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When Donn Weinberg, Shelley Cohen and I started RespectAbility, it was an outgrowth of the Jewish Funders Network disability funders group. Amazing people, including Judith Creed, Joan Alexander and others were involved. One thing we all realized is that young leadership is a key to the future, and that talented young people with disabilities need to be a part of advanced leadership training and networking opportunities.

Thanks to an ongoing commitment from Stanford and Joan Alexander, we were able to create our National Leadership Program. Already more than 130 young leaders have graduated from the program. They have gone on to work for the U.S. Congress, White House, numerous government agencies, nonprofits and Jewish organizations. We have three cohorts of approximately a dozen young leaders at a time (up to 36 participants a year in total). These include people who are deaf, blind, have Autism, spina bifida and a wide array of other disabilities. Many of these youth also live with mental health conditions, some as a result of bullying and rejection. It is an inclusion program so we also serve young allies who do not have disabilities. All of the participants are talented. We just did a report on the program, and I invite you to read it HERE.

We still have 4 spaces for our next cohort that starts mid-January. Thus, please send great people our way! You can find more info on the program overall HERE.

This past week one of our national leadership fellows, Virginia Campell, wrote a lovely piece on IAN, a very short animated film about playground inclusion. It’s wonderful and I encourage you to watch it HERE! It is breaking all records on our website, with more than 183,000 views in less than one week!!

As you go into Shabbat I hope you enjoy this video as it shows lovely values that we all can live up to!


Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi

Ian playing with a toy dinosaur on the playground

Rockville, Maryland, Dec. 6 – All kids want to play. Kids with disabilities are no different. “Ian” is a short, animated film inspired by the real-life Ian, a boy with a disability determined to get to the playground despite his playmates bullying him. This film sets out to show that children with disabilities can and should be included.

“Ian” premiered for audiences around the world on YouTube and was broadcast in Latin America simultaneously on Disney Junior, Cartoon Network, Discovery Kids, Nickelodeon, PakaPaka and YouTube Kids Nov. 30, 2018.

“Ian” started as a mother’s mission to educate her son’s bullies on the playground—one to one. When she realized that the need for inclusion was bigger than one playground, she wrote a book and founded Fundación ian to change thousands of minds and attitudes about people with disabilities. She approached MundoLoco, a top digital animation studio in Latin America, about creating “Ian,” an animated film to deliver the message of inclusion to audiences all over the world.

A Universal Story

Poster for Ian- a moving storyThe film is wordless—a deliberate decision to make “Ian” inclusive of all people. “We worked hard to make it as simple and honest as we could, so it could be understood by a preschool child, yet an adult could discover other layers of the story,” said Gastón Gorali, who wrote the short.

The universality behind the idea for “Ian” spoke to Gorali immediately. “In that first meeting with [Ian’s mom], I felt the urge to do something about it. To get involved. Ian’s story was so honest, tough and yet full of hope,” he said. “The feeling of being alienated is common to all of us. There’s no need to have a disability to have experienced in our lives isolation and exclusion. To find ourselves fighting a force that pushes us away from whatever we want to be and do.”

“I can play and participate”

The real Ian is a fourth grader who, like most fourth graders, wants to play with his friends. But because some kids are not used to someone like Ian—someone who has cerebral palsy, uses a wheelchair, and a computer that works with his eye movements to communicate—they bully him and don’t include him when they play.

Ian wants the world to know that he and all the other kids like him can play, too, if others include them. “I can play and participate,” Ian said.

The film, to him, educates the children on the playground that he wants to play, and they can play with him. In animation, the film “Ian” shows that all children, disabled or not, are made of the same stuff.

Bigger than the Playground

Ian playing with a toy dinosaur on the playgroundWhen Ian’s mom, Sheila Graschinsky, saw how children who were not used to people with disabilities treated her son on the playground, she set to work to change their perceptions. She wrote a book called The Giftabout the daily life of a family that includes people with disabilities, which she handed out to children who bullied Ian, she told Variety. But handing out books on playgrounds would not have the wide impact she wanted.

For Graschinsky, the message of “Ian” extends far beyond swings and slides. The wordless plot of “Ian” is a boy struggling to achieve access to something he wants, something other children have readily available to them. People with disabilities regularly struggle for access to public spaces, jobs and social inclusion. The international attention the film is getting proves to Graschinsky that “a more inclusive world is possible.”

“The film is an opportunity for all society…to break down barriers, walls, and free us from prejudices,” Graschinsky said. The film was crafted to “guide [all children] to acquire concrete tools to be people of solidarity.”

“Ian” premiered at Cannes in May 2018. It was written by Gastón Gorali (Metegol/Underdogs), produced by Academy Award winner Juan José Campanella (The Secret in their Eyes) and Fundación ian, a nonprofit founded by Ian’s mom, whose mission is to make life better for families with disabilities. The mixed stop-motion and CGI animated film has won numerous awards internationally. “Ian” has also qualified for the Best Animated Short category in the 2019 Academy Awards.

President George H.W. Bush signs the Americans with Disabilities Act into law, surrounded by two wheelchair users and two people standing behind him.

President George H.W. Bush signs the Americans with Disabilities Act into law.

Washington, D.C., Dec. 3 – On November 30, 2018, America lost a champion for people with disabilities, President George H.W. Bush. In 1990, Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into law, which prohibited discrimination against people with disabilities. The law improved the lives of millions of Americans with disabilities.

“Among President George H.W. Bush’s lifetime accomplishments, perhaps his most profound and impactful is the ADA,” said Hon. Steve Bartlett, who serves as Chairman of RespectAbility’s Board of Directors and who worked with Bush on the ADA. “He was the originator and the force behind the ADA. He consistently gave others the credit. Indeed, he announced his proposal that became the ADA the evening before his inaugural, surprising everyone in Washington except Boyden Gray and Justin Dart. The President allowed Congress to do the legislating of course, but he personally guided the process gently but firmly for 18 months. Millions of Americans with disabilities, and their friends and families, live better lives because of George H.W. Bush. Thank you Mr. President.”

Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, RespectAbility’s President, wrote an article about President Bush for the Huffington Post in 2015. The message remains the same. An excerpt is below:

“Because of ADA, people with hearing or vision differences are able to access computers and telecommunications devices. It’s the difference between being a part of our community and being in prison. There are many, many people including Justin Dart, Bobby Silverstein, Lex Frieden and many others to thank for the ADA. However, chief amongst them is President George H.W. Bush.

Today many people think that ‘disability issues’ are the domain of Democrats. But that was not the case back in 1990 when ADA was passed, and should not be that way now.

President George H.W. Bush wearing John's Crazy Socks to Barbara Bush's funeral. Bush is in a wheelchair being pushed by his son, President George W. Bush.

President George H.W. Bush wearing John’s Crazy Socks to Barbara Bush’s funeral

President George H.W. Bush (Bush 41) cares deeply about disability issues. Pre-ADA, as Vice President, he met with disability leaders. According to the outstanding new book Enabling Actsby Lennard J. Davis, Bush spoke of his personal experiences with disability with his brother Prescot, who was born with the use of only one eye; his uncle John Walker, who had polio, his daughter, who died in infancy of leukemia; his son Neil, who was severely dyslexic; and his son Marvin, who had had a colostomy as a result of ulcerative colitis just a few months earlier at the age of 21. At the time, Bush 41 did not personally have any disabilities. But he took what he learned from experiences of loved ones around him for good. He was a champion for, and the signer of, the ADA.”

Read the entire article on The Huffington Post.

Jews and Arabs in Israel Unite by Working Together within the Disability Community

Dr. Noorit Felsenthal-Berger headshot

Dr. Noorit Felsenthal-Berger

We live in a diverse and interconnected world that challenges us to learn how to live together in peace. “Coexistence” is a popular buzzword these days, but it’s easy to lose sight of what true coexistence entails.  Living in harmony with others who are different from ourselves is a lofty ideal. To truly live together in harmony, we must be willing to bring “others” – differences and all – into our inner circles. Through my work as an educator, I’ve had the privilege of watching my students rise to this challenge in ways that are often surprising.

I teach an experiential education program on disability inclusion at Ono Academic College in Jerusalem. While it would be worthwhile to develop an entire curriculum focused solely on disability inclusion, my program goes one step further:  it unites young Jewish and Arab students.  In fact, one could say that my program harnesses the power of disability inclusion to bridge the gaps between Jews and Arabs, whose cultures commonly clash, and to diffuse environments that are often politically tense.

When I began my career as a psychologist, I researched youth with special needs and how they learn and interact differently from the general population.  At Ono, I leveraged that research to create a hands-on program in disability studies.  My program quickly became popular with young Arab and Jewish students who were looking for a meaningful way to enact social change within the complex milieu of Israeli society. [read more…]

Election 2018: Candidates who support opportunities for people with disabilities win big. RespectAbility logo. image of American flag with disability symbol (wheelchair) instead of starsWashington, D.C., Nov. 19 – Key senate and gubernatorial candidates from both sides of the political aisle who support opportunities for people with disabilities won big this election, showing that disability rights is a winning issue.

There are 56 million people with disabilities (one in five Americans), more than 35 million of whom are eligible voters (one-sixth of the electorate). According to a recent survey, 74 percent of likely voters have a disability themselves or have a family member or a close friend with disabilities. Voters are more likely to support candidates who prioritize ensuring that children with disabilities get the education and training they need to succeed as well expanding job and career opportunities for people with disabilities.

“Candidates for office ignore the disability community at their peril,” said former U.S. Representative and Dallas Mayor Steve Bartlett. Bartlett, who was a primary author of the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990, is the chairman of RespectAbility.

Several candidates responded earlier during the campaign season to a disability issues questionnaire for Senate and gubernatorial candidates put out by RespectAbility, a nonpartisan, nonprofit national organization working to end stigmas and advance opportunities for people with disabilities. Candidates from both sides of the aisle completed the questionnaire, showing that disability rights is a bipartisan issue. The responses also are geographically-diverse, coming from states around the country, as politicians are paying more attention to the disability community. RespectAbility is nonpartisan and does not endorse candidates. The questionnaire is purely for educational purposes.

Others submitted proclamations for National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) to RespectAbility. This year, people with disabilities and employers have clear reason to celebrate. More than 343,000 Americans with disabilities got new jobs last year, a fourfold improvement in job gains compared to the previous year. Expanding employment opportunities is bipartisan, as both Democrats and Republicans are quick to recognize the abilities of what people with disabilities can accomplish.

“Our nation was founded on the principle that anyone who works hard should be able to get ahead in life,” said RespectAbility’s President, Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi. “People with disabilities deserve equal opportunity to earn an income and achieve independence just like anyone else.”

Of those who responded to the national questionnaire or provided NDEAM proclamations, 20 candidates have won their election. These include Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX), Gov. Kate Brown (D-OR), Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY), Gov. Doug Ducey (R-AZ), Gov. Larry Hogan (R-MD), Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R-AR), Gov. David Ige (D-HI), Gov. Kay Ivey (R-AL), State Sen. Laura Kelly (D-KS), Gov. Henry McMaster (R-SC), Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO), Businessman J.B. Pritzker (D-IL), Clark County Commission Chair Steve Sisolak (D-NV), Gov. Chris Sununu (R-NH) and Gov. Tom Wolf (D-PA), all of whom won races for governor; Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA), Rep. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), who won their senate races. [read more…]

Members of the Limmud La’am Program with some Limmud Inclusion volunteers last year at Limmud Festival smiling together in front of a banner

Members of the Limmud La’am Program with Limmud Inclusion volunteers

For this week’s Shabbat Smile, we are sharing an interview with Limmud, an organization led by Eli Ovits that is working to include Jews with disabilities.

  1. What is the mission of your organization?

Wherever you find yourself, Limmud will take you one step further on your Jewish journey. Limmud’s mission is informed by the following values: Learning, Expanding Jewish Horizons, Enabling Connections, Participation, Empowerment, Community and Mutual Responsibility, Respect, Arguments for the Sake of Heaven, Religious Observance and Diversity. (Details of each value can found here. Please see the details of the Diversity value, as they are applicable to this topic.)

  1. What are your results/performance metrics?

In 2017, Limmud programs reached 40,000 in 42 countries. At the end of 2017, there were more than 90 Limmud communities around the world, led by over 4,000 volunteers. Limmud Festival (Limmud UK’s annual 5-day conference) attracts 2,500-3,000 participants on an annual basis, some 12% who identify as having additional needs. [read more…]

Bob Rudney with RespectAbility staff and Fellows in front of the RespectAbility banner

Robert Rudney with RespectAbility staff and Fellows

Rockville, Maryland, Nov. 13 – Disability advocate and author Robert Rudney had a fulfilling career in politics and advocacy. He began in the war field as a writer for the U.S. Air Force and later as a War Research Associate at University of Louvain in Belgium. Rudney was the Associate Intelligence Analyst at Booz Allen Hamilton, where he analyzed possible terrorist attacks and drug money laundering for the Department of Homeland Security. He publicized a report on employment opportunities for disabilities for the CEO of Booz Allen.

Noticeably, Rudney was the Chairman of EXCEL! Networking Group, a support group for jobseekers with disabilities. During his role, he hosted networking events, workshops and peer mentoring sessions. Rudney was a contributing writer for President Barack Obama’s Disability Power & Pride campaign. Rudney’s novel Lovers Lame about a steamy romance between a couple with disabilities has received positive reviews.

Today, he is retired and he still is consulting for jobseekers with disabilities. He stopped by the RespectAbility office to talk to the Fellows on making good impressions. [read more…]

2018 Recipients of the Casting Society of America Award

Jonathan Murray and the Born This Way cast present an award to Sasha Alpert and Megan Sleeper at the Media Access Awards 2018

Jonathan Murray and the Born This Way cast present an award to Sasha Alpert and Megan Sleeper at the 2018 Media Access Awards

Beverly Hills, California, Nov. 8 — Sasha Alpert (They Call Us Monsters, Autism: The Musical, Born This Way) and Megan Sleeper (UndressedBorn This Way) were honored at the Media Access Awards, which recently has formed a partnership with Easterseals Southern California, for their work to create inclusive entertainment that features the stories of people with disabilities. The ceremony honors media and entertainment trailblazers advancing disability awareness and inclusion.

Alpert, Executive Vice President of Programming and Development, and Sleeper, Senior Vice President of Casting, promote the culture of telling authentic stories of people with disabilities at Bunim/Murray Productions (BMP) through their casting, including for Born This Way.

Born This Way, an unscripted reality show on A&E that follows a group of seven young adults with Down syndrome in Southern California, demonstrates that inclusive casting means not only including people with disabilities, but people with disabilities from many different demographics. [read more…]

Present 2018 Casting Society of America Award to Sasha Alpert and Megan Sleeper

Jonathan Murray and the Born This Way cast at the Media Access Awards 2018

Jonathan Murray and the Born This Way cast at the 2018 Media Access Awards

Beverly Hills, California, Nov. 8— The cast of Born This Way and executive producer Jonathan Murray made an appearance at the Media Access Awards to present casting directors Sasha Alpert and Megan Sleeper with the Casting Society of America Award. The Media Access Awards, which recently has formed a partnership with Easterseals Southern California, honors accurate inclusions of disability in film, television and new media.

Alpert and Sleeper cast Born This Way, for which they won the 2017 Outstanding Casting for a Realty Program Emmy Award. Born This Way is an unscripted series on A&E that follows the lives of seven young adults with Down syndrome as they navigate friendships, romantic relationships and work. The Casting Society of America Award, which Alpert and Sleeper were awarded, honors casting directors who actively participated in the mission of Media Access, according to the Casting Society of America.

Murray and the cast of Born This Way presented Alpert and Sleeper with the award. Steven Clark, Cristina Sanz and Rachel Osterbach delivered lines before presenting the award. [read more…]

voters in wheelchairs and with a dog votingWashington, D.C., Nov. 6 – Below you will find two up-to-the-minute resources to help you this election:

  1. Straight Q&A’s with candidates on disability issues organized by state. If you do not see a candidate from a senate or gubernatorial race, or local candidates in New York City and Los Angeles, it is because the candidate chose not to answer the questionnaire. RespectAbility is nonpartisan and all candidates were given an equal chance to make voters aware of their views on disability issues.
  2. Apps and information on where to vote, how to vote and who to contact if there is an issue. As voters go to the polls, it is vital to know that voters with disabilities have every right to vote. If you have a problem voting due to lack of access for disability, contact 866-OUR-VOTE, or other resources listed below, immediately. Please let us know as well by emailing View all of this information on one place on our blog: Disability Voter Resource Guide

Now please go vote! The disability community is 56 million citizens strong. Show your power at the ballot box! [read more…]

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Respect Ability - Fighting Stigmas. Advancing Opportunities.


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