RespectAbility’s National Leadership Program Advances with New Director at Helm  

Fellowship Applicants Welcome

headshot of Shonda McLaughlin against a banner saying RespectAbility Rockville, Md., March 6 – RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization fighting  stigmas and advancing opportunities for people with disabilities, is pleased to announce the hiring of Shonda McLaughlin, Ph.D., as its new National Leadership Director.

Prior to joining RespectAbility, McLaughlin served as a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor at the Department of Veterans Affairs for almost six years and previously as a vocational counselor for youth with disabilities. She has more than twenty years of experience and training in the field of rehabilitation counseling. McLaughlin also has taught rehabilitation counseling as a professor. She earned her degree in Rehabilitation Research and Education and is a Certified Rehabilitation Counselor.

McLaughlin is excited about serving at RespectAbility, as she will have the opportunity to work with Fellows who are interested in impacting the lives of people with disabilities.

“As a Black woman with an obvious disability who has had many challenges, I want to do whatever I can via mentoring, training, coaching or advocating, to lessen the challenges for others,” McLaughlin said. “RespectAbility provides that platform.”

Said RespectAbility President Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, “We had an exhaustive national search for someone with the highest skills, integrity, passion and vision. We are honored and delighted that Dr. McLaughlin will take the reins of our National Leadership Program. She is an ideal role model and professional to recruit and train young leaders who are committed to people with disabilities and who want to go into public service, media and advocacy. Dr. McLaughlin will enable leaders to achieve their dreams – while building a diverse talent pipeline for the disability movement.”

Graduates of the program have gone on to work for the White House, think tanks and in public affairs and advocacy, as well as to numerous high-level law schools and masters programs for public policy.

The Fellowship is supported by the Stanford and Joan Alexander Foundation, which enabled the Fellowship to hire its first Director in 2015, as well as the Ford Foundation, whose grant now enables RespectAbility to include more participants with multiple minority status and/or low-income candidates who cannot afford unpaid Washington internships.

Applications Open
RespectAbility is accepting applications from potential Fellows to serve within the National Leadership Program. There are several fellowship opportunities:

“Since disability impacts everyone, directly or indirectly, we are seeking applicants from diverse backgrounds, persons with and without disabilities, to include Veterans, who are interested in removing stigmas about disability and advancing opportunities for and with persons with disabilities,” McLaughlin said.

McLaughlin works directly with Fellows to provide them with professional work experiences and resources that will support their career goals and simultaneously advance RespectAbility’s mission. She is responsible for recruiting qualified Fellows, providing training related to their skills development (e.g., writing, research, computer, networking, social media, public speaking, resume writing), and working with Fellows to organize relevant presentations and special events. In addition, she serves as a mentor to aid in the Fellows’ completion of assigned tasks and assists graduates of the program with securing employment and/or entrance to graduate schools.

The National Leadership Program has three cohorts of Fellows – in the fall, spring and summer – for a total of at least 24 Fellows. The 2017 Summer Fellowship dates are June 5 – August 11, 2017. There are rolling admissions for each cohort. Spring 2017 Fellowship applications still are being accepted as well.

All participants will be trained in advocacy, media and leadership; they will learn how to communicate successfully with people who hold leadership positions in government, commerce or the disability advocacy field. With assistance from the Director, fellows will work with the other professional staff members on various projects throughout the organization, including in employment advocacy, faith inclusion, stigma reduction and development.

“Our fellowship program continues to thrive,” Mizrahi said. “To date, we have had more than 80 fellows, half of whom self identify as a person with a disability, half of whom do not but want to work in the disability field and/or support our agenda. With Dr. McLaughlin now here to lead our efforts, we are looking forward to a a robust future.”

The National Leadership Program enables young leaders to gain critical skills, contacts and experiences necessary to be accepted into graduate school or go directly into careers in public policy, media or advocacy. This program is fully accessible for people with disabilities and offers full-time in-house job coaching, skills development, networking opportunities, assistive technology and personal care support. People with and without disabilities are encouraged to apply but applicants must have a strong commitment to fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities for people with disabilities.

There are opportunities for both paid and unpaid Fellowships. Unpaid fellows receive a monthly transportation stipend. Lunch is provided daily for all fellows. In addition, all fellows participate in special presentations by guest speakers and intensive strategic communications workshops. RespectAbility is an Equal Opportunity Employer and Affirmative Action employer. Persons with disabilities and minorities are strongly encouraged to apply.

For more information, check out our Frequently Asked Questions, or contact Shonda McLaughlin, National Leadership Director, at

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