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Press Releases

National Cross-Disability Nonprofit RespectAbility Calls for Massive Attitudinal, Policy, and Programmatic Disruption of Status Quo through Bold New Strategic Plan

Los Angeles, August 31 – RespectAbility, a diverse disability-led nonprofit organization that fights stigmas and advances opportunities so people with disabilities can fully participate in all aspects of community, officially announced the release of its new strategic plan. The plan is the culmination of a year-long process that brought together a cadre of key influencers from across the country, building upon evidence-based research, refinement, and results from the past eight years. The result is a bold, forward-looking, and visionary five-year roadmap to shatter old paradigms by engaging in a multifaceted approach to remove physical, programmatic, and attitudinal barriers to full societal participation by people with all types of disabilities.

Ollie Cantos smiling in front of an American flag

Ollie Cantos

“As we look to the future to envision the full scope of what is truly possible, the challenges of today warrant nothing less than decisive and organized action,” said Ollie Cantos, the recently-elected Chairman of RespectAbility’s Board of Directors and the first member of the AAPI community to lead a national cross-disability group. “When individuals, organizations, private sector companies, and government agencies at all levels come together to achieve concrete and measurable outcomes that truly matter, everyone benefits.” [continue reading…]

RespectAbility Advocates for Colorado to Close Labor Force Gaps for People with Disabilities

Colorado state flagDenver, CO, September 23 – This week, the Colorado Workforce Development Council (CWDC) met to discuss the status of workforce practices of the Centennial State. In response to this meeting, RespectAbility, a national nonpartisan nonprofit organization, submitted testimony on how to implement best practices, advocate for greater inclusion and improve the standing of people with disabilities in Colorado’s workforce.

“When it was passed with broad, bipartisan support in 2014, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) invested unprecedented resources into efforts to get people with barriers to employment into the labor force,” said Philip Kahn-Pauli, a native Coloradan and RespectAbility’s Policy and Practices Director. “Now, after the pandemic that has reshaped our economy, it is time to devote significant attention to supporting the economic advancement of students, job-seekers, and entrepreneurs with disabilities.” [continue reading…]

RespectAbility’s Lab for Entertainment Professionals with Disabilities Wraps Up Its Final Week in Conversation on Advocacy

RespectAbility Summer Lab participants recently had the opportunity to speak to experts in the field with lifetimes of experience interfacing their art and advocacyLos Angeles, Sept. 23 – Disability is deeply underrepresented in many industries including entertainment and media, where numbers dwindle far below the 20% participation that would truly reflect the world as it is. Regardless, TV and film have a power to incite social change, drawing in underrepresented creatives as they work to craft a better world. For many, this leaves them with two jobs – to excel at their art and to fight for access for themselves and their communities.

RespectAbility Summer Lab participants recently had the opportunity to speak to experts in the field with lifetimes of experience interfacing their art and advocacy: Leah Meyerhoff, a screenwriter, director, and Founder of Film Fatales; Marci Phillips, VP of Casting at ABC Entertainment; Megan Townsend, Director of Entertainment Research and Analysis at GLAAD; Noriko Louison, Senior Manager of Research and Curriculum at 9Story Media Group; and Victor Pineda, filmmaker and President of World Enabled, and one of RespectAbility’s own Board Members. [continue reading…]

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. [continue reading…]

Ian Malesiewski: Working to Make Politics More Inclusive for People with Disabilities

Ian Malesiewski smiling headshot

Ian Malesiewski

Los Angeles, Sept. 20 – Ian Malesiewski, who lives with a Spinal Cord Injury, was a Public Policy and Employment Fellow in RespectAbility’s National Leadership Program for Winter and Spring 2021, and he is now off to use his multidimensional academic background with his applied policy change experience to make spheres of influence in politics more inclusive for people with disabilities.

Malesiewski was awarded a full academic scholarship to the University of Miami, where he is majoring in neuroscience and triple minoring in chemistry, public health, and philosophy. His work with disability advocacy shifted his professional aspirations from a traditional med-school route, to one of law. RespectAbility exposed Malesiewski to the impact he can have through policy change, as he worked directly on the accessibility of the 2020 presidential election and relaunching America’s Workforce Act. In his law career, Malesiewski plans on prioritizing the employment gap of people with disabilities and expanding Medicaid and Medicare benefit programs. [continue reading…]

Fighting for the Rights of Disabled Latinas While Also Remembering How Far We’ve Come

Krista Ramirez-Villatoro headshot

Krista Ramirez-Villatoro

Los Angeles, Sept 19 – For my family, the 15th of September has historically been spent in my parents’ backyard commemorating my father’s birthday with a “churrasco.” In my family, the 15th is not be confused with the 14th, which is what is actually on my father’s birth certificate, because his father was too drunk on the day his son was born to remember if he had arrived that day or the day before.

On this day only, my father goes by the nickname of independencio, because on the same day 2,385 miles away, Guatemala is celebrating their independence from the Spanish empire. The streets are covered in white and blue, and the emergency rooms are full to the brim with injuries from the sheer amount of illegal fireworks. Runners make their way on the cobblestone streets of Antigua lighting the Independence Torches. I, however, have never experienced this in person. [continue reading…]

Becoming Proud of My Disabled Identity as a First-Generation American

“We have to be more Mexican than the Mexicans and more American than the Americans, both at the same time! It’s exhausting!” – Abraham Quintanilla, Selena, 1997

Alejandra Tristan smiling headshot. Tristan is seated in her wheelchair

Alejandra Tristan

Austin, Texas, Sept 19 – Being raised as a first generation American, I always was taught to be proud of where I came from and know our culture from Mexico. The richness of having a community, a family full of Tia’s, Tio’s, Abuelos, neighbors that became family. That beauty that comes with being Hispanic and from such a vibrant and bright culture. What isn’t really taught is how to communicate about disabilities of all kinds; mental, physical, visible, and nonvisible.

When my diagnosis of a physical disability came into play, there was a cultural outlook on not only myself but my family about how I was the pobrecita (poor thing) of the family. With those cultural elements of being proud of being Mexican and American, I was taught from a young age to be proud of being from two communities. However, no one really teaches you to be proud of being disabled and that it’s okay to ask for help for one’s needs. [continue reading…]

Inclusive Casting and Production with Nickelodeon Digital Studios

Five speakers plus ASL interpreter on zoom at Nickelodeon's RespectAbility Lab session.Los Angeles, Sept. 17 – As a part of RespectAbility’s 2021 Summer Lab, participants spoke with several members of the Nickelodeon Digital Studios team to learn about the inner workings of the company’s video production and casting processes. Nickelodeon prides itself in creating content for children that is diverse and inclusive. The team spoke excitedly about their projects and videos that include children who have both visible and nonvisible disabilities.

Marc Cantone, Sr. Director, Preschool Digital Content, and Skylar Apter, Supervising Producer, Editorial & Development, at Nickelodeon Digital Studios, outlined how their department works. Much of their work is in coordination with shows found on Nick Jr, including Blue’s Clues & You! and Blaze and the Monster Machines. For example, this YouTube video featuring Blaze also features young disabled athletes. Released after this conversation with Lab participants, RespectAbility team members consulted on this video. [continue reading…]

ViacomCBS Goes Beyond Representation in Hollywood

Headshots of four of the five speakers at RespectAbility's session with ViacomCBS.Los Angeles, Sept. 16 – Several members of the ViacomCBS family, including representatives from MTV, Paramount Pictures and Showtime, recently joined the RespectAbility Summer Lab to speak on community impact within an entertainment studio setting. Matthew Sinsheimer, Director of Corporate and Digital Communications at Showtime (a subsidiary network operating under the ViacomCBS umbrella); Adam Robinson, VP of Corporate Social Responsibility at ViacomCBS; Daylee Baker, Manager of Social Impact at MTV Entertainment Group; Erin Jordan, Director of Corporate Social Responsibility at Paramount Pictures; and Andrew Machles, VP of Public Affairs & Viewer Services at Nickelodeon took part in this important conversation. [continue reading…]

Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month 2021

Headshots of 18 hispanic and Latinx people with disabilities

Rockville, Maryland, Sept. 15 – Today marks the first day National Hispanic Heritage Month, celebrated each year from September 15 through October 15. National Hispanic Heritage Month recognizes the contributions made and the important presence of Hispanic and Latinx Americans in the United States and celebrates their heritage and culture. It is important to note this includes more than 5.4 million Hispanic/Latinx people living with a disability in the U.S.

According to the Disability Statistics Compendium, released by Institute on Disability at the University of New Hampshire, there are 2,969,668 working-age Hispanic/Latinx people in the United States. Out of that number, 1,213,808 had jobs in 2019. This means that before the COVID-19 pandemic, the disability employment rate for working-age Hispanic/Latinx people with disabilities was 40.9 percent. This is 36.1 percent lower than the employment rate for working-age Hispanic/Latinx people without disabilities. [continue reading…]

What’s Next After Lab? With Marc Muszynski, Writer, Comedian, and 2019 RespectAbility Summer Lab Alumnus

Marc Musynzski smiling headshot

Marc Musynzski

Los Angeles, September 14 – As the 2021 cohort of RespectAbility’s Summer Lab for Entertainment Professionals with Disabilities approached the conclusion of eight weeks together, the group was joined by Lab alumnus Marc Muszynski to chat about what comes next after the program. He offered plenty of insight and tips for leveraging the connections made within the Lab to help further your career, and also shared some of his own experiences after completing the Lab in 2019, including writing for the upcoming Showtime revival of Dexter.

“Sometimes, you’ve just got to ask to be a part of stuff,” Muszynski started off the conversation by urging the cohort members not to be afraid to ask for the opportunities they want. He went on to explain how before the Lab, he had trouble finding an assistant job since he does not drive due to being legally blind, and many entry-level jobs in the industry require employees to drive and run errands throughout the day. But he kept asking around for work and applying to jobs, and eventually found a part-time student internship (which he qualified for by enrolling in LA City College), which helped kickstart his career, eventually leading to more work on desks at other studios and networks, all while Muszynski also was writing and refining his own scripts, and continuing to build his network of industry connections. [continue reading…]

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