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Fellows Blog Series

Advice from Jonathan Koch, Emmy Award-Winning TV Producer and Entrepreneur

Jonathan Koch smiling wearing a suit in front of a grey backdropRockville, Maryland, September 9 – Jonathan Koch, an Emmy Award-winning television producer and successful entrepreneur, was a speaker for RespectAbility’s Summer 2019 National Leadership Fellows. The hour-long discussion focused on his career path, before and after he became disabled, and how to be successful at pitching yourself.

Koch started his career as an agent for the 90s child star Candace Cameron and many other famous child actors. In 2003, he partnered with Steve Michaels to start Asylum Entertainment, a Los Angeles-based television production company. He was the President and Chief Creative Officer of Asylum Entertainment until they sold it to Legendary Entertainment for $100 million in 2014. A year later, Koch became desperately ill, causing doctors to amputate his right leg and left hand. [continue reading…]

RespectAbility Board Member Vivian Bass Discusses Board-Staff Relationships with RespectAbility Fellows

Vivian Bass with RespectAbility Staff and Summer 2019 Fellows smiling in front of the RespectAbility banner

Vivian Bass with RespectAbility Staff and Summer 2019 Fellows

Rockville, Maryland, August 26 – Vivian Bass, a member of RespectAbility’s Executive Committee, addressed the RespectAbility National Leadership Fellows on July 30. She discussed three key factors to guide board members and staff in achieving a professional yet open relationship.

The first is mutual respect. As an avid member of RespectAbility’s board along with many other boards, Bass has had plenty of experience with handling these relationships. She said that an organization won’t go anywhere without mutual respect between its board members and staff. Although board members and staff work closely together, there still needs to be a “clear line in the sand” so no one oversteps or gets blindsided by another, she said. [continue reading…]

Learning From Judy Heumann, Disability Legend Advancing Inclusion from Physical Accessibility to Media Portrayal

Judy Heumann with RespectAbility summer 2019 fellows inside the Cleveland park library, smiling

Washington, D.C., August 6 – Judy Heumann, one of the main progenitors of the disability rights movement, recently gave a talk to the Fellows at RespectAbility. Heumann emphasized the importance of the growing disability movement and encouraged our involvement in it.

An immense amount of progress has been made in the past few decades in accessibility; many things that are taken for granted today are more recent than people realize. For instance, accessible busses and curbs on sidewalks developed largely as the result of regulations in the 1970s. More recently, college campuses created disability offices to accommodate students with disabilities. All of these advancements are the direct result of the work and energy that countless disability advocates like Heumann have put into the movement. [continue reading…]

Dignity in Entrepreneurship and Decision Making

Richard Phillips with RespectAbility Staff and Fellows smiling in front of the RespectAbility banner

Richard Phillips with RespectAbility Staff and Fellows

Rockville, Maryland, July 3 – On June 18, Richard Phillips Jr., a RespectAbility board member with extensive experience in both the public and private sectors, spoke to the RespectAbility National Leadership Fellows about the importance of dignity in all aspects of life.

Phillips spoke candidly about his personal experience, leaving high-level work at the Department of Justice to take over his family business, Pilot Freight Services, which provides transportation and logistics solutions for some of the largest and most complex companies around the world.  His experience turning that business around involved both family and professional challenges.  He focused on respecting the dignity of Pilot’s employees, customers and vendors was a key component to that turnaround. [continue reading…]

Sexism in the Journalism Industry: Daily Beast Columnist Eleanor Clift Speaks to RespectAbility Summer Fellows

Rockville, Maryland, July 1 – Earlier this summer, Eleanor Clift, a Daily Beast columnist and member of RespectAbility’s Board of Directors, served as the first guest speaker for RespectAbility’s Summer 2019 National Leadership Fellows. The hourlong discussion focused on activism in party politics, the current U.S. political climate and Clift’s experiences growing up at a time when women were fighting for equal employment opportunities in a longstanding patriarchal society.

Clift spent the bulk of her career at Newsweek, getting her start as a secretary before breaking into reporting. She has covered every presidential campaign since 1976 and was a longtime panelist on The McLaughlin Group.

Clift highlighted the rampant discrimination against women in her 2012 cover story for Newsweek about the television show, Mad Men. Clift pointed out striking similarities between Mad Men and the real-life situations she encountered. [continue reading…]

Ensuring Disability Advocacy is a Civil Rights Issue with Neil Romano

Washington, D.C., May 22 – “For every dollar spent, 10 cents should be put towards employing people with disabilities,” National Council on Disability Chairman Neil Romano advised RespectAbility’s National Leadership Fellows about disability inclusion.

This advice came from Romano’s many years as an advocate for people with disabilities, ranging from starting his own public relations firm, Romano & Associates (1988), being a member of the President’s Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities (2006-2008), and serving as Assistant Secretary of Labor of the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP, 2008-2009). Romano’s passion stems from being an individual with a disability himself. Romano is dyslexic and most recently has been diagnosed with cancer. [continue reading…]

Learning The Language of Mental Health: Linda Burger

Rockville, Maryland, April 16 – The genuine care and concern in Linda Burger’s voice left the Spring 2019 RespectAbility National Leadership Fellows with a feeling of coming home after a long journey. Indeed, she personifies her objective: “I want to offer [people] a place where it’s okay” to not be okay.

The Jewish Family Services of Houston

On February 22, the Fellows had the privilege to listen to our Treasurer, Linda Burger, on stigma surrounding mental health conditions. The CEO of Jewish Family Services (JFS) of Houston, Burger provided each Fellow with a folder containing extensive resources and information about the JFS Mental Health Programs. Suicide prevention and aftercare are the two main focuses of the program. Prevention services include age-specific emotional health programs, mental health first aid, individual and family counseling, meditation, and suicide prevention and protocol training. Grief and bereavement services, along with support groups and an annual memorial service, are available as aftercare for family members and friends whose loved ones have died by suicide. [continue reading…]

The Need for a More Inclusive Philanthropy: Lessons from A. Sparks

Allison Sparks headshotRockville, Maryland, April 3 – Allison Sparks (introducing herself as simply “Sparks”) is the Chief Executive Officer at the Masto Foundation and recently spoke to the Fellows in Respectability’s National Leadership Program. She spoke about her career in philanthropy; owning one’s identity; questioning the status quo; and the importance of promoting equity, inclusion and diversity in the field.

Sparks spent time with the Fellows discussing her unorthodox path to becoming the executive director of her family’s organization and discussed her work aimed at promoting equity and making philanthropy more diverse. Sparks examined what led her to the Masto Organization, highlighting her diverse childhood, a brief career in the fashion world, discovering a commitment to social work, her passion for philanthropy and working with numerous philanthropic organizations. Sparks also noted the increased importance for inclusion and diversity in philanthropy because of the inherent privilege in the philanthropic world (those who give the money) and encouraged the Fellows to pursue inclusion, diversity and equity. [continue reading…]

Success in Disability Employment: Vincenzo Piscopo Speaks on Disability Inclusion in the Workplace and Coca Cola’s Philanthropy

Vincenzo Piscopo with RespectAbility staff and Fellows in front of the RespectAbility banner

Vincenzo Piscopo with RespectAbility Staff and Fellows

Rockville, Maryland, April 1 – After spending more than 22 years working for the Coca-Cola Company, Vincenzo Piscopo has defined success for disability inclusion within the workplace supported by philanthropic involvement. Leveraging opportunities for people with disabilities within the company’s marketplace, educating employers within the company, and encouraging volunteerism in the community are all ways in which Piscopo achieves success within the Coca-Cola company’s philanthropic endeavors.

Piscopo’s career within the Coca-Cola Company has taken him to several different areas of the organization, including finance, IT, marketing and innovation. His extensive background in advocating for disability within the workplace has given him a broad understanding of what companies lack in terms of employing people with disabilities as well as other minority groups. He has been the Director of Community and Stakeholder Relations for a year now and has been given the opportunity to “fill his file cabinet,” as Piscopo would say, with knowledge about how to advocate for minorities such as women, Hispanics, African Americans, LGBTQ, people with disabilities, etc. [continue reading…]

Please Don’t Be My Knight in Shining Armor

Cami Howe smiling, leaning back in her wheelchairIt was a crisp, chilly autumn afternoon in Logan, Utah. I was wheeling myself (I’m an ambulatory wheelchair user) to my doctorate-level Social Psychology class (as an undergraduate, by the way. #humblebrag 😉), rocking out to an odd yet entertaining mixture of Linkin Park and Disney songs through my earbuds.

“Hakuna matata!
What a wonderful phrase!
Hakuna matata!
Ain’t no passing” —-

My head snapped back. My wheels would not move. I was a dog on a leash that had gone too far ahead of its owner. Stunned, I turned my head to see what – or who – was pulling me back. A tall, white male college student with sandy blonde hair stood there with the biggest grin on his face. [continue reading…]

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