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Celebrating Judy Heumann’s Life and Legacy

This past Saturday, Judy Heumann, a legendary changemaker and advocate for disability rights, passed away after a brief time in the hospital. Judy’s website shared the news of her passing and highlights of her life’s work: “Judy was at the forefront of major disability rights demonstrations, helped spearhead the passage of disability rights legislation, founded national and international disability advocacy organizations, held senior federal government positions, co-authored her memoir, Being Heumann, and its Young Adult version, Rolling Warrior, and was featured in the Oscar-nominated documentary film, Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution.”

Judy was fighting for disability inclusion right until the end. Just a few weeks ago, she did a webinar with RespectAbility to kick off Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance, and Inclusion Month. Most of our team had the chance to meet and learn from Judy over the years, and all of us have benefitted greatly from her work. Below, we’re sharing a few notes from our team about what Judy meant to us as an advocate, friend, partner, and colleague. We’re also sharing information on the memorial service happening this Wednesday. Several members of our team will be in attendance at the memorial. We strongly encourage those who cannot make it in person to watch the livestream.

We mourn Judy’s passing, and keep her family, friends, and the rest of the disability community in our thoughts. We won’t stop until the world she envisioned becomes a reality. May her memory be a blessing. [continue reading…]

Casual Inclusion of Disability on Screen at Sundance Helps Normalize Having a Disability While Accessibility Hampers Inclusion of Disabled Attendees

Marquee for Sundance Film Festival, January 19-29, 2023Park City, Feb 5 – Feature-length films that premiered at Sundance such as Is There Anybody Out There?, Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie, and The Tuba Thieves, as well as a number of shorts, explicitly included elements of disability and deafness throughout. However, several additional films featured casual inclusion of disability, which also helps to normalize having a disability in society.

For example, a teenage camper in Theater Camp uses a power wheelchair. We see him both in a montage while auditioning for a show, and later rolling through camp. He is portrayed similarly to other campers. In Slow, contemporary dancer Elena (Greta Grinevičiūtė) meets Dovydas (Kęstutis Cicėnas), who’s assigned to interpret for her class of deaf youth. While the film is not about this class but rather their relationship, the casual inclusion of this class helps normalize deaf students. In Magazine Dreams, aspiring professional bodybuilder Killian Maddox is a caregiver for his disabled grandfather. In a documentary about Little Richard, viewers learn that he had limb differences, mental health conditions, and later on in his life, became a wheelchair user. And in Chanshi, a series about a young Jewish Orthodox woman finding herself, mental health is discussed.

With one-in-five people having a disability in the U.S. today, the lack of representation – just 2.3 percent of characters in the 100 top-grossing films of 2019 and 8 percent in family films – means that millions of people are unable to see themselves reflected in media. While none of the films mentioned above are about disability, the casual inclusion of disability in them is important. [continue reading…]

A Guide to 2023 Disability-Inclusive Sundance Films

Park City, Jan. 19 – With one-in-five people having a disability in the U.S. today, the lack of representation – just 2.3 percent of characters in the 100 top-grossing films of 2019 and 8 percent in family films – means that millions of people are unable to see themselves reflected in media.

The 2023 Sundance Film Festival (January 19 – 29) will provide an opportunity for audiences with various disabilities to see themselves represented – both in-person and virtually.

This year, several films feature disability in the plot, including Is There Anybody Out There?, Sometimes I Think About Dying, Slow, The Eternal Memory, The Tuba Thieves, To Live and Die and Live, Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie, Fairyland, Chanshi, Take Me Home, Well Wishes My Love, Your Love, By Water, and Thriving: A Dissociated Reverie, among others. [continue reading…]

RespectAbility Opens Nomination Process for Second-Annual Justin Chappell Memorial and Steve Bartlett Awards

Washington, D.C., January 19 – RespectAbility is pleased to announce that nominations for the second-annual Justin Chappell Memorial Award and Steve Bartlett Award are now open and will close on April 14th. Award winners will receive $1,000 and be honored in a public ceremony celebrating RespectAbility’s ten-year anniversary.

“As we launch the celebration of our tenth year of advocacy on behalf of and with the full diversity of the disability community, we are excited that these awards are returning to honor the work of incredible advocates who have helped make full participation in the community possible for more disabled individuals,” said Ariel Simms, RespectAbility’s President and CEO. “In 2022, for our inaugural awards, we had the distinct privilege of honoring two incredible advocates in the field, and we cannot wait to review nominations for the current cycle!” [continue reading…]

80th Golden Globe Awards: Disability-Inclusive Nominees

80th Golden Globe Awards logoAfter grappling with a lot of diversity, equity, and inclusion issues throughout the past few years, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s Golden Globes will return to television this Tuesday, January 10, 2023. While the majority of films and television shows do not include any disability inclusion, it is important to note that several disability-inclusive films and television series have been nominated.

One-in-four adults having a disability in the U.S. today, but the lack of representation – just 3.5 percent of characters on TV and 2.3 percent on film – means that millions of people are unable to see themselves in media today. This makes it so important that several of the nominations this year feature disabled individuals.

Michelle Yeoh, Ke Huy Quan, and Stephanie Hsu in Everything Everywhere All at OnceOf all the Best Picture nominees, “Everything Everywhere All at Once” is the only film to include disability in the plot. Evelyn Wang, played by Michelle Yeoh, was confirmed by Daniel Kwan, one-half of the writer/director team “Daniels,” to have undiagnosed ADHD. Kwan set out to write a lead character with undiagnosed ADHD, which he felt would add to the external and internal chaos in the film. Through his research of ADHD traits, Kwan felt a sense of familiarity and ended up getting diagnosed with ADHD himself. [continue reading…]

Reflecting on Disability History

Emily Tironi smiling headshot

Emily Tironi

Throughout my childhood education, I took my own short, wheelchair accessible bus to the school a town over from mine. My town’s school was less than a mile from my house, but they had refused to accommodate me. My mother fought tooth and nail, got a lawyer, and the local school ended up footing the bill to send me to the next town over. By the time I graduated, I knew I had my parents to thank for getting me an equal education and supports to live, but I did not comprehend all of the work of the generations of disabled people before me that had created this pathway. I think it was this experience that made me want to understand the societal aspects of disability and major in Disability Studies in college.

In college, I took a class in Disability History, and learned that the laws that protected people with disabilities were not just given; they were fought for by disabled activists. It made me realize the role disability history had played in my life. My education, medical care, and community supports were all a direct result of years of hard-fought activism.

When I started my apprenticeship at RespectAbility, I pitched the idea of doing a social media series on disability history, because it is such an under-taught topic that is essential to understanding how to address the issues the disability community still faces today. I was so grateful to share Tom Olin’s and Anthony Tusler’s photographs in the series to help bring these important events to life. While at community college, I took the public bus for the first time, photographing the experience for my photography class. It was not until creating this project that I realized how ADAPT’s actions and Tom Olin documenting them allowed such a moment to occur. [continue reading…]

RespectAbility Honors the Life of Steven James Tingus

by Matan Koch and Lauren Appelbaum

Leah Daniels-Butler and Steven Tingus, along with an ASL interpreter, speaking at a RespectAbility panel in 2017

Leah Daniels-Butler and Steven Tingus speaking at RespectAbility’s Capitol Hill Summit in Washington, D.C., in July 2017

RespectAbility honors the life of former Board of Advisors member Steven James Tingus, who passed last week at age 59, shortly after the premiere of his new film “Triggered” at the acclaimed Indie Night Film Festival at the TCL Chinese Theatre. Tingus was hailed for his role and as a voice for social equality. He graced the stage thanking his co-producer and co-star Marcus Nel-Jamal Hamm for “walking the walk and talking the talk.”

A former Presidential appointee in charge of disability, aging, and health care research and policy, Tingus often called for making the business case for disability inclusion and served a term on RespectAbility’s Board of Advisors from 2016 – 2019. During his tenure, he participated in a series of PSA’s produced by RespectAbility to ensure philanthropists are inclusive of people with disabilities. [continue reading…]

Remembering Lois Curtis, A Hero of Independent Living

Lois Curtis smilingLois Curtis had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and developmental disabilities as a young woman, and by her late 20s she had spent more than half her life in state institutions. Isolated and angry, she chain-smoked to pass the time and prayed to God at night, asking to be rescued from the Georgia Regional Hospital in Atlanta.

Ms. Curtis’s prayer for freedom made its way to the Supreme Court. In Olmstead v. L.C. (1999) – Ms. Curtis was the “L.C.”— the Court decided “unjustified isolation” of a person with a disability is a form of discrimination under Title II of the ADA. The justices delivered a landmark ruling that gave people with disabilities the right to receive care and support services in their own homes and communities, not just in state institutions. This offered a legal framework for people with disabilities to secure the right to live, work, and study in their own communities, galvanizing the disability community by legally empowering the independent living movement. [continue reading…]

Disability Pride On The Rise Among Candidates for Public Office

Having a disability in government has typically meant concealing, masking, or otherwise hiding any difference of mind or body on the campaign trail and in office. Franklin Delano Roosevelt remained paralyzed from the waist down after a bout of polio. Roosevelt used a wheelchair and leg braces for mobility, which he tried to conceal in public.

Headshots of John Fetterman and Ollie Cantos, two candidates with disabilities who won in the 2022 electionsWhile government roles have been filled by people with disabilities before and after Roosevelt, people running for public office have rarely felt comfortable revealing their disability status. Thankfully, there are signs that this is starting to change. Only days prior to the Pennsylvania Democratic primary, John Fetterman had a stroke. Fetterman proceeded to win the Senate seat despite the public nature of his disability. He embraced the use of accommodations and used closed-captioning technology, which translates audio into text on a screen in real time. Additionally, the Chairman of RespectAbility’s Board of Directors and Los Angeles City Council District 4-elect, Ollie Cantos VII, described himself as “blind since birth” on his campaign website. [continue reading…]

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