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Fellows Blog Series

Rep. Bartlett Challenges RespectAbility Fellows to Take Charge of Their Lives

Rockville, Maryland, April 22 – One of the political visionaries behind the Americans with Disabilities Act, former Congressman Steve Bartlett, visited a new cohort of RespectAbility Fellows to discuss vision of a different sort. Bartlett also is chairman of RespectAbility, a nonprofit that fights stigmas and advances opportunities so people with disabilities can fully participate in all aspects of community.

“I challenge you to think about what you want your life to be like, feel like, and how you want it to be structured, ten years from today,” Rep. Bartlett said. “Then peel that back to ninety days. And if that’s how you want your life to be in the next ninety days, why would you spend any resources today that don’t take you to that purpose?”

And part of that purpose, he advised, should be to serve others by fighting against stigmas and helping people with disabilities find employment. They are challenges Bartlett met by co-sponsoring the ADA, and that the new RespectAbility Fellows have tried to meet over the past several months. [continue reading…]

Jewish Family Services of Houston’s Linda Burger Seeks to Eliminate Deaths By Suicide

headshot of Linda Burger, who is smiling and wearing dangly earrings and a chunky necklace and a stripy shirt color photoRockville, Maryland, April 14 – Since 1999, the United States has seen an increase in the number of suicide-related deaths by 30 percent, according to a study conducted in 2018 by the Center for Disease Control. Along with these disheartening statistics, is the fact that only half of the people who died by suicide had diagnosed mental health conditions. Linda Burger believes the solution should be a support net for every individual to have in case of a mental health crisis. Over the past five years, Burger led Jewish Family Service Houston to establish programs to strengthen support from prevention to postvention through the establishment of evidenced based best practice programs and services.

Earlier this year, Burger spoke to RespectAbility Fellows about the stigmas surrounding mental illness and, in particular, death by suicide or overdose. Her presentation revolved around her work with the Jewish Family Services of Houston (JFS), of which she has been CEO since 2005. She presented the numerous programs JFS has created or implemented for her community in Houston. [continue reading…]

I See What You Cannot See

Baksha Ali smiling holding her white cane with a large forest in the distance behind her“Just because a man lacks the use of his eyes doesn’t mean he lacks vision.” – Stevie Wonder

Okay, so I am not a man, and this is a piece for Women’s History Month, but I love this quote because it’s a reminder that my blindness does not define me or my vision. Honestly, in some way, my blindness makes me stronger and more resilient because I have to work harder. My blindness puts me more in touch with my other senses.

I was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP) when I was five years old, so my parents left Bangladesh, their family, and their livelihood to come to America in search of a cure. They never considered that they might remain in the U.S., but gave up going back home, as they realized that the hope of finding a cure for RP was better here than overseas. Unfortunately, there was no cure to be found then nor now, here nor there.

So, I always knew that I might lose my vision one day. However, knowing and experiencing something is completely different and it took some time to change my outlook on life. As a woman with a disability, it can be a bit overwhelming sometimes. I mean, did you know that 80% of woman with a disability are victims of abuse and rape? That’s really high – and scary. So, I don’t trust people easily, despite my friendly personality. [continue reading…]

Ash Williams shares inclusive practices so the trans community gets the best out of their Fellowship at RespectAbility

Ash Williams with RespectAbility staff and Fellows in front of the RespectAbility banner

Ash Williams with RespectAbility Staff and Fellows

Rockville, Maryland, January 24 – Gender education is necessary to creating an inclusive and safe space free of hatred where trans people can fully participate in their place of work. Ash Williams visited RespectAbility and delivered a three-hour long training on the importance of gender-based terminology, pronouns, advocacy, inclusion and intersectionality.

Williams divided us into four groups to talk about gender-based terminology. Each group was given two words and the groups shared what those words meant to them. Words included transition, cis, transphobia, trans-misogyny, and trans. Ash recalled multiple workshops where people had hesitation over how words were defined for them so this activity expresses the importance of gender terminology being used contextually and not in a vacuum defined by others.

At RespectAbility it is common for people to introduce themselves with their names and pronouns at meetings, a practice that was put in place earlier this year prior to this Fellowship cohort. When someone asked about not being asked to identify their pronouns – in this situation because this individual was fluid in the pronouns this individual chose to use on any given day – Williams shared the importance of increasing choice by asking future Fellows to “share your pronouns if you want to.” Williams also added that the word “preferred” should never be used when asking for pronouns because a person’s pronouns are the only way they can be addressed. Using “preferred” waters down the importance and makes it harder for trans people to be present in the room. Williams also advised adding “is there anything else you want us to know about you so we can better support you” to our accommodation request forms. [continue reading…]

Super Talent Sneha Dave Sets Standards for the Future

Fellowship Alumna Sneha Dave Creates Network for Teens and Young Adults with Chronic Health Conditions

Sneha Dave smiling

Sneha Dave

Rockville, Maryland, Jan. 15 – Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa, was just another obstacle in the road for Sneha Dave. But reaching the summit – more than 16,000 feet above the plateau – was all the more challenging for Sneha, who has had a chronic and often debilitating disease since childhood.

When Sneha was six years old, she was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, a chronic condition that affects the large intestine and often leads to surgery to remove the inflamed organ. The disease caused Sneha (which her mother told her means “someone that you love a lot”) to miss much of middle school and high school as she underwent several surgical procedures.

“I was more of a fulltime patient than I was a fulltime student at that time,” says the now 21-year-old senior at the University of Indiana in the Hutton Honors College. [continue reading…]

Larry Lipman: Starting Small in Journalism Pays Big Dividends in Impact

Larry Lipman with RespectAbility staff and Fellows in front of the RespectAbility banner, all smiling

Larry Lipman with RespectAbility Staff and Fellows

Rockville, Md., November 25 ‒ Larry Lipman had a lengthy career in political reporting that gave him connections and opportunities to see change happen. Speaking to RespectAbility Fellows, Lipman stressed that if you start small in your field, you can gain necessary skillsets to make an impact moving forward.

He served as a reporter for several small newspapers including the Fredrick News-Post, between 1972 and 1974, and as editor for The Montgomery County News. From 1974 to 1984, Lipman was a reporter for the Orlando Sentinel covering city hall and the state capital.

From 1984 to 2008, Lipman served as the Washington Bureau Chief of The Palm Beach Post, covering Washington, D.C., news on issues related to aging, health care policy, drug smuggling, immigration and the environment.  He then spent 10 years as an editor for the AARP Bulletin and AARP the Magazine. [continue reading…]

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…]

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