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Demi Lovato and Selena Gomez smiling and posing for the camera, Demi in black dress and Selena in a white dress

Highlighting Latinos with Disabilities in Honor of Hispanic Heritage Month

Michelle Rodriguez looking fierce

Michelle Rodriguez on set

Rockville, Md., Oct. 16 – The country just finished celebrating National Hispanic Heritage Month, which began on September 15, 2017 and ended October 15, 2017. National Hispanic Heritage Month recognizes the contributions made and the important presence of Hispanic and Latino Americans to the United States and celebrates their heritage and culture. It is important to note this includes 4,869,400 Latinos living with a disability in the U.S.

Only 37 percent of working-age Latinos with disabilities are employed in the U.S., compared to 73.9 percent of working-age Latinos without disabilities. This is in line with the rest of the country, with fully one-in-five Americans having a disability and just 30 percent of those who are working-age being employed, despite polls showing that most of them want to work.

Salma Hayek wearing a black tank smiling for the camera

Salma Hayek

While we know that there are currently at least 1,471,367 Hispanic students with disabilities in our country, only 59 percent of them complete high school. To compound this issue, students with disabilities of all backgrounds are at risk for entering the school-to-prison pipeline; there are more than 750,000 people with disabilities behind bars in our nation.

While studies show many people within the Latino and other communities hide their invisible disability due to negative stigmas, some celebrities are using their voice to share their stories, educating people about both visible and invisible disabilities. They are defying the statistics and have remained highly successful with their disabilities. Notable examples include actresses Cristina Sanz, Gina Rodriguez, Michelle Rodriguez and Salma Hayek; artist Frida Kahlo; singers Demi Lovato and Selena Gomez; nonprofit founder Jeison Aristizabal; and Professor Victor Pineda. They are perfect candidates for RespectAbility’s #RespectTheAbility campaign, which is shining a light on individuals with disabilities who are succeeding in their chosen careers.

Gina Rodriguez smiling, seated on a chair

Gina Rodriguez

Our nation’s economy is strongest when it is inclusive of the value that diverse talent brings to the workplace. These celebrities are making a difference in how audiences, both Latino and non-Latino, perceive disability. However, companies including Amazon, Starbucks, Pepsi, J.P. MorganChase, Walmart and others exemplify these values and have specific programs to hire, cultivate and promote people with disabilities. What these businesses have found is that employees with disabilities are loyal, successful and help them make more money.

The celebrities mentioned above are especially important to acknowledge during Hispanic Heritage Month. However, their work should be valued and appreciated year-round. Although Hispanic Heritage Month was from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, Latin American celebrities and their work can still be enjoyed no matter what time of year it is, especially on popular streaming service Netflix.

 

Meet the Author

Lauren Appelbaum

Lauren Appelbaum is the VP, Communications and Entertainment & News Media, of RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities so all people with disabilities can fully participate in every aspect of community. As an individual with an acquired nonvisible disability – Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy – she works at the intersection of disability, employment, Hollywood and politics. She regularly conducts trainings on the why and how to be more inclusive and accessible for entertainment executives throughout the industry. Appelbaum partners with studios, production companies and writers’ rooms to create equitable and accessible opportunities to increase the number of people with lived disability experience throughout the overall story-telling process. These initiatives increase diverse and authentic representation of disabled people on screen, leading to systemic change in how society views and values people with disabilities. She has consulted on more than 100 TV episodes and films with A&E, Bunim-Murray Productions, NBCUniversal, Netflix, ViacomCBS, and The Walt Disney Company, among others. She represents RespectAbility on the CAA Full Story Initiative Advisory Council, Disney+ Content Advisory Council, MTV Entertainment Group Culture Code and Sundance Institute’s Allied Organization Initiative. She is the author of The Hollywood Disability Inclusion Toolkit and the creator of an innovative Lab Program for entertainment professionals with disabilities working in development, production and post-production. She is a recipient of the 2020 Roddenberry Foundation Impact Award for this Lab. To reach her, email LaurenA@RespectAbility.org.

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