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Fellows Blog Series

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. [click to continue…]

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. [click to continue…]

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. [click to continue…]

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?” [click to continue…]

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?” [click to continue…]

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. [click to continue…]

Doreen Thomas of the T. Howard Foundation on Promoting Diversity in Media, “Difference” Empowers

Doreen Thomas with RespectAbility staff and Fellows

Doreen Thomas with RespectAbility staff and Fellows

Rockville, Md., July 26 – Doreen Thomas, the Assistant Manager of the Internship Program at The T. Howard Foundation, a nonprofit organization located in Silver Spring, MD, spoke to the RespectAbility Fellows about how the foundation promotes diversity in media and entertainment industries by showing that “difference” empowers.

Through comprehensive programs for diverse, underrepresented and underserved college students, the T. Howard Foundation promotes diversity in media and entertainment by increasing the number of diverse and underrepresented communities within the industry. In 2014, the T. Howard Foundation had a record-breaking 97 minority students interning at 34 media companies across the country. The Foundation’s internship program gives interns industry knowledge, professional development, and makes them aware of career opportunities within the industry. [click to continue…]

Richard Phillips Teaches RespectAbility Fellows about Leadership

Richard Phillips speaks with RespectAbility Fellows

Richard Phillips speaks with RespectAbility Fellows

Rockville, Maryland, July 25 – In a world full of spin and disinformation, Richard Phillips, the Chair of Pilot Freight Services, has a refreshing level of clarity that’s hard to find. After the decline in the health of his father, Phillips left his political work in Washington, D.C., to return to his father’s company to rebuild it from the ground up with a foundation in transparency. His journey with his own family, his father and the reconstruction of his father’s work taught him the truth behind leadership: projects succeed through teamwork and not through the decisions of one single leader. He shared these lessons with RespectAbility’s Summer 2018 class of National Leadership Fellows. Phillips argues that leadership is an overused often misunderstood term.  Once you accept that decisions are best made and executed by groups, and not individuals, then true leadership can begin.

The first thing that you notice about Richard Phillips Jr. is his candor. When talking about his father, Phillips does not shy away from being truthful about his father’s unyielding and commanding nature while also describing the great amount of respect he holds for his father and his accomplishments. After working with the company through a difficult transition, Phillips Sr. began to buy in until he was the owner. When he began to develop Multiple System Atrophy, a type of slow-progressing ALS, he reached out to Phillips Jr. to return to Pennsylvania and take over. Phillips then learned what leadership truly was if only through how he diametrically opposed his father’s style of leadership. [click to continue…]

Gary C. Norman’s Advice on Inclusion

Gary Norman with RespectAbility Fellows

Gary C. Norman with RespectAbility Fellows

Rockville, Md., July 16 – “There’s power and value in disability, and power and value in working with disability, ” said Gary C. Norman, an attorney, a convener and a public man with a dog partner, whom RespectAbility Fellows welcomed for a lunch time conversation. He mentioned the idea of ancient Rome and their concept of the private man (now woman) and public leader, and his role in this as a person partnered with a service animal. Whether working on disputes regarding service dogs, or working in the nonprofit sector, or meeting with large institutions, such as NATO, Norman believes that, if you want to advance inclusion, then find a niche you care about and create impact. [click to continue…]

Debra Ruh: “We’re better when we’re together”

Debra Ruh with RespectAbility staff and Fellows

Debra Ruh with RespectAbility staff and Fellows

Rockville, Maryland, July 10 – Debra Ruh’s expression of “we’re better when we’re together” is not only a Jack Johnson song, but the encompassing message given to RespectAbility Fellows. On this warm July morning, Ruh made a lasting impact on these future leaders. She actively believes in the influence of the coming generations, promoting the power of the internet and of young leaders to bring about global difference. In her talk with the Fellows, she advocated inclusion as the key to changing the world. Not only did she want to include people with disabilities, but also young people and the greater world’s communities. She made it clear that coming together as one, our voices are made stronger and louder.

As the CEO and founder of Ruh Global Communications, an internationally recognized keynote speaker, a global influencer and a published author, Ruh’s long list of achievements comes with numerous lessons learned and experiences had. In her passion for inclusion, she noted social media as one of the most powerful tools. Social media is a tool for unity, she said, noting it allows for anyone to join the conversation. It allows anyone to have a voice. And, it allows anyone to make a difference. It is an easily accessible and free tool that gives each person a platform to take a deliberate stance. [click to continue…]

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