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Fellows Blog Series

A Reflection on Truth and Acceptance: When Fear Finds a Home

Headshot of Daniel in professional dress


It has never been a struggle for me to open up about who I am. In fact, the countless compliments I receive of “you’re so introspective” from peers and adult figures reassured me over the years that I was a certified expert at introspection. I told myself every morning the summer before my freshmen year at college that I had dug and filled all the holes inside me. Had I known I would struggle with depression and anxiety my first two years of college, I would have dug deeper.

I thought it was ignorance at first, but then I told myself “How could I have known any better.” I loved men, not women, and there was no mistaking it. On a tear-filled phone call with my parents on my 20th birthday sophomore year, I told my parents I was gay. I strongly sensed that they’d be accepting, but nonetheless I still had my anxieties and doubts. Once I heard their I-love-you-regardless-of-who-you-love speeches, I felt calmness in my heart. The truth was out there, and I felt brilliant. [click to continue…]

Learning About Myself and Coming Into My Own

Headshot of Lily in professional dress in front of RespectAbility banner


Growing up, I never knew that being gay was an option. Sure, I would see the occasional couple in public, or overhear something on the radio, but I knew who I was. I was a girl, and girls liked boys. I was naturally drawn to women. All my idols were high achieving girls, and I had intensely personal friendships with girls my age. Looking back, this early conflict between my concept of what I should be, and the person I was rapidly becoming was surely a major aspect of the mental health struggles I would come to face as I grew older. [click to continue…]

At the Intersection of Deafness, Queerness and Being an Asian-American Woman

Headshot of Kaity in a suit in front of the Respectability banner


Hello, my name is Kaity, I am Asian-American, and I identify as pansexual and demisexual. Pansexual refers to someone who is attracted to all genders beyond the binary male and female genders, including genderfluid and transgender individuals. Demisexual refers to someone who does not feel a sexual attraction unless an emotional connection is established first. I also am profoundly Deaf in both ears and have cochlear implants.

I came out in November of 2016 a day after President Donald Trump was elected. I posted on Facebook saying that I was bisexual. Bisexual refers to one that is attracted to men and women only. I used the term bisexual because I knew that most of my friends and family would not know what pansexual was. My friends and extended family responded in a positive and supportive manner. My parents already knew I was pansexual. [click to continue…]

Gay and on the Autism Spectrum: My Experience Growing Up in the Closet

Eric Ascher headshot against RespectAbility banner

Eric Ascher

Early in the eighth grade, one of my friends posted a video on Facebook using the webcam on his computer and lots of visual effects as a fun waste of time. I decided to steal his idea, making a silly little video that I intended for just my friends to see. This one decision to make and upload a video changed everything.

I did not have the right privacy settings turned on, so anyone could view my profile if they wanted to. Naturally, two of the school bullies found the video, downloaded it and re-uploaded it to YouTube with the comments section turned on. One person wrote “Eric is a r***rd that goes to my school.” As someone who is on the autism spectrum, that really hurt. Other people would walk up to me in the hallway, quoting lines from the video and would just laugh at me. It was horrible, and while I do not think about the situation anymore, I could not stop thinking about it for a long time. This was just one incident in a long personal history of being marginalized and bullied. [click to continue…]

Lenny Larsen: “Get out there and be the change you want to see”

Lenny Larsen with RespectAbility staff and Fellows in front of the RespectAbility banner

Lenny Larsen with RespectAbility staff and Fellows

Rockville, Maryland, May 4 – As a National Leadership Fellow, I have had the opportunity to hear from guest speakers throughout my semester with RespectAbility. One of our most recent guests, Lenny Larsen (an internationally recognized producer and director from Los Angeles), provided particular inspiration and advice for my life.

Larsen is a man of many talents. While serving as the executive producer/creative director for theme park projects throughout the world, he simultaneously was maintaining a second career as an internationally competitive springboard and platform diver with eyes focused on 2016 Olympic trials. Then the unthinkable happened. A trampolining accident resulted in a catastrophic spinal cord injury, rendering him paralyzed from the neck down and dependent on a ventilator to breathe. [click to continue…]

Eleanor Clift: Importance of Raising Awareness for the Disability Community

Eleanor Clift and RespectAbility's Spring 2018 Fellows

Eleanor Clift and RespectAbility’s Spring 2018 Fellows

Rockville, Maryland, April 18 – In a visit to RespectAbility’s office Eleanor Clift spoke to the National Leadership Fellows about the current administration, growing up during the Civil Rights Movement and race-related issues.

Clift is a well known columnist for The Daily Beast and an author; she was previously a reporter at Newsweek for 50 years of her life. She also has appeared in many movies and is a board member of RespectAbility. [click to continue…]

Dana Marlowe: Ensuring Online Accessibility For All

RespectAbility Board Member Dana Marlowe and RespectAbility Fellow Eric Ascher smiling in front of the RespectAbility banner

Dana Marlowe and RespectAbility Fellow Eric Ascher

Rockville, Maryland, April 12 – “Nine years ago this week.”

For Dana Marlowe and her staff at Accessibility Partners, those five words are cause for celebration. Over the past nine years, Accessibility Partners has advised clients big and small, in the government and in the private sector. The Kennedy Center, the U.S. Department of Labor, Amazon, Coca-Cola, Dell, Intel and LinkedIn all have turned to her team for advice on how to make their websites and software accessible to the one-in-five Americans with a disability. [click to continue…]

Geoffrey Melada: The power of storytelling to build your brand

Geoffrey Melada with RespectAbility Staff and Spring 2018 Fellows in front of the RespectAbility banner

Geoffrey Melada with RespectAbility staff and Fellows

Rockville, Maryland, April 10 – In his third time speaking to RespectAbility’s National Leadership Fellows, Geoffrey Melada, Director of Communications for Hillel International and a former journalist and trial lawyer, said the key to building a successful brand is storytelling.

The same goes for companies as for individuals. Melada told the Fellows that everyone in the room had something in common: being brand ambassadors for RespectAbility and our interest in disability inclusion. [click to continue…]

Aaron Dorfman: Serving the Public Good, not Private Interests

Aaron Dorfman with RespectAbility staff and Fellows in front of the RespectAbility banner

Aaron Dorfman with RespectAbility staff and Fellows

Rockville, Maryland, March 20 – Aaron Dorfman, the President and CEO of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP), visited RespectAbility to talk about integrity and transparency in philanthropy, its benefits, and how to make it diverse and inclusive. NCRP is a research and advocacy organization that makes sure grantmakers are responsive to the needs of those with less opportunity.

Dorfman speaks and writes on diversity, equity, inclusion philanthropy, accountability in the philanthropic sector and the benefits of advocating for community organizing. He has 15 years of experience as a community organizer, a BA in Political Science from Carleton College, and a MA in Philanthropic Studies from Indiana University. He is also a Board Member of The Center for Popular Democracy. [click to continue…]

Michael Murray: Advice for Job Applicants with Disabilities

Michael Murray and RespectAbility Spring 2018 Fellows in front of the RespectAbility banner

Michael Murray with RespectAbility staff and Fellows

Rockville, Maryland, March 16 – In a presentation to RespectAbility staff and Fellows, Michael Murray spoke about the world of disabilities, employment opportunities and overcoming stigma as a person with a disability. Murray is the Director of the Employer Policy Team at the Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy. He happens to have more than one disability and is passionate about advancing opportunities for people with disabilities joining the workforce.

Murray shared his experiences growing up with dyslexia as a child. He eventually learned to read and write thanks to his own dad. He spoke about how he saw his disability as a positive factor and his motivation to strive for success as a person living with a disability. His dad, who also had a disability, was very encouraging growing up. His father inspired him and served as a great role model; he was very accepting and loving toward him. He encouraged Michael to run because he knew that’s what he loved. Even though his had chronic fatigue syndrome, he joined Murray on his first 5k race. [click to continue…]

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