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Fellows Blog Series

How Congress is Working to Diversify its Staff: Lessons from Sam Flood, Diversity Initiative Research Aide

Speakers from the Senate Democratic Diversity Initiative with RespectAbility staff and Fellows in front of the RespectAbility banner

Speakers from the Senate Democratic Diversity Initiative with RespectAbility Staff and Fellows

Rockville, Maryland, Oct. 31 – Having the opportunity to work on Capitol Hill can seem like a prestigious honor that is out of reach for many, especially those who are part of minority groups such as members of the disabled community. However, the Senate Diversity Initiative (SDI) is working to ensure that congressional office staff is more inclusive of Americans across a spectrum of race, socioeconomic status, creed, sexual orientation and even disability. The hope is that this diversity can be accomplished by connecting Hill offices with skilled candidates who have diverse backgrounds through a managed database.

Sam Flood, the Diversity Initiative Research Aide, came to speak with the RespectAbility fellows about his program and how they can participate. Flood started with an overview of the Senate Diversity Initiative and then explained how a candidate can apply and what positions could be open for them. [continue reading…]

Senate Report Argues Outdated Laws Leave People with Disabilities Behind in Today’s Economy

U.S. Senate seal. Text: Disability Employment: Outdated Laws Leave People with Disabilities Behind in Today’s Economy Minority Staff ReportWashington D.C., Oct. 31 – During October 2018, U.S. Sen. Patty Murray (WA) and the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) wrote a report entitled “Outdated Laws Leave People with Disabilities Behind in Today’s Economy.”  The report claims that laws are not up to date with current disability employment policy and provides an update about the implementation of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) of 2014.

The report reflects on the modern legal landscape that directly supports the success of the 56 million Americans living with disabilities. Modern disability employment policy includes five laws: the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, the Genetic Non-Discrimination Act of 2008, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act of 2014, and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Underpinning the success of these laws is the legal framework created by the landmark 1999 decision made by the Supreme Court in Olmstead v. L.C. That decision calls for “the most integrated appropriate setting” also has critical consequences for efforts to get more people with disabilities into the workforce. Likewise, 36 states have passed Employment First laws which were created by state level policy makers to support competitive integrative employment for people with disabilities. [continue reading…]

ICare4Autism Brings Focus on Apprenticeships for People with Disabilities

iCare4Autism LogoThis October, to help celebrate National Disability Employment Awareness Month, ICare4Autism hosted its annual conference in Washington, D.C. The focus for this year’s conference was on apprenticeships for high school students with autism and other disabilities. The main takeaway from the conference is that autism can be a strength and even a desired trait for competitive integrated employment in the community.

What is an Apprenticeship?

Apprenticeships are work-based programs that combine schooling and work. People who go through apprenticeship programs can learn a trade in various fields such as construction, carpentry, gardening, recycling, computer coding, medicine or financial services. Students who graduate from an apprenticeship often go on to a secure, good paying job in the community.

What is iCare4Autism and Who Came to the Conference?

iCare4Autism is a nonprofit located in New York and works with students with autism. The CEO is Josh Weinstein, and the organization focuses on education and transitional services. Presenters emphasized competitive integrated employment, a term used for jobs with a living wage and opportunities for advancement. Competitive, integrated jobs are community based and integrate both people with and without disabilities in the same workplace.

Policymakers from the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP), Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) and The Texas Workforce Commission spoke about advancing opportunities for people with disabilities and best practices to promote employment success. Attending the conference was a diverse audience of doctors, educators, job coaches and nonprofit staff. Special guests also included Congressmen Don Beyer from Virginia and Donald M. Payne from New Jersey. [continue reading…]

Making a Difference with Andy Imparato

Andy Imparato with RespectAbility staff and Fellows in front of the RespectAbility banner

Andy Imparato with RespectAbility Staff and Fellows

Rockville, Maryland, Oct. 9 – Andy Imparato, Executive Director of the Association of University Centers on Disabilities, spoke to RespectAbility Fellows about disability policy and his own experience with Bipolar Disorder.

When asked by a Fellow about making an impact in a politically active, bustling city like Washington, D.C., Imparato replied, “Every individual has the capacity to make a difference.”

To do so, he spoke about three major themes to changing the scope of disability policy and advocacy: updating federal legislation such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), ensuring workers know their rights under law, and breaking the stigma by being open with disabilities in the workplace. All of these steps, he argued, are crucial to changing the way we think, debate and formulate disability policy. [continue reading…]

Vivian Bass: The Powerful and Necessary Bonds Between Nonprofit Staff and Board Members

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

Vivian Bass with RespectAbility Staff and Fellows

Rockville, Maryland, Oct. 8 – After a successful career of more than 40 years as a nonprofit CEO, Vivian Bass, currently a board member of RespectAbility, visited the Fellows of RespectAbility’s National Leadership Program.  She shared her knowledge about nonprofit boards and gave advice on how to build better relationships between staff and board members.

As the former CEO of the Jewish Foundation for Group Homes, she has contributed greatly to the disability community, so it was only natural that she was one of our speakers. As young professionals, we still are navigating the workforce, struggling with networking and negotiating workplace conflicts. According to Bass, there are five characteristics that strengthen the bond between staff and board members in a nonprofit: mutual respect, no surprises, transparency, accountability and partnership. [continue reading…]

An Odyssey with Geoffrey Melada

Geoffrey Melada and RespectAbility Fellow Josh Goodrich in front of the RespectAbility banner

Geoffrey Melada and RespectAbility Fellow Josh Goodrich

Rockville, Md., Sept. 25 – In the Odyssey, Athena, goddess of wisdom, disguised herself as Mentor. As Mentor, she encouraged Telemachus to be strong and encouraged him to find out the true story of his father. The word “mentor” was adopted into the English language to describe someone who shares knowledge and wisdom to assist a person with less experience. Geoffrey Melada is an exemplary mentor. Melada was returning for his fifth time to share his knowledge and experiences with a new cohort of RespectAbility Fellows.

Melada, the Director of Communications for Hillel International, acted as a mentor in teaching  RespectAbility Fellows about storytelling while tasking them with a quest. He explained that storytelling is the key to success in business and many personal endeavors. After showing the Pixar short film, Piper, Melada asked the questing Fellows, “Why is this a good story?” [continue reading…]

Fighting Implicit Bias Through Film and Television


Washington, D.C., Sept. 17 – When entertainment heavyweights convened at an annual disability advocacy summit this summer, they stressed the role of film and television in building understanding between communities by shattering prejudices of disability.

The “Fighting Implicit Biases through Film and Television” panel kicked off with Jonathan Murray, an expert film and television-maker with more than 30 years of experience in the television industry. Murray is the co-creator of The Real World, often credited as being the first modern day reality show, which premiered in the 1990s and posits the question “what happens when people stop being polite and start getting real?” This question drives the spirit of his works’ central theme: “to introduce and celebrate marginalized communities.”

The summit was sponsored by RespectAbility, a national nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities for people with disabilities. The event consisted of panels on education, employment, media representation and intersectionality. Murray serves on the board of directors for RespectAbility. [continue reading…]

Rep. Brad Sherman Enables People with Disabilities to Advocate for a Better Future

Washington, D.C., Sept. 17 – From journalists to CEOs, influencers from around the nation gathered at the nation’s capital to discuss the advancement of people with disabilities and the future of the disability community at a summit partially made possible by Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA). Rep. Sherman has long been an advocate for people with disabilities and shared concrete ideas with the advocates and leaders. He outlined six key steps to build support and progress for important issues: educate, show large support for your issue, identify the opposition to your issue, make a specific request, speak to staff when business is slow, and remember the “virtual circle.”

The summit was organized by RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities for people with disabilities. While RespectAbility does not lobby Congress, Sherman did talk to summit attendees about “how to lobby when you don’t have a PAC.”

[continue reading…]

Kenneth Marcus Addresses Importance of Inclusion of Students with Disabilities

Washington, D.C., Sept. 5 – “Wherever you are, and whatever you do, there is a way of making a contribution if you have the will.”

That was the closing note of Kenneth Marcus’s speech at RespectAbility’s annual summit focused on the future of people with disabilities. “There are many different ways that you can be of public service,” he added.

As a long time civil rights lawyer, Marcus has been an advocate for the disability community for years. From 2004 through 2008, he served as the Staff Director of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. “There was really no area of law that wasn’t pertinent,” Marcus said of his career. The main part of his current job, though, is implementing regulations. “Law enforcement is a big part of what we do.” [continue reading…]

Johnny Collett Calls For High Expectations for Students with Disabilities

Washington, D.C., Sept. 5 – When it comes to disability advocacy, reducing stigma and changing public opinion are very important. Just as significant and crucial is an aspect of daily minutiae that is less often acknowledged. Few know this better than Johnny Collett, the Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitation Services at the United States Department of Education. Collett called for both having high expectations for students and for not putting up with adults who do not cooperate to help the students, stressing the need for not only keeping expectations high but also collaboration among all providers and advocates.

When he spoke at the RespectAbility’s “From Washington to Hollywood and Beyond” summit, Collett was clear that creating positive and lasting change for people with disabilities is crucial to the disability movement. “The only way to improve outcomes for all individuals is to be mindful of the particular needs of each individual,” he said, reflecting on his many years as an educator. [continue reading…]

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