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Press Releases

Learning The Language of Mental Health: Linda Burger

Rockville, Maryland, April 16 – The genuine care and concern in Linda Burger’s voice left the Spring 2019 RespectAbility National Leadership Fellows with a feeling of coming home after a long journey. Indeed, she personifies her objective: “I want to offer [people] a place where it’s okay” to not be okay.

The Jewish Family Services of Houston

On February 22, the Fellows had the privilege to listen to our Treasurer, Linda Burger, on stigma surrounding mental health conditions. The CEO of Jewish Family Services (JFS) of Houston, Burger provided each Fellow with a folder containing extensive resources and information about the JFS Mental Health Programs. Suicide prevention and aftercare are the two main focuses of the program. Prevention services include age-specific emotional health programs, mental health first aid, individual and family counseling, meditation, and suicide prevention and protocol training. Grief and bereavement services, along with support groups and an annual memorial service, are available as aftercare for family members and friends whose loved ones have died by suicide. [continue reading…]

Tatiana Lee’s Easterseals Disability Film Challenge Entry Head Trip Challenges Virtual Reality Experiences

Los Angeles, California, April 15 – Tatiana Lee has been working on improving representation of disabilities in media for years through acting, modeling, blogging, and activism. Her latest project is a new short film called Head Trip, filmed and edited in one weekend as an entry for the Easterseals Disability Film Challenge. The competition gives filmmakers — with and without disabilities — the opportunity to collaborate to tell unique stories that showcase disability in its many forms.

In Head Trip, Lee plays Zarah, who along with her friend Lex (Darrien London), bites off more than she can chew when playing a newly released virtual reality experience. Lee previously participated in the Disability Film Challenge in 2018 with a short film called Footloose, which won the award for Best Awareness Campaign.

This year was special for Lee because it was the first time she did her own project with her sister, Alice Felder, who directed the short film. “I’m glad I could do this with my family,” said Lee. [continue reading…]

Emily Kranking’s Directorial Debut Saylor and Selena Explores Relationship Between Friends, Including One with Autism

Rockville, Maryland, April 15 – Emily Kranking has had an interest in filmmaking since she was a child. The Easterseals Disability Film Challenge gave her the opportunity to make her directing and writing debut. Her film, Saylor and Selena, tells the story of Saylor (Aidan), a girl with autism, and Selena (Addison), her imaginary friend – an alien, who is seeing Earth the first time.

The weekend-long competition gives filmmakers — with and without disabilities — the opportunity to collaborate to tell unique stories that showcase disability in its many forms. Kranking, an actress with hemiplegia cerebral palsy known for The Homecoming: A Musical (Nancy), was excited for the opportunity to challenge herself.

“Easterseals Disability Film Challenge showed me that you don’t need to be a professional to make movies,” she said. “It has really inspired me to write more short scripts and stories about characters with disabilities.” [continue reading…]

More Than One-Third of LGBTQ+ Adults Have a Disability: Netflix’s Special Paves the Way for a More Inclusive Future

Los Angeles, California, April 12 – Today’s release of Netflix’s new series Special is earning widespread praise for its authentic depiction of gay disabled life. People who are LGBTQ+ and people with disabilities has been severely underrepresented in the media and the fact that the show’s creator, Ryan O’Connell, is a gay man with cerebral palsy is a reason to celebrate.

“Shows like Special are, pardon the pun, special. But they shouldn’t be. It shouldn’t be so unusual to see someone with a disability who is also gay on screen, because there are plenty of people with disabilities in the LGBTQ+ community,” said Eric Ascher, RespectAbility’s Communications Associate who is both openly gay and on the autism spectrum.

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Shanghai Disneyland is the Most MagicALL Place on Earth

Image of man who uses a wheelchair and woman in Disneyland Shanghai. Logo for Disney MagicALL A Magical Experience for All. Text: Inclusive Hiring at Disneyland ShanghaiWashington, D.C., April 4 – The Walt Disney Company is one of the most celebrated companies in the world. With a legendary movie history and a booming theme park industry, Disney is a desirable company to work for. Disney already has gained a positive reputation in employing people with disabilities, scoring 100 percent on Disability Equality Index for inclusion and employment opportunities. This past year, the Walt Disney Company started a major employment program targeting people with disabilities – the MagicALL Disability Hiring Program at Shanghai Disneyland.

“The Walt Disney Company has always been about inclusion,” says Murray King, the vice president of Public Affairs at Shanghai Disney Resort. “Whether that’s for an employee or for guests, particularly in parks and resorts, to ensure that we build facilities and provide services that allow anybody, whether handicapped or able-bodied, to enjoy the facilities as a guest, or be employed and integrate into our employee community as one of our Cast Members.”

The MagicALL Disability Hiring Program puts employees with disabilities in the spotlight as they work inside the Shanghai Disneyland Park. The employees in the program receive appropriate accommodations for work and their personal lives. Disney provides the accommodations and uses the latest technology for accessible work. Through this program and Disney’s partnership with the Shanghai government, Disney is sending a global message that people with disabilities are hirable and productive. [continue reading…]

The Need for a More Inclusive Philanthropy: Lessons from A. Sparks

Allison Sparks headshotRockville, Maryland, April 3 – Allison Sparks (introducing herself as simply “Sparks”) is the Chief Executive Officer at the Masto Foundation and recently spoke to the Fellows in Respectability’s National Leadership Program. She spoke about her career in philanthropy; owning one’s identity; questioning the status quo; and the importance of promoting equity, inclusion and diversity in the field.

Sparks spent time with the Fellows discussing her unorthodox path to becoming the executive director of her family’s organization and discussed her work aimed at promoting equity and making philanthropy more diverse. Sparks examined what led her to the Masto Organization, highlighting her diverse childhood, a brief career in the fashion world, discovering a commitment to social work, her passion for philanthropy and working with numerous philanthropic organizations. Sparks also noted the increased importance for inclusion and diversity in philanthropy because of the inherent privilege in the philanthropic world (those who give the money) and encouraged the Fellows to pursue inclusion, diversity and equity. [continue reading…]

BroadwayCon Puts the Spotlight on People with Disabilities

Broadway fans across the world traveled to dust off their tap shoes, put on their favorite costumes and sing along with their favorite show tunes with their Broadway idols for the annul BroadwayCon in January.

The panels were diverse as different panelists talked about actors, choreographers and playwrights—all with different ethnicities and gender orientations. Fortunately, people with disabilities were put on center stage on two panels about the importance of website accessibility and casting actors with disabilities. [continue reading…]

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.

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