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Selena Gomez posing for the camera with a yellow background

Selena Gomez Serves as Role Model for Young Women with Disabilities

Honoring Women with Disabilities During Women’s History Month

Selena Gomez wearing a black dress, smiling broadly

Selena Gomez

Three years ago, pop star and actress Selena Gomez strutted onto Ellen DeGeneres stage wearing a black floor-length dress and heels. Her hair was slicked back and wavy. Her face held a look of intention. She sat with both a stiff back and smile and told Ellen and the world what it is like to live with Lupus.

“It is an autoimmune disease; I will have it forever and you just have to take care of yourself,” Gomez told Ellen and the audience. “I can relate to people.”

Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease that causes the body to attack itself, unable to differentiate between its own healthy tissue and invaders. According to the Lupus Foundation of America, 1.5 million people have Lupus in America and five million have it worldwide.

Since her diagnosis, Gomez now 26, has prioritized her wellbeing but also has continued advancing her career. Studies show many people within the Latino and other communities hide their invisible disability due to negative stigmas, but Gomez has chosen to use her expansive platform to educate the world and invite people to engage with and learn about disabilities. It is because of this, that she is the perfect candidate for RespectAbility’s #RespectTheAbility campaign, which is highlighting individuals with disabilities who are extremely successful in their chosen career.

There are more than 5,193,522 Latinx/Hispanics living with a disability in the U.S. Out of more than 2,887,953 working-age Latinx/Hispanics with disabilities, barely 1,114,614 have jobs. Just 38.6 percent of Latinx/Hispanic Americans with disabilities ages 18-64 living in the community have a job, compared to 79.1 percent of Latinx/Hispanics without disabilities. Gomez is defying these statistics and has remained successful with her disability.

Early Life

Gomez was born in Grand Prairie, Texas where her single mother raised her. She was named after famous Tejano singer and actress Selena Quintanilla-Pérez.

At the age of 10, Gomez made her first television appearance alongside actress and singer, Demi Lovato on Barney and Friends. From there, her career took off as she starred in both the Disney television series The Wizards of Waverly Place and the movie of the same name. However, it did not take long for her audience to perceive her as more of a singer than an actor. After recording a handful of songs for the Disney Channel, in 2009 Gomez formed a pop rock band Selena Gomez and The Scene. Their first single came out August of the same year. Since 2009 she has created two studio albums, one compilation album and fourteen singles both with and without her band, and her musical career is only continuing to grow.

More recently, the public noticed that Gomez had been out of the media spotlight. Due to her lupus, her kidneys failed, leading to a transplant.

“There aren’t words to describe how I can possibly thank my beautiful friend Francia Raisa. She gave me the ultimate gift and sacrifice by donating her kidney to me. I am incredibly blessed. I love you so much sis.”

I’m very aware some of my fans had noticed I was laying low for part of the summer and questioning why I wasn’t promoting my new music, which I was extremely proud of. So I found out I needed to get a kidney transplant due to my Lupus and was recovering. It was what I needed to do for my overall health. I honestly look forward to sharing with you, soon my journey through these past several months as I have always wanted to do with you. Until then I want to publicly thank my family and incredible team of doctors for everything they have done for me prior to and post-surgery. And finally, there aren’t words to describe how I can possibly thank my beautiful friend Francia Raisa. She gave me the ultimate gift and sacrifice by donating her kidney to me. I am incredibly blessed. I love you so much sis. Lupus continues to be very misunderstood but progress is being made. For more information regarding Lupus please go to the Lupus Research Alliance website: www.lupusresearch.org/ -by grace through faith

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Just 34.6 Percent of Working-Age Women with Disabilities Are Employed

More than 20.9 million women live with a disability in the U.S., including more than 10.2 million of which are working-age (18-64).

Fully one-in-five Americans have a disability and studies show that most of them want to work. Yet 70 percent of working-age Americans with disabilities are outside of the workforce. Only 34.6 percent of working-age women with disabilities (3.5 million) are employed in the U.S. compared to 82.5 percent of working-age women without disabilities. This is in line with the rest of the country, with fully one-in-four American adults having a disability just 37 percent of those who are working-age being employed, despite polls showing that most of them want to work. This leads to approximately 22.6 percent of women with disabilities living in poverty compared to 14.7 percent of women without disabilities.

Leading the Way

Our nation’s economy is strongest when it is inclusive of the value that diverse talent brings to the workplace. Haben Girma became the first Deafblind person to graduate from law school when she earned her degree from Harvard Law School in 2013. Harriet Tubman had epilepsy, business leader and Shark Tank superstar Barbara Corcoran is dyslexic and gymnast Simone Biles has ADHD. Each of them, like Gomez, is a positive role model for success.

Gomez used her experiences with the media and her disability as inspiration for her album, “Revival,” which hit shelves October 2017. It is rumored that fans can expect Gomez to share even more of her story as she is said to be working on a documentary about her Lupus. There is no news as to when this documentary is to come out, however, she has proven that she will never stop acting as a role model for her fans, now including those with disabilities.

All throughout Women’s History Month, we will post pieces about female role models with disabilities. These women are featured examples of RespectAbility’s #RespectTheAbility campaign, which highlights successful individuals with disabilities, as well as companies that employ people with disabilities. Read more today:

Research assistance from RespectAbility Fellow Julia Wood.

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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