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Fellows Blog Series

Lenny Larsen: “Get out there and be the change you want to see”

Lenny Larsen with RespectAbility staff and Fellows in front of the RespectAbility banner

Lenny Larsen with RespectAbility staff and Fellows

Rockville, Maryland, May 4 – As a National Leadership Fellow, I have had the opportunity to hear from guest speakers throughout my semester with RespectAbility. One of our most recent guests, Lenny Larsen (an internationally recognized producer and director from Los Angeles), provided particular inspiration and advice for my life.

Larsen is a man of many talents. While serving as the executive producer/creative director for theme park projects throughout the world, he simultaneously was maintaining a second career as an internationally competitive springboard and platform diver with eyes focused on 2016 Olympic trials. Then the unthinkable happened. A trampolining accident resulted in a catastrophic spinal cord injury, rendering him paralyzed from the neck down and dependent on a ventilator to breathe. [continue reading…]

Eleanor Clift: Importance of Raising Awareness for the Disability Community

Eleanor Clift and RespectAbility's Spring 2018 Fellows

Eleanor Clift and RespectAbility’s Spring 2018 Fellows

Rockville, Maryland, April 18 – In a visit to RespectAbility’s office Eleanor Clift spoke to the National Leadership Fellows about the current administration, growing up during the Civil Rights Movement and race-related issues.

Clift is a well known columnist for The Daily Beast and an author; she was previously a reporter at Newsweek for 50 years of her life. She also has appeared in many movies and is a board member of RespectAbility. [continue reading…]

Dana Marlowe: Ensuring Online Accessibility For All

RespectAbility Board Member Dana Marlowe and RespectAbility Fellow Eric Ascher smiling in front of the RespectAbility banner

Dana Marlowe and RespectAbility Fellow Eric Ascher

Rockville, Maryland, April 12 – “Nine years ago this week.”

For Dana Marlowe and her staff at Accessibility Partners, those five words are cause for celebration. Over the past nine years, Accessibility Partners has advised clients big and small, in the government and in the private sector. The Kennedy Center, the U.S. Department of Labor, Amazon, Coca-Cola, Dell, Intel and LinkedIn all have turned to her team for advice on how to make their websites and software accessible to the one-in-five Americans with a disability. [continue reading…]

Geoffrey Melada: The power of storytelling to build your brand

Geoffrey Melada with RespectAbility Staff and Spring 2018 Fellows in front of the RespectAbility banner

Geoffrey Melada with RespectAbility staff and Fellows

Rockville, Maryland, April 10 – In his third time speaking to RespectAbility’s National Leadership Fellows, Geoffrey Melada, Director of Communications for Hillel International and a former journalist and trial lawyer, said the key to building a successful brand is storytelling.

The same goes for companies as for individuals. Melada told the Fellows that everyone in the room had something in common: being brand ambassadors for RespectAbility and our interest in disability inclusion. [continue reading…]

Aaron Dorfman: Serving the Public Good, not Private Interests

Aaron Dorfman with RespectAbility staff and Fellows in front of the RespectAbility banner

Aaron Dorfman with RespectAbility staff and Fellows

Rockville, Maryland, March 20 – Aaron Dorfman, the President and CEO of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP), visited RespectAbility to talk about integrity and transparency in philanthropy, its benefits, and how to make it diverse and inclusive. NCRP is a research and advocacy organization that makes sure grantmakers are responsive to the needs of those with less opportunity.

Dorfman speaks and writes on diversity, equity, inclusion philanthropy, accountability in the philanthropic sector and the benefits of advocating for community organizing. He has 15 years of experience as a community organizer, a BA in Political Science from Carleton College, and a MA in Philanthropic Studies from Indiana University. He is also a Board Member of The Center for Popular Democracy. [continue reading…]

Michael Murray: Advice for Job Applicants with Disabilities

Michael Murray and RespectAbility Spring 2018 Fellows in front of the RespectAbility banner

Michael Murray with RespectAbility staff and Fellows

Rockville, Maryland, March 16 – In a presentation to RespectAbility staff and Fellows, Michael Murray spoke about the world of disabilities, employment opportunities and overcoming stigma as a person with a disability. Murray is the Director of the Employer Policy Team at the Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy. He happens to have more than one disability and is passionate about advancing opportunities for people with disabilities joining the workforce.

Murray shared his experiences growing up with dyslexia as a child. He eventually learned to read and write thanks to his own dad. He spoke about how he saw his disability as a positive factor and his motivation to strive for success as a person living with a disability. His dad, who also had a disability, was very encouraging growing up. His father inspired him and served as a great role model; he was very accepting and loving toward him. He encouraged Michael to run because he knew that’s what he loved. Even though his had chronic fatigue syndrome, he joined Murray on his first 5k race. [continue reading…]

Rodney Hood: An Ally in Disability Employment and Inclusion

Rodney Hood with RespectAbility Staff and Fellows in front of the RespectAbility banner

Rodney Hood with RespectAbility Staff and Fellows

Rockville, Maryland, March 13 – This week, the Fellows of RespectAbility’s National Leadership Program had the privilege to listen to Rodney Hood speak about corporate philanthropy and the inclusion of people with disabilities in the workplace. Hood is a Corporate Responsibility Manager for JPMorgan Chase and is responsible for finding nonprofit organizations that do good in the world to fund their organization or specific programming or enlist experts from JP Morgan to work pro bono for them. His job is difficult because the organizations must match the mission of JPMorgan Chase and be effective in advancing inclusion of people with disabilities; the number of applicants is large. As difficult as his job may be, he is passionate about his work. He gets to help causes he personally believes in, which allows his work to be intrinsically rewarding. [continue reading…]

Elaine Katz: Promoting Transparency in the Grant Making Process

Elaine Katz smiling in front of a blurred background

Elaine Katz

Rockville, Maryland, Feb. 27 – This week, RespectAbility invited Elaine Katz to come to speak to the National Leadership Fellows. Katz talked about how she got to her current position and what makes a good grant application; the most important piece of information she shared was about transparency in philanthropy. More and more foundations are going in the “dark” about their process and who they are giving their money to. As we approach a “dark” era of philanthropy, understanding the benefits of transparency and best practices becomes more important than ever. Most importantly, Katz exhibited personal transparency about her career trajectory and explained the Kessler Foundation’s view of transparency in the relationship between the grant maker and grant seeker. [continue reading…]

Derek Shields: The Importance of Mentoring

Derek Shields with RespectAbility staff and Fellows in front of the RespectAbility banner

Derek Shields with RespectAbility staff and Fellows

Rockville, Maryland, Feb. 21 – Derek Shields, President of ForwardWorks Consulting, LLC and disability mentor, spoke to RespectAbility staff and Fellows about the importance of having a mentor to guide you through life and give advice. He began the discussion by providing an overview of the National Disability Mentoring Coalition, a national include initiative of Partners for Youth with Disabilities. The coalition’s mission is to “increase the awareness, quality, and impact of mentoring for individuals with disabilities across the nation.”

Shields explained that, according to MENTOR: The National Mentorship Partnership, one in three youth in America grow up without a mentor. Further, students with disabilities are 50 percent more likely to be absent from school than non-disabled peers, often grow up without employment expectations, and face advancement barriers when in workforce. [continue reading…]

Steve Bartlett: Becoming a Better Advocate – Someone Who’s Been There

Steve Bartlett with RespectAbility staff and Fellows in front of the RespectAbility banner

Steve Bartlett with RespectAbility staff and Fellows

Rockville, Maryland, Feb. 15 – “What can we do to advocate for people with disabilities today?” That was my question for former Texas state-representative Steve Bartlett.

Bartlett’s advocacy on behalf of people with disabilities began more than three decades ago. During most of his four terms in Congress, he was busy authoring the American Disabilities Act (ADA), and several predecessor disability rights laws. The ADA, which will boast 28 years of being a law come July 26, protects the rights of people with disabilities across a breadth of American life: employment, public accommodation, transportation, education, and more. [continue reading…]

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