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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…]

10 Tips for Including People with Disabilities in Your Holiday Celebrations

10 Tips for Including People with Disabilities in your Holiday Celebration. Graphic of a cornucopia with fruits and plants in it. Logo for RespectAbilityWith the holiday season upon us, it is easy to hold a gathering where all guests — with and without disabilities — feel welcomed, respected and have fun. All it takes is some planning. With some help from Alie Kriofske Mainella, an expert on working for inclusion of people with disabilities, here are some tips to ensure your gatherings are inclusive, thoughtful and welcoming to all.

1. Dont be afraid to include guests with disabilities.

People with disabilities have their disabilities 24/7, so they know how to create work-arounds so that they feel comfortable. If you know someone has a disability, use a simple strategy — ask the person what they need to be fully included. All too often people with disabilities are not invited to events, or dont go because they feel embarrassed to put someone out” by asking for a simple thing that will help them attend. By telling them that their presence is valued, and asking what they need, you will build a new level of trust and affection. For example, one of the biggest things that aging loved ones need is a ride. So help them find a carpool or send an accessible taxi or Uber to pick them up and return them home. [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…]

Larry Lipman: Starting Small in Journalism Pays Big Dividends in Impact

Larry Lipman with RespectAbility staff and Fellows in front of the RespectAbility banner, all smiling

Larry Lipman with RespectAbility Staff and Fellows

Rockville, Md., November 25 ‒ Larry Lipman had a lengthy career in political reporting that gave him connections and opportunities to see change happen. Speaking to RespectAbility Fellows, Lipman stressed that if you start small in your field, you can gain necessary skillsets to make an impact moving forward.

He served as a reporter for several small newspapers including the Fredrick News-Post, between 1972 and 1974, and as editor for The Montgomery County News. From 1974 to 1984, Lipman was a reporter for the Orlando Sentinel covering city hall and the state capital.

From 1984 to 2008, Lipman served as the Washington Bureau Chief of The Palm Beach Post, covering Washington, D.C., news on issues related to aging, health care policy, drug smuggling, immigration and the environment.  He then spent 10 years as an editor for the AARP Bulletin and AARP the Magazine. [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…]

People with Disabilities Successfully Transition to Competitive Integrated Employment

Eight panelists sitting behind a table in a Capitol Hill meeting room for an NDEAM event. Sign language interpreter and screen with CART text on left side of photo.Washington, D.C., Nov. 6 – The Collaboration to Promote Self-Determination (CPSD) and the National Council on Disability celebrated National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) with their third congressional briefing last week. There was standing room only as the audience learned about competitive integrated employment (CIE), community jobs where people with disabilities work alongside co-workers without disabilities and are paid competitive wages (minimum wage or above). Evidence from the briefing indicates that CIE provides greater financial independence for people with disabilities.

The event shined the spotlight on Virginians with disabilities who have successfully transitioned from sheltered workshops, where people with disabilities earn just a few dollars an hour and are segregated from employees without disabilities, to CIE. Tonya Millings, Director of Arc of Virginia was on the first panel. Her organization provides direct services to Lakesha Logan and Eric Cottrell—both Virginians. Lakesha and Eric are two success stories of people with disabilities who transitioned from sheltered workshops to CIE. [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…]

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