Working for inclusion


For Karen Flippo, it all began in the family.


A family member with a disability led to a career helping those with disabilities succeed in life.

“People with disabilities are like everyone else,” she says. “My own family taught me about the possibilities.”

Now, after 40 years as an advocate, Flippo is looking forward to retirement at the end of September. She says she looks back on her career with satisfaction.

That career, supporting inclusion for people with disabilities, has taken her to 49 states and several countries. It started in the infancy of a field that has grown by leaps and bounds.

Right now, Flippo is a program director at the Institute for Community Inclusion at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, a position she’s held since shortly after she and her husband Chuck moved to Newport from the Washington, D.C., area in 2007. She travels extensively for this job but also often works from home.

A Chicago native, Flippo has held positions at the University of San Francisco, where she received a master’s degree in rehabilitation administration, at Virginia Commonwealth University, in Richmond, and at several trade groups in the Washington, D.C., area, including the Brain Injury Association of America and the National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities.

“My career has always allowed me to be in the right places at the right time,” Flippo says. And that’s meant she’s been able to work with organizations that support rehabilitation and workplace inclusion.

APSE, the Association of People Supporting Employment First, gave her a lifetime achievement award in June. She was a founding board member of the group, which supports inclusion in the workplace for those with disabilities.

“I was totally surprised,” Flippo said, adding that she had considered not even attending the APSE conference in Portland, Oregon.

“I was retiring …. It’s a nice farewell.”

But retirement won’t see Flippo sitting back and doing nothing.

Since moving to Newport, she’s served as a tour guide at Touro Synagogue, among other places.

“It’s a good way to get to know Newport,” she says. “You meet people from all over the world.”

She got involved with the Newport congregation when she was looking for a synagogue to join. She’s also a member of Temple Beth-El, in Providence.

Her advice for those entering the workforce? Find a mentor.

“I didn’t exactly know where I was going to land. But I had two fabulous mentors” who helped, Flippo said.

Her other advice, especially for women: Work on your life education  – “keep relevant and updated” – and “read a book.”

“Whether it’s fair or not, women still have to work twice as hard. We still have a lot of work to do,” Flippo says.

FRAN OSTENDORF is the editor of The Jewish Voice