To: RespectAbility Board/Donors
From: Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi
Date: April, 2014
RE: PerformanceReport on empowering people with disabilities to achieve the American dream
Thank you so much for caring about people with disabilities (“PwDs”) and for being a part of our start up as we work to empower people with disabilities to achieve the American dream. RespectAbility is now ninemonths old and has spent $130K. Thus, it is time to take stock, evaluate our progress to date, and make any needed mid-course corrections. Additionally, we were given temporary free office space and now we are at the juncture where we need to actually move to more permanent and paid office space. Thus, as we look at our own performance metrics, here is a look back and ahead.
On June 13, 2013 our board passed a very specific mission for RespectAbility, which is to:
- Reshape the attitudes of American society so that people with disabilities can more fully participate in and contribute to society, and
- Empower people with disabilities to achieve as much of the American dream as their abilities and efforts permit.
Our business plan and launch outlined a number of specific sectors critical to achieving our goals. Our “theory of change” was very clear and already in our early months we have achieved great things. We have spoken face to face with 32 governors about employment for people with disabilities, seen several of those governors already make dramatic improvements in their policies (i.e.Delaware, Wisconsin, Iowa, Mississippi, North Dakota), are seeing big potential in other states (NY, NJ, IL and others), received important media coverage, completed multiple polls and focus groups, built critical databases of key contacts and hosted multiple educational opportunities including a highly successful event on Capitol Hill with Gov. Jack Markell, Rep. Pete Sessions and MTV Host T.J. Lavin. We launched our first PSA with T.J. Lavin which aired in Washington in CNN, FOX, MSNBC, MTV, CNBC and other networks. We have done two events with the White House, both of which were covered in the media.
It is still too early to see employment rates and attitudes overall improve as a result of our work, but we hope to see some future positive movement. New Department of Labor numbers do show, however, that Delaware and Iowa, which are starting to use best practices,have very good new statistics on employment for veterans with disabilities.
You can refer to our business plan for why we targeted each group. I have put in bold special notes on each sector.
- Elected Officials, Policy Makers and Government
Our most important impact so far has been with governors. We focused on this group because of the leadership of then National Governor’s Association (NGA) chair Gov. Jack Markell, who made this issue a priority in “A Better Bottom Line: Employment for People with Disabilities.” Governors have a tremendous impact on public education and workforce development. Programs such as Project Search (real life work experience done during school hours by students with disabilities ages 19-21) are showing terrific results in leading to employment. We now have an excellent contact point for every governor, and have spoken face-to-face with 32 governors on jobs for people with disabilities.
For example, we first met at length with Gov. Scott Walker of WI and his top team on August 2, 2013. In his State of the State Address in January of 2014 he made jobs for people with disabilities one of his top issues and a feature not only of his speech but also of his policies. The same is true of the policies of other governors including Jack Markell (DE), Dennis Daugaard (SD), Terry Branstad (IA), and Phil Bryant (MS). While Gov. Markell’s commitment preceded our work, and in fact we rely very heavily on our partnership with him, we have sponsored other meetings at two National Governors Association events and plan to repeat these again at the next one. We also made visits to NY and NJ to follow up specifically with the top professionals/Cabinet officials on these issues per the direction of Governors Cuomo and Christie, respectively. We are in discussions with teams from Governors in NM, VA, PA, IL, MO, CA, GA, NC and other states as well.
See Appendix Dfor a sample letter that went to governors during our second approach to them.
RespectAbility sent our Fellows repeatedly door to door on for days on Capitol Hill to find a point person for each office. In the past eight months we have dramatically expanded our lists of political and policy contacts. We are emailing opportunities and information to more than 900 Hill staff and state officials and have shared these political contact lists with other disability groups who share our agenda.
However, our key focus in the public sector has been with governors where we see the most immediate progress taking place. See Appendix E for an update on work with governors across the country.
However, it’s not enough for us to know who the players are – they need to know and trust us on disability issues so we can help them be more effective. Like any relationship building with high-level contacts, it takes time. When we started it was disheartening to find that most disability groups were only working with a handful of offices on the Hill, and that most Capitol Hill and Governors’ offices had not even designated a person within their core staff who would handle disability issues.
Therefore, we have also made it a priority to reach out to political consultants. This is because elected officials often do what their political consultants advise them to do, as it generally helps them get re-elected/ elected. We built a list of 300 top political consultants and are sending them information including data from our poll that shows that people with disabilities WILL vote on disability issues. Many of the poll questions were designed specifically with these consultants in mind. Doc Sweitzer from our board is an especially important participant on this front as he is a major player inside the American Association of Political Consultants (AAPC), which is the trade association for political consultants.
- Disability Groups
We are now working with dozens of disability groups and are especially close with our host group, the Autism Society, as well as those who have leaders on our Board of Advisors such as NICL and NACDD,plus USBLN, Best Buddies, NFB, and AUCD. Other groups are nervous that our positioning/framing that “people with disabilities haveabilities and can be excellent in the workplace” will undermine the “pity factor” that leads to funding the safety net for people with disabilities. Some have invested heavily in that image and feel it is vital for government benefits to continue. They are concerned that following cuts in SNAP (food stamps),Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) (which is already financially due to go bankrupt in 2016) is at risk. We are sensitive to these issues and will do a focus group soon in cooperation with these groups so we can find messages that work across the board.
There are about 100 disability leaders in Washington who all seem to know one another and attend each other’s events. We have not had the capacity to get our own work done and show up at many of these events, especially given how far away we are from DC. Because we don’t lobby, we do not sign onto the many lobby letters being circulated. This initially surprised some partners, but has become expected as our SOP. However, we are now asking these same groups to sign onto letters to Governors, political consultants and Hollywood insiders.
One of the great successes has been our work with Development Disability Councils (DD Councils) around the country. For example, RespectAbility’s CEO co-keynoted a major rally in Georgia with the DD Council and Gov. Deal. At the rally Gov. Deal made early commitments to make progress on jobs for people with disabilities. See
RespectAbility will be briefing leaders of these groups at their national meeting this weekend.
- Private Sector
We have had a lot of success in highlighting the private sector’s use of disability “stories” in their for-profit marketing TV and web ads. The Guinness beer ad, for example, showed a tremendous,and clever, example of inclusion: a group of guys are playing wheelchair basketball – until it is revealed that only one of the players is a regular wheelchair user. The ad received more than 4 million hits on YouTube. Even better was the Duracell ad created by P&G with Seattle Seahawk’s Derrick Coleman who happens to be deaf. That ad received more than a BILLION impressions on the web, with more than 15 million individual views. It was followed up by another P&G ad, which showcased a paralympian,which has already gotten more than 4 million clicks. RespectAbility showcased these ads widely to get them even more press and traction. Respectability’s CEO published two op-eds on the ads, which got the attention of Derrick Coleman and, as a result, he will be doing an event with RespectAbility in the future at the National Press Club.
The White House, concerned at the lack of progress on the employment front has issued new Labor Department 503 ruleswhich go much further in establishing specific guidelines for federal contractors and subcontractors to recruit, hire, promote and retain people with disabilities and protected veterans. In addition to drafting plans to ensure and prove their organizations are utilizing at least 7 percent of available individuals with disabilities in their workforces (for veterans, that percentage goes to 8), employers will be required to develop much more in-depth affirmative-action plans, collect and analyze data to ensure their plans are accurate and effective, create training programs to ensure everyone involved in hiring is aware of them, and more.
Our partner USBLN is doing an outstanding job with employers as the new 503 regulations createimportant opportunities. RespectAbility’s President went to CA for the USBLN annual meeting and trained their staff. We are working closely with them and others on their efforts. Still, there is push back from the private sector on what they see as coercion in the 503 regulations. At this moment it is important for the private sector to be exposed to case studies that illustrate employees with disabilities who have enabled companies to make more money. A good example of this is: On that front we will soon do a webinar with Lori Golden of Ernst and Young, one of the foremost experts in this field. We will do another in partnership with USBLN.
Elite Private Schools:Manyprivate sector hiring decisions are at least initiated by CEOs. Many of the most important companies’ CEOs hail from a small number of elite schools. However, it has come to our attention that most elite private high schools which are feeder schools into the Ivy League, Stanford, GA Tech and other key institutions do not include students and faculty members with obvious disabilities. This is a challenge we intend to address as future CEOs and elected leaders are being denied access to formative experiences with “twice exceptional” (people with disabilities but who are also gifted) peers with disabilities. Why would they want their teams to include people with disabilities if they only see us with pity, and not for the abilities we have? Thus, we plan to do some targeted work with elite schools on this issue in advance of the 201525th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. After all, the talented young Americans who start high school at elite private schools in 2015 will start becomingcritical hiring and policy leaders as soon as 2025.
- Faith-Based Groups
Faith-based organizations play a major role in American society, leadership and civil rights and are an important component of our work. With both our chair and president being so active in the Jewish community, RespectAbility started witha major focus in the Jewish community. Our president has published approximately two-dozenpieces on disability inclusion in Jewish publications. We have built a strong list of Jewish leaders and email them regularly. We have already done polling in the Jewish community, and our recent pollincluded many questions that wereimportant to understanding other faith groups as well. We were able to release separate data for Catholics, Protestants, Evangelicals and Jews.
We are a part of a coalition with other faith groups being led by Rev. Bill Gaventa of the Boggs Centerand Prof. Erik Carter of Vanderbilt. Since our training several months ago, “Abraham’s Tent”, hosted at Temple Beth Ami and attended by 150 Jewish professionals 15, we are seeing significant progress in the Jewish community. Three streams of Judaism (Reform, Conservative, Orthodox) as well as the Jewish Federation of North American and Jewish Council for Public Affairs have all released terrific aspirational goals in terms of inclusion. Now we need to move from “talking the talk” to “walking the walk.” Other people/groups such as Shelley Cohen’s Jewish Inclusion Project, the Ruderman Family Foundation, Weinberg Foundation, Butler Foundation,Jewish Funders Network,etc. are also playing major roles.
Additionally, there is significantly more media on this topic in the Jewish press, including real traction for the New Normal, a blog of the NY Jewish Week on disability issues in the Jewish community. It already has more than 100,000 unique hits and we publish regularly there as well as in other publications. We have done two events with the White House and both of them were covered in the media. It is our plan to replicate best practices in our outreach to other faith groups in the future.
- News Media
We have built lists of media contacts and are emailing them regularly, butbecause we have not raised enough money to put paid staff in place, we have not had the capacity to deliver enoughstories yet. Perhapsthe most influential segment delivered was the CNBC segment we inspired and helped craft: . We also have seen traction with a special target audience – publications read by human resources managers who are in a position to hire people with disabilities. See
We did reach out to press at the National Governors Association meeting. We got this good piece: as well as several pieces regarding the follow up from our work with Gov. Walker.
See section below on all the op-eds published, including in USA Today, Des Moines Register, Milwaukee Journal, Huffington Post and others. In addition, we have met with theNJ StarLedger editorial board, NPR, The NewsHour and have met twice with a key reporter from USA Today.We have requested meetings with The New York Times and Washington Post editorial boards, both of whom declined that opportunity. However, we have significant traction with one publication on potentially giving them an exclusive on the major study we are doing on inclusion of children with disabilities at the elite private schools that are essentially feeder schools to the Ivy’s and other colleges.
We are extremely fortunate to have threekey individuals in our court. The first is leading scriptwriter, Murray Siegel (see ) who is highly gifted in mind and heart. He has been working with us, with assistance from our own board superstar talent Doc Sweitzer, to produce PSAs featuring major celebrities. The second is reality-TV pioneer Jonathan Murray (see ) whose exceptional work with Pedroon MTV’s Real World led to public acceptance of people who are HIV positive. He is a major contributor to inclusion of LGBT people on reality TV. His dramatic impact there could be surpassed by his new contributions for the inclusion of PwDs. The third is MTV Host TJ Lavin who stared in a PSA for us and came to Capitol Hill to participate in an event for RespectAbility alongside Gov. Jack Markell, Rep. Pete Session and a Paralympic gold medalist. Dozens of Hill staff registered for the event, which was successful. To view the PSA go to
We have now sent letters to 300 of the most powerful decision makers in the televisionand movie industry askingthem to include more PwDs in their work as we believe that this would haveincredibletransformational potential. A copy of our letter to Hollywood/Television/Film leaders is at the bottom of this document in Appendix A. We are now working to get other disability groups to send letters to these same leaders. Additionally, we will soon be releasing poll data from our poll of 3800 people in the disability community on how they view Hollywood and the news media.
We built a list of major philanthropists and sent a letter to more than 900 of them asking them to ensure that the organizations that they support do not discriminate against people with disabilities. Many were surprised to learn that religious organizations are exempt from ADA laws and do discriminate. We have also published op-eds urging the use of the power of the purse for good. See section below.