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Reflecting on Disability History

Emily Tironi smiling headshot

Emily Tironi

Throughout my childhood education, I took my own short, wheelchair accessible bus to the school a town over from mine. My town’s school was less than a mile from my house, but they had refused to accommodate me. My mother fought tooth and nail, got a lawyer, and the local school ended up footing the bill to send me to the next town over. By the time I graduated, I knew I had my parents to thank for getting me an equal education and supports to live, but I did not comprehend all of the work of the generations of disabled people before me that had created this pathway. I think it was this experience that made me want to understand the societal aspects of disability and major in Disability Studies in college.

In college, I took a class in Disability History, and learned that the laws that protected people with disabilities were not just given; they were fought for by disabled activists. It made me realize the role disability history had played in my life. My education, medical care, and community supports were all a direct result of years of hard-fought activism.

When I started my apprenticeship at RespectAbility, I pitched the idea of doing a social media series on disability history, because it is such an under-taught topic that is essential to understanding how to address the issues the disability community still faces today. I was so grateful to share Tom Olin’s and Anthony Tusler’s photographs in the series to help bring these important events to life. While at community college, I took the public bus for the first time, photographing the experience for my photography class. It was not until creating this project that I realized how ADAPT’s actions and Tom Olin documenting them allowed such a moment to occur. [continue reading…]

RespectAbility Honors the Life of Steven James Tingus

by Matan Koch and Lauren Appelbaum

Leah Daniels-Butler and Steven Tingus, along with an ASL interpreter, speaking at a RespectAbility panel in 2017

Leah Daniels-Butler and Steven Tingus speaking at RespectAbility’s Capitol Hill Summit in Washington, D.C., in July 2017

RespectAbility honors the life of former Board of Advisors member Steven James Tingus, who passed last week at age 59, shortly after the premiere of his new film “Triggered” at the acclaimed Indie Night Film Festival at the TCL Chinese Theatre. Tingus was hailed for his role and as a voice for social equality. He graced the stage thanking his co-producer and co-star Marcus Nel-Jamal Hamm for “walking the walk and talking the talk.”

A former Presidential appointee in charge of disability, aging, and health care research and policy, Tingus often called for making the business case for disability inclusion and served a term on RespectAbility’s Board of Advisors from 2016 – 2019. During his tenure, he participated in a series of PSA’s produced by RespectAbility to ensure philanthropists are inclusive of people with disabilities. [continue reading…]

Alys Murray: RespectAbility Entertainment Lab Alum Pushing for Diversity in Christmas Movies

Alys Murray headshot

Alys Murray

RespectAbility Entertainment Lab alumna Alys Murray had two Christmas films – A New Orleans Noel and My Southern Family Christmas – premiere last week.

Murray, who started out as a novelist, says that screenwriting is less lonely than writing novels because it is more collaborative. “There is a lot less crying” involved in screenwriting because she does not have to be alone with her thoughts, and she has others to “bounce ideas off of.” [continue reading…]

Remembering Lois Curtis, A Hero of Independent Living

Lois Curtis smilingLois Curtis had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and developmental disabilities as a young woman, and by her late 20s she had spent more than half her life in state institutions. Isolated and angry, she chain-smoked to pass the time and prayed to God at night, asking to be rescued from the Georgia Regional Hospital in Atlanta.

Ms. Curtis’s prayer for freedom made its way to the Supreme Court. In Olmstead v. L.C. (1999) – Ms. Curtis was the “L.C.”— the Court decided “unjustified isolation” of a person with a disability is a form of discrimination under Title II of the ADA. The justices delivered a landmark ruling that gave people with disabilities the right to receive care and support services in their own homes and communities, not just in state institutions. This offered a legal framework for people with disabilities to secure the right to live, work, and study in their own communities, galvanizing the disability community by legally empowering the independent living movement. [continue reading…]

Disability Pride On The Rise Among Candidates for Public Office

Having a disability in government has typically meant concealing, masking, or otherwise hiding any difference of mind or body on the campaign trail and in office. Franklin Delano Roosevelt remained paralyzed from the waist down after a bout of polio. Roosevelt used a wheelchair and leg braces for mobility, which he tried to conceal in public.

Headshots of John Fetterman and Ollie Cantos, two candidates with disabilities who won in the 2022 electionsWhile government roles have been filled by people with disabilities before and after Roosevelt, people running for public office have rarely felt comfortable revealing their disability status. Thankfully, there are signs that this is starting to change. Only days prior to the Pennsylvania Democratic primary, John Fetterman had a stroke. Fetterman proceeded to win the Senate seat despite the public nature of his disability. He embraced the use of accommodations and used closed-captioning technology, which translates audio into text on a screen in real time. Additionally, the Chairman of RespectAbility’s Board of Directors and Los Angeles City Council District 4-elect, Ollie Cantos VII, described himself as “blind since birth” on his campaign website. [continue reading…]

Enabling Independence to Work

Logos for United Spinal Association and RespectAbility. Text: Enabling Independence to WorkUnited Spinal Association and RespectAbility have embarked upon a major joint initiative to fundamentally change personal care for working people with disabilities by implementing market-driven solutions. The Enabling Independence to Work (EIW) program has designed a Medicaid buy-in model that will allow individuals with disabilities with personal care and complex medical needs to join the workforce. This program will be politically popular and economically feasible, as it will require substantial financial participation and still reward increased compensation. [continue reading…]

A Reflection on Being Singled Out While Voting

Erica Mones headshot

Erica Mones

As a Disabled woman, I dread voting. Polling places are supposed to be accessible to Disabled voters, but in my experience, they seldom are. For one, I do not have the fine motor skills to fill in the bubbles. As a result, I need assistance to fill out the ballot.

I’ve heard horror stories about Disabled voters relying on election workers–workers who loudly repeat the voters’ choice or workers who try to talk the voter into making a different choice. As a result, I ask my mom to help me. She respects my voting choices, even when we are not voting for the same candidate. The election workers often let me do this with no problem.

However, this year when I voted in the primary election, one of the workers loudly shouted, “No cheating!” as my mom helped me fill out the ballot. I felt like a child singled out by a teacher for utilizing the reasonable accommodations outlined in my IEP. I was humiliated and angry. I was exercising my right to vote like anyone else; I just have to go about it a bit differently. I tried to laugh it off, but the worker continued to make a scene, filling the previously peaceful room with his boisterous voice. He repeated himself, even though I heard him perfectly the first time. I was reminded at that moment that I was different – that our society and its conventions were not designed for me. I was an other. I am an other. [continue reading…]

Recently Passed Legislation Empowering Workers with Disabilities

Washington, DC, November 2 – National Disability Employment Awareness Month just wrapped up, but the work to get more people with disabilities into the workforce continues. Below, we are spotlighting recently passed legislation empowering workers with disabilities across the United States.

Gov. Newsom of California signed SB-951, AB-1041, AB-152, which have a combination of priorities that overlap to create room for Californians with disabilities. The new laws boost benefits for lower and middle-income Californians. They extend wage rates for family and disability leave for workers earning less than average wages, allowing them to make up to 90 percent of their salary. The laws also allow employees to pay sick or family leave to care for a designated family member, and extend COVID-19 supplemental sick leave through the end of 2022. [continue reading…]

Ableism in the Workplace

A conference room table in an office with empty chairs around it. Text: Ableism in the workplace.In the United States, workplace opportunities for people with disabilities have greatly expanded, and there’s more enlightenment toward people with disabilities. But there are still problems with ableism in the workplace.

Outright scorn towards people with disabilities is not as commonplace as it was years ago when many states used to have ugliness laws during the late 1800s. These laws were used to discriminate against people with disabilities, especially physical disabilities, and they prevented disabled people from going out in public and getting jobs in almost any capacity. [continue reading…]

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