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Fellows Blog Series

Rep. Steve Bartlett Brings His Passion For Disability Inclusion to RespectAbility Fellows

Rep. Steve Bartlett with RespectAbility Fall 2019 Fellows smiling in front of the RespectAbility banner

Rep. Steve Bartlett with RespectAbility Fall 2019 Fellows

Rockville, Maryland, Oct. 25 – When Rep. Steve Bartlett, Board Chair of RespectAbility, spoke to the organization’s National Leadership Fellows, he described the talk as BYOA (bring your own agenda). Every person in the room had the chance to have Rep. Bartlett talk about a subject important to them. In the span of an hour, the former U.S. Representative from Texas covered a wide range of topics such as the lack of bipartisanship in Washington, where to get accurate news information from, how to become more involved in politics, and why he became the co-author of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The first topic covered was the lack of bipartisanship in Washington, referring to the extreme polarization happening within the Democratic and Republican Parties. “Things are as bad as they have been since 1856,” said Rep. Bartlett, as he compared politics today to what started the civil war. He said he does not see things getting better for politics in America and thinks there is worse to come before it can get better. He explained how both the Democratic and the Republican parties have gone to their own extremes and are held captive by the 30 percent of people who vote in the primaries. Rep. Bartlett sees a solution for this crisis: a third, independent party. Bartlett has encouraged politicians to run as independent candidates but so far, no volunteers. The American people also need to ask for leadership from our leaders and representatives and demand respect from each side towards the other. [continue reading…]

Debby Fisher: Diaries the Ultimate Tool for Emotional Management

Debby Fisher with RespectAbility Staff and Fellows smiling in front of the RespectAbility banner

Debby Fisher with RespectAbility Staff and Fall 2019 Fellows

Rockville, Maryland, Oct. 24 – Young adulthood is characterized by exploration and discovery; employment, housing, friends, partners are just a few of the main aspects of life in flux during the post-college years. Such fluidity in life can cause distress, explained Debby Fisher, PsyD, who spoke to the Fellows in RespectAbility’s National Leadership Program last month. She expressed the usefulness of producing at least daily entries in a diary using whichever modality is most comfortable for you – drawing, writing, singing or listening to music – and keeping that diary with you at all times for assisting with understanding yourself and your emotions.

Fisher is well qualified to share emotional management tools as she is a trained psychologist and independent consultant. She has vast experience in both direct therapy with clients and helping implement system changes for nonprofit entities and large social service programs. She believes taking time to recognize the self and understanding how the self works is an important way to prompt change – from the inward out, as well as from the outside in. [continue reading…]

Uniting Together to Advance Disability Rights

Six Diverse Maryland Natives Complete Disability Advocacy Fellowship

Washington, D.C., September 17, 2019 – Young Maryland natives passionate about disability rights have just completed a summer internship with a Washington, D.C., area advocacy group to promote inclusion and accessibility. The six came together at RespectAbility, a nonpartisan nonprofit fighting stigma and advancing opportunities for people with disabilities, to learn about disability advocacy and gain relevant career experience.

The six come from a broad range of educational backgrounds and have a variety of career aspirations. The Fellows each specialized in different areas of the organization; public policy, nonprofit management, communications, and community outreach. Throughout the summer, they gained hands-on career experience and learned about their individual programming areas as well as the organization as a whole. [continue reading…]

Young Self-Advocate Utilizing Journalism Background to Ensure Better Representation of Disability

Anthony Brown with RespectAbility team members and the directors and star of the Peanut Butter Falcon in front of a poster for the movieWashington, D.C., September 16, 2019 – Prince George’s County native and sports writer Anthony Rendolph Clarke Brown II has put his writing skills to work for people with disabilities. Brown manages the social media presence for RespectAbility, a nonprofit that works to fight stigma and advance opportunities for people with disabilities. As a Communications Fellow charged with handling the organization’s image on social media, Brown is guided by two objectives: share articles that showcase the talents of people with disabilities and make the disability community aware of legislation that benefits them.

Brown was born with hydrocephalus, excess fluid in the brain, and a slight form of cerebral palsy. He developed mild seizures later in life. Being able to use his journalism background as a Communications Fellow with RespectAbility falls in line with his love of storytelling. He enjoys writing profiles of high-school football and basketball athletes for the website, Portermedium.com. [continue reading…]

From small-town Alabama to the United States Capitol

Samford student fights stigma in Washington, D.C.

Jolie Carr smiling in front of the RespectAbility bannerWashington, D.C., September 15, 2019 – After spending the summer working for a disability advocacy group, Samford University senior Jolie Carr plans to bring her newfound knowledge of disability issues back to campus. Over the summer, Carr helped recruit volunteers and plan a Capitol Hill summit for RespectAbility, a national nonprofit working to fight stigmas and advance opportunities for people with disabilities.

“Disability is largely a social issue,” Carr states. “Fighting stigmas is so important – once people start seeing people with disabilities as equal, the equality in employment, representation and inclusion will follow.” [continue reading…]

Brain Injury Survivor Hopes to Support Reform of U.S. Disability Policy

GW Graduate Student in Health Policy to Fight for Disability Rights

Laka Mitiku Negassa hugs a man who helped her recover from her brain injury at RespectAbility's 2019 summitWashington, D.C., September 14, 2019 – Laka Mitiku Negassa imagined she would spend her career in research or medicine, learning how the brain works. But a serious accident that caused a traumatic brain injury set her on a different track – to campaign for the rights and care of people with disabilities.

Negassa, a graduate health policy student at George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health, has begun her career in advocacy this summer as a policy Fellow with RespectAbility, a nonprofit, nonpartisan group fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities so people with disabilities can fully participate in all aspects of community. [continue reading…]

Young Philadelphian connects passion for Judaism and disability rights at Washington disability advocacy group

Adam Fishbein singing the national anthem in front of an American flag with Debbie Fink accompanying him on violin.Washington, D.C., September 13, 2019 – Disability advocate and Philadelphia native Adam Fishbein recently completed a Fellowship with RespectAbility, a Washington, D.C.-based disability rights group, where he promoted the inclusion of people with disabilities in the Jewish community. Fishbein, who grew up in Elkins Park, Penn., recently graduated from American University. He currently is pursuing a Master of Public Administration from AU while serving as Senate Diversity Initiative Intern with Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY).

For Fishbein, RespectAbility’s work aligns with one of his core Jewish values: areyvut, or communal responsibility. “We as a society have a sacred obligation to fully include and empower people with disabilities.” Fishbein said. “Through RespectAbility, I have had the opportunity to fulfill this obligation.” [continue reading…]

Book worm to policy wonk: Disability advocate brings her knowledge to Washington, D.C.

Woodbridge native aspires to make a name for herself in politics

Angelica Vega smiling in front of the RespectAbility bannerWashington, D.C., September 12, 2019 – Woodbridge native Angelica Vega, who usually spends her summer volunteering at the Woodbridge Main Library, packed up her books and headed to Washington, D.C., to work at a leading disability rights group. Vega just completed a prestigious National Leadership Fellowship this summer with RespectAbility, a nonprofit fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities so people with disabilities can fully participate in all aspects of community.

For Vega, disability rights for all students is very important to her. As a former student of the Woodbridge Public School District, Vega credits much of her success to exceptional teachers devoted to her academic and personal development.

“Teachers such as Janice Lammers (School #9), Eric Stadtmiller (Woodbridge High School) and Christina Pastor (Avenel Middle School) helped me grow as a scholar and leader and left a lasting impact on my life,” Vega said. “Now, I hope to pay their lessons forward. I want to work on education and employment policy to make sure students with disabilities and other diverse identities are guaranteed to have great teachers like them in their lives.” [continue reading…]

Young Activist Aims to Change Beliefs About People with Disabilities

Illinois athlete believes current perceptions amount to ‘inspiration porn’

Ana Kohout, a constituent of Illinois, shakes hands with Senator Tammy Duckworth.

Ana Kohout and Senator Tammy Duckworth

Washington, D.C., September 10, 2019 – Anastazia Kohout, an Illinois native with spina bifida whose competitive swimming career has cast her in the spotlight, wants people to see her individuality before her disability.

Kohout just completed a summer Fellowship with Respectability, a nonprofit that fights stigmas and advances opportunities for people with disabilities. With the skills and confidence she gained this summer, Kohout will lead empowerment training for women with disabilities when she returns to Beloit College this fall. [continue reading…]

Advice from Jonathan Koch, Emmy Award-Winning TV Producer and Entrepreneur

Jonathan Koch smiling wearing a suit in front of a grey backdropRockville, Maryland, September 9 – Jonathan Koch, an Emmy Award-winning television producer and successful entrepreneur, was a speaker for RespectAbility’s Summer 2019 National Leadership Fellows. The hour-long discussion focused on his career path, before and after he became disabled, and how to be successful at pitching yourself.

Koch started his career as an agent for the 90s child star Candace Cameron and many other famous child actors. In 2003, he partnered with Steve Michaels to start Asylum Entertainment, a Los Angeles-based television production company. He was the President and Chief Creative Officer of Asylum Entertainment until they sold it to Legendary Entertainment for $100 million in 2014. A year later, Koch became desperately ill, causing doctors to amputate his right leg and left hand. [continue reading…]

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