Supreme Court Case Could Determine Education for Students with Disabilities

exterior shot of front of Supreme Court of the United States from across the street

Supreme Court of the United States

Washington, Jan. 13 – Earlier this week, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a critical case for children with disabilities, Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District, one of the most important education cases in decades.

In 1975, Congress passed a federal law requiring school districts to provide a “free appropriate public education” for children with disabilities, which includes individualized education plan (IEP) for students to be included in public schools. The law also provided federal funds for these services. The act was renamed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in 1990. Unfortunately, IDEA has never been fully funded, leading to some school districts struggling to keep up.

This case, representing a boy with autism named Endrew F. (Drew), argues just how much educational benefit the IEPs must provide. While some lower courts have ruled the need for a “meaningful” educational benefit, others require only a bit more than de minimis – the bare minimum.

Since Drew’s parents felt he was not improving in public school, they sent him to a private school where he progressed at a much quicker pace. Under IDEA, parents can receive tuition reimbursement from the school district if their child does not receive enough “educational benefit” from public schooling. Drew’s parents were denied, leading to this case.

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Disability Group Challenges Meryl Streep to Walk the Walk in Breaking Down Stigmas & Bullying

Meryl Streep standing behind a microphone smiling. She is wearing a black dress with many colorful, light-reflecting jewels.

Meryl Streep delivering her Golden Globes acceptance speech

Washington, Jan. 9 – RespectAbility, a national nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and expanding opportunities for people with disabilities, thanks Golden Globe lifetime achievement award-winner Meryl Streep for talking about the importance of not making fun of people with disabilities.

“Disrespect invites disrespect; violence incites violence,” the winner of the Cecil B. DeMille Award said during her acceptance speech. “And when the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose.”

President-elect Donald Trump fired back via Twitter, calling Streep “over-rated” and “Hillary flunky who lost big.”

RespectAbility, while grateful to Streep for “talking the talk,” challenges her to “walk the walk.”

“Now I hope that Meryl Steep will use her power and influence to ensure that television and movies include people with disabilities with accurate and positive portrayals,” RespectAbility’s President Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi said. “Think about it – according to the U.S. Census, almost 1-in-5 of us has a disability. Yet according to GLAAD, fewer than two percent of scripted television characters have disabilities. For all the hundreds of shows on television, we are talking just 15 characters!”

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Facebook Attack Reminds Nation of Violent Reality Often Faced by People with Disabilities

Screenshot of Facebook live video of victim with face blurred

Screenshot of Facebook Live video of victim with face blurred

Washington, Jan. 6 – RespectAbility is outraged that a young man with disabilities was kidnapped and a victim of assault by four young adults who live-streamed the torture on Facebook. We are committed to ending violence against people with disabilities of all races, religions, colors, gender identities, sexual orientations, national origins, ages, genetics or political affiliations.

According the Bureau of Justice statistics, people with disabilities are 2.5 times as likely to be victims of violent crime as individuals without disabilities. Furthermore, people with disabilities between the ages of 12-15 and 35-49 are three times more likely to be victims of violent crimes.

Yet violent acts against people with disabilities often do not receive much public attention. Partially because this vicious attack was broadcast live on Facebook, members of the press and public are paying a great deal of attention. The footage quickly went viral online.

Hate crime charges, among other charges, have been filed against the four assailants.

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Our National Leadership Program Needs A Director – and Fellows!

Fellows wanted in Policy, Communications, Media, Inclusion and Development! 

respectability-fellows-standing-in-front-of-wh-summer-2015
RespectAbility Fellows standing in front of the White House in Summer 2015

RespectAbility is searching for a talented professional who is interested in working with young professionals to develop their skills and launch their careers. This person will be an essential part of our team as our Leadership Program Director. In this role, the Director will work directly to support talented young leaders who aspire to careers in policy, communications or media.

The Director will be responsible for recruiting diverse Fellows, providing needed accommodations and overseeing a program of guest speakers and work that will have a national impact to fight stigmas and advance opportunities for people with disabilities. If you or someone you know is interested in joining our team, please see the full job description on our website here: National Leadership Program

Our National Leadership Program provides participants with access to high level guest speakers, personalized skills training as well as the chance to work on serious projects that will advance RespectAbility’s mission. Since 2013, 74 different, diverse Fellows have participated in our program. Many have gone on to jobs at the White House, government agencies, think tanks, advocacy organizations, political campaigns, nonprofits and more. Others have pursued advance degrees at Georgetown, Columbia and at other top schools.

RespectAbility is actively recruiting talented young leaders for our Spring, Summer and Fall 2017 cohorts. Fellowships are available in public policy, strategic communications, religious inclusion and nonprofit development. To learn more about our program, please visit our National Leadership Program site.

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RespectAbility Receives Grant from Ford Foundation to Create Harriet Tubman Fellowships

headshots of Ming Canaday and Eddie Ellis with text: The First Cohort of the Harriet Tubman Fellow

The First Cohort of the Harriet Tubman Fellows: Ming Canaday and Eddie Ellis

Washington, Dec. 21 – RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities for people with disabilities, is delighted to announce that the Ford Foundation awarded a grant, which has enabled RespectAbility to create and offer Harriet Tubman Fellowships to select participants in the National Leadership Program. Tubman acquired traumatic brain injury when a slave owner hit her with a heavy metal weight leading to epileptic seizures and hypersomnia. Her work, while living as an individual with a disability, to free slaves and then for women’s suffrage is one of the great stories of how people with disabilities can help make a nation stronger and better.

Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, published a groundbreaking op-ed in The New York Times called “Internships are Not a Privilege,” which discussed how the practice of requiring people to do unpaid internships before they get good policy jobs harms diversity efforts and discriminates against people who cannot afford to do them.

“We are thrilled to have this new transformative support,” said Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, president of RespectAbility. “Thanks to the Ford Foundation, we will be able to strengthen and diversify our National Leadership Program for young leaders with and without disabilities who are going into public policy, advocacy, journalism, public relations and other leadership roles. Previously, many people who wanted to participate in the program could not do so because while it offered free lunch and a transportation stipend, it was an unpaid program. Now we will be able to pay $15 an hour to many of the fellows who otherwise could not afford to do such a leadership program.”

The National Leadership Program has three cohorts of Fellows – in the fall, spring and summer – for a total of at least 24 Fellows. Eight will be Harriet Tubman Fellows.  Our 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.

The Ford Foundation’s grant will enable RespectAbility to include more participants with multiple minority status and/or low-income candidates who cannot afford the nine weeks of unpaid training. Two to three Fellows each cohort will be awarded with the Harriet Tubman Fellowship, which is a paid Fellowship.

“With the paid fellowships, we will be able to do our part to overcome the unequal opportunities sometimes created by unpaid internships,” RespectAbility Board Chair Donn Weinberg said. “Having the resources to pay our Fellows will allow us to offer this opportunity to people who otherwise might not be able to afford to gain the skills and the connections they need to enter careers in public policy, media or advocacy. This will be a significant factor in fully realizing our goals for diversity, recruitment and attracting quality applicants.”

Today only 65 percent of people with disabilities graduate high school and only seven percent complete college. For those lucky few who do complete college, only 53 percent of graduates with disabilities are currently employed as opposed to 84 percent of graduates with no disability. As a program that 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, our program has been designed to alleviate this situation.

The grant also will enable RespectAbility to hire a personal care assistant or interpreters as needed by any Fellow participating in the National Leadership Program.

“Many people with disabilities are faced with choosing to have a personal care assistant at home to help with necessary supports such as getting up in the morning and using the facilities or having personal care support at work,” Mizrahi said. “This grant allows us to offer the Fellowship to individuals needing this on-the-job assistance, which often becomes cost prohibitive to individuals, at no cost to them.”

RespectAbility’s Treasurer, Cal Harris, and Board of Advisors members, Janie L. Jeffers and Randall Duchesneau, will help shape the Harriet Tubman Fellowship program. Harris and Jeffers each have major leadership roles in Washington. A C5-C6 quadriplegic from a spinal cord injury during gymnastics, Duchesneau currently is a consultant based in Philadelphia who previously served as RespectAbility’s first Director of the National Leadership Program.

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Polling Shows People with Disabilities Split Vote Between Trump and Clinton

Near unanimous bipartisan agreement that a candidate should treat people with disabilities with dignity and respect

View All Poll Data (PDF, Accessible PPT)

Washington, Dec. 14 – Two separate bipartisan polls showed results that may surprise Washington insiders: voters with disabilities and their family and friends voted in big numbers for President-elect Donald Trump. While polls showed that many voters felt Trump made fun of people with disabilities, he was seen as stronger on changing Washington and failed economic policies that hold people with disabilities back.

RespectAbility, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities for people with disabilities, commissioned questions on two different national polls.

In a bipartisan pre-election and election night survey conducted by Lake Research Partners and The Tarrance Group, voters with disabilities split their votes between President-elect Trump (46 percent) and Secretary Hillary Clinton (49 percent). On the same poll, voters with disabilities identified themselves as 41 percent Democrat, 21 percent Independent and 31 percent Republican, demonstrating that on Election Day more Independents with disabilities voted for Trump than Clinton.

In an earlier poll by Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg PhD of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research and Republican pollster Whit Ayres PhD of North Star Opinion Research from late October, more voters with disabilities (40 percent) supported Trump compared to voters with no connection to the disability community (36 percent). The survey also showed that people with disabilities were more likely to say that the country is on the “wrong track” (59 percent) than were those without any disability connection (54 percent).

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RespectAbility Announces New Officers and Welcomes New Members to Its Board

Donn Weinberg re-elected as chair, ADA co-author Steve Bartlett as Vice Chair, Cal Harris Treasurer and Shelley Cohen Secretary
New members include communications stars Andrew Egan and Calvin Harris, philanthropist Aaron Orlofsky, criminal justice expert Janie L. Jeffers and CEO coach Dr. Dee Soder

RespectAbility team posing for a photo in front of a banner saying RespectAbility

RespectAbility Board Members, Staff and Fellows with Clarence Page, who lead our team in a great discussion on journalism regarding people with disabilities and the issues we care about during our December board meeting; From L to R: Calvin Harris, Tonya Koslo, Thomas “Doc” Sweitzer, Andrew Egan, Shelley Cohen, Dana Marlowe, Donna Meltzer, Philip Pauli, Clarence Page, Byron Murphy, David Richman, Linda Burger, Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, Matthew Wagner, Donn Weinberg, Dionne Joseph, Samantha Fleischer, Jonathan Murray, Ben Spangenberg, Hillary Steen

Rockville, Md., Dec. 13 – RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities for people with disabilities, is proud to announce the election of new officers, as well as new additions to the boards of directors and advisors. Rich in diversity and expertise, the board includes a cross section of national leaders from U.S. Congress, Hollywood, philanthropy, communications and private sector. Moreover, the board of advisors added respected leaders in nonprofit management with deep roots in disability issues.

“We are thrilled to bring such a talented group of leaders with fresh perspective to our boards,” stated Donn Weinberg, Co-Founder and Chair of RespectAbility. “People with disabilities have long been denied entry into the workforce, ultimately depriving 70 percent of working-age Americans a chance to impact our evolving economy. The diverse and bipartisan board we assembled is dedicated to this fight.”

In addition to welcoming five new members to RespectAbility’s boards, Weinberg was re-elected chair for another term. Former Rep. Steve Bartlett was elected Vice President. New board member Calvin Harris was elected Treasurer, and Secretary Shelley Cohen was re-elected to serve another term.

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Two Key Trump Picks Have Close Disability Experience

Philip Pauli, Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi posed and smiling for a photo wearing business suits

RespectAbility’s Philip Pauli and Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi with Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers

Washington, Dec. 9 – According to multiple news reports, President-elect Donald Trump has announced his choice for Secretary of the Interior, five-term Washington Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers. Currently the highest-ranking woman in Congress, McMorris Rodgers has been praised by the disability community for her strong history of advocating for the rights of people with disabilities, and RespectAbility congratulates the Congresswoman on her nomination.

In addition, news outlets are reporting that Trump will name Goldman Sachs veteran, Gary Cohn, to head the National Economic Council, where he would have significant influence over the administration’s economic policy, including corporate taxes and U.S. trade policy. Cohn, who has dyslexia, credits this disability with leading to many of his successes.

McMorris Rodgers has been a strong proponent of measures to support people with disabilities, such as the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act, which allows people with disabilities to set up tax-free savings accounts, and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which ensures access to education for children with disabilities.

“As part of America’s New Congress, we are here to advance real solutions,” McMorris Rodgers said in her comments on the signing of the ABLE Act in 2015. “Solutions that make people’s lives better. Solutions that empower all Americans – no matter where they come from or how much money they make or what challenges they face.”

Earlier this December, McMorris Rodgers received the United States International Council on Disabilities’ Dole-Harkin award, which honors leaders who have been crucial players in the global disability rights movement.

Much of McMorris Rodgers’ work on disability is based on helping people with disabilities live independent lives.

“We want to live independently, we want to work, we want every opportunity for those with disabilities to have the opportunity to live the American Dream,” McMorris Rodgers said at a rally for the National Council on Independent Living last year.

Her dedication to disability rights comes from her experience raising a son with Down syndrome. Raising a child with a disability has made her “a better person and a better legislator,” McMorris Rodgers said.

McMorris Rodgers is active in the Down syndrome community as well, as the founder and co-chair of the Congressional Down Syndrome Caucus. She also helped launch the first season of Born This Way, a reality TV show that follows the lives of young adults with Down syndrome, at the Washington, D.C., premiere in December 2015.

As Secretary of the Interior, McMorris Rodgers would manage federal lands for conservation and mineral development and oversee national parks, giving the Congresswoman an opportunity to continue in her fight to bring equal opportunity to people with disabilities.

Trump’s Pick to Head National Economic Council Openly Talks About His Dyslexia

Gary Cohn headshot

Gary Cohn

As a child growing up in Cleveland, Ohio, Gary Cohn was called an “idiot” by teachers and classmates. Yet Cohn graduated from both high school and college, something the majority of students with disabilities do not do. After graduation, he found a job in sales for U.S. Steel and later took a chance that led him to Wall Street.

“The one trait in a lot of dyslexic people I know is that by the time we got out of college, our ability to deal with failure was very highly developed,” Cohn told Malcolm Gladwell, who wrote about the businessman’s experiences in the book David and Goliath. “And so we look at most situations and see much more of the upside than the downside. It doesn’t faze us.”

While visiting New York, Cohn devised a plan to meet a broker and initiated the sharing of a cab with him to LaGuardia Airport, using the time to network. Cohn left the cab with the man’s number and had a job on Wall Street with his firm the next week.

“I’ve thought about it many times, I really have, because it defined who I am,” Cohn told Gladwell. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without my dyslexia. I never would have taken that first chance.”

Trump’s proposed Cabinet is missing disability representation. Cohn’s openness regarding disability is a welcomed occurrence in a Trump administration, as fully one-in-five Americans has a disability and the majority of Americans have a loved one with a disability.

“It is vital for the Trump administration to reflect America, including talented people with disabilities,”RespectAbility President Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, who has dyslexia herself, said. “The administration needs people who have real, proven experience in enabling people with disabilities to receive the education and training they need to succeed in gaining jobs and independence. There are 56 million Americans with disabilities, and only 30 percent currently are employed, while 70 percent have expressed a desire to be. Without ensuring that the needs of people with disabilities, specifically relating to employment and education, a Trump administration would be leaving too many Americans behind.”

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Trump’s New Labor Secretary Needs to Focus on Jobs for People with Disabilities

Andy Puzder headshot

Andy Puzder

Washington, Dec. 8 – As news reports say President elect Donald Trump is expected to nominate fast-food executive Andy Puzder as labor secretary, RespectAbility congratulates Puzder on the nomination but encourages both Trump and Puzder to include people with disabilities in their jobs programs.

An adviser and contributor to Trump’s campaign, Puzder is the chief executive of CKE Restaurants Holdings Inc., the parent company of the Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s burger chains, which employs more than 20,000 people.

Only one in three working-age Americans with a disability has a job, despite the fact that studies show that 70 percent of the 21-million working-age people with disabilities are striving for work. More than 78 percent of non-disabled Americans are employed.

RespectAbility looks forward to working the new potential secretary of labor to ensure that all people with disabilities who choose to work are given opportunities to find competitive, integrated employment.

“Our nation was founded on the principle that anyone who works hard should be able to get ahead in life,” said Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, president of RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities for people with disabilities. “Companies including Amazon, Starbucks, Pepsi and others have shown that employees with disabilities are loyal, successful and help them make more money. People with disabilities bring unique characteristics and talents to workplaces that benefit employers and organizations. If we find the right jobs for the right people, it can and does increase the bottom line of companies.”

Puzder has spoken out against raising the federal minimum wage and criticized the Affordable Care Act, calling for its repeal.

“People with disabilities need access to good jobs and healthcare so that they too can achieve the American dream,” said Mizrahi.

Eleven million people with disabilities of working age are living on government benefits. In an op-ed last summer, Puzder said such benefits “can lock [people] into poverty.”

“As the Trump administration focuses on jobs for Americans, the inclusion of all people, including those with disabilities, in competitive paying positions needs to be a top priority,” Mizrahi added. “Puzder has called for a change in the benefits system. People with disabilities are not looking for hand-outs but cannot be put in a position where they would lose supports for personal care assistants and other necessary items to live an independent life. People with disabilities want jobs and deserve the opportunity to earn an income and achieve independence, just like anyone else.”

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Media Access Awards Honors Speechless, Born This Way for Normalizing Disability

Speechless' Cedric Yarbrough, Scott Silveri, Melvin Mar and Micah Fowler smiling and posing with Silveri and Mar's award

Speechless’ Cedric Yarbrough, Scott Silveri, Melvin Mar and Micah Fowler (Photo Credit: Michael Hansel)

Los Angeles – As Hollywood came together to celebrate people with disabilities, media creators recognized the importance of accurate representation of the largest minority in the U.S.

Scott Silveri’s new hit show on ABC, Speechless, which features a young man with cerebral palsy (Micah Fowler), won three awards including two for Silveri (Writers Guild of America West Evan Somers Memorial Award and SAG-AFTRA Disability Awareness Award along with director/producer Jake Kasdan and producer Melvin Mar).

Danny Woodburn smiling and pointing

Danny Woodburn (Photo Credit: Michael Hansel)

The honors were presented at the Media Access Awards, an event promoting disability and its depictions in film, television, and new media. In attendance were key entertainment leaders with ties to disabilities. It was emceed by actor/comedian Danny Woodburn who also was awarded the Norman Lear – Geri Jewell Lifetime Achievement Award for both his acting career and his disability advocacy work.

Casting Director Susie Farris, who cast Fowler, was awarded with the Casting Society of America Award. She spoke about the importance of Fowler’s character not being an inspiration. Speechless now reaches seven million people.

Silveri, who grew up in a family intimate with disability issues with a brother who has cerebral palsy, talked about not even thinking about including people with disabilities in his work for many years. When he came up with the idea of Speechless, he said he found networks willing and interested. Silveri thanked disability advocates who have been working for years to open the doors for him. “If we’re going to be storytellers,” Silver said, “then we have to include disability.”

Speaking of “white able-bodied male jerks” who write for Hollywood, Silveri said many don’t get the importance of inclusion of people with disabilities but they are not trying to be wrong.

A&E's Drew Tappon & Born This Way Executive Producer Jonathan Murray posed with Murray's award

A&E’s Drew Tappon & Born This Way Executive Producer Jonathan Murray (Photo Credit: Michael Hansel)

Another major winner was creator and executive producer of A&E Networks’ Born This Way Jonathan Murray, who said people with disabilities “have been placed on the sidelines and the margins of primetime television.”

“With Born This Way airing on A&E, that is no longer the case,” Murray added.

His newest show, Emmy-winning Born This Way, features seven individuals with Down syndrome. During its first season, the show increased its viewership by more than 80 percent, which Murray says proves that shows featuring people with disabilities “is not only the right thing to do, it’s also good business.”

Awarded with the Producers Guild of America George Sunga Award, Murray has been promoting the importance of including all minorities in his various television series such as The Real World, The Challenge and Project Runway.

The Media Access Awards aim to recognize depictions of disability that are accurate, inclusive and multi-faceted. The ceremony honors industry professionals who have advanced disability-related narrative in fields including writing, producing, casting, performance and directing.

Born This Way's Jonathan Murray and Speechless' Jonathan Murray posing and smiling

Born This Way’s Jonathan Murray and Speechless’ Jonathan Murray (Photo Credit: Lauren Appelbaum)

By promoting success stories of people with disabilities, both Speechless and Born This Way help to change negative perceptions of people with disabilities, especially among employers.

“Each year 300,000 young people with disabilities reach the age to enter the workforce,” Murray said. “However, despite polls showing that most of these young people want to work, they often hit a roadblock because of negative stigmas. So it is wonderful that views of Born This Way see young adults in our series contributing to their workplaces, and, in one case, starting her own business. It is also wonderful that our viewers see our cast as individuals, each with distinct personalities and dreams.”

Deborah Calla standing behind podium and Allen Rucker seated in wheelchair on stage

Media Access Awards Chairs Deborah Calla and Allen Rucker (Photo Credit: Lauren Appelbaum)

Deborah Calla and Allen Rucker chaired the awards ceremony. Co-chairs included Ray Bradford, Pam Dixon, Jenni Gold, Sam Maddox, Paul Miller, Adam Moore, Kim Myers and George Sunga. Other winners included actress Jamie Brewer (SAG-AFTRA Harold Russell Award), who has Down syndrome, and MacGregor Arney (Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation Scholarship), an upcoming young actor with cerebral palsy.

Zach Weinstein, who presented Arney with his award, summed up one purpose of the awards ceremony. Talking about his 13-day-old son, he said he is happy to known he will grow up in a world “where disability is going to be normalized.”

Said Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, president of RespectAbility, “It is time for people with disabilities to be seen in Hollywood both in front of and behind the camera. We have so much to contribute to storytelling, entertainment and success.” RespectAbility is a nonprofit working to end stigmas and advance opportunities for people with disabilities.

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