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Press Releases

Success in Disability Employment: Vincenzo Piscopo Speaks on Disability Inclusion in the Workplace and Coca Cola’s Philanthropy

Vincenzo Piscopo with RespectAbility staff and Fellows in front of the RespectAbility banner

Vincenzo Piscopo with RespectAbility Staff and Fellows

Rockville, Maryland, April 1 – After spending more than 22 years working for the Coca-Cola Company, Vincenzo Piscopo has defined success for disability inclusion within the workplace supported by philanthropic involvement. Leveraging opportunities for people with disabilities within the company’s marketplace, educating employers within the company, and encouraging volunteerism in the community are all ways in which Piscopo achieves success within the Coca-Cola company’s philanthropic endeavors.

Piscopo’s career within the Coca-Cola Company has taken him to several different areas of the organization, including finance, IT, marketing and innovation. His extensive background in advocating for disability within the workplace has given him a broad understanding of what companies lack in terms of employing people with disabilities as well as other minority groups. He has been the Director of Community and Stakeholder Relations for a year now and has been given the opportunity to “fill his file cabinet,” as Piscopo would say, with knowledge about how to advocate for minorities such as women, Hispanics, African Americans, LGBTQ, people with disabilities, etc. [continue reading…]

Through Sound Design and Music, Moonlight Sonata: Deafness in Three Movements Creates Sensory Experience For All

Film will be shown at the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan’s ReelAbilities Film Festival in New York on April 2, 2019

Moonlight Sonata: Deafness in Three Movements is a film starring individuals who are deaf, but do not call it a film just for people who are deaf. A breakout film appealing to a general audience, Moonlight Sonata explores in a sensory way how a deaf person experiences the world through sound design and music. Overall, the film, which premiered at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, is a celebration of family.

A deeply personal portrait of three lives, Moonlight Sonata chronicles the discoveries that lie beyond loss: a deaf boy growing up, his deaf grandfather growing old, and Beethoven the year he was blindsided by deafness and wrote his iconic sonata.

Director and Producer Irene Taylor Brodsky entered into a development deal with HBO in 2007 and began creating assets. When Jonas, her young son who is deaf and an excellent pianist, wanted to learn the Moonlight Sonata, Brodsky realized she had her film’s narrative: “Beethoven’s loss and Jonas’ loss and what they gained from their deafness.”

“Their imperfection becomes their greatest asset,” Brodsky asserted. [continue reading…]

RespectAbility Statement on Lupita Nyong’o’s Heartfelt Apology

We appreciate Lupita Nyong’o’s heartfelt apology. We’re all on a learning journey to be sensitive to all marginalized communities whether it be race, gender, sexual orientation / gender identity, disability, religion or anything else. ‘Us’ – especially with Lupita Nyong’o as the lead and Jordan Peele as the writer/director – is opening up doors, and breaking glass ceilings for people of color and is a massive advancement for Hollywood as a whole. We hope Nyong’o will use this experience to continue lifting up all marginalized groups including the 1-in-5 people who live with disabilities. In general, the Hollywood practice of using disability primarily to villainize people or to show them as objects of pity needs to end.

During an appearance on The View Thursday, Lupita Nyong’o further explained the development of her character Red and apologized to anyone she offended: “I met with people as part of my exploration with the condition, and I learned how difficult it is to have the disorder. So I am very aware of the frustrations and misconceptions and the misdiagnosis… I thought in speaking about it and mentioning it, it might shed light on the condition.

“It’s a very marginal group of people who suffer from this. The thought that I would offend them was not my intention. In my mind, I wasn’t interested in vilifying or demonizing the condition. I crafted Red with love and care. As much as it was in a genre-specific world, I really wanted to ground her in something that felt real. For all that, I say sorry to anyone that I may have offended.”

RespectAbility deeply appreciates this apology.

Please Don’t Be My Knight in Shining Armor

Cami Howe smiling, leaning back in her wheelchairIt was a crisp, chilly autumn afternoon in Logan, Utah. I was wheeling myself (I’m an ambulatory wheelchair user) to my doctorate-level Social Psychology class (as an undergraduate, by the way. #humblebrag 😉), rocking out to an odd yet entertaining mixture of Linkin Park and Disney songs through my earbuds.

“Hakuna matata!
What a wonderful phrase!
Hakuna matata!
Ain’t no passing” —-

My head snapped back. My wheels would not move. I was a dog on a leash that had gone too far ahead of its owner. Stunned, I turned my head to see what – or who – was pulling me back. A tall, white male college student with sandy blonde hair stood there with the biggest grin on his face. [continue reading…]

Successful Pioneer of Change Janet LaBreck Serves as Role Model for African American Women with Disabilities

Honoring Women with Disabilities During Women’s History Month

Janet LaBreck smiling in front of an American flagJanet LaBreck is a pinnacle of change for people with disabilities. Having served as the first African American Commissioner for both the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) as well as the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind, she has extensive knowledge of the political sphere. LaBreck overcame significant odds to become a wildly successful pioneer of change. 

LaBreck first noticed her gradual loss of vision as a child when she started having difficulty seeing at night, reading the blackboard and her school textbooks. She would struggle to read aloud in class, sometimes “[guessing] the next word, which usually turned out to be incorrect.”

Teachers initially perceived this as a behavioral issue rather than the onset of LaBreck’s declining vision. When a teacher realized that LaBreck might be having trouble seeing rather than acting out, she went for a vision exam. It took two years for her and three of her siblings to be diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa (RP). LaBreck contends that acceptance of her disability was a long journey lasting from childhood to adulthood. After learning skills that enabled her to perform tasks in non-visual way and meeting people who also were living with vision loss, she was able to accept her disability. [continue reading…]

Changing Media Perceptions, One Modeling Job at a Time

Tatiana Lee in a wheelchair wearing a pink jacket smiling

Courtesy of Zappos Adaptive styled by Stephanie Thomas

I wanted to be a model since I was a little girl. I grew up to be one. I know it sounds like a very vain profession, but it means the world to me and let me tell you why it is essential.

In American society, the emphasis we put on beauty for a woman is more than the pressure we put on men. We have to feel like we are beautiful all the time. We have to wear makeup, have our hair done, keep up with the trends and the list goes on. Society views women as objects to admire. It should not be that way, but that is the world in which we live.

The fashion and beauty industry is a multi-billion-dollar industry on its own. Mass media shapes that for us. Whatever is in the latest magazine or on the runway ends up being the trend to follow. Media develops everything we do as a culture. [continue reading…]

Film “Us” Portrays People with Disabilities as Evil, Furthering Stigmas

UPDATE (March 28): During an appearance on The View Thursday, Nyong’o further explained the development of her character Red and apologized to anyone who she may have offended: “I met with people as part of my exploration with the condition, and I learned how difficult it is to have the disorder. So I am very aware of the frustrations and misconceptions and the misdiagnosis… I thought in speaking about it and mentioning it, it might shed light on the condition.

“It’s a very marginal group of people who suffer from this. The thought that I would offend them was not my intention. In my mind, I wasn’t interested in vilifying or demonizing the condition. I crafted Red with love and care. As much as it was in a genre-specific world, I really wanted to ground her in something that felt real. For all that, I say sorry to anyone that I may have offended.”

RespectAbility deeply appreciates this apology and understands that sensitivity to all people can take a learning journey.

Poster for the movie Us

March 27 – Playing two roles in Jordan Peele’s new horror film, Us, Lupita Nyong’o used a disability to create the “creepy voice” for Adelaide Wilson’s doppelgänger.

“I was inspired by the condition spasmodic dysphonia,” Nyong’o said in an interview with Variety. “It creates this spasming in your vocal chords that leads to an irregular flow of air.”

RespectAbility, a national nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities for people with disabilities, recognizes it is important to spread the word about different disabilities and conditions. However, said its president, Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, “connecting disabilities to characters who are evil further marginalizes people with disabilities who also have significant abilities and want to contribute to their communities just like anyone else.” [continue reading…]

RespectAbility Wins Award at United Nations for Fighting Stigmas in Hollywood

3,000+ Experts from 70+ Countries Involved

Washington, D.C., March 27 – RespectAbility, a United States based nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities for and with people with disabilities, was recognized for “Innovative Practice 2019 on Independent Living and Political Participation for People with Disabilities” at the United Nations in Vienna, Austria.

The prize is for RespectAbility’s work in fighting stigmas through Hollywood and job creation for people with disabilities. Fully 1-in-5 people on earth (1.2 billion people) live with some form of disability. Since 2013, RespectAbility has been enabling people with disabilities to achieve economic independence by increasing positive and accurate representation of people with disabilities in Hollywood and the news media, encouraging best practices in employment and training young leaders with disabilities.

RespectAbility has created the Hollywood Disability Inclusion Toolkit and enhanced the Emmy Award-winning TV show “Born This Way,” starring diverse people with Down syndrome. By promoting employment opportunities, the organization collaborates with Hollywood writers to promote positive, accurate, and diverse portrayals of disability. RespectAbility also focuses on employment by publishing reports on best practices, providing testimony, and creating resources for policy makers. At the political level, RespectAbility has candidate questionnaires and nonpartisan voter guides in all 50 U.S. States. [continue reading…]

Lori Golden, Self-Advocate and Trailblazer in Disability Inclusion in the Workplace

Honoring Women with Disabilities During Women’s History Month

Lori Golden smiling, sitting on a black leather chairLori Golden is committed to advancing opportunities for people with all abilities in the workplace, from serving on several nonprofit boards and working as a strategy leader for the accounting consultant firm Ernst & Young (EY).

Self-Advocate with Non-Visible Disabilities on Disclosing at Work

Golden is a self-advocate for people with disabilities. She has what many call “invisible disabilities,” but Golden prefers to refer to them as non-visible.

“To me the term invisible carries tones of kind of purposeful concealment or hiding, and there’s obviously no shame and no reason to hide,” Golden said, who also is the mother of young adults with non-visible disabilities.

She acquired her disabilities later in her life – starting in her 20s. Golden asserts the importance of “sharing as much information as you need to” regarding one’s disability in order to achieve desired outcomes. Sharing just enough, she says, ensures that one does not appear not to meet expectations. [continue reading…]

Selma Blair: Positive Role Model for Success

Selma Blair is an American actress who is best known for Cruel Intentions, Legally Blonde, the Hellboy series and the show “Zoe, Duncan, Jack and Jane.” She also has an active life in fashion. Blair has worked with fashion icons such as Chanel, GAP, designers Marc Jacobs & Christian Siriano, and magazines such as Vanity Fair, Glamour and Vogue.

Selma Blair in front of a white backgroundIn August 2018, Blair was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. She announced it on Instagram the following October. “I am disabled,” she posted. “I fall sometimes. I drop things. My memory is foggy. And my left side is asking for directions from a broken GPS. But, we are doing it. And I laugh and I don’t know exactly what I will do precisely. But, I will do my best.”

Multiple sclerosis affects between 850,000-915,000 people in the United States. It affects women three more times than men. It can appear in any age, but it is more common among people as young as 20 and as old as 60 for when they are diagnosed. Moreover, it is not uncommon for people to get disabilities later in life. As of 2002, 25.2 percent of adults acquired their first disability between the ages of 45 and 64. Between seven and nine percent of those who first inquire disabilities are children. Common disabilities include musculoskeletal injuries, cancer (70,000 people between 20-40 each year), depression, heart problems and nerve system disorders (200,000 people before 65), such as multiple sclerosis. [continue reading…]

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