Freelance Authors Union Launches Tele-Classes to Help Writers with Disabilities

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The National Writers Union's At-Large chapter, Local 1981 of the United Auto Workers, a member of the AFL-CIO, this week launched free tele-classes to help writers with disabilities achieve more success. Union member Sanford Rosenthal, who himself lost his sight 20 years ago to retinitis pigmentosa, is bringing together experienced writers to share knowledge and skills in a series of bi-weekly phone conversations.

When 20 people dialed a telephone number to a location outside Chicago Sunday night, they made history as the first participants in an innovative, interactive tele-class to help individuals with disabilities develop professional writing skills.

The project is a cooperative effort between a national labor union and Sanford Rosenthal, a South Florida community activist, who had a vision a year ago that he’s been sharing with anyone who would listen: “People with disabilities have stories to tell and deserve a chance to tell them.”

Rosenthal should know. He lost his sight entirely to retinitis pigmentosa, RP, almost 20 years ago. For 8 years, he’s published Party Line, an internationally-distributed, monthly audio magazine for the blind.

Last September, Rosenthal took his vision for writers with disabilities to Baltimore as an elected representative to the bi-annual Delegate Assembly of the National Writers Union (NWU). NWU is also known as UAW Local 1981, a division of the million-member United Auto Workers labor union and a member of the AFL-CIO. Rosenthal’s passion and political acumen paid off, leading the group to pass a landmark resolution creating a national disabilities task force along with resources for outreach and services to writers with disabilities of all types.

Seth Eisenberg, organizing co-chair of the NWU’s At-Large chapter and a regional chair of UAW’s technical, office and professional advisory council is one of Rosenthal’s enthusiastic supporters.

“Sanford has taught many people to see with much more than our eyes,” Eisenberg said. “His nature and abilities help us better understand what’s possible when people work together building on strengths and abilities instead of narrowly focusing on any disabilities or perceived weaknesses.”

With Rosenthal’s guidance, Eisenberg hopes to see NWU’s tele-classes become a model to help thousands of individuals with disabilities hone their writing skills and learn about the business of writing to achieve professional success across a range of genres.

Piper Weber, a Disability Program Navigator for Workforce One, a State of Florida job placement and training agency, said Rosenthal’s efforts have real potential to provide a valuable resource for individuals with disabilities. “Empowerment and sharing these resources can lead individuals towards employment and self-sufficiency,” said Weber. “Sanford is a wonderful leader full of passion and advocacy. The tele-classes are an important vehicle for helping others.”

Eisenberg said he’s glad to see the courses being provided at no cost to participants. “National Writers Union has been helping writers succeed and fighting to achieve justice and equality for freelance writers for a quarter century,” said Eisenberg. “The leadership of the At-Large chapter is pleased to make this training available to individuals with disabilities to help them achieve their goals. As they progress in their efforts to succeed in the freelance marketplace, I imagine many participants will take advantage of the benefits of union membership.”

Rosenthal said he was pleased by the very positive response he received from participants. “Without spending a dollar on advertising, information on our classes spread across the United States. Dozens of people started learning about my plans, emailing and phoning me,” Rosenthal said. For the first session, he added, individuals participated from 10 different states, including Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maine, New Hampshire, Illinois, Iowa and Arizona. “Almost immediately,” Rosenthal said, “the meeting felt like a reunion of friends. We all shared so much in common in terms of our experiences and hopes that we instantly felt the bond of a community.”

Although classes are scheduled to meet just twice monthly, Rosenthal said the response he’s received makes it likely classes will be held more often. “Our format is to keep each group small enough so that it’s comfortable for everyone to interact, brief enough so we don’t lose anyone’s attention, and informative enough so we actually help each participant become more successful.”

Rosenthal and Eisenberg said they are also considering other applications for using what they are learning through this project to help people with disabilities connect with each other, share resources, knowledge, and inspiration. “The possibilities are limitless,” said Rosenthal. “We’re learning to build new bridges that will enable us as human beings and fellow citizens to connect, learn, and empower one another.”

Immediately after the first class ended, Rosenthal said, his phone and email began buzzing with messages of appreciation and congratulations. “I was so moved by the impact we had right from the start,” he said. “Men and women both were telling me how much it meant to have a chance to learn from each other and inspire one another. Suddenly people said they didn’t feel alone. We already have many plans for how to build on our initial efforts by adding an internet site and additional topics.”

“It’s about being witnesses to each other’s lives,” Eisenberg added. “About building bridges of cooperation, sharing, and support that allow each of us to pursue greater opportunities to contribute, connect and succeed in fulfilling our own dreams.”

“Behind the keyboard,” Rosenthal said, “nobody is disabled.”

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