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Fellows Blog Series

Young Philadelphian connects passion for Judaism and disability rights at Washington disability advocacy group

Adam Fishbein singing the national anthem in front of an American flag with Debbie Fink accompanying him on violin.Washington, D.C., September 13, 2019 – Disability advocate and Philadelphia native Adam Fishbein recently completed a Fellowship with RespectAbility, a Washington, D.C.-based disability rights group, where he promoted the inclusion of people with disabilities in the Jewish community. Fishbein, who grew up in Elkins Park, Penn., recently graduated from American University. He currently is pursuing a Master of Public Administration from AU while serving as Senate Diversity Initiative Intern with Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY).

For Fishbein, RespectAbility’s work aligns with one of his core Jewish values: areyvut, or communal responsibility. “We as a society have a sacred obligation to fully include and empower people with disabilities.” Fishbein said. “Through RespectAbility, I have had the opportunity to fulfill this obligation.” [continue reading…]

Book worm to policy wonk: Disability advocate brings her knowledge to Washington, D.C.

Woodbridge native aspires to make a name for herself in politics

Angelica Vega smiling in front of the RespectAbility bannerWashington, D.C., September 12, 2019 – Woodbridge native Angelica Vega, who usually spends her summer volunteering at the Woodbridge Main Library, packed up her books and headed to Washington, D.C., to work at a leading disability rights group. Vega just completed a prestigious National Leadership Fellowship this summer with RespectAbility, a nonprofit fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities so people with disabilities can fully participate in all aspects of community.

For Vega, disability rights for all students is very important to her. As a former student of the Woodbridge Public School District, Vega credits much of her success to exceptional teachers devoted to her academic and personal development.

“Teachers such as Janice Lammers (School #9), Eric Stadtmiller (Woodbridge High School) and Christina Pastor (Avenel Middle School) helped me grow as a scholar and leader and left a lasting impact on my life,” Vega said. “Now, I hope to pay their lessons forward. I want to work on education and employment policy to make sure students with disabilities and other diverse identities are guaranteed to have great teachers like them in their lives.” [continue reading…]

Young Activist Aims to Change Beliefs About People with Disabilities

Illinois athlete believes current perceptions amount to ‘inspiration porn’

Ana Kohout, a constituent of Illinois, shakes hands with Senator Tammy Duckworth.

Ana Kohout and Senator Tammy Duckworth

Washington, D.C., September 10, 2019 – Anastazia Kohout, an Illinois native with spina bifida whose competitive swimming career has cast her in the spotlight, wants people to see her individuality before her disability.

Kohout just completed a summer Fellowship with Respectability, a nonprofit that fights stigmas and advances opportunities for people with disabilities. With the skills and confidence she gained this summer, Kohout will lead empowerment training for women with disabilities when she returns to Beloit College this fall. [continue reading…]

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…]

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