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Fellows Blog Series

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.”

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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…]

Joe Shapiro Honored For His Coverage of People with Disabilities

Washington D.C., Sept. 4 – Joe Shapiro has been working in journalism since the 1970s—but his expertise has never stopped him from going out and chasing a story. “We don’t sit in big offices with assistants. We’re doing it ourselves,” Shapiro said.

This summer RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities for people with disabilities, presented Shapiro with an Excellence in Journalism Award during an annual summit on the future of people with disabilities. The event consisted of networking, as well as panels on employment, media inclusion, fighting bias, and intersectionality. Fellow journalist Judy Woodruff also received an award. [continue reading…]

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…]

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