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Fellows Blog Series

Doreen Thomas of the T. Howard Foundation on Promoting Diversity in Media, “Difference” Empowers

Doreen Thomas with RespectAbility staff and Fellows

Doreen Thomas with RespectAbility staff and Fellows

Rockville, Md., July 26 – Doreen Thomas, the Assistant Manager of the Internship Program at The T. Howard Foundation, a nonprofit organization located in Silver Spring, MD, spoke to the RespectAbility Fellows about how the foundation promotes diversity in media and entertainment industries by showing that “difference” empowers.

Through comprehensive programs for diverse, underrepresented and underserved college students, the T. Howard Foundation promotes diversity in media and entertainment by increasing the number of diverse and underrepresented communities within the industry. In 2014, the T. Howard Foundation had a record-breaking 97 minority students interning at 34 media companies across the country. The Foundation’s internship program gives interns industry knowledge, professional development, and makes them aware of career opportunities within the industry. [continue reading…]

Richard Phillips Teaches RespectAbility Fellows about Leadership

Richard Phillips speaks with RespectAbility Fellows

Richard Phillips speaks with RespectAbility Fellows

Rockville, Maryland, July 25 – In a world full of spin and disinformation, Richard Phillips, the Chair of Pilot Freight Services, has a refreshing level of clarity that’s hard to find. After the decline in the health of his father, Phillips left his political work in Washington, D.C., to return to his father’s company to rebuild it from the ground up with a foundation in transparency. His journey with his own family, his father and the reconstruction of his father’s work taught him the truth behind leadership: projects succeed through teamwork and not through the decisions of one single leader. He shared these lessons with RespectAbility’s Summer 2018 class of National Leadership Fellows. Phillips argues that leadership is an overused often misunderstood term.  Once you accept that decisions are best made and executed by groups, and not individuals, then true leadership can begin.

The first thing that you notice about Richard Phillips Jr. is his candor. When talking about his father, Phillips does not shy away from being truthful about his father’s unyielding and commanding nature while also describing the great amount of respect he holds for his father and his accomplishments. After working with the company through a difficult transition, Phillips Sr. began to buy in until he was the owner. When he began to develop Multiple System Atrophy, a type of slow-progressing ALS, he reached out to Phillips Jr. to return to Pennsylvania and take over. Phillips then learned what leadership truly was if only through how he diametrically opposed his father’s style of leadership. [continue reading…]

Gary C. Norman’s Advice on Inclusion

Gary Norman with RespectAbility Fellows

Gary C. Norman with RespectAbility Fellows

Rockville, Md., July 16 – “There’s power and value in disability, and power and value in working with disability, ” said Gary C. Norman, an attorney, a convener and a public man with a dog partner, whom RespectAbility Fellows welcomed for a lunch time conversation. He mentioned the idea of ancient Rome and their concept of the private man (now woman) and public leader, and his role in this as a person partnered with a service animal. Whether working on disputes regarding service dogs, or working in the nonprofit sector, or meeting with large institutions, such as NATO, Norman believes that, if you want to advance inclusion, then find a niche you care about and create impact. [continue reading…]

Debra Ruh: “We’re better when we’re together”

Debra Ruh with RespectAbility staff and Fellows

Debra Ruh with RespectAbility staff and Fellows

Rockville, Maryland, July 10 – Debra Ruh’s expression of “we’re better when we’re together” is not only a Jack Johnson song, but the encompassing message given to RespectAbility Fellows. On this warm July morning, Ruh made a lasting impact on these future leaders. She actively believes in the influence of the coming generations, promoting the power of the internet and of young leaders to bring about global difference. In her talk with the Fellows, she advocated inclusion as the key to changing the world. Not only did she want to include people with disabilities, but also young people and the greater world’s communities. She made it clear that coming together as one, our voices are made stronger and louder.

As the CEO and founder of Ruh Global Communications, an internationally recognized keynote speaker, a global influencer and a published author, Ruh’s long list of achievements comes with numerous lessons learned and experiences had. In her passion for inclusion, she noted social media as one of the most powerful tools. Social media is a tool for unity, she said, noting it allows for anyone to join the conversation. It allows anyone to have a voice. And, it allows anyone to make a difference. It is an easily accessible and free tool that gives each person a platform to take a deliberate stance. [continue reading…]

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. [continue reading…]

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. [continue reading…]

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. [continue reading…]

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. [continue reading…]

Steve Bartlett: Learning to Play on the Field

Steve Bartlett with RespectAbility staff and Fellows

Steve Bartlett with RespectAbility staff and Fellows

Rockville, Maryland, June 14, 2018 – During the Fellows Speakers Series, RespectAbility’s National Leadership Program Fellows had the opportunity to speak with former Texas Congressman and former mayor of Dallas, Steve Bartlett. He was truly inspirational to listen to because his experience advocating for people with disabilities is extensive. Bartlett served as a principal author of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and worked on the President’s Commission on Excellence in Special Education, and the Select Education Subcommittee.

Bartlett brought a unique Bring Your Own Agenda (BYOA) style to this session. Fellows and staff had the chance to ask Bartlett any questions about his life or politics, or for career advice. In all his answers and advice, Bartlett emphasized the common theme of goal setting, which is having a clear vision for what you would like to achieve, then creating steps to help you get there and always be willing to change your steps along the way. [continue reading…]

Geoffrey Melada: The Importance of Storytelling

Geoffrey Melada headshot

Geoffrey Melada

Rockville, Maryland, June 7, 2018 – Geoffrey Melada, the director of communications for Hillel International, believes in the power of storytelling. So much so that he began his recent mentoring session with RespectAbility’s Fellows with a story. Melada told the story of how Sen. John McCain and his fellow prisoners of war used a “tap code” system to communicate with each other while held captive in the “Hanoi Hilton” during the Vietnam War. Why didn’t years of confinement break McCain? Communication. The ability to share their stories and emotions kept McCain and his fellow American POWs sane. “Their tap code,” said Melada, “was the key to their resilience.”

Melada went on to explain that storytelling is key to fundraising, a high priority in the nonprofit sector. He conceded that most organizations recognize by now that telling stories is important for “fundraising and friend-raising,” but don’t necessarily know where to start. This is where a good story comes in. Melada showed the fellows an Oscar-winning animated short about a baby sandpiper who must conquer its fear of the ocean to feed and encouraged the Fellows to brainstorm what made the six-minute short so compelling. Responses soon filled the board, as Fellows observed that the story contained conflict, compelling characters, creative problem solving and relationships. [continue reading…]

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