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Fellows Blog Series

Building Leadership and Adding Value

Advice from Special Assistant to the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Ollie Cantos

All of the fellows and staff standing in a large group against the wall with the RespectAbility logo all over it

Ollie Cantos with RespectAbility Fellows and Staff

Rockville, Md., Aug. 22 – Ollie Cantos is a blind Filipino-American who currently serves in public service under President Donald J. Trump as Special Assistant to the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education.

“People with disabilities: we all have things we want to do”

During a lunch with RespectAbility’s Summer Fellows, Cantos shared a compelling story about his journey toward embracing his disability as a part of his identity, admitting that he originally considered his visual impairment a “minor” obstacle that he tried to hide. In spite of his obstacles, he eventually became the highest-ranking person with a disability in the U.S. federal government and an avid advocate for the disability sector.

His work as a civil rights attorney, the General Counsel & Director of Programs for the American Association of People with Disabilities, as Special Assistant and later Special Counsel to the Assistant Attorney General in the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, the Associate Director of the Domestic Policy Council at the White House under President George W. Bush, and many other roles, has contributed immensely to empowering individuals with disabilities.

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Change How You See, See How You Change

An Interactive Session with Photographer Rick Guidotti

Rick Guidotti taking a selfie of himself taking a picture of RespectAbility staff and Fellows

Rick Guidotti in front of RespectAbility staff and Fellows

Rockville, Md., Aug. 22 – Rick Guidotti, an award-winning photographer, visited with RespectAbility Fellows earlier this summer and spent the day taking our portraits.

Guidotti became restless of societal standards of beauty after taking pictures of supermodels for renowned publications such as Elle and LIFE magazine.

“I was always told every single day who was beautiful, I was forced within certain parameters,” Guidotti said.

Rick Guidotti stands at the front of the room while fellows sit and listen to him speak

Rick Guidotti speaking to the Fellows

Instead of waiting for society to acknowledge other forms of beauty, Guidotti created Positive Exposure, a nonprofit organization dedicated to advocating for people living with genetic, physical, behavioral and intellectual differences.

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Importance of Diversity on Television

Real-Life Lessons from Real World Creator Jonathan Murray

All of the fellows and staff standing in a large group against the wall with the RespectAbility logo all over it

Jonathan Murray with RespectAbility Fellows and Staff

Rockville, Md., Aug. 22 – Jonathan Murray is widely credited for being the father of reality television and creative hand behind some of the most successful reality shows ever made. He has nurtured the reality TV industry, and over time has created a space where underrepresented groups and individuals can be recognized and appreciated.

When Murray took the risk of putting a diverse group of real people on TV in his first show, The Real World, in 1992, he facilitated progress in the diversity agenda.

Jonathan Murray speaking to RespectAbility Fellows

Jonathan Murray speaking to RespectAbility Fellows

He captured something new and something real that no one was used to seeing because of his own life experiences. Murray grew up in an area that did not have much diversity.

“The first time I saw someone who looked different from me was on TV,” Murray said, illustrating the importance of showing diverse individuals on television.

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A Glance into Disability from a Parent’s Perspective

A Conversation with Morna Murray

All of the fellows and staff standing in a large group against the wall with the RespectAbility logo all over it

Morna Murray with RespectAbility Fellows and Staff

Rockville, Md., Aug. 22 – Morna A. Murray became acquainted with the disability advocacy world through her journey of motherhood. She has two adult children, one of whom happens to have a developmental disability.

“Being his mother has formed my work and helped develop my interest,” said Murray.

For years, Murray worked as a lawyer focusing on children and vulnerable populations. After her son was born and experienced developmental delays, she felt an increasing draw to service in advocating through public policy initiatives concerning disabilities.

“I guess you could say I did things backwards,” Murray explained. “ I started working in the private sector and worked my way toward the Hill.”

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Staying Post Partisan While Advocating for Disability Rights

Learning from The Jewish Federations of North America’s William Daroff

All of the fellows and staff standing in a large group against the wall with the RespectAbility logo all over it

William Daroff with RespectAbility Fellows and Staff

Rockville, Md., Aug. 21 – “We need people on both sides of the aisle to champion disability issues,” William Daroff told RespectAbility Fellows last month.

William Daroff speaking to RespectAbility Fellows

William Daroff speaking to RespectAbility Fellows

Daroff is a senior vice president for public policy and director of The Jewish Federations of North America. He works to ensure that the Federations’ public policy work is post partisan and post ideological and as close to the middle line of the road as possible. Throughout his career, he has played politics on both sides of the aisle and recognizes the importance of disability not becoming a partisan issue.

Daroff understands the challenges that student with disabilities face. Throughout his work, he has brought the violations of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and lack of accommodation and consideration to the table for serious discussions.

“It is unfortunate that there needs to be a personal linkage to the disability world for people to take action,” Daroff said, recognizing the importance of relating to people.

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Disability as a Philanthropic Niche

A Conversation with the Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation’s Kevin Webb

All of the fellows and staff standing in a large group against the wall with the RespectAbility logo all over it

Kevin Webb with RespectAbility Fellows and Staff

Rockville, Md., Aug. 21 – Armed with a long history in nonprofit work, Kevin Webb gave a group of RespectAbility National Leadership Fellows key information about the Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation (MEAF). Not only is he donating his time to speak to and empower a group of young disability advocates, but he also is representing one of the few foundations that focuses its grantmaking toward youth with disabilities. The match is unparalleled.

He describes a picture on his powerpoint to make it more accessible for visually impaired attendees: “Here we have [an example of the employee volunteer program in which] people with disabilities work alongside employee volunteers installing solar panels for low income housing.”

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The Value of Being Unbiased

Lessons from USA Today’s Richard Wolf

Richard Wolf pictured with RespectAbility Fellows and staff seated and standing in front of a RespectAbility banner

Richard Wolf speaking to RespectAbility Fellows and Staff

Rockville, Md., Aug. 6 – In a country where two political parties constantly battle for power, it can be difficult for some to choose a side. One might wonder why it is so hard, given the sheer amount of news sources we have at our fingertips. Many news sources tend to have a specific political party leaning, therefore ultimately having a biased opinion when it comes to their stories. It has become almost impossible to find an unbiased news outlet, leaving little to no room for people to formulate their own opinions about an issue or idea. Although it is rare to find an unbiased journalist these days, it is not impossible to do. Richard Wolf is the perfect example of this.

Richard Wolf has been a USA Today reporter and editor for three decades, covering all three branches of the federal government. He has been the Supreme Court correspondent since 2012. Wolf covered the White House during the Bush and Obama administrations, traveling with and interviewing both presidents. He spent a decade reporting on Congress, as well as five years as the newspaper’s congressional editor. In addition, Wolf has reported on the federal budget and economics, health care and welfare policy, state and local governments and national politics.

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Finding Your Place in the Melting Pot of Diversity

A Conversation with the Council on Foundation’s Floyd Mills

Floyd Mills pictures with the whole RespectAbility team, so the staff, and all of the fellows are posed in front of the wall that has the RespectAbility logo printed on it. The photo is in color.

Floyd Mills with RespectAbility Fellows and Staff

Rockville, Md., Aug. 2 – Growing up, Floyd Mills, the vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion for the Council on Foundations, pictured his dream job in any field but diversity. Yet, Mills has been promoting workplace diversity and inclusion for the past two decades.

Everyone’s path is different,” Mills said. “This is just my story.”

Image of a few fellows sitting at the conference room table. Mills is resting his elbow on the table and the fellows' computers and laptops are visible on the table.

Floyd Mills speaking to the Fellows

Upon graduation at the University of Maryland, College Park, Mills started his career with Accenture, where he specialized in informational technology. Working for Accenture gave Mills the chance to travel around the country and the world. Living and working in Atlanta, San Francisco, London and Melbourne provided Mills with amazing experiences. Upon being assigned to a city that, for Mills, did not offer the same level of appeal, he realized that the job was not his passion and made the decision to pursue a position elsewhere. His job search led him to apply for a Human Resource position at the same firm. Little did Mills know that application would completely alter his career path in the long-term.

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No Pity: Employment Advice for People with Disabilities

Learning from the Office of Personnel Management’s Michael Murray

Michael Murray with Fellows sitting and standing around him

Michael Murray with RespectAbility Fellows and Staff

Rockville, Md., Aug. 2 – “My father was a great father not in spite of his disability but in part because of his disability.”

Michael Murray’s involvement in the disability community stems from his personal and unforgettable childhood experiences. After sharing a touching story about his memories with his father, as well as revealing his own confrontation with a disability, Murray told the fellows: “My disability, although it came with struggles, brought value into my life.”

Since then, he has become a committed and respected advocate for people with disabilities.

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Leaving Life in a Better Place Than We Found It

Advice from Jewish Family Service’s Linda Burger

Judith Creed and Linda Burger with the fellows sitting and standing around them

Linda Burger with RespectAbility Fellows and Staff

Rockville, Md., July 26 – Channeling her humble demeanor and the Jewish values she was raised with, Linda Burger has grown to be a leading ambassador for disability in the Jewish community of Houston, Texas. Burger believes in the Jewish thought that all people are created B’tzelem Elohim (In God’s Image) and as inhabitants of this earth, it is our responsibility to “leave life in a better place than when we found it.”

Through these ideals and morals, Burger has devoted her professional life to shaping significant social service programs that work toward eliminating stigma associated with disability and mental health issues. Burger is the current CEO of Jewish Family Service (JFS) of Houston, expanding the agency’s resources and ability to respond to safety net basic needs, community emergencies and individuals who need ongoing help with counseling and other services.

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