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Cristina Sanz: First Hispanic with a Disability to Win an Emmy Award

headshot of Cristina Sanz wearing a blue top

Cristina Sanz

Rockville, Md., Oct. 15 – Fans of the hit A&E docu-series Born this Way know Cristina Sanz as a lovable, fun and family-oriented dancer and romantic. Last year, Sanz became the first Hispanic woman with a disability to win an Emmy award.

When Born This Way won the Emmy for Outstanding Unstructured Reality Series last year, it made history for being not only the first show to win an Emmy that stars people with disabilities but also for having a cast that includes people with disabilities who are African American, Hispanic and Asian.

“Even though people of all races, genders and sexual orientation have disabilities, the media tends to only show white characters,” Born This Way Producer Jonathan Murray said. “John, Cristina and Elena have Down syndrome, but they also are the first individuals from the African American, Hispanic and Asian community with a disability to earn an Emmy. This is a breakthrough for those minority communities as well.”

Sanz also did something that her parents never imagined—she moved out of the house, works at two jobs and became engaged to her boyfriend of five years, Angel.

“I will not wake up waiting for my daughter to come back from a date like my mother did for me,” her mother, Beatriz Sanz, said she used to think. But, Cristina Sanz is the first of her siblings to be getting married now.

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Shark Tank: People with Disabilities Can Be Best Talent on Any Team

Rockville, Md., Oct. 9 – To the everyday viewer, the television show Shark Tank seems like the opportunity for a budding entrepreneur to pitch an idea to a panel of sharks that either will or will not bite. However, the show is much more than that.  

Shark Tank proves that people with disabilities can be the best talent on any team.

Three out of the six sharks, as well as one guest shark, have dyslexia, which is an umbrella term for a learning disorder that causes a person difficulty reading and interpreting words. Richard Branson calls it an “opportunity,” while Barbara Corcoran credits her determination and drive to her childhood diagnosis of dyslexia. Daymond John says he sees “the world in a different way than most people and for me, that’s been a positive.” Kevin O’Leary says his dyslexia gives him “some really unique perspectives and abilities that I’d call superpowers.”

Not only does each one of these four sharks have immensely successful careers; they also are fighting stigmas about people with disabilities each and every day.

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Speechless Puts the Spotlight on Inclusive Education

Rockville, Md., Oct. 8 – The most recent episode of Speechless focused on the importance of inclusive education.

Maya is pleasantly surprised to learn a group of families with kids with disabilities have joined them at Lafayette after hearing a speech she gave at a conference about “mainstreaming and the parent-educator-student partnership.”

“It’s the school that teaches the child, but it’s the parents who teach the school,” Maya said, stressing how that as a parent you want to make sure that the school has the tools needed for your child to succeed in class that will help them later in life.

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Good Doctor Visual Effects Artist Views Life Visually Like Dr. Shaun Murphy

Sherman Oaks, Calif., Oct. 7 – The Good Doctor, which ABC just awarded a full season, features a young surgeon on the autism spectrum who thinks in terms of visual images. What viewers may not realize is one of the show’s visual effects artist thinks in the same way.

Side view of Andrew Dugan working on his computer

Andrew Dugan

Twenty-seven-year-old Andrew Dugan, who is on the autism spectrum, works in the visual effects studio at Exceptional Minds (EM), a nonprofit vocational school and working studio that prepares young adults on the autism spectrum for careers in digital animation and visual effects.

After completing EM’s vocational program, beginning part time and then full time for the last two years of the three-year program, Dugan was hired by EM to join its in-house studio in June 2016. A photographer and visual effects artist, Dugan is a very visual thinker. What viewers see when they watch The Good Doctor, Dugan sees in his life.

Dugan is one of five EM employees who completed split-screen shots for the first two episodes for ABC’s new series. Dugan, as well as Patrick Brady, Eli Katz, Tiana Fazio and Mason Taylor worked on split-screen composition, which involved creating a single, seamless shot from multiple takes. They combined two different takes of a scene using the performance of one actor from one take and another actor from a second take. Instead of reshooting, visual effects artists blend them together so it looks like it was the same take.

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Seanese: A Talk with Sean and Sandra McElwee of A&E’s Born This Way

All of the fellows and staff standing in a large group against the wall with the RespectAbility logo all over it

Sean and Sandra McElwee with RespectAbility Fellows and Staff

Rockville, Md., Oct. 7 – Sean and Sandra McElwee walked into the conference room and handed out brightly colored brochures for Seanese, Sean’s new t-shirt company, to RespectAbility staff and fellows on Wednesday morning. Sean asked a few Fellows what their favorite shirt design was as they looked excitedly at the brightly colored sayings in Sean’s trademark language.

Sean and Sandra had a busy week visiting the Washington, D.C., area, which included lobbying for the National Down Syndrome Society on Capitol Hill and participating in the Northern Virginia Buddy Walk. They also visited the site of the Battle of Gettysburg during the Civil War.

“That’s where the first civil rights battle was fought,” Sandra said.

The battle for Sean’s civil rights started when he was born, and the doctors’ first words to Sandra were, “I’m sorry.” Sandra thought Sean was dying when they said that.

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Guilty Pleasures Night Includes Knock-Out Performances By Two Contestants with Disabilities

Rockville, Md., Oct. 6 – Dancing with the Stars Guilty Pleasures Night hit the screens with a bang showcasing knock-out performances by the remaining 11 couples.

Two contestants with disabilities earned high scores and top-notch reviews from the judges.

Victoria Alan, Paralympian

Paralympic swimmer Victoria Alan (Val Chmerkovski) attacked the dance floor with enthusiasm and determination as she performed a Quickstep to her guilty pleasure song Tub Thumping. Diagnosed with Transverse Myelitis and Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis as a teen, she was speechless and motionless for four years. After using a wheelchair for ten years, she began to gain feeling in her body and to walk again a year ago. She is famous for winning silver and gold medals in the London 2012 Paralympics.

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Dancing with the Stars Shines Light on Disability

Rockville, Md., Sept. 29 – Earlier this month, Season 25 of Dancing with the Stars (DWTS) premiered, bringing 13 new cast members and their pros into the spotlight.

Not only has DWTS been praised for its high viewing rates, but the show is part of a group of reality television shows leading the way in busting stigmas on disability.

A mixture of talented celebrities, athletes, entertainers, race car drivers, actors and investors such as Barbra Corcoran, Derek Fisher, Debbie Gibson and Frankie Muniz are battling to win the coveted Mirrorball Trophy.

Known for being one of ABC’s top-notch reality TV shows since 2005, it has won countless awards such as Emmy Awards and nominations for Outstanding Reality Competition Program, Outstanding Choreography and Outstanding Host on a Reality Television Program.

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Speechless: Disability is not an Excuse

Rockville, Md., Sept. 29 – In the season two premiere of Speechless, the DiMeo family is trying to discover new things about themselves as J.J. (Micah Fowler) was away at summer camp. In doing so, the episode had an important theme: Don’t blame your problems on your kid with a disability for “disability is not an excuse.”

Last season introduced viewers to the interesting lives of the DiMeo family, and Kenneth (Cedric Yarbrough) who essentially “speaks” for J.J., who has cerebral palsy and is unable to talk. Fowler has cerebral palsy in real life but is able to talk. Speechless is one of the only shows in television where the actor has a disability in real life.

More than 95 percent of characters with disabilities on television are played by actors without disabilities. Fowler bucks that trend and is one of the rare actors in Hollywood who has a disability, despite the fact that one-in-five Americans has a disability.

In the season two premiere, the Dimeo’s decide not to use J.J.’s disability as an excuse (with the exceptions of parking tickets) to why they do not do certain things. They ask Kenneth tell them “all the madness that they have gotten use to that they don’t see anymore.”

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This Is Us Tackles Obesity, Mental Health and Alcoholism

Rockville, Md., Sept. 28 – In Tuesday night’s premiere of season two of This is Us, viewers were reintroduced to The Pearson couple, Rebecca and Jack, played by Milo Ventimiglia and Mandy Moore as well as “The Big Three” triplets: Kate (Chrissy Metz), Kevin (Justin Hartley) and Randall (Sterling K. Brown).

The first season dealt with issues of diversity, mental health and obesity by portraying various family members’ interactions. These themes are expected to continue through the second season.

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Review: The Good Doctor, Season One, Episode One

Rockville, Md., Sept. 27 – In Monday night’s premiere of The Good Doctor, Freddie Highmore starred as Shaun Murphy, a brilliant doctor who has autism. Fighting for a chance of a surgical residency at the prestigious San Jose hospital, his supporters also point out how Murphy is a savant.

Murphy’s brilliance is illustrated in how he saves a young boy, inventing medical devices in the field to ensure he stays breathing and then by detecting an irregular rhythm in his heart.

The Good Doctor defies the myths about autism – that individuals with autism are unattached, desiring isolation, incapable of feeling,” said Founder of The Miracle Project Elaine Hall, who attended a premiere screening of the episode last Monday at the Semel Institute at UCLA. “Dr. Shaun Murphy is a highly sensitive, emotionally attached, young man who has endured great hardships and tragedy and yet is capable of great feeling.”

Discrimination in the Workplace

Even so, hospital board members debate if the hospital should be hiring someone like Murphy. Dr. Marcus Andrews points out reasons against, including potential lack of bedside manner and temperament, as well as higher malpractice insurance.

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