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Fellows Blog Series

Short Film about Playground Inclusion wins International Acclaim

Rockville, Maryland, Dec. 6 – All kids want to play. Kids with disabilities are no different. “Ian” is a short, animated film inspired by the real-life Ian, a boy with a disability determined to get to the playground despite his playmates bullying him. This film sets out to show that children with disabilities can and should be included.

“Ian” premiered for audiences around the world on YouTube and was broadcast in Latin America simultaneously on Disney Junior, Cartoon Network, Discovery Kids, Nickelodeon, PakaPaka and YouTube Kids Nov. 30, 2018.

“Ian” started as a mother’s mission to educate her son’s bullies on the playground—one to one. When she realized that the need for inclusion was bigger than one playground, she wrote a book and founded Fundación ian to change thousands of minds and attitudes about people with disabilities. She approached MundoLoco, a top digital animation studio in Latin America, about creating “Ian,” an animated film to deliver the message of inclusion to audiences all over the world.

A Universal Story

Poster for Ian- a moving storyThe film is wordless—a deliberate decision to make “Ian” inclusive of all people. “We worked hard to make it as simple and honest as we could, so it could be understood by a preschool child, yet an adult could discover other layers of the story,” said Gastón Gorali, who wrote the short.

The universality behind the idea for “Ian” spoke to Gorali immediately. “In that first meeting with [Ian’s mom], I felt the urge to do something about it. To get involved. Ian’s story was so honest, tough and yet full of hope,” he said. “The feeling of being alienated is common to all of us. There’s no need to have a disability to have experienced in our lives isolation and exclusion. To find ourselves fighting a force that pushes us away from whatever we want to be and do.”

“I can play and participate”

The real Ian is a fourth grader who, like most fourth graders, wants to play with his friends. But because some kids are not used to someone like Ian—someone who has cerebral palsy, uses a wheelchair, and a computer that works with his eye movements to communicate—they bully him and don’t include him when they play.

Ian wants the world to know that he and all the other kids like him can play, too, if others include them. “I can play and participate,” Ian said.

The film, to him, educates the children on the playground that he wants to play, and they can play with him. In animation, the film “Ian” shows that all children, disabled or not, are made of the same stuff.

Bigger than the Playground

Ian playing with a toy dinosaur on the playgroundWhen Ian’s mom, Sheila Graschinsky, saw how children who were not used to people with disabilities treated her son on the playground, she set to work to change their perceptions. She wrote a book called The Giftabout the daily life of a family that includes people with disabilities, which she handed out to children who bullied Ian, she told Variety. But handing out books on playgrounds would not have the wide impact she wanted.

For Graschinsky, the message of “Ian” extends far beyond swings and slides. The wordless plot of “Ian” is a boy struggling to achieve access to something he wants, something other children have readily available to them. People with disabilities regularly struggle for access to public spaces, jobs and social inclusion. The international attention the film is getting proves to Graschinsky that “a more inclusive world is possible.”

“The film is an opportunity for all society…to break down barriers, walls, and free us from prejudices,” Graschinsky said. The film was crafted to “guide [all children] to acquire concrete tools to be people of solidarity.”

“Ian” premiered at Cannes in May 2018. It was written by Gastón Gorali (Metegol/Underdogs), produced by Academy Award winner Juan José Campanella (The Secret in their Eyes) and Fundación ian, a nonprofit founded by Ian’s mom, whose mission is to make life better for families with disabilities. The mixed stop-motion and CGI animated film has won numerous awards internationally. “Ian” has also qualified for the Best Animated Short category in the 2019 Academy Awards.

Career Lessons from a Romance Writer: Robert Rudney on Life, Love and Pursing Your Career in D.C.

Bob Rudney with RespectAbility staff and Fellows in front of the RespectAbility banner

Robert Rudney with RespectAbility staff and Fellows

Rockville, Maryland, Nov. 13 – Disability advocate and author Robert Rudney had a fulfilling career in politics and advocacy. He began in the war field as a writer for the U.S. Air Force and later as a War Research Associate at University of Louvain in Belgium. Rudney was the Associate Intelligence Analyst at Booz Allen Hamilton, where he analyzed possible terrorist attacks and drug money laundering for the Department of Homeland Security. He publicized a report on employment opportunities for disabilities for the CEO of Booz Allen.

Noticeably, Rudney was the Chairman of EXCEL! Networking Group, a support group for jobseekers with disabilities. During his role, he hosted networking events, workshops and peer mentoring sessions. Rudney was a contributing writer for President Barack Obama’s Disability Power & Pride campaign. Rudney’s novel Lovers Lame about a steamy romance between a couple with disabilities has received positive reviews.

Today, he is retired and he still is consulting for jobseekers with disabilities. He stopped by the RespectAbility office to talk to the Fellows on making good impressions. [continue reading…]

How Congress is Working to Diversify its Staff: Lessons from Sam Flood, Diversity Initiative Research Aide

Speakers from the Senate Democratic Diversity Initiative with RespectAbility staff and Fellows in front of the RespectAbility banner

Speakers from the Senate Democratic Diversity Initiative with RespectAbility Staff and Fellows

Rockville, Maryland, Oct. 31 – Having the opportunity to work on Capitol Hill can seem like a prestigious honor that is out of reach for many, especially those who are part of minority groups such as members of the disabled community. However, the Senate Diversity Initiative (SDI) is working to ensure that congressional office staff is more inclusive of Americans across a spectrum of race, socioeconomic status, creed, sexual orientation and even disability. The hope is that this diversity can be accomplished by connecting Hill offices with skilled candidates who have diverse backgrounds through a managed database.

Sam Flood, the Diversity Initiative Research Aide, came to speak with the RespectAbility fellows about his program and how they can participate. Flood started with an overview of the Senate Diversity Initiative and then explained how a candidate can apply and what positions could be open for them. [continue reading…]

Senate Report Argues Outdated Laws Leave People with Disabilities Behind in Today’s Economy

U.S. Senate seal. Text: Disability Employment: Outdated Laws Leave People with Disabilities Behind in Today’s Economy Minority Staff ReportWashington D.C., Oct. 31 – During October 2018, U.S. Sen. Patty Murray (WA) and the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) wrote a report entitled “Outdated Laws Leave People with Disabilities Behind in Today’s Economy.”  The report claims that laws are not up to date with current disability employment policy and provides an update about the implementation of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) of 2014.

The report reflects on the modern legal landscape that directly supports the success of the 56 million Americans living with disabilities. Modern disability employment policy includes five laws: the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, the Genetic Non-Discrimination Act of 2008, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act of 2014, and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Underpinning the success of these laws is the legal framework created by the landmark 1999 decision made by the Supreme Court in Olmstead v. L.C. That decision calls for “the most integrated appropriate setting” also has critical consequences for efforts to get more people with disabilities into the workforce. Likewise, 36 states have passed Employment First laws which were created by state level policy makers to support competitive integrative employment for people with disabilities. [continue reading…]

ICare4Autism Brings Focus on Apprenticeships for People with Disabilities

iCare4Autism LogoThis October, to help celebrate National Disability Employment Awareness Month, ICare4Autism hosted its annual conference in Washington, D.C. The focus for this year’s conference was on apprenticeships for high school students with autism and other disabilities. The main takeaway from the conference is that autism can be a strength and even a desired trait for competitive integrated employment in the community.

What is an Apprenticeship?

Apprenticeships are work-based programs that combine schooling and work. People who go through apprenticeship programs can learn a trade in various fields such as construction, carpentry, gardening, recycling, computer coding, medicine or financial services. Students who graduate from an apprenticeship often go on to a secure, good paying job in the community.

What is iCare4Autism and Who Came to the Conference?

iCare4Autism is a nonprofit located in New York and works with students with autism. The CEO is Josh Weinstein, and the organization focuses on education and transitional services. Presenters emphasized competitive integrated employment, a term used for jobs with a living wage and opportunities for advancement. Competitive, integrated jobs are community based and integrate both people with and without disabilities in the same workplace.

Policymakers from the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP), Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) and The Texas Workforce Commission spoke about advancing opportunities for people with disabilities and best practices to promote employment success. Attending the conference was a diverse audience of doctors, educators, job coaches and nonprofit staff. Special guests also included Congressmen Don Beyer from Virginia and Donald M. Payne from New Jersey. [continue reading…]

Making a Difference with Andy Imparato

Andy Imparato with RespectAbility staff and Fellows in front of the RespectAbility banner

Andy Imparato with RespectAbility Staff and Fellows

Rockville, Maryland, Oct. 9 – Andy Imparato, Executive Director of the Association of University Centers on Disabilities, spoke to RespectAbility Fellows about disability policy and his own experience with Bipolar Disorder.

When asked by a Fellow about making an impact in a politically active, bustling city like Washington, D.C., Imparato replied, “Every individual has the capacity to make a difference.”

To do so, he spoke about three major themes to changing the scope of disability policy and advocacy: updating federal legislation such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), ensuring workers know their rights under law, and breaking the stigma by being open with disabilities in the workplace. All of these steps, he argued, are crucial to changing the way we think, debate and formulate disability policy. [continue reading…]

Vivian Bass: The Powerful and Necessary Bonds Between Nonprofit Staff and Board Members

Vivian Bass with RespectAbility Staff and Fellows in front of the RespectAbility banner

Vivian Bass with RespectAbility Staff and Fellows

Rockville, Maryland, Oct. 8 – After a successful career of more than 40 years as a nonprofit CEO, Vivian Bass, currently a board member of RespectAbility, visited the Fellows of RespectAbility’s National Leadership Program.  She shared her knowledge about nonprofit boards and gave advice on how to build better relationships between staff and board members.

As the former CEO of the Jewish Foundation for Group Homes, she has contributed greatly to the disability community, so it was only natural that she was one of our speakers. As young professionals, we still are navigating the workforce, struggling with networking and negotiating workplace conflicts. According to Bass, there are five characteristics that strengthen the bond between staff and board members in a nonprofit: mutual respect, no surprises, transparency, accountability and partnership. [continue reading…]

An Odyssey with Geoffrey Melada

Geoffrey Melada and RespectAbility Fellow Josh Goodrich in front of the RespectAbility banner

Geoffrey Melada and RespectAbility Fellow Josh Goodrich

Rockville, Md., Sept. 25 – In the Odyssey, Athena, goddess of wisdom, disguised herself as Mentor. As Mentor, she encouraged Telemachus to be strong and encouraged him to find out the true story of his father. The word “mentor” was adopted into the English language to describe someone who shares knowledge and wisdom to assist a person with less experience. Geoffrey Melada is an exemplary mentor. Melada was returning for his fifth time to share his knowledge and experiences with a new cohort of RespectAbility Fellows.

Melada, the Director of Communications for Hillel International, acted as a mentor in teaching  RespectAbility Fellows about storytelling while tasking them with a quest. He explained that storytelling is the key to success in business and many personal endeavors. After showing the Pixar short film, Piper, Melada asked the questing Fellows, “Why is this a good story?” [continue reading…]

From Passive to Active: Rodney Hood on Community Development for People with Disabilities

JP Morgan Chase's Rodney Hood with RespectAbility's Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi and Ben Spangenberg

JP Morgan Chase’s Rodney Hood with RespectAbility’s Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi and Ben Spangenberg

Rockville, Md. August 8 – Rodney E. Hood’s work to support the disability community began with the assignment to “figure out a way to go beyond passive mode at a gala.” Hood is the Corporate Responsibility Manager at JP Morgan Chase, which entails managing partnerships that promote sustainable community development in underserved communities, including those with disabilities. When Hood first came on as the manager, JP Morgan Chase had relationships with the National Deaf Association and the National Federal of the Blind and other organizations, but they did not extend much beyond the bank’s presence at their conferences.

Now, JP Morgan Chase sponsors people with disabilities to attend a variety of conferences, including accommodations, from the National Urban League to the events of other groups who are doing work that impact people with disabilities despite the fact that these voices may not always be present in the room. “We need to have everyone with a seat at the table,” said Hood. He said he is always thinking, “How do we make the playing field level?” [continue reading…]

Disability Legend Judy Heumann: Disability is a Diversity Issue

Judy Heumann with RespectAbility Fellows

Judy Heumann with RespectAbility Fellows

Washington, D.C., Aug. 7 – On an oppressively humid day, the RespectAbility National Leadership Fellows gathered around a table with disability rights icon Judy Heumann, who is most famous for her leadership of the 504 Sit In which was immortalized in a Drunk History segment. Heumann was generous with her time, answering questions from the Fellows about the disability movement and her hopes for the future.

Heumann pointed out over and over again that disability is a unique minority category. Disability intersects with all other minority groups, and anyone can join the disability community at any point in their lives. A combination of invisibility and stigma causes disability to be excluded from major activist movements, and those who might identify with and disclose a disability may elect not to. [continue reading…]

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