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Hollywood Inclusion

Born This Way Star Brings Onscreen Stardom to Capitol Hill to Advocate for More Business Opportunities for Jobseekers with Disabilities

Emmy Award-Winning Docuseries to End with Series Finale Christmas Special, December 18

The cast of Born This Way, including their families, smiling together in front of Christmas trees wearing festive clothes

Credit: A&E

Washington, D.C., Dec. 5 – What people view on television influences how they feel and and believe, leading to how they act. And shows like Emmy Award-winning Born This Way, which follows the lives of seven diverse young adults with Down syndrome as they seek to build independent lives, launch their careers and form lasting friendships, are breaking down stigmas surrounding interacting with people with disabilities.

One of Born This Way’s cast members, Sean McElwee, brought his onscreen stardom to Capitol Hill to deliver a powerful message about entrepreneurship and jobseekers with disabilities. McElwee spoke about his personal “mission to show the world that people with Down syndrome can have a business and give back.” [continue reading…]

Star of Emmy Award Winning Reality Show Brings Small Business Message to Capitol Hill

Sean McElwee wearing a shirt that says We The People Means Me Too with an American flag and the Seanese logo on it, standing in front of the Capitol dome.

Sean McElwee

Washington, D.C., Dec. 3 – On Wednesday, reality television star, small business owner and disability employment advocate Sean McElwee will deliver a powerful message about entrepreneurship and jobseekers with disabilities. In remarks to be delivered to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Small Business, McElwee will speak about his personal “mission to show the world that people with Down syndrome can have a business and give back.”

At the invitation of Chairwoman Nydia Velazquez, McElwee and his mother Sandra McElwee, will give testimony about the difference he has been able to make in his community since founding his own micro-enterprise two and a half years ago. Seanese is a t-shirt company with more than 130 designs on 12 different styles of shirts intended to deliver a message of disability inclusion, Down syndrome acceptance and humor.

McElwee rose to national prominence as a co-star on the Emmy Award-winning reality television show Born This Way. Over four seasons, the A&E show, created by industry legends Bunim/Murray Productions, followed the lives of seven diverse young adults with Down syndrome as they sought to build independent lives, launch their careers and forming lasting friendships. [continue reading…]

Celebrating International Day of Persons with Disabilities by Pushing for More Accurate Representation in Media

A woman holding a sign that says "Together we can bring Visibility to Disability", smilingWashington, D.C., Dec. 3 – From Capitol Hill to Hollywood to Canada, the entertainment industry is joining celebrations of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. Individuals and organizations have been working with the entertainment industry to help them realize their potential in helping to influence how the public views people with disabilities. As the industry explores ways to ensure that the 20 percent of North Americans with disabilities are not excluded – and when included, done so in an authentic way – a new coalition is calling for more accurate representation of people with disabilities on North American TV.

Since the public rarely sees people with a disability featured in popular media, a group of disability-focused organizations from Canada and the United States have formed a coalition calling on the media to be more inclusive of people with disabilities. Launching on International Day of Persons with Disabilities, the campaign, called Visibility for Disability, aims to change how people see disability by changing what they see in popular media. [continue reading…]

Lauren “Lolo” Spencer on the Importance of Authentic Storytelling

Winner of the 2019 Christopher Reeve Acting Scholarship, Media Access Awards

two African American women wearing dresses seated in wheelchairs

Tatiana Lee, last year’s winner, with Lauren “LoLo” Spencer, this year’s recipient of the Christopher Reeve Acting Scholarship

Beverly Hills, California, Nov. 26 – Earlier this month, actor, model and content creator Lauren “Lolo” Spencer was honored with the Christopher Reeve Acting Scholarship during the 40th Anniversary of the Media Access Awards, which was presented in partnership partnership with Easterseals Southern California. The ceremony honors media and entertainment trailblazers advancing disability awareness and inclusion.

“I didn’t see it coming, which was an even greater surprise when I got the news initially,” Spencer said in an interview with RespectAbility’s Tatiana Lee, who received the scholarship in 2018. Spencer plans to use the money from the scholarship for acting classes to further her career.

Spencer recently starred in Give Me Liberty, which premiered at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. Like many films starring actors with disabilities, the film struggled to find initial funding for the project. “Investors didn’t want to invest in the film because, one, they didn’t know if characters with disabilities in lead roles was gonna work, and two, if they weren’t going to cast an able body-like a popular able body actor in the role, they double thought that it wouldn’t work,” Spencer said. “So there were a lot of investors that they passed on for the sake of wanting to keep the story authentic.” [continue reading…]

How a Story of Friendship Starring Authentic Actors with Disabilities Helps Removes Stigmas Surrounding Disability

Tobias Forrest and a young girl on the set of Daruma with a camera pointed at Tobias. Logo for Daruma in bottom right.

Los Angeles, Nov. 24 – Writers often write what they know and when it comes to writing stories about disabled experiences and characters, the same is true. When Kelli McNeil’s family member became paralyzed, she viewed life through their eyes, as they continued to live it through a humorous lens. She wrote Daruma, a film that features two characters who just happen to have disabilities – one a paraplegic and the other a double amputee, inspired by her family member and hospital roommate. But the heart of Daruma is not about disability, rather it is about friendship and forgiveness.

When Patrick, a bitter paraplegic, discovers he has a four-year-old daughter, he enlists the help of his cantankerous neighbor Robert, a double-arm amputee, to transport the young girl to live with her maternal grandparents on the other side of the country. Central to Patrick’s and Robert’s tale, however, is that neither character is defined by their disability. A universal story that doesn’t focus on disability is very much the point of the film.

[continue reading…]

Number of Characters with Disabilities on TV Reaches 10-Year Record High

As representation grows, disability still widely underrepresented in comparison to U.S. public with disabilities

Los Angeles, California, Nov. 7 – Scripted broadcast programming added nine more series regular characters with disabilities for the 2019-2020 season in comparison to last year, a new report by GLAAD found. This means that the percentage of characters with disabilities has risen a full percentage point to 3.1 percent. While this is a record high, the report cautions the data “still falls far short of reflecting reality,” as more than twenty percent of people in the U.S. have a disability.

Of the 879 series regulars on broadcast programming, GLAAD found that 3.1 percent (27 characters) have disabilities, in comparison to 2.1 percent (18 characters) last year. There are nine characters across all three platforms tracked (broadcast, cable, streaming) with HIV and AIDS, an increase from the seven characters counted last year and a substantial increase from the two counted two years ago.

GLAAD’s 2019-2020 Where We Are on TV Report includes the only analysis of primetime scripted series regulars on broadcast networks of characters with disabilities. Largely known for tracking the number of LGBTQ+ characters on broadcast and cable networks, as well as streaming services, the Where We Are on TV Report also tracks racial, gender and disability inclusion on television. [continue reading…]

New Amsterdam Continues Casting Authentically with Another Inclusive Episode

Eileen Grubba seated in a wheelchair moving through a roomLos Angeles, California, Nov. 5 – In tonight’s episode of NBC’s New Amsterdam, one of the doctors will discover a long-kept secret regarding a patient. This patient, Elizabeth Archer, is played by actress Eileen Grubba, who has a disability and advocates for the inclusion of performers with disabilities in film and television.

New Amsterdam is known for casting authentically, like the show has done in previous episodes with Lauren Ridloff and others.

“Performers with visible, or perceptible, disabilities have been kept out for so many years, but we are finally seeing the doors open to authentic casting,” Grubba said. “The depth of emotion and passion that comes with a real disability experience is unmatchable. It moves people. It also helps audience understand and accept ALL differences, including their own. That is true diversity and it only elevates humanity. It is a win for all.” [continue reading…]

Fox’s 9-1-1 Continues to Normalize Real-Life Disability Scenarios

Oliver Stark on 9-1-1 sitting by a firetruck

Oliver Stark as Buck on 9-1-1. Photo Credit: Fox

Los Angeles, California, Oct. 28 – Fox’s 9-1-1 is no stranger to disability representation, introducing a recurring character with a disability last season, working to normalize the inclusion of people with disabilities in all areas of society. This season continues this trend – both with promoting Gavin McHugh, who has cerebral palsy and plays Christopher Diaz to a series regular, and adding additional storylines relating to disability.

During a routine fire drill in Episode 4, “Triggers,” a businessman has an epileptic seizure, most likely due to the strobing lights and loud sounds of the drill. When he falls, it causes a domino effect, with dozens of individuals falling down the stairway. As he is being put into the ambulance a lawyer from the building approaches him. “I have reason to believe this building is not in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act,” he says. “There are several legal actions you may wish to consider.” [continue reading…]

Diana Romero: Award-Winning Producer with Multiple Sclerosis Continues to Find Success in Hollywood

Filmmaker Diana Romero dressed in black, smiling. Romero is a wheelchair userLos Angeles, Oct. 11 – Award-winning producer Diana Romero has worked in the industry for more than a decade. When she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS), she approached it the only way she knew how – with a sense of humor.

“When I started having issues with my legs, I withdrew from everything, because of a feeling of shame and embarrassment, mostly coming from not knowing how to live life without the use of my legs,” Romero said in an interview with RespectAbility. “It wasn’t until I decided to travel alone for six weeks that I regained confidence and then took it to the stage. Because I know a lot of people who don’t have disabilities look at me and they think, I wonder what’s wrong with her. I want people to see what my everyday life is. I want people to hear what I deal with…look at the things that happened to me in a humorous way…to me that’s healing… I don’t dwell on it; it doesn’t keep me depressed.” [continue reading…]

Dyslexia Showcased on NBC’s Perfect Harmony

Los Angeles, Oct. 10 – NBC’s Perfect Harmony is, at heart, a show about saving and being saved. The show was billed as being about former Princeton University music professor Arthur Cochran (Bradley Whitford) saving an out-of-tune church choir, but the choir, led by Ginny (Anna Camp) ends up saving him back.

An important subplot revolves around Ginny – her love life and her son, who often gets in trouble for acting out at school. Arthur discovers the reason for her son Cash (Spencer Allport) getting into fights at school – “having trouble reading.”

“Every time he looks at a page, the letters float around. It’s called dyslexia,” Arthur tells Ginny. “A lot of successful people have had it. Yates, Churchill, Tom Cruise.”

Ginny is relieved, having thought she caused his bad performance at school “by getting a divorce.” [continue reading…]

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