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Disability Activists Applaud that Autistic Climate Activist Greta Thunberg is TIME Person of the Year

Cover of Time's Person of The Year Issue with Greta Thunberg in a pink sweatshirt in front of a blue skyRespectAbility, a nonprofit that fights stigmas and advances opportunities so people with disabilities can fully participate in all aspects of community, congratulates autistic climate crisis activist Greta Thunberg on being recognized as TIME’s Person of the Year.

“The disability community is so proud of the impact of Greta Thunberg,” said RespectAbility President Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, who herself is dyslexic. “Thunberg has proudly identified as a member of our community while advocating for a cause that affects us all. We are grateful she is a leader not only in fighting climate change but also in fighting stigmas.”

The work Thunberg is doing impacts everyone, but it is worth noting that people with disabilities are at extreme risk because of the effects of climate change. According to the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities, “recent hurricanes, wild fires, earthquakes, floods and tornados have brought attention to the severe gaps in disability inclusion when it comes to the nation’s systems of emergency preparedness, response, recovery and mitigation with regard to catastrophic disasters.”

Fully 1-in-5 people on Earth live with some form of disability. The majority of disabilities, including learning, attention, mental health and other disabilities, are nonvisible. People with disabilities often are excluded from participation in society, but they can have tremendous skills. For example, Arthur Young, who was largely deaf and later had low vision, started Ernst & Young (EY). More than 150,000 people now work for the company. Likewise, Richard Branson and most of the “sharks” on Shark Tank have learning disabilities and thrived by starting their own companies.

By definition, people with disabilities have something they cannot do, which forces them to find workarounds and innovate. Thomas Edison, for example, was one of history’s greatest inventors and was completely deaf in his left ear, and 80-percent deaf in the other.

Earlier this year, RespectAbility released a major national study that showed that while most nonprofits would like to include people with disabilities, the vast majority are discriminating against people with disabilities every day. This undermines their own success as all nonprofits would be stronger if they had people with disabilities like Greta Thunberg on their teams. To help nonprofits and others be inclusive of talented people with disabilities, RespectAbility is offering free online trainings, which you can find online: www.respectability.org/accessibility-webinars.

Meet the Author

Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi

Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi is the President of RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities for people with disabilities. She regularly works with disability organizations, national, state and local policy leaders, workforce development professionals, media, employers, philanthropists, celebrities and faith-based organizations in order to expand opportunities for people with disabilities. To reach her, email JenniferM@RespectAbility.org.

2 comments… add one
  • Karen Levi Dec 13, 2019, 11:01 am

    With all due respect, what is her disability? I have worked with and live with a person on the Autism Spectrum. In my opinion, the individuals who struggle are those who should get the kudos. This girl seems to be focused, intelligent, independent, creative. She is immature and should be in school. But what exactly is disabling her? She may have some issues but wouldn’t she be more effective focusing on the earth and climate change?

  • Brendan Dec 12, 2020, 2:39 am

    Her disability is identified in the first sentence of the article. She was diagnosed at age eleven, and it was apparently her mother who made the decision the publicize her diagnosed condition, with the hope of inspiring other people with ASD to engage in public discourse and advocate for the causes that spark their passion.

    I understand that there are objectively more “disabling” disabilities than ASD, and that ASD is a much more severe affliction for some people than it is for folks like, say, Greta Thunberg or Temple Grandin. I don’t think that means Ms. Thunberg or Ms. Grandin cannot be inspirational to other people living with disabilities. I mean, folks need something to aspire to. Throughout my education and career I’ve had run-ins with motivational speakers doing talks on whatever subject, and it’s not like the goal is for all the students/staff to look at those presenters and think “man, that person is exactly like me” – that’s not the point.

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