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Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance, and Inclusion Month for 2023 is almost over. In March, the Faith Inclusion and Belonging team will evaluate RespectAbility’s first JDAIM since I joined the team. We will be reaching out to many of our national and community colleagues to find out what they promoted during JDAIM and how our Faith Inclusion and Belonging team can support their work going forward.

We are also committed to exploring collaborations in the multi-faith space and learning from others who are doing similar awareness programming. At the same time, our team will be learning from disability organizations that have spirituality and religious participation as part of their work.

Yesterday and today, I was glued to the view outside my office window, watching Mother Nature deliver a meteorological gut punch in the form of two feet of snow. I thought about the times JDAIM events had to be cancelled or drew only a handful of people thanks to weather in some parts of North America. Inclement weather never even occurred to me and my colleagues from the Jewish Special Education Consortium when we chose February for JDAIM back in 2009. [continue reading…]

This year I was fortunate to bear witness to the transformative work done during Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance, and Inclusion Month (JDAIM). One of my favorite events during JDAIM was at Temple Emanuel in Boston. I hit the road from my apartment in New Haven, Connecticut around 6 a.m. to make it for our first event at 8:30 a.m. As I entered the synagogue, I was struck by the accessible infrastructure present throughout the building, including ramps both outside and inside the building, accessible bathrooms, and accessible parking.

These may seem like small accessibility measures. However, since religious organizations are not covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act, these measures are more than I have seen in many houses of worship. With that context in mind, I was surprised and delighted to find that their accessibility commitments went further. When I entered the small-group meeting rooms and the sanctuary, there was a large screen with live captioning, microphones to ensure presenters could be heard, and a livestream recording each part of the event so those who were unable to attend in person still had access.
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A scene from Aleeya with Aleeya running down a street with a man running after herSalt Lake City, Feb 23 – Aleeya, written and directed by RespectAbility Lab Alum Nina Mahesh (she/her), follows a trans woman in small-town India as she tries to buy a sewing machine for her boyfriend. This short film is both a simple love story and an intricate depiction of how trans women are treated in India. Over and over again, Aleeya, played impeccably by Nithu Rs, is either objectified or completely ignored by the people around her. Even the man she is trying to buy the sewing machine from won’t look up from his newspaper to engage.

In a conversation with Mahesh around the film, she remembered back to her yearly trips to India as a child where she would be ushered away from trans women coming up looking for change. Mahesh didn’t understand why these women were treated so poorly both in this one area as well as globally. As she got older and learned more about the community of these women, she wanted to see more positive representation. More specifically, as a narrative filmmaker, Mahesh said, “I didn’t see a lot of other things than documentaries [about these women]” and decided to make a narrative piece about them. [continue reading…]

Supreme Models is an amazing series that pays tribute to the trailblazing Black models who changed the fashion industry forever. Through heartfelt interviews that reintroduce iconic models like Donyale Luna and Pat Cleveland, viewers get a glimpse into what it took for them to break through the oppressive culture of racism and colorism in the 1960s.

Based on the book by Marsellas Reynolds, Supreme Models is a YouTube Originals docuseries from Vogue and The Machine that spills the tea on the fashion industry, from the Battle of Versailles to the unspoken “Blackout” that attempted to erase black models from the runway. Through a unique combination of archival footage and contemporary interviews, Supreme Models takes viewers on a journey through history as we explore how African American women revolutionized these industries.

RespectAbility Lab Alumna Nasreen Alkhateeb was the Director of Photography for the series, and she shared what it was like on set in real-time with these iconic women in history. “It felt so empowering to learn about my black history in a way that I had not before, and for it to be told by the people who actually experienced it.” Hearing the models talk firsthand about the embedded racism in the industry, Alkhateeb says the series sets up the foundation on which history was built and sheds light on how white supremacy worked in the fashion and entertainment industry. “You can’t build a future without knowing your history.” [continue reading…]

Quick Trip poster featuring a knife and a yellow mask on the back seat in a carErika Ellis is the multifaceted creative behind the short film Quick Trip. It is clear that Ellis has fun with her craft as she uses a unique sense of humor in her work. Ellis’s characters feel colorful and grounded in reality. These are people you would run into in day-to-day life, which is part of the appeal of her work.

In Quick Trip, Ellis takes on different roles as a writer and director of a three-minute thriller that ends in a sharp plot twist. A woman finds herself in danger after returning home from a quick trip to the pharmacy. We follow the main character’s drive to her home, and the slow pace is great at building suspense and curiosity. It’s also interesting to see such a scary threat in a mundane location, like a parking lot. It reminds us that this situation can happen to anyone.

Quick Trip was the product of a veteran-produced films contest at Amazon Prime. An independent producer, Ellis is passionate about advocating for artistic opportunities for other veterans. This initiative not only gives veterans a chance to make work but also gives us all the opportunity to see a new perspective within the filmmaking industry.

Ellis boasts a life full of different experiences. A veteran, after a long military career in aviation, Ellis worked in finance and in NYC’s bustling fashion scene. She is currently working in the entertainment industry in Los Angeles and writes features as well as TV pilots. After graduating from RespectAbility’s Entertainment Lab, Ellis has shown a commitment to authentic representation in her work and one can catch a glimpse of her commitment to original stories within this film.

Watch Quick Trip at Amazon Prime.

Poster for The Crossroad, a film by Nikki Bailey, with a black woman holding her hands together like she's praying.Hard pavement blocks and dark satin silhouettes of city streets: Writer-Director Nikki Bailey’s Short, The Crossroad, starts somewhere in reality and ends exactly when any remnants of it cease to exist. For Bailey’s magical realism short, the story surrounds a mother who makes a bargain with a Satanic figure, “The Tall Man,” to ensure the survival of her unborn child. Bailey’s protagonist must promise her own soul to “The Tall Man” or face the eminent death of her baby.

The film feels like you’re being spooned by death. Bailey seems to ask the audience to cozy up to the inevitable and sit with her characters’ despair throughout much of the story. The pinnacle of that despair is when Bailey’s protagonist dies – after her daughter, the one saved by the original bargain, denies a second deal with “The Tall Man.” The cost of the deal, for the daughter, seemed too great of a burden. After all, the soul of her mother was ascertained from that kind of deal, why would the daughter engage with it again?

Though there are limits to what Bailey can show in a fourteen-minute film, the possibilities of this imaginative story leave the audience wanting more. The most ordinary of streets, for Bailey, can be the genesis for something unsettling and completely magical.

Watch The Crossroad on YouTube.

Oreo explores identity and nonconformity through four different black women’s experiences. The short film centers around the Ralph Waldo Emerson quote, “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” It looks at black identity through religion, class, race, and culture, and does so while bending genres with moments of dark comedy and surrealism. Cashmere Jasmine, disabled writer, director and RespectAbility Lab 2021 alum, strings together these four stories to create a complex and compelling conversation around identity and feeling rejected.

It opens with Jennifer (Ria Ridley) realizing she got her Black Card revoked and has to call the Black Bank of America to confirm her identity through a series of questions about the culture. She eventually loses her card when the “bank tellers” hear her country music in the background. This hilarious satire lays the groundwork for the rest of the short film and does so brilliantly. [continue reading…]

Cooptation film poster with a bloody knife next to beauty products and flowers in a vase. Tagline: "Beauty is deadly."RespectAbility 2021 Lab Alumna and Unstoppable Film Festival Founder Juliet Romeo’s short film Cooptation follows a young African American woman determined to fit into society’s beauty standards by using a new beauty product with deadly consequences. 

Cooptation’s opening credits are filled with melancholic shots of night life as we hear the hauntingly beautiful song “I’ll Understand” by Roza.

The music then changes to a more upbeat coffee shop tune as we see an African American beauty brand ambassador named Dove putting red lipstick on in front of a mirror. She is in the middle of a FaceTime call with her best friend Opal, when she talks about a new skin serum called “Snow White” that she’s been trying out. “Snow White” is branded as a solution to fading away all your dark spots.

Opal voices her reservation towards Dove using the product, saying that it doesn’t “sound Black-owned or operated,” but her concerns are quickly brushed off. Opal champions Dove’s appearance, saying that her natural beauty and intelligence is radiant enough, and doesn’t need any beauty product to blemish it. [continue reading…]

Tameka Citchen-Spruce headshotFilmmaker, screenwriter, activist, community organizer, volunteer, trailblazer. Tameka Citchen-Spruce (she/her) has accomplished a lot in her 15+ years of disability advocacy—and she shows no signs of slowing down.

Born in Detroit and raised in Oak Park, MI, Tameka got into a car accident at six months old that left her paralyzed from the mid-chest down, also called a T2 spinal cord injury, which requires her to use a wheelchair. She relied on her community for support, which proved challenging as a Black and disabled woman in the Midwest.

“My parents raised me to be ‘durable’ and exposed me to everything, so I was never sheltered growing up,” Tameka said. “But, you know, it was hard for me to accept my disability.” She was the only Black girl and wheelchair user at school. She dealt with colorism, ableism, racism, and faced ignorance from some church members who “eagerly pray[ed] for God to heal [her].”

It wasn’t until Tameka participated in—and won—Ms. Wheelchair MI 2006 that she took charge of her story. [continue reading…]

As we roll out this new newsletter format, we are excited to have the opportunity to share recent and upcoming trainings. Where possible, we will include a link to registration or to a previous training. Even when it is not possible for you to register or watch a recording, we encourage our readers to carefully note subjects of interest. You may well be able to book a version of the same training through RespectAbility’s Disability Training and Speakers Bureau. Use these links to Meet The Speakers and learn about some of our existing Speaker Topics. If you find something of interest, you can Request Speakers Here.

National APSE 2023 Regional E-Institutes logo with a map of the United States color coded by region.On January 31, our Senior Director of Policy and Workforce Development, Wally Tablit, presented at the APSE Pacific Northwest Regional Event to more than 70 attendees from various states in the Pacific Northwest Region. This includes California, Hawaii, Washington, Oregon, Arizona, and Wyoming. There also were participants from Maryland, Oklahoma, and Philadelphia in attendance. Wally spoke to the critical need to infuse the concepts and movements of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility into the work of employment and workforce development for people with disabilities. Attendees learned of the importance and power of creating diverse teams, creating the necessary space to do the work of DEIA, and why it is an essential piece of your strategic plan and process to increasing employment outcomes for people with disabilities.

We also are excited to announce that we will be resuming our regular webinar schedule in early March with a presentation for Employee Resource Group members and other internal advocates on “Presenting the Business Case For Disability Inclusion Within Your Organization.” Learn more about that webinar and register to attend at our website.

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