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Fellows Blog Series

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…]

Breaking the Glass Ceiling with Ollie Cantos and Triplets Steven, Nick and Leo

Washington, D.C., Sept. 5 – At RespectAbility’s “From Washington to Hollywood and Beyond” summit, experts in the area of employment, education and disability inclusion addressed a wide array of members of the disability community. The summit showcased some of the community’s brightest stars including Ollie Cantos and his three adopted children who spoke during their own panel titled “Breaking the Glass Ceiling.”

Ollie and his children have pushed themselves and each other to break past barriers and challenges. For Ollie, he is the highest-ranking blind person in the federal government, working as a lawyer and presidential appointee. When he started mentoring blind triplets Steven, Leo and Nick in 2010, he never pictured he would adopt them five years later. Now, in 2018, their family continues to make strides in inclusion and achievement. Recently, the three young men became Eagle Scouts, an incredible achievement regardless of disability.To those not familiar with the term, this is the highest achievement to earn as a boy scout. It is an honor only four percent of all past and present Scouts can say they have received. Within this panel, each member of the family was able to tell his story of their past and their future. [continue reading…]

Honoring Judy Woodruff’s Dedication to Disability Representation in Media

Washington D.C., Sept. 4 – “I accept this award on behalf of, especially, our son Jeffrey, who to me is someone who goes through life with the kind of courage I only wish I could possess,” PBS NewsHour’s Judy Woodruff said while accepting a flag flown over the U.S. Capitol in her honor.

Woodruff was one of two recipients of the RespectAbility Excellence in Journalism award during the nonprofit’s “From Washington to Hollywood and Beyond” summit on Capitol Hill because of her decades-long dedication to ensuring positive, accurate portrayals of people with disabilities in media. Fellow journalist Joe Shapiro also received an award. [continue reading…]

Show Up Authentically: Life at the Intersection of Disability and Multiple Identities


Washington D.C., Sept. 4 – “I am more than just one leg. I am a woman. And I am a woman with a disability. Standing forthright in power unapologetically. So, when I show up, I show up authentically. In that space, consistently,” expressed Donna R. Walton, the moderator, as she opened a panel on intersectionality at a daylong summit on the future of Americans with disabilities.

When sharing her story, Walton set an inclusive and frank tone not only for the discussion between the panelists of various backgrounds but also for all those present in the room. The summit, “From Washington to Hollywood and Beyond: The Future of Americans with Disabilities,” 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. During the day, two key journalists, Judy Woodruff of the PBS NewsHour and Joe Shapiro of NPR were presented with excellence in journalism awards for their coverage of disability stories. During the panel focused on intersectionality, the panelists, prompted by their experiences, spoke about the intersection of disability and other identities and their jobs. [continue reading…]

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