Skip Navigation
Image of people smiling in a recording studio.

Press Releases

Increased Representation at the Academy Awards Makes History

Zack Gottsagen First Actor with Down syndrome to Present an Award While Tobias Forrest and Victoria Canal Broke Additional Barriers in Performance

Zack Gottsagen presenting with Shia LeBeouf on stage at the 2020 Academy Awards with captions on screenLos Angeles, Feb. 13 – When actor Zack Gottsagen presented an award alongside The Peanut Butter Falcon co-star Shia LeBeouf Sunday evening, he made history as the Academy Awards’ first presenter with Down syndrome. The Peanut Butter Falcon provides cultural relevance on issues important to the disability community such as independence while creating wide-reaching impact. The film has grossed more than $20 million and holds an approval rating of 95% on Rotten Tomatoes – showing that casting authentically can lead a studio to financial and critical success.

Neither Gottsagen nor the film were nominated for an Oscar, however, which Emily Kranking raised in an article about the lack of disability being included in conversations about diversity at the Oscars. In 1993, Educating Peter, a film that follows third-grade student Peter Gwazdauskas, who lives with Down syndrome, won the Oscar for best documentary short. [continue reading…]

Erev JDAD Convenes Jewish Self-Advocates and Leaders From Around the Country

A group of individuals with disabilities, two seated in wheelchairs, smiling for the camera

Erev-JDAD participants

Washington, D.C., Feb. 7 – More than 80 Jewish disability advocates joined together for the inaugural Erev JDAD – the eve before Jewish Disability Advocacy Day – to discuss a variety of important topics regarding disability inclusion. Having surveyed attendees’ interests beforehand, hot topics covered twice-over were civic engagement and advocacy, leadership development, synagogue inclusion, and employment. Other topic discussions included self-advocacy, housing, fundraising, early childhood education, Jewish camping, and fighting stigmas.

While JDAD – a day of civic education and lobbying organized by the Jewish Federations of North America and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism – has been in existence for 10 years, this is the first formal gathering bringing some of the advocates that come in from across the country together to collaborate. Conceived by RespectAbility, the idea of Erev JDAD was to enable JDAD attendees from around the country to be able to have more time to network with each other – sharing their community’s best practices and planting the seeds for new ones. [continue reading…]

Reporters who use wheelchairs break barriers to inclusion in political media by covering NH debate

174,000 people with disabilities live in New Hampshire

Manchester, NH, February 7 – Tonight, as seven candidates prepare to take the stage in the first Democratic debate after the Iowa caucus, RespectAbility’s Ben Spangenberg and Justin Chappell will be in the media spin room trying to get candidates on the record on disability issues. They are there on behalf of The RespectAbility Report, an online publication at the intersection of U.S. politics and disability.

Justin Chappell holds an iPad filming Bernie Sanders giving an answer to a question he askedSpangenberg has been with RespectAbility for more than four years, and currently serves as the director of its National Leadership Program for college students and recent graduates who want to become future leaders in the disability community. He and Chappell married two weeks after Spangenberg joined the staff. Together, they previously covered debates in the 2016 Election cycle, meeting all major candidates on both sides of the isle.

People with disabilities have been historically underrepresented in political campaigns, debate and coverage for far too long. I look forward to asking the candidates about policy changes that matter to the disability community,said Ben Spangenberg. [continue reading…]

Ash Williams shares inclusive practices so the trans community gets the best out of their Fellowship at RespectAbility

Ash Williams with RespectAbility staff and Fellows in front of the RespectAbility banner

Ash Williams with RespectAbility Staff and Fellows

Rockville, Maryland, January 24 – Gender education is necessary to creating an inclusive and safe space free of hatred where trans people can fully participate in their place of work. Ash Williams visited RespectAbility and delivered a three-hour long training on the importance of gender-based terminology, pronouns, advocacy, inclusion and intersectionality.

Williams divided us into four groups to talk about gender-based terminology. Each group was given two words and the groups shared what those words meant to them. Words included transition, cis, transphobia, trans-misogyny, and trans. Ash recalled multiple workshops where people had hesitation over how words were defined for them so this activity expresses the importance of gender terminology being used contextually and not in a vacuum defined by others.

At RespectAbility it is common for people to introduce themselves with their names and pronouns at meetings, a practice that was put in place earlier this year prior to this Fellowship cohort. When someone asked about not being asked to identify their pronouns – in this situation because this individual was fluid in the pronouns this individual chose to use on any given day – Williams shared the importance of increasing choice by asking future Fellows to “share your pronouns if you want to.” Williams also added that the word “preferred” should never be used when asking for pronouns because a person’s pronouns are the only way they can be addressed. Using “preferred” waters down the importance and makes it harder for trans people to be present in the room. Williams also advised adding “is there anything else you want us to know about you so we can better support you” to our accommodation request forms. [continue reading…]

Early Voting Begins: A Disability Voter Guide

First Edition of National Voting Guide Highlights Presidential Candidates’ Responses to 2020 Disability Candidate Questionnaire

Washington, D.C., Jan. 22 – As people with and without disabilities get ready to go to the polls to vote in their state’s primary elections, a disability rights nonprofit has released its first edition of the National Disability Voter Guide. While primary elections do not begin for a few more weeks, early voting begins earlier in many localities across the country. Early voting gives voters with and without disabilities the flexibility and choice to their ballots long before primary day.

Research conducted in the 2018 election shows that 74 percent of likely voters either have a disability themselves or have a family member or a close friend with disabilities. The upcoming elections and their results will have an impact on people with disabilities, so it is important to become familiar with the candidates’ positions on certain issues.

As a nonpartisan national nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities so people with disabilities can participate fully in all aspects of community, RespectAbility has invited all candidates in the presidential race on both sides of the aisle to submit their answers to a 2020 Disability Voter Candidate Questionnaire. This questionnaire covers some of the most important issues impacting people with disabilities including employment, education, immigration, criminal justice and accessibility. [continue reading…]

Neurodiverse Actress Kayla Cromer Breaking Barriers in Authentic Representation

Everything’s Gonna Be Okay premieres on Freeform on Thursday, January 16

Los Angeles, Jan. 16 – Newcomer Kayla Cromer is breaking barriers in the entertainment industry as one of the first people on the spectrum to play a character on the spectrum in a lead role. A neurodiverse actress and activist, Cromer stars as Matilda, a high school senior who is driven to succeed and is on the autism spectrum, in Freeform’s new comedy series, Everything’s Gonna Be Okay.

Before Cromer started to pursue a career in the entertainment industry, her original goal was to attend the FBI Academy and become a criminal profiler – a passion of hers since her pre-teens. After being invited to model in a San Francisco photoshoot and one of the photos went viral, her modeling career took off. Cromer has appeared on magazine covers and editorials nationwide, which led to getting represented in both San Francisco and Los Angeles. Now she is focusing on her acting career, with role models like Kiera Knightly and Orlando Bloom, who both have dyslexia. [continue reading…]

Super Talent Sneha Dave Sets Standards for the Future

Fellowship Alumna Sneha Dave Creates Network for Teens and Young Adults with Chronic Health Conditions

Sneha Dave smiling

Sneha Dave

Rockville, Maryland, Jan. 15 – Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa, was just another obstacle in the road for Sneha Dave. But reaching the summit – more than 16,000 feet above the plateau – was all the more challenging for Sneha, who has had a chronic and often debilitating disease since childhood.

When Sneha was six years old, she was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, a chronic condition that affects the large intestine and often leads to surgery to remove the inflamed organ. The disease caused Sneha (which her mother told her means “someone that you love a lot”) to miss much of middle school and high school as she underwent several surgical procedures.

“I was more of a fulltime patient than I was a fulltime student at that time,” says the now 21-year-old senior at the University of Indiana in the Hutton Honors College. [continue reading…]

Reporters on Autism Spectrum to Cover Democratic Presidential Primary Debate

James Trout and Eric Ascher smile inside the spin room at the CNN Democratic Debate

James Trout and Eric Ascher inside the spin room at the CNN Democratic Debate

Des Moines, Iowa, Jan. 14 – While many of the presidential candidates are focusing on how to help people with disabilities, several self-advocates currently are in Iowa showing that people with disabilities are capable of doing the work, if only they are given access to do so.

Eric Ascher and James Trout, both on the Autism spectrum, and Ila Eckhoff, who has cerebral palsy, are ensuring that the presidential candidates do not forget the one-in-four adults in America who have a disability by reporting on the campaigns’ efforts for The RespectAbility Report, an online publication at the intersection of U.S. politics and disability.

Eric Ascher filming Amy Klobuchar giving an answer on disability issues while James Trout looks on

Eric Ascher and James Trout, who are both on the Autism spectrum, interviewed several candidates while in Iowa, including Sen. Amy Klobuchar (pictured above). This is Trout’s second campaign season doing so.

Ascher is the Communications Associate of RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization that fights stigmas and advances opportunities so people with disabilities can participate fully in all aspects of community. Ascher’s motivation for engaging the candidates is not only professional but also personal:

“I know firsthand how hard it is for qualified people with disabilities to find jobs. I spent two years after college looking for work. I honestly believe that stigma around disability played a major role in that fact. What candidates say can make a huge difference in the stigma people with disabilities face, and I am thrilled to be in Iowa so I can help them know how they can be good allies to the disability community.” [continue reading…]

Netflix’s Newest Series Takes Disability Inclusion to a New Level

The Healing Powers of Dude Premieres on Netflix, Jan. 13, 2020

three pre-teens, one girl in a wheelchair, and two boys standing, one holding a dog

Amara (Sophie Kim), Noah (Jace Chapman) and Simon (Mauricio Lara)

Los Angeles, Jan. 13 – With one-in-five people having a disability in the U.S. today, the lack of representation – just 3.1 percent on screen and even less in children’s television (less than one percent) – means that millions of people are unable to see themselves in media today. A new show premiering today is bucking that trend. The Healing Powers of Dude, a family comedy about Noah (Jace Chapman), a middle schooler with social anxiety disorder, premieres on Netflix.

Its creators have lofty but achievable goals – to give kids who have anxiety a vehicle to tell their parents how they feel and to “overcome the stigma of talking about mental illness.”

“The more families and friends can talk about this issue, the better the chance people can get the help they need,” creators Erica Spates and Sam Littenberg-Weisberg told RespectAbility.

Spates and Littenberg-Weisberg created  The Healing Powers of Dude based off of true events in Sam’s family, allowing viewers to have the unique opportunity to experience what life is like for Noah as he goes through his daily activities. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), anxiety is classified as the most common health disorder in the U.S. Although general anxiety is classified as normal, anxiety disorders are more difficult to cope with. Eighteen percent of adults and eight percent of children in the U.S. have an anxiety disorder.

In addition to the character of Noah, his best friend Amara uses a wheelchair. The character of Amara is “fearless to help push Noah outside his comfort zone,” said Spates and Littenberg-Weisberg. “There are disabilities you can see, like someone in a wheelchair, and those you might never know about, like anxiety. We decided this could be a great opportunity to show kids and families the struggles people face on both sides, as well as challenge some of the prejudices and misconceptions people have.”

Ninety-five percent of characters with disabilities are played by actors without those disabilities. Amara, however, is played by Sophie Kim, an eleven-year-old with muscular dystrophy who has used a wheelchair since she was four years old. The production team committed early on to finding a young actress who uses a wheelchair, holding a nationwide search to find Sophie, and then adapting the role to her real-life experiences. “Representation is very important to us, as well as to Netflix,” said Spates and Littenberg-Weisberg. “We understand the power of seeing yourself represented in media and that the more you see it, the more it can become commonplace… [Casting Sophie] was one of the best decisions we made making this show. There was never a moment where Sophie didn’t show up to set ready to slay her scene. Nothing about her disability ever hindered production in any way.”

The show had a team of consultants. RespectAbility worked closely with the show on the character of Amara. “Working with RespectAbility has been an incredibly eye-opening experience,” said Spates and Littenberg-Weisberg. “Not only did they give us helpful notes on scripts to make sure we were representing Amara accurately, the people at RespectAbility were kind enough to share their own experiences and anecdotes to include in our scripts.” [continue reading…]

Golden Globes Awards Disability-Inclusive Content “Ramy”, “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood” and “Missing Link”

Ramy Youssef on stage at the 77th Annual Golden Globes Award speaking with his award for Best Actor in his handLos Angeles, Jan. 9 – During Sunday’s Golden Globes awards show, both host Ricky Gervais as well as various award winners pointed out the lack of racial and gender diversity among the nominees. While these are very important conversations, no major outlet has examined disability representation on screen – or behind the camera – of the Golden Globes winners. With one-in-four adults having a disability in the U.S. today, the lack of representation – just 3 percent on screen – means that millions of people are unable to see themselves in media today.

Ramy Youssef, winner of Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series, Musical or Comedy, is important. His show, Hulu’s Ramy, breaks many diversity barriers – featuring both an Arab Muslim family as well as Steve Way, his real-life best friend who has muscular dystrophy.

“It’s very, very hard for people like me to be on TV,” Way said in an interview with Vulture. I mean, when was the last time you saw someone who looked like me on TV or in a movie? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten in front of a casting director and they just cut me off before I even do my lines. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve auditioned for a disabled person’s role and I was the only disabled actor, and I still didn’t get it.”

In addition, two winners of Best Motion Picture, Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood and Missing Link, both include people with disabilities – as writers and voice actors. [continue reading…]

1 2 3 53 54
Respect Ability - Fighting Stigmas. Advancing Opportunities.

CONTACT US

RespectAbility
HQ: 11333 Woodglen Drive, #102, Rockville, MD 20852
West Coast: 350 S Bixel Street
Los Angeles CA 90017

Office Number: 202-517-6272
info@respectability.org

GUIDESTAR PLATINUM

RespectAbility and TheRespectAbilityReport.org is a GuideStar Platinum Participant. GuideStar Platinum Participant Logo
© 1999-2019 RESPECTABILITY. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. SITE DESIGN BY COOL GRAY SEVEN   |   SITE DEVELOPMENT BY WEB SYMPHONIES   |   PRIVACY   |   TERMS OF SERVICE   |   SITEMAP
Translate »