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Fellows Blog Series

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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Leadership: Empathy, Failure, Respect

Lessons from David Trone, Founder of Total Wine & More

David Trone with Fellows sitting and standing around him

David Trone with RespectAbility Fellows and Staff

Rockville, Md., July 25 – David Trone, the founder and owner of Total Wine & More strode into RespectAbility’s office along with his assistant, Eric. Trone shone coming down the hallway with a bright canary yellow tie and a full head of glistening salt and pepper hair, a little more salt than pepper these days. As Trone made his way to his seat at the head of the table, he personally greeted RespectAbility fellows and staff.

Trone and his brother, Robert, created the largest U.S. alcohol retailer more than 25 years ago. On July 10, 2017, he joined RespectAbility Fellows and staff to share his advice on leadership, philanthropy, service, and his nephew’s struggles with opiate addiction and the impact on his family. Recently, following his nephew’s overdose, Trone published an important and potentially life-saving op-ed on the opioid crisis.

Leadership and emerging leaders have become passions of the Trone brothers in recent years.

“We have to recognize each person’s skills and what they can offer to society,” Trone said. “We are all leaders in different ways, not just the captain of the football team. Each person can offer their own perspective to help move us all together in society as a team.”

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Listening is an Act of Compassion

Advice from Bipartisan Policy Center’s Calvin Harris

Calvin Harris with Fellows sitting and standing around him

Calvin Harris with with RespectAbility Fellows and Staff

Rockville, Md., July 25 – As a native from St. Louis, Missouri, Calvin Harris is no stranger to disability advocacy. Harris’ mother worked in the neuromuscular lab at the Washington University School of Medicine, which created a path for Harris’ passions for disability advocacy. Harris volunteered with disability groups, most notably, serving as a camp counselor for the Muscular Dystrophy Association’s Camp for Kids, where he befriended many kids with MD.

Calvin Harris smiling and facing the camera with crossed arms and wearing a striped tie color photo

Calvin Harris, RespectAbility Chairman

“The work of RespectAbility is critical to ensuring that my friends from MDA Camp, as well as the 56 million Americans living with a disability, have an opportunity to participate in all aspects of our community,” said Harris, who became the Chair of RespectAbility’s board earlier this month.

As the current senior manager of public affairs at the Bipartisan Policy Center, Harris has not strayed too far from disability advocacy. He was the first treasurer of RespectAbility and continues to embody the spirit of an advocate. As treasurer, Harris oversaw fundraising efforts, approved budgets and ensured the organization was compliant with state laws and regulations. As a new set of board of directors and advisors transitioned earlier this month, it was Harris’ spirit and dedication to ensuring opportunity for people with disabilities that propelled him to become the new chairman of RespectAbility.

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The Value of Listening

Learning from The Gates Foundation’s Pras Ranaweera

Pras Ranaweera with all the fellows sitting and standing around her

Pras Ranaweera with RespectAbility Fellows and Staff

Rockville, Md., July 21 – “People love to talk about themselves, but it is more important to listen,” Pras Ranaweera expressed to a room full of energized RespectAbility Fellows.

Ranaweera practiced her sage advice by using the majority of time to hear personal stories and suggestions from the Fellows and staff. She listened to their experiences with inclusion in the public and private school systems. During the sharing session, Ranaweera carefully took notes, demonstrating her commitment to promoting the next generation of leaders – the most treasured part of her work at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

As the Senior Portfolio Officer of K-12 Education at the Gates Foundation, Ranaweera is able to impact the lives of young people nationally on a daily basis. Prior to her work with the foundation, she served as Chief of Staff for Data and Accountability at D.C Public Schools where she was quickly promoted to Deputy Chief of Assessments. There, she oversaw the district’s assessment portfolio for more than 40,000 students, managed 115 schools’ transition to online PARCC testing, overhauled the district’s student report cards and oversaw the collection and reporting of timely, accurate data on student achievement for the district.

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Using Technology to Improve Accessibility

Conversation with Dana Marlowe of Accessibility Partners

Dana Marlowe with the Respectability fellows standing and sitting around her

Dana Marlowe with RespectAbility Fellows and Staff

Rockville, Md., July 21 – “Accessibility is the nexus of where people with disabilities interface with technology,” said Dana Marlowe, an architect of inclusion and accessibility. She spoke with the RespectAbility Fellows on July 5, 2017 on the importance of including people with disabilities in technology’s use and development.

In addition to being a member of the RespectAbility Board of Advisors, Marlowe is the principal partner and co-founder of Accessibility Partners LLC, which is an accessibility advocacy and IT consulting firm. They hire people with disabilities to audit a variety of technology products created by their clients to ensure how usable they are to people with disabilities. It’s a productive cycle that empowers people with disabilities at all levels.

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Fail at Something at Least Once

Advice from Political Fundraiser Fran Katz Watson

Fran Watson with Fellows sitting and standing around her

Fran Katz Watson with RespectAbility Fellows and Staff

Rockville, Md., July 20 – Fran Katz Watson, founder and president of The Katz Watson Group, has known since she was young that she has wanted to change the world. In college, Katz Watson recalls pleading with her political science professor after feeling compelled to move to Washington, D.C., to become involved in politics.

After a summer of interning in D.C., Katz Watson remembers “catching the political bug,” causing her to rearrange her schedule her senior year of college to work 30 hours per week on political campaign fundraising in addition to her college coursework. Some twenty years later, Katz Watson is a leader in her field of donor relations, having worked on political fundraising in the last ten presidential and senatorial election cycles.

Although many people today have become dependent on social media to communicate with others, Katz Watson stresses the importance of still calling and establishing a personal relationship with donors. Katz Watson also believes it is important to meet one-on-one to discuss all facets of a candidate’s motivation to run for office. By getting to know candidates on a personal level, Katz Watson believes she is able to effectively build their donor base to be successful during a campaign.

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Finding Life in Struggles

Lessons from Judith Creed, Founder of JCHAI

Judith Creed with the fellows sitting and standing around her

RespectAbility Board Members Judith Creed and Linda Burger with RespectAbility Fellows and Staff

Rockville, Md., July 20 – “What is your story? How did you overcome your struggles?” These were the central questions that Judith Creed, a passionate mother, sought to address during her talk with the RespectAbility Fellows and staff on Monday, July 10.

Creed, a founding member of Judith Creed Homes for Adult Independence (JCHAI), brought with her a very unique story of how she overcame adversity as a mother of a child with developmental disabilities. Most importantly, she has challenged many individuals with cognitive and developmental disabilities, including her own son, Jonah, to conquer their struggles.

After graduating from Temple University with a master’s degree in speech-language pathology, Creed was committed to treating speech, language, social communication, cognitive-communication and swallowing disorders in children and adults. Despite her familiarity with working with individuals with disabilities, when she gave birth to her son, she could not help but be overcome with fear and shock. Jonah, who is now 45 years old, was born with significant developmental disabilities.

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A New Generation of Disability Activists

Advice from AUCD’s Andrew Imparato

Andy Imparato and RespectAbility Fellows standing and seated in a posed photograph, smiling for the camera

Andy Imparato with RespectAbility Fellows and Staff

Rockville, Md., July 3 – Considering himself a second-generation disability activist, Andrew Imparato took RespectAbility Fellows on a journey of disability civil rights history last month. He demonstrated how he has dedicated his career to defending and implementing these rights. Throughout his talk, Imparato focused on the importance of integrating disability history as part of K-12 and higher education, stating that this important part of civil rights history often is excluded, resulting in a missed opportunity to educate all Americans about this part of our history.

headshot of Andy Imparato

Andy Imparato

Imparato’s path as a disability activist began in the summer after graduating from law school. His interest in pursuing public interest law led him to work helping people with appeals of denials of federal disability benefits at Cambridge & Somerville Legal Services. Imparato’s experience continued to grow when he took a fellowship with the Disability Law Center, where he educated low-income families and Boston City Hospital clinicians and staff in how the disability benefit system works.

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Striving for Common Ground

Randall Duchesneau Provides Imperative Information and Advice for Disability Advocates

Randy Duchesneau and RespectAbility Fellows standing and seated in a posed photograph, smiling for the camera

Randy Duchesneau with RespectAbility Fellows and Staff

Rockville, Md., July 1 – With a great smile and warm-hearted tone of voice, Randall “Randy” Duchesneau was quick to capture the attention of RespectAbility Fellows last month. His empathetic persona, brilliance and prominent leadership skills truly reflected on his work as a disability activist.

Duchesneau is on the board of advisors for RespectAbility where he previously served as the National Leadership Program Director. His journey as a disability advocate started after he acquired a spinal cord injury that left him with quadriplegia at the age of 21.

Despite facing challenges with health care and the personal complications that come from depending on personal assistance to survive, Duchesneau has used his experience to help others. He is working toward improving the quality of life of people with disabilities, like himself.

Through his talk, Duchesneau focused on two critical topics involving people with disabilities: Attendant Care Services covered by Medicaid and awareness of the role ethnicity and culture can play in developing community among people with disabilities.

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