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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:

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

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 [email protected]

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