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Fellows Blog Series

Fail at Something at Least Once

Advice from Political Fundraiser Fran Katz Watson

Fran Watson with Fellows sitting and standing around her

Fran Katz Watson with RespectAbility Fellows and Staff

Rockville, Md., July 20 – Fran Katz Watson, founder and president of The Katz Watson Group, has known since she was young that she has wanted to change the world. In college, Katz Watson recalls pleading with her political science professor after feeling compelled to move to Washington, D.C., to become involved in politics.

After a summer of interning in D.C., Katz Watson remembers “catching the political bug,” causing her to rearrange her schedule her senior year of college to work 30 hours per week on political campaign fundraising in addition to her college coursework. Some twenty years later, Katz Watson is a leader in her field of donor relations, having worked on political fundraising in the last ten presidential and senatorial election cycles.

Although many people today have become dependent on social media to communicate with others, Katz Watson stresses the importance of still calling and establishing a personal relationship with donors. Katz Watson also believes it is important to meet one-on-one to discuss all facets of a candidate’s motivation to run for office. By getting to know candidates on a personal level, Katz Watson believes she is able to effectively build their donor base to be successful during a campaign.

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Finding Life in Struggles

Lessons from Judith Creed, Founder of JCHAI

Judith Creed with the fellows sitting and standing around her

RespectAbility Board Members Judith Creed and Linda Burger with RespectAbility Fellows and Staff

Rockville, Md., July 20 – “What is your story? How did you overcome your struggles?” These were the central questions that Judith Creed, a passionate mother, sought to address during her talk with the RespectAbility Fellows and staff on Monday, July 10.

Creed, a founding member of Judith Creed Homes for Adult Independence (JCHAI), brought with her a very unique story of how she overcame adversity as a mother of a child with developmental disabilities. Most importantly, she has challenged many individuals with cognitive and developmental disabilities, including her own son, Jonah, to conquer their struggles.

After graduating from Temple University with a master’s degree in speech-language pathology, Creed was committed to treating speech, language, social communication, cognitive-communication and swallowing disorders in children and adults. Despite her familiarity with working with individuals with disabilities, when she gave birth to her son, she could not help but be overcome with fear and shock. Jonah, who is now 45 years old, was born with significant developmental disabilities.

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A New Generation of Disability Activists

Advice from AUCD’s Andrew Imparato

Andy Imparato and RespectAbility Fellows standing and seated in a posed photograph, smiling for the camera

Andy Imparato with RespectAbility Fellows and Staff

Rockville, Md., July 3 – Considering himself a second-generation disability activist, Andrew Imparato took RespectAbility Fellows on a journey of disability civil rights history last month. He demonstrated how he has dedicated his career to defending and implementing these rights. Throughout his talk, Imparato focused on the importance of integrating disability history as part of K-12 and higher education, stating that this important part of civil rights history often is excluded, resulting in a missed opportunity to educate all Americans about this part of our history.

headshot of Andy Imparato

Andy Imparato

Imparato’s path as a disability activist began in the summer after graduating from law school. His interest in pursuing public interest law led him to work helping people with appeals of denials of federal disability benefits at Cambridge & Somerville Legal Services. Imparato’s experience continued to grow when he took a fellowship with the Disability Law Center, where he educated low-income families and Boston City Hospital clinicians and staff in how the disability benefit system works.

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Striving for Common Ground

Randall Duchesneau Provides Imperative Information and Advice for Disability Advocates

Randy Duchesneau and RespectAbility Fellows standing and seated in a posed photograph, smiling for the camera

Randy Duchesneau with RespectAbility Fellows and Staff

Rockville, Md., July 1 – With a great smile and warm-hearted tone of voice, Randall “Randy” Duchesneau was quick to capture the attention of RespectAbility Fellows last month. His empathetic persona, brilliance and prominent leadership skills truly reflected on his work as a disability activist.

Duchesneau is on the board of advisors for RespectAbility where he previously served as the National Leadership Program Director. His journey as a disability advocate started after he acquired a spinal cord injury that left him with quadriplegia at the age of 21.

Despite facing challenges with health care and the personal complications that come from depending on personal assistance to survive, Duchesneau has used his experience to help others. He is working toward improving the quality of life of people with disabilities, like himself.

Through his talk, Duchesneau focused on two critical topics involving people with disabilities: Attendant Care Services covered by Medicaid and awareness of the role ethnicity and culture can play in developing community among people with disabilities.

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Translating Good Policy into Good Practice

A Conversation with National Disabilities Rights Network’s Curt Decker

Curt Decker and RespectAbility Fellows standing and seated in a posed photograph, smiling for the camera

Curt Decker with RespectAbility Fellows and Staff

Rockville, Md., June 30 – “Disability policy – we need to make sure that our policies and good intentions are followed up with good practices and actions,” advised Curt Decker on a bright Wednesday afternoon.

Serving as the current Executive Director of the National Disabilities Rights Network (NDRN), the largest non-governmental enforcer of disabilities rights, Decker is an integral member of the disability rights movement. As a passionate and motivating speaker, he delivered great insight and important information about the support systems presently in place for people with disabilities experiencing injustice.

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Practical Lessons in Polling

Advice from World-Renowned Pollster Stan Greenberg

Stan Greenberg and RespectAbility Fellows standing and seated in a posed photograph, smiling for the camera

Stan Greenberg with RespectAbility Fellows and Staff

Rockville, Md., June 30 – As the Fellows in RespectAbility waited in the conference room for a leading pollster to enter the room, the intimidation increased after being told how important this person is.

Stanley B. Greenberg is a world-renowned pollster and New York Times best-selling author. He is known for advising business leaders with a broad knowledge of social and modern economics, along with being a polling adviser to presidents, prime ministers and CEOs globally. He has conducted deep research in more than a dozen countries.

Greenberg visited the RespectAbility office to meet with the Fellows. He previously teamed up with the organization by conducting polling on voters with disabilities in comparison to voters without disabilities. He also conducted a focus group with Republicans who work on Capital Hill and what they know about people with disabilities.

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Mindfulness and its Impact to Create Change

A Conversation with American Enterprise Institute’s Gerard Robinson

Gerard Robinson and RespectAbility Fellows standing and seated in a posed photograph, smiling for the camera

Gerard Robinson with RespectAbility Fellows and Staff

Rockville, Md., June 30 – Gerard Robinson, a resident fellow at American Enterprise Institute (AEI), visited Respectability to share with Fellows and staff about his experience and interests in education, policy and politics. Robinson discussed what skills he has found helpful throughout his career and his commitment to education.

“Mindfulness” is a concept and important skill for a successful career, according to Robinson. He said any individual who chooses to work in a political environment needs to be mindful or aware of a few key factors: the position that they occupy, the power and duties that come with occupying such position, decisions and actions will impact a community or targeted group, and the attitudes and reactions (negative and positive) that may result from the factors mentioned above.

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Eye of the Lioness

Advice on Capturing your Audience’s Attention from Pollster and Political Strategist Celinda Lake

Celinda Lake and RespectAbility Fellows standing and seated in a posed photograph, smiling for the camera

Celinda Lake with RespectAbility Fellows and Staff

Rockville, Md., June 29 – Imagine you are a lioness, deep in the African safari. You keep watch over your young cubs that are rolling and tumbling around under the blazing sun nearby. Suddenly, out of the corner of your eye, you see something rustling the tall grass close to your cubs. You stand up, now on alert. A dry breeze wafts the stench of a hyena into your nose before a piercing laugh splits through the air; your cubs freeze. Baring your teeth, you walk toward the hyena that is now visible. As you get closer, you hear laughter coming from all around you and your cubs. You are surrounded. Even as the hyenas move in, you are committed to protecting your cubs, no matter what.

According to Celinda Lake, a person has the attention span of nine seconds; in order to capture that person’s eye, you must have a good story. During her talk with RespectAbility Fellows, Lake called upon her years of experience working for women candidates and nonprofit organizations working to increase the number of women in public office. When a woman is portrayed by the media or her opponent as being “aggressive,” she often is stereotyped as being too intimidating, and ultimately unlikeable. However, when the woman is shown as standing up for others, like a lioness, she is seen in a more positive light. Just because a woman is “intimidating,” does not mean she does not have a heart and the characteristics to “get the job done.” You cannot assume a person’s beliefs and values by simply looking at them.

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The Power Of Persuasion

Learning from Political Expert Dan Hazelwood

Dan Hazelwood and RespectAbility Fellows standing and seated in a posed photograph, smiling for the camera

Dan Hazelwood with RespectAbility Fellows and Staff

Rockville, Md., June 29 – “Win people through emotions,” Dan Hazelwood told an audience of attentive RespectAbility Fellows earlier this month. “The heart overrides logic.”

Hazelwood mastered the technique of captivating voters in the political world. His main expertise involves campaign strategy, message development, targeting and persuasion mail. A nationally recognized political campaign professional, his past clients included President George W. Bush and several U.S. senators and governors.

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Becoming a Disability Advocate

A Conversation with Donna Meltzer: A Role Model for Disability Advocates

Donna Meltzer and RespectAbility Fellows standing and seated in a posed photograph, smiling for the camera

Donna Meltzer with RespectAbility Fellows and Staff

Rockville, Md., June 29 – Donna Meltzer, the CEO of the National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities (NACDD), is not an ordinary disability rights advocate. In fact, it was an internship with Congress that opened her eyes to a new world of activism. Since her internship, Meltzer worked for Rep. Tony Coelho, the father of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Along with experience in numerous other positions within the disability field, Meltzer shared a wealth of information with the Fellows and staff at RespectAbility. We learned about the history of the ADA, as well as NACDD’s efforts in the evolving disability sector.

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