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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.”

Meet the Author

Lauren Appelbaum
Lauren Appelbaum

Lauren Appelbaum is the Vice President, Communications, of RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities for and with people with disabilities, and managing editor of The RespectAbility Report, a publication at the intersection of disability and politics. Previously she was a digital researcher with the NBC News political unit. As an individual with an acquired invisible disability - Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy - she writes about the intersection of disability, employment, Hollywood and politics. From entertainment professionals to presidential campaigns, journalists to philanthropists, she conducts trainings on the why and how to be more inclusive and accessible. Behind the scenes in the entertainment industry, Appelbaum engages decision makers and creatives to improve the quality and number of authentic, diverse and inclusive presentations of people with disabilities on TV and film so audiences can see people with disabilities as vital contributors in America and around the world. She and her team have consulted on projects with Amazon, Disney/ABC Television, NBCUniversal, Netflix, and The Walt Disney Studios, among others. Appelbaum also enriches the pool of disabled talent in Hollywood by nurturing and connecting them to those who can assist with their careers, both on the creative and business sides of the industry. She is the author of The Hollywood Disability Inclusion Toolkit, which was created to help entertainment professionals to be as inclusive of people with disabilities as possible, and the creator of an innovative Lab Program for entertainment professionals with disabilities working behind the camera. To reach her, email LaurenA@RespectAbility.org.

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