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Fellows Blog Series

Breaking Out of Inequitable Practices in America

A conversation with Professor Steven Eidelman on the sheltered workshops movement, the value of work and the importance of enforcing the rights for people with disabilities

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

Steven Eidelman with RespectAbility Fellows and Staff

Rockville, Md., Sept. 8 – “What do you do?” Professor Steven Eidelman identifies this as one of first questions many of us Americans ask or get asked when we meet a person for the first time. He links this question to the way we define work in our country and how it affects the way we view others, especially those with disabilities.

People who work contribute and find meaning in life; unfortunately, not all people work in America, he said. Eidelman’s impassioning spirit encouraged RespectAbility Fellows to step up as advocates as he talked about the journey of workforce integration for people with disabilities. It is a journey that he has witnessed and participated in throughout his life that has yet to achieve full integration.

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How and Why Did Cambodians Settle in Long Beach, California

The unveiling of "Cambodia Town" official street sign in Long Beach, California

The unveiling of “Cambodia Town” official street sign in Long Beach, California

Long Beach, Calif., Sept. 20 – Today, there are about 320,000 Cambodian Americans in the United States. California has the highest population of Cambodian Americans with an estimate of 118,000 people. Long Beach, California has the largest and oldest Cambodian community in the nation with at least 20,000 people.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Cambodia and the United States created a program for Cambodian students to attend California colleges and universities. The students learned about agriculture, industrial arts and engineering. After students completed their degrees, they returned to Cambodia. When Cambodia ended diplomatic relations with the United States in the mid-1960s, the program ended as well. However, several students decided to remain in the United States permanently. When the first wave of Cambodian refugees came to the United States at Camp Pendleton, California, which was 70 miles south of Long Beach, the former students visited the refugees. The former students brought them meals and supplies; they ended up sponsoring refugees to earn their citizenship and to help them adjust to life in a foreign country. This student support system resulted in the formation of the Cambodian Association of America, which attracted subsequent refugees who came to Long Beach after the Cambodian genocide because of the Association’s ability to help the refugees adapt to life in the United States.

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Investing in Inclusive Growth

JPMorgan’s Chase & Co., Corporate Responsibility Manager, Rodney E. Hood, talks about his efforts that are advancing successful disability inclusion.

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

Rodney Hood with RespectAbility Fellows and Staff

Rockville, Md., Sept. 6 – You may be familiar with the phrase, “nothing about us, without us,” a powerful message that symbolizes the disability rights movement and stance on disability inclusion. However, more than two decades have passed and disability oppression still is present today. It is relevant that acknowledging a problem and its solution does not compare to doing something about it, Rodney E. Hood shared with RespectAbility Fellows.

Rodney Hood speaking to RespectAbility Fellows seated around a large brown table

Rodney Hood and RespectAbility Fellow Ricky Rendon

“People with disabilities need to be present because it’s the right thing that needs to happen,” said Hood, who joined RespectAbility Fellows on the day before Independence Day.

Despite his impressive career as a banker and policy maker, Hood takes most pride in his work engaging in the disability space around financial inclusion. An opportunity he says began by saying “yes” to the question, “Would you have an interest in doing this?” has turned into a job he is deeply passionate about and invested in.

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How to Make Real Change: Philanthropy & Nonprofit

Learning from Meyer Foundation Program Officer Julian A. Haynes

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

Julian A. Haynes with RespectAbility Fellows and Staff

Rockville, Md., Sept. 6 – How is it that income for Wisconsin’s wealthiest one percent grew by 120 percent between 1979 and 2013, while the income for the remaining 99 percent grew by just 4 percent? Why is it that 12.8 percent, twice the national average of 6.7 percent, of Wisconsin’s African-American men are incarcerated in state prison or local jails while only 1.24 percent of white men are imprisoned? More importantly, how can I help solve these problems of inequality?

Julian A. Haynes speaking to RespectAbility Fellows seated around a large brown table

Julian A. Haynes speaking to RespectAbility Fellows

The courage to ask these uncomfortable questions is what led Julian A. Haynes, a passionate advocate from Madison, Wisconsin, to pursue work focused on addressing the unfortunate reality of racial and economic disparities.

Haynes began his work in the nonprofit sector as a project coordinator with the United Way of Dane County in Madison, Wisconsin where he worked to ensure county residents had ready access to a variety of social services and programming. He later continued his career as a program associate on the education team at the Kresge Foundation, and then as an associate director of programs and policy at Achieving the Dream, a national reform network dedicated to community college student success and completion. He is currently a program officer at the Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Foundation.

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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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