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Press Releases

The Academy’s New Initiative Elevates Disability Inclusion

Initiative Highlights Importance of Behind the Camera and Development of Talent Pipeline

RespectAbility congratulates The Academy for their diversity and inclusion initiative. This has the potential to bring about some real change in the entertainment industry. We are especially pleased to see people with disabilities included, as too often disability is not included in diversity conversations.

It is important, however, to ensure that the narrative is good. It’s not enough to just be included – we have to be included in an authentic way. And by having one its categories focus on behind the camera roles, this initiative has an opportunity to prevent this – by truly hiring people with disabilities behind the camera in an inclusive way. This presents a huge opportunity to tell diverse, complex stories of the disability experience, and avoid falling into the trap of inspiration porn, which assumes that anyone with a disability must have it so much worse, and uses people with disabilities to make nondisabled people feel good about themselves or to make them do something, like exercise.
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“Madagascar: A Little Wild” Takes Deaf Representation to the Next Level

Authentic Portrayal of Deaf Chimpanzee Sibling Throughout Entire Series


Los Angeles, California, Sept. 8 – The lovable foursome Alex the Lion, Marty the Zebra, Melman the Giraffe and Gloria the Hippo return to our screens once again in Madagascar: A Little Wild, this time as kids residing in their rescue habitat at the Central Park Zoo. Two additional characters in this series, Dave and Pickles, however, deserve attention. Chimpanzee siblings Dave and Pickles are breaking barriers and are part of a movement changing the landscape of disability representation in children’s television and streaming content. [continue reading…]

Labor Day 2020: 30 Years of the ADA and the Future of Work

There are more than 22 million working-age people with disabilities in America, and today fewer than 1 in 3 has a job. Learn from top experts who are enabling employers to thrive by bringing in the talents of people with disabilities. 

Four people in Zoom boxesWashington, D.C. Sept. 6 – This Labor Day, it is important to look beyond the headlines and the current economic crisis, and see where there is hope for the future. Yes, people with disabilities have been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, across the country, there are professionals in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors dedicated to finding solutions and making the future of work better for the 22 million working-age Americans living with a disability.

Some of those leaders spoke earlier this summer during RespectAbility’s ADA30 virtual summit. On Thursday, July 30, leaders from across the economic and political spectrum gathered to discuss strategies, emerging practices and advancing inclusion for workers with disabilities.

This Labor Day, the RespectAbility invites you to learn from this insightful commentary and conversation brought forward by those leaders. The conversation that RespectAbility hosted that day reflects critical lessons that employers, large or small, as well as people with disabilities need to learn. With the annual celebration of Labor Day, now is a good chance for decision-makers to reflect on what advancing opportunities for people with disabilities really means.  [continue reading…]

DreamWorks’ “Spirit Riding Free: Riding Academy” to Feature Character Who Uses a Wheelchair

animated female character seated in a wheelchair next to a horseLos Angeles, California, Sept. 3 – 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. DreamWorks Animation and voice actress Cassidy Huff, who has Conradi-Hunermann syndrome, is helping to change this statistic.

“The reality is, the disability community is facing extreme underrepresentation in this industry and it’s time to change that,” Huff said in an interview with RespectAbility. “In order for disability to be normalized in society, we have to start by introducing it to the youngest ones in this generation and letting them ask questions!”

Spirit Riding Free: Riding Academy’s Season 2 premiere introduces a new character who uses a wheelchair and voiced by Huff, a part-time wheelchair user. While Huff has a variety of disabilities, she does not want to be defined by them.

“I’d like to just be an actress without a label,” she said. “I want to be able to work in an industry where disability isn’t the only thing people see about me or the characters I portray.”

animated female characters racing on their horses - including one who has a strap keeping her inThis animated series features Lucky and her horse Spirit while she embarks on adventures with her friends while living and learning at the prestigious Palomino Bluffs Riding Academy. In the Season 2 premiere, Lucky gets a run for her money when she meets a new addition to the academy: Eleanor, a horseback rider who uses a wheelchair. I had the pleasure of talking with Huff, the actress behind the voice of Eleanor, about playing this role.

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“Love on the Spectrum:” What the Show Got Right & Where it Can Improve

cast of Love on the Spectrum dressed up in gowns and suits, posing for the picture

Cast of Love on the Spectrum

Rhode Island, Sept. 3 – I recently was asked to watch Love on the Spectrum on Netflix, and share my honest opinion of the series. I was nervous because I am on the spectrum. The show was described to me as a “reality show.” I worried it might sensationalize, inadvertently or even deliberately, poke fun at autistic behavioral quirks to get laughs from a neurotypical, (not autistic), audience. I was glad that wasn’t the case.

People on the autism spectrum struggle with non-verbal communication and social cues, which can make even finding friends hard. So, the added level of romantic love and dating can be extremely complex, challenging, and stressful. While there are many laughs in the show, the laughs are with, not at, the autistic young adults trying to find love.

The Australian show creators prefer the term “documentary,” and I agree. This show is far from the fights and cattiness of other dating or unscripted shows such as The Bachelor, Dance Moms, or Survivor. As multiple reviews in The Guardian, Boston Herald, and CNN mentioned, Love on the Spectrum is filled with empathy and love – both romantic, familial, friendly, and even supporting love from the director, Cian O’Cleary, and the crew.

During the five episodes, the show follows seven young autistic singles, most of whom are just beginning to navigate the dating landscape, in addition to meeting two already established relationships. Viewers are given a short intro to the match’s likes and dislikes before the date. The “daters,” as they are called, are set up on curated blind dates, in addition to sometimes attending dating events for disabled people. The show interviews the participants, asking them questions such as, “what’s your ideal relationship?” or “how do you think that date went?” [continue reading…]

100 Years After Suffrage, Women with Disabilities Still Face Barriers to Participation in Society

Washington, D.C., Aug. 22 – As America celebrates the 100th anniversary of women getting the right to vote, diverse women with disabilities still face barriers to success. While the passage of the 19th amendment with women’s suffrage was a massive step in the right direction for women, because voting means a greater chance at ensuring political representation, it was only a start. BIPOC women did not gain the right to vote until decades later. Additionally, there are still many barriers for voters with disabilities of all genders. This includes a lack of accessible polling places or mail-in-voting measures necessary to ensure safety during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As of 2019, there were 164,776,771 women with disabilities in the United States. The 19th amendment brought many women the right to vote and therefore the option to participate in society to advance equity and progress.

Even as society works to ensure voters with disabilities have access to vote, many individuals with disabilities are excluded from participating in society in another way – the opportunity for employment. Many women with disabilities still cannot fully participate in society in ways that women without disabilities can for both voting and working. [continue reading…]

24 Jewish Groups Release a Guide to Accessible Virtual High Holiday Services

Los Angeles, California, August 11 – A coalition of 24 Jewish organizations, led by the disability nonprofit RespectAbility, is pleased to announce the release of a new toolkit to help congregations ensure their High Holiday services and related events are accessible – Opening Your Virtual Gates: Making Online High Holiday Celebrations Accessible to All.”

The COVID-19 pandemic is causing many synagogues and communities of worship to move at least part of their High Holiday services, if not all, to an online format. The Jewish world is spending significant time and energy determining how to create a meaningful, spiritual experience online, and RespectAbility, working with Rabbis Lauren Tuchman and Darby Leigh, created a guide to ensure this includes the one in five Jews with disabilities. Leigh, who is Deaf, and Tuchman, who is blind, bring both their deep knowledge as rabbis and critical lived experiences. [continue reading…]

Virtual Fellowship Allows 12 Fellows to Learn New Skills and Advance Their Careers

National Leadership Program Summer 2020 Cohort. Individual headshots of 12 Summer/Fall Fellows smilingRockville, Maryland, August 9 – Twelve enthusiastic individuals, many of whom have disabilities, recently began RespectAbility’s Virtual National Leadership Program. RespectAbility is a national nonprofit fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities so people with disabilities can fully participate in all aspects of community. Fellows learn about disability advocacy and gain the real-world skills required to become highly employable and impactful once they enter the workforce. Each Fellow specializes within areas of the organization that align with their career goals, including: public policy, nonprofit management, communications and community outreach.

Throughout the next six months, they will work on projects such as policy briefings, grant writing, social media content curation and media outreach, as well as soft skills including networking, public speaking and issue advocacy. [continue reading…]

New Virtual Education Guide to Help Millions of Students with Disabilities

New guide provides advice, resources and guidance on ensuring success for students with disabilities this fall

Washington, D.C., August 6 – As millions of students with disabilities and their parents face a new school year in the weeks ahead, the national disability inclusion nonprofit RespectAbility is releasing free resources to help students with disabilities succeed during the COVID-19 crisis. The new guide, entitled Virtual Education & Students With Disabilities: Supporting Student Success in the Time of COVID-19 and Beyond, is available for free on RespectAbility’s website. The guide covers critical topics such as virtual resources from a wide range of disability advocacy organizations, home-based programs for students of all ages, live synchronous learning opportunities, state-specific information for parents of students with disabilities and mental health resources.

“Educational success is daunting for all students, families and teachers during this pandemic,” said Debbie Fink, a former educator and RespectAbility’s Director of Community Outreach and Impact. “However, it is even more daunting for students with disabilities. This is especially the case in underfunded school districts and for families without access to internet, technology devices and other key supports. Hence, we hope these consolidated resources will help students with disabilities of all backgrounds, as well as their families and educators.” [continue reading…]

New L.A. Toolkit to Help the 143,000 Out-of-Work Angelenos with Disabilities

Toolkit provides advice and local resources for finding employment in challenging economic environment

Los Angeles, California, July 31 – Angelenos with disabilities have a powerful new toolkit to help them prepare for and find new jobs and great careers. The Los Angeles office of RespectAbility has partnered with the City of Los Angeles Department on Disability, UNITE-LA and Fiesta Educativa to release a comprehensive toolkit for job seekers with disabilities in Los Angeles, which will, in the words of Mayor Eric Garcetti, “grow and build upon their own professional strengths, and put them to work — so that we can create a better city of the future for all of us, together.”

The toolkit, entitled “Finding a Job as a Person with a Disability in Los Angeles,” will be launched during a keynote address by Stephen David Simon, Executive Director of the City of Los Angeles Department on Disability, who describes the toolkit as a “cornerstone of regional efforts to help people with disabilities to gain, retain, and advance their employment opportunities.” Simon’s keynote, on Friday, July 31, will anchor the final day of RespectAbility’s #ADA30 Summit 2020, offering his vision for people with disabilities in LA in the coming years, as part a day-long focus on the way that citizens and the government can partner for the future. [continue reading…]

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