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Fellows Blog Series

Sheehy on Disability Employment: “We are going to have some hard work ahead of us, but it’s work worth doing”

Washington, D.C., Aug. 31 – At RespectAbility’s annual disability summit on Capitol Hill, Jennifer Sheehy spoke about the federal government’s efforts to increase employment participation rates for people with disabilities.

Sheehy is the Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP). The Office of Disability Employment Policy is a federal resource for people of all ages who have disabilities, and are trying to find jobs. Sheehy’s previous work includes the U.S. Department of Education with the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS). Sheehy is an alumna of Cornell University and Georgetown University.

According to Sheehy, “we’ve seen 26 consecutive months of job improvements for people with disabilities.” She believes that because of this progress, we should take time to analyze data available to tease out factors that led to outcome improvements in order to implement them broadly. [continue reading…]

From Passive to Active: Rodney Hood on Community Development for People with Disabilities

JP Morgan Chase's Rodney Hood with RespectAbility's Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi and Ben Spangenberg

JP Morgan Chase’s Rodney Hood with RespectAbility’s Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi and Ben Spangenberg

Rockville, Md. August 8 – Rodney E. Hood’s work to support the disability community began with the assignment to “figure out a way to go beyond passive mode at a gala.” Hood is the Corporate Responsibility Manager at JP Morgan Chase, which entails managing partnerships that promote sustainable community development in underserved communities, including those with disabilities. When Hood first came on as the manager, JP Morgan Chase had relationships with the National Deaf Association and the National Federal of the Blind and other organizations, but they did not extend much beyond the bank’s presence at their conferences.

Now, JP Morgan Chase sponsors people with disabilities to attend a variety of conferences, including accommodations, from the National Urban League to the events of other groups who are doing work that impact people with disabilities despite the fact that these voices may not always be present in the room. “We need to have everyone with a seat at the table,” said Hood. He said he is always thinking, “How do we make the playing field level?” [continue reading…]

Disability Legend Judy Heumann: Disability is a Diversity Issue

Judy Heumann with RespectAbility Fellows

Judy Heumann with RespectAbility Fellows

Washington, D.C., Aug. 7 – On an oppressively humid day, the RespectAbility National Leadership Fellows gathered around a table with disability rights icon Judy Heumann, who is most famous for her leadership of the 504 Sit In which was immortalized in a Drunk History segment. Heumann was generous with her time, answering questions from the Fellows about the disability movement and her hopes for the future.

Heumann pointed out over and over again that disability is a unique minority category. Disability intersects with all other minority groups, and anyone can join the disability community at any point in their lives. A combination of invisibility and stigma causes disability to be excluded from major activist movements, and those who might identify with and disclose a disability may elect not to. [continue reading…]

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…]

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