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Watch #BornThisWay on A&E, Tuesday at 10:00 p.m. ET. 

View Education Resources on Disability Issues

Rockville, Md., June 27 — In the U.S., schools were not required to provide special education until 1975. Today, the fight for inclusive education remains a constant battle for parents and students. Born This Way, a reality television show that stars seven diverse young adults with Down syndrome, shines the spotlight on the importance of inclusive education and the Individualized Education Program (IEP) process.

Ensuring children with disabilities receive the education and training they need to succeed is vitally important. Nationally, only 65 percent of students with disabilities graduate high school each year compared to 86 percent of student without disabilities. That means there is 21-point gap in outcomes. Furthermore, only seven percent of students with disabilities graduate college. As such, educators have a critical role to play in empowering more students with disabilities to succeed.

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Learning from Ron Drach, Combat Veteran Wounded in the Vietnam War

Ron Drach and RespectAbility Fellows standing and seated in a posed photograph, smiling for the camera

Ron Drach with RespectAbility Fellows and Staff

Rockville, Md., June 26 – Earlier this month, the RespectAbility Fellows had the privilege of hearing from Ron Drach, a combat veteran wounded in the Vietnam War. Drach says he’s lucky to have survived his wounds.

“If I could sum up the beginning of my career in two words, they would be luck and opportunity,” Drach said. “I got injured in 1967, and I’m lucky because I have survived.”

Getting injured in 1967 provided him with what he considered “to be a “luck job,” because it led to a job offer with the Disabled American Veterans (DAV).

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Choosing to Laugh

A Conversation with Jewish Disability Inclusion Champion Steve Rakitt

Steve Rakitt and RespectAbility Fellows standing and seated in a posed photograph, smiling for the camera

Steve Rakitt with RespectAbility Fellows and Staff

Rockville, Md., June 26 – Steve Rakitt’s journey to becoming the champion of Jewish disability inclusion began with a single decision to laugh.

Rakitt grew up not viewing his hearing loss as a disability, to which he credits his mother’s incessant support and activism toward the inclusion of Rakitt and his brother. Rakitt viewed his external hearing aid as merely a fashion statement. However, one day the children in his sixth grade classroom decided to communally hum and laugh at Rakitt in an attempt to disrupt his hearing aid and cause him distress. Instead of being offended, Rakitt simply “chose to laugh.” In that singular moment, his life became about who he was as an individual, not letting himself be defined by his disability.

Now, he is preparing to become the new President of the Genesis Prize Foundation. This was preceded by his current position as the CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington. In this position, he has championed the disability inclusion movement coinciding with his personal admission of hearing loss.

It was not until Rakitt became the CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington that he felt comfortable to publically discuss his disability and become the champion for Jewish inclusion in the Greater Washington community.

“Whatever discomfort I originally had about my disability was overpowered by the responsibility I had to reach out and make people aware of a community that hasn’t gotten attention,” Rakitt said while speaking to the Summer 2017 class of RespectAbility Fellows.

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Hosted by Lauren Appelbaum (@laurenappelbaum) of RespectAbility (@Respect_Ability), this Twitter chat will take a look at ideas explored in #BornThisWay by the young adults with Down syndrome and their parents.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017, 10:00-11:00 pm ET

Don’t have cable? You can livestream the show on A&E’s app.

You can find the questions for this chat in this post.

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Watch #BornThisWay on A&E, Tuesday at 10:00 p.m. ET. 

View Sexual Education Resources for People with Disabilities.

Rockville, Md., June 19 – Sexual education for young adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities is extremely important. Born This Way, a reality television show that stars seven diverse young adults with Down syndrome, is doing its part to highlight this.

According to the National Crime Victimization Survey, an average of 59,000 adults with disabilities are raped or sexually assaulted each year. Approximately half of all adults with cognitive disabilities will experience 10 or more sexually abusive incidents in their lifetime.

The upcoming episode of Born This Way on June 20, 2017 highlights the importance of sexual education as it relates to dating and marriage. The cast speaks with Terri Couwenhoven MS, CSE, a well known sex educator and author. Couwenhoven specializes in the design and implementation of sexuality programs and resources for people with cognitive disabilities, their parents and the professionals who support them.

In coordination with Couwenhoven, RespectAbility has released a lengthy guide featuring resources for sexual education for children, teenagers and adults with disabilities, with a focus on those with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

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Rockville, Md., June 15 – Yesterday’s shooting outside of Washington, D.C., reminds us about the dangers inherent in bitter partisanship and political uncertainty. As pollster Frank Luntz said, “If there ever was a chance for Republicans and Democrats to stand up and say, ‘Stop,’ this is it.” This master communicator reminds us that “we all believe in the Constitution, we all believe in the principles of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Among those principles is the idea that anyone who works hard should be able to get ahead in life. People with disabilities deserve the opportunity to earn an income and achieve independence, just like anyone else. Despite the fact that job openings just hit a record high, only one in three people with disabilities have jobs. For a nation with more than 6.4 million openings, we cannot afford to ignore the talents of 22 million working age people with disabilities.

Lost in the headlines was a White House announcement about apprenticeships. This is great news for many, but what about students with disabilities? What chance do they have to access work-based learning or gain the skills that employers need?

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Funding will Expand Inclusion of Jews with Disabilities, Fight Stigmas and Advance Opportunities

headshot of Itzhak Perlman holding his violin in front of him

Itzhak Perlman

Rockville, Md., June 14 – RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities for people with disabilities, is very grateful to announce that it has been chosen for a Breaking Barriers Award from The Genesis Prize Foundation and Jewish Funders Network to promote inclusion of people with disabilities in Jewish life.

The award is part of a matching grant program created in honor of 2016 Genesis Prize Laureate Itzhak Perlman, a world-renowned violinist and activist for people with disabilities. Perlman regifted the funds to promote Jewish inclusion for those with disabilities, as well as to support young people pursuing careers in classical music.

As part of receiving the Breaking Barriers Award, RespectAbility committed to match all funds received. Two new donors to RespectAbility are matching this gift: Ahuva and Aaron Orlofsky; and Beverly Foundation.

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Learning from Disability Diva Donna Walton

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

Donna Walton with RespectAbility Fellows and Staff

Rockville, Md., June 12 – When Donna Walton walked into the RespectAbility office, she greeted us with a radiant smile and embraced me a warm hug. A champion for empowering women with disabilities, Walton brought an air of confidence and acceptance that could be felt by everyone in the room.

An engaging story-teller, Walton unfolded the obstacles she had to endure to become who she is today – a leader in the fight for the respect and dignity she believes all people deserve, especially African American women with disabilities. After losing her leg to osteogenic sarcoma in 1976, she described her need “to ensure that individuals like myself would not endure the trajectory of experiences I had lived.”

Walton is the president of LEGGTalk, Inc., which provides resources for individuals in transitional stages and strives to empower individuals to conquer their personal limitations and help them succeed. She also created the Divas With Disabilities Project, which has a goal of helping to shape the perception of what “disability” looks like by promoting women of color through various media platforms.

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Advice on Connecting with People from AIPAC Strategist Jonathan Kessler

Jonathan Kessler and RespectAbility Fellows standing and seated in a posed photograph, smiling for the camera

Jonathan Kessler with RespectAbility Fellows and Staff

Rockville, Md., June 9 – “It’s not about how the cards are dealt, it’s about how you play them,” Jonathan Kessler told RespectAbility fellows on Wednesday.

Many of us RespectAbility fellows have had considerable medical and physical obstacles to overcome, but it’s people like Kessler who help us find our voice. He made it clear that the defining feature of his life journey was developing personal connections and relationships with other people. As the Director of Strategic Initiatives for AIPAC, there is no need to be modest about Kessler’s influence in Washington and America, but he didn’t come to talk about himself; he came to help make us sharper advocates.

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A Conversation with Ami Aronson of The Bernstein Family Foundation

Ami Aronson and RespectAbility Fellows standing and seated in a posed photograph, smiling for the camera

Ami Aronson with RespectAbility Fellows and Staff

Rockville, Md., June 8 – As her husband often says, Ami Aronson never thinks outside of the box; she never even knew the box existed.

En route to her current position as the Executive Director for the Bernstein Family Foundation (BFF), Aronson embarked on a circuitous journey. From her work at a refugee camp in Thailand, to tackling issues of sex trafficking in Nepal, to running the Women’s AIDS Network in San Francisco, Aronson has served as a champion for women and children alike with the self-proclaimed mantra of viewing life as a journey; one with no endgame or stopping point, but rather a continuous exploration of the world with a deep desire to have social impact.

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Respect Ability - Fighting Stigmas. Advancing Opportunities.

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