and Development

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Franklin Anderson, Senior Director of Inclusive Philanthropy and Development

Franklin Anderson (he/him) is the Senior Director of Development and Inclusive Philanthropy at RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities so people with disabilities can fully participate in all aspects of community. Anderson is a passionate professional who fights for equal rights and opportunities for all marginalized communities. His passion in the disability space is ensuring the disability community has access to education, economic opportunity and fair representation in society broadly.

At RespectAbility, his work is focused on foundation and donor relations, as well as leading the inclusive philanthropy program. Anderson helps enable major foundations, philanthropists and corporations ensure their philanthropic dollars go the furthest – by enabling investments in organizations and programs to be inclusive of people with disabilities. Hispanic himself, he also is heavily involved in the work of RespectAbility to serve the Latinos with disabilities community, and connecting the Latino community as a whole to inclusive philanthropy.

Prior to joining RespectAbility, Anderson earned his Master’s of Public Affairs in Nonprofit Management from Indiana University Bloomington. During his time in Indiana, he worked with a local environmental organization providing volunteer management and administrative support. He also held academic positions at Indiana University, worked as a grant writer at a local nonprofit, and career development office. Anderson also served as an advisor to new nonprofits to help develop their fundraising efforts. He also earned his Bachelor’s in Political Science from Eastern Michigan University, concentrating in public policy and political theory.

Contact Franklin Anderson

Reach Anderson at [email protected].

Meet our Staff

Ben Spangenberg

Ben Spangenberg, National Leadership Program Director

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Ben Spangenberg, National Leadership Program Director

Ben Spangenberg (he/him) is the director of RespectAbility’s National Leadership Program where he recruits and trains talented young leaders for careers in public policy, advocacy and media. RespectAbility is a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities so people with disabilities can fully participate in all aspects of community.

Spangenberg was previously RespectAbility’s Special Assistant to the President and was responsible for scheduling appointments and travel for the president, coordinating monthly Board updates and assisting with the day-to-day administrative operations of the office.

He also assisted with RespectAbility’s democracy work, spending several weeks in Iowa and New Hampshire interviewing presidential candidates. He met 100 percent of the 2016 candidates on both sides of the aisle, educating their campaigns on the importance of not only ensuring accessibility of events and materials but also creating thoughtful policies for helping people with disabilities achieve employment goals.

Prior to working with RespectAbility, Spangenberg worked on Capitol Hill and spent seven years working with a government contractor on several disability-related projects pertaining to employment, education and community living. Spangenberg received his Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science at the University of California, Berkeley.

Contact Ben Spangenberg

Reach Spangenberg at [email protected].

Meet our Staff

Philip Kahn-Pauli

Philip Kahn-Pauli, Director of Federal Policy

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Philip Kahn-Pauli, Director of Federal Policy

Philip Kahn-Pauli is the Director of Federal Policy of RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities so people with disabilities can fully participate in all aspects of community. He educates leaders at the federal and state level about best practices to expand opportunities for people with disabilities. Kahn-Pauli coordinated the development and distribution of the People with Disabilities at Work resource guide, the Finding a Job as a Person With a Disability in Los Angeles Toolkit, and numerous other resources for jobseekers with disabilities as well as policymakers. He frequently organizes accessible webinars on best practices, which are attended by workforce boards, agencies, VR, disability organizations, public officials, artists and more – reaching a national audience of more than 2,000. Kahn-Pauli also speaks at national and regional conferences for workforce boards, agencies and professionals.

Kahn-Pauli serves as the co-chair of the Employment and Training Task Force of the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD). He works with more than 110 national disability organizations to impact federal policy and move the disability employment agenda forward at the national level. At the state level, Kahn-Pauli advocates for cost effective solutions, replicable models and school-to-work transition programs for youth with disabilities.

Kahn-Pauli’s career in disability began with several years of work at a local nonprofit focused on traumatic brain injury. He holds a master’s degree in social policy and philosophy from the George Washington University and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Denver. Raised by a single mother with serious chronic health issues, he is deeply committed to building a better future for people with disabilities.

Contact Philip Kahn-Pauli

Reach Kahn-Pauli at [email protected].

Meet our Staff

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Respect Ability - Fighting Stigmas. Advancing Opportunities.

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