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Attending the Inaugural ReelAbilities Film & Television Accessibility Summit in NYC

RespectAbility Lab Alumni and team members at ReelAbilities Film Festival

L-R: Nasreen Alkhateeb, Isabella Vargas, Molly McConville, Kiah Amara, April Caputi, Alaa Zabara, Colin Buckingham

New York, NY, April 14 – ReelAbilities, the nation’s largest film festival focused on disability inclusion hosted its first ever Film and Television Accessibility Summit in NYC last week. I had the opportunity to attend the summit where a wide variety of panelists spoke on all matters related to accessibility, and how we all can contribute to creating an accessible, successful, and welcoming entertainment industry.

The summit virtually covered every area of the industry, from pre-production to post-production and marketing. Each panel was produced with a sharp eye for accessibility, serving as the perfect model on how all events should provide accessible spaces. The panels were hybrid, giving some people the ease of tuning in virtually. There were several ASL interpreters throughout, closed captioning, and other accommodations were easily added in as requested by the audience. It was a great example of how different people with different disabilities and needs can co-exist in this kind of space. For me, this was a refreshing thing to see and experience in action. It gave me plenty of ease and comfort as a participant, and I believe it also gave each panelist a comfortable space to really dive into talking about disability and accessibility. [continue reading…]

Building an Equitable Recovery: RespectAbility Advises Utah on Solutions for People with Disabilities

Salt Lake City, UT, April 14 – This week, the Utah Workforce Development Board met to discuss the status of workforce practices in the Beehive State. In response to this meeting, RespectAbility, a national, non-partisan nonprofit organization, submitted testimony on how to implement best practices, advocate for greater inclusion and improve the standing of people with disabilities in the workforce.

“When it was passed with broad, bipartisan support in 2014, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) invested unprecedented resources into efforts to get people with barriers to employment into the labor force,” said Olegario “Ollie” Cantos VII, RespectAbility’s Chairman. “Now, after the pandemic that has reshaped our economy, it is time to devote significant attention to supporting the economic advancement of students, job-seekers, and entrepreneurs with disabilities.”

There are more than 187,000 working age (18-64) Utahans living with some form of disability. Before the pandemic, 47.5 percent of the working age population of people with disabilities were employed. It is critical that Utah’s Workforce Development Board listen to the individuals with disabilities and advocates impacted by these unemployment rates. In order to make the workforce more inclusive, and to find practical ways to make the workforce more accessible for the entire population, RespectAbility collects, summarizes, and publicizes ideas on key workforce solutions. To learn more about RespectAbility’s advocacy work, please visit our Policy website. [continue reading…]

Advancing Competitive Integrated Employment: RespectAbility Advises AbilityOne Commission on Strategic Plan

U.S. AbilityOne Commission logo. Text: TestimonyWashington, D.C., April 13 – One of the nation’s oldest federal disability employment programs is looking ahead and adapting for the future. This week, the U.S. AbilityOne Commission finished collecting public comment and direct feedback on a new 2022-2026 Strategic Plan for the nation’s most important government program to employ people who are blind or have significant disabilities.

Originally founded in 1938 with the passage of the Wagner-O’Day Act, the AbilityOne program directly helps people who are blind or have significant disabilities through employment programs, contracts to satisfy government procurement needs, and a full range of services/supports.

Looking ahead to the future, the AbilityOne Commission, which oversees these programs, is rolling out a new strategic plan to decide on goals, set priorities, and measure success. In response, the national disability inclusion organization RespectAbility developed and submitted a clear set of recommendations and ideas on how to make this strategic plan better. [continue reading…]

My Journey as a Late Autistic Diagnosed Vietnamese American Guy

Dennis Tran headshot wearing a suit and red button down shirt

Dennis Tran

Los Angeles, CA, April 8 – Growing up Vietnamese American to a family with disabilities and unhealed intergenerational trauma was something very eye opening for me. In my experience, mental health and disability are rarely discussed in our Vietnamese American cultural upbringing, and they are often seen as shameful. In fact, they were portrayed as a curse or bad luck. On my dad’s side of the family, showing any sort of emotions or opening up about our struggles would be seen as either a weakness or a threat. I have observed many comparisons and slights that my dad experienced for being disabled and different from his own relatives and siblings.

This was something very common among kids with immigrant parents, especially in Asian families. The stigma surrounding mental health and disability has been around for decades. The society we grew up in didn’t really prioritize or support mental health and disability. There was a lot of injustice, inaccessibility, and inequity to resources and opportunities. News and entertainment media at the time didn’t help to destigmatized this. Instead, it contributed to toxic masculinity and the idealization of physically strong looking male figures while continuing the narrative that anyone who looks or seen as different should be shamed upon or ostracized. [continue reading…]

Being Michelle: Highlighting the Complex Lifestyle of Multiple Disabilities, Mental Health, and an Unjust System Through One Woman’s Journey

Los Angeles, CA, April 7 – “Being Michelle” is a powerful and emotional documentary film that follows the life of a Deaf woman with autism who has survived numerous instances of abuse and injustice at the hands of the U.S. incarceration system. The film had its world premiere at Big Sky Documentary Film Festival this week, and will soon screen at the Florida Film Festival as well. At its core, “Being Michelle” is a story about hope and resilience in the face of adversity due to one’s family upbringings, circumstances, and the ableist injustices of the U.S. incarceration system. No matter what you are going through, you are not alone, and this documentary is a reminder of that through the story of Michelle’s journey as she continues to be that ray of sunshine for others despite what she has gone through. Her story matters and is an example for others to be able to learn and take up space.

Throughout the film, audiences learn that Michelle experienced an abusive family dynamic growing up; a pattern and experience that unfortunately followed her into the incarceration system, where police officers were quick to condemn her due to a lack of understanding of her disabilities, and without really trying to understand her or why she was acting or behaving a certain way. The documentary really brings to light how society is quick to judge and make assumptions about someone without getting to know them, as in the case of Michelle, who was misunderstood and could not articulate what she wanted to say and express her emotions due to a lack of means to communication between the Hearing officers and prison employees and herself as a Deaf woman. [continue reading…]

Don’t Try To Fix Me: Accept Me For Who I Am

Eric Ascher smiles in the spin room at the 2020 Democratic Debate in Des Moines Iowa

Selfie of Eric Ascher in the spin room at the CNN Democratic Debate in Des Moines Iowa

Rockville, Maryland, April 7 – I remember when my parents first told me that I was on the autism spectrum. I was in high school. They gave me a document with typical characteristics of what was then referred to as “asperger’s syndrome.” I clearly fit the bill. For example, I am passionate about a small list of things. I have trouble making friends, and I am socially awkward.

But I’m ashamed to admit that I remember not wanting to call myself autistic. I knew other autistic kids at school, and how they “acted out.” I didn’t want to be associated with them. As a 16-year-old, I was the exact type of person who might have used the phrase “differently-abled” or some other euphemism to describe myself, had I known that euphemisms were an option. I’ve previously written about how I was bullied throughout my school years, and how the harassment literally kept me in the closet. I wanted nothing more than to be “normal,” to not be different.

But more than a decade later, I’m proud to be on the autism spectrum. I’ve been exposed to the perspectives of autistic people that I follow on social media and other autistic people that I’ve befriended over the years. I’ve learned that it’s not a bad thing, it’s simply who I am. I know there are some things I’m never going to be as good at as my neurotypical peers. I can’t give an impromptu speech to save my life, and networking events are super uncomfortable for me. But there are other areas where I excel. I know everything about Apple products that any one person could reasonably know. I do a great job managing websites and precisely editing videos. [continue reading…]

RespectAbility Opens Nomination Process for First-Annual Justin Chappell Memorial Award and Steve Bartlett Award

Washington, D.C., April 4 – RespectAbility is pleased to announce two new awards in honor of Justin W. Chappell and Steve Bartlett, both key contributors to our work. Nominations for the first-annual awards are open now and will close on May 15. Winners of the awards will receive $1,000 and will be recognized in a ceremony.

headshot of Justin Chappell wearing glasses grayscale photo

Justin W. Chappell

The Justin Chappell Memorial Award honors a former or current Apprentice of the National Leadership Program who demonstrates a strong commitment to the advancement of the disability community in policy, entertainment, or philanthropy. This award honors Justin W. Chappell, who devoted his life to human and disability rights and passed away on September 9, 2021.

Steve Bartlett is smiling and wearing a black suit, white shirt, a spotted tie and an american flag pin on his jacket, grayscale photo

Steve Bartlett

The Steve Bartlett Award recognizes and honors an individual in the private or public sector who demonstrates a strong commitment to using the political system to advance public policy in support of people with disabilities. The award recognizes local, state, and national leaders who advocate policies that help to advance opportunities for people with disabilities in different areas including economic growth, educational excellence and achievement, sustainability, workforce and employment, and equity. This award is in honor of Steve Bartlett, former Chairperson of RespectAbility, former member of Congress (1983-1991) and former mayor of Dallas. [continue reading…]

RespectAbility Announces Major Expansion

Building on Momentum as Capacity Grows, New Hires Pave the Way for Greater Societal Impact

Los Angeles, April 3 – RespectAbility, a diverse, disability-led nonprofit that works to create systemic change in how society views and values people with disabilities and that advances policies and practices that empower people with disabilities to have a better future, continues to expand its scope with five new hires across the entire organization.

The new team members – who collectively bring more than 50 years of experience in fields such as adult education, the entertainment industry, and corporate fundraising – include:

Jacquill Moss, Entertainment Media Program Coordinator; Graciano Petersen, Senior Director for Training, Culture, and Leadership Development; Theresa Soares, Media Business Development Associate; Joy St. Juste, Director of Marketing and Communications; and Wally Tablit, Director of State Policy.

These new hires will ensure RespectAbility is able to continue its mission of fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities so people with disabilities can fully participate in all aspects of community. [continue reading…]

Second Annual ‘Mental Health Action Day’ to Drive Culture of Mental Health from Awareness to Action Takes Place on May 19

Setting the theme of ‘Connection,’ RespectAbility and more than 1400 companies and organizations will drive calls to action to address the surge of loneliness and isolation felt by millions as a result of the pandemic

Learn more at www.MentalHealthActionDay.org 

Mental Health Action Day logo. Text: Get ready for Mental Health Action Day on Thursday, May 19Los Angeles, April 1 – RespectAbility announces today its participation in the second-annual Mental Health Action Day held on Thursday, May 19 with more than 1,400 other leading companies, brands, nonprofits and cultural leaders globally.

As the global conversation around mental health continues – including the White House’s new unity agenda strategy to address mental health in the United States – finding effective resources and knowing how to get help remains a challenge. Convened by MTV Entertainment Group, Mental Health Action Day was created with an open-source model that has effectively united and galvanized brands, organizational leaders, and cultural leaders to seamlessly integrate the message and spirit into their existing branding and voice. [continue reading…]

Survey of NYC Area Jews Marks Improvement on Jewish Disability Inclusion

Survey of 222 Jews in the NYC community shows progress, while identifying areas in need of continued improvement

Download Topline Data (Excel)

New York City skylineNew York, NY, April 1 – In a recently released major survey of 2,321 Jewish individuals nationwide, RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization that fights stigmas and advances opportunities so people with disabilities can participate fully in all aspects of community, in partnership with UJA Federation of New York, surveyed 222 members of the New York City Jewish community. This allowed a deep look into disability inclusion in NYC, as well as a strong and meaningful comparison to the national numbers. Of the 222 respondents from New York City, 171 either personally have a disability or have a close disability connection. The survey demonstrates that Jewish communal organizations are making strong progress toward building a more inclusive community for people with physical, sensory, mental health and other disabilities.

The data showed that 66 percent of NYC area Jewish respondents felt the Jewish community was “better” at “including people with disabilities” compared to five years ago. Only one percent felt that the community was doing “somewhat worse.” [continue reading…]

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