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Celebrating National Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) Awareness Month 2021

Washington, D.C., Sept. 20 – September is National Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) Awareness Month. More than 358,000 people live with SCI in the United States, and according to the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center, there are 17,810 new cases each year. Even before the pandemic, only 27 percent of people with SCI were employed 10 years after injury. Yet, some individuals with SCIs are working to change this – from policy to public opinion.

In the area of public policy, Rep. James Langevin paves the way for the disability community in Congress while Randall Duchesneau is making a difference at the US Access Board. Jim Sinocchi works to create more inclusive employment opportunities at JP Morgan Chase and Vincenzo Piscopo works to create change as president of United Spinal. Each is paving the way toward meaningful progress on behalf of people not only with SCIs, but also a wide range of disabilities.

The disability nonprofit RespectAbility also has been working to create opportunities so individuals with SCIs can succeed in their chosen career. Funding from the Craig H. Neilsen Foundation has supported RespectAbility’s virtual National Leadership Program to provide four exceptionally talented adults with SCI with intensive training, mentoring and opportunities for networking: Tyler Hoog, Ian Malesiewski, Krista Ramirez-Villatoro and Roque Renteria. Through an advanced training program, the apprentices gained skills necessary for careers advancing diversity, equity, access and inclusion initiatives. Several of the apprentices also have been involved in several projects in the entertainment industry to reduce stigmas and long-standing barriers that prevent people with SCI and other disabilities from obtaining employment.

Producer David Renaud (The Good Doctor), director Andrew Reid and actor Danny J. Gomez (New Amsterdam) also are working through entertainment media to show people what individuals with SCI can do versus what they cannot do. YouTube influencers Cole & Charisma take it another step further, also shining the light on inter-abled relationships. Ensuring authentic media portrayals of individuals with a spinal cord injury – including in typical roles like the doctor, judge and teacher – can help change some of the statistics.

Learn about additional individuals with SCI making a difference in reshaping the views of living with SCI: https://www.respectability.org/spinal-cord-injuries.

Headshots of fourteen people with spinal cord injuries who were profiled by RespectAbility

Meet the Author

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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