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Press Releases

RespectAbility’s National Leadership Program Advances with New Director at Helm  

Fellowship Applicants Welcome

grayscale headshot of Christopher Trujillo

Christopher Trujillo

Rockville, Md., May 25 – RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization fighting  stigmas and advancing opportunities for people with disabilities, is pleased to announce the hiring of Christopher Trujillo as its new National Leadership Director.

Prior to joining RespectAbility, Trujillo worked at Grantmakers for Effective Organizations (GEO) as the Member Development Specialist. He managed the recruitment process, was responsible for generating new member revenue, developed recruitment matrixes, processes and strategies, and presented at various conferences nationwide. Before joining GEO, he worked at the National Society of Collegiate Scholars (GEO) as Senior Coordinator of Chapter Development where he served as a coach and mentor to high achieving scholars at universities and community colleges.

Trujillo is a trained educator and holds a bachelor’s degree in visual art studies and a minor in professional development from the University of North Texas. The youngest of 12 children, he has a sibling with developmental disabilities and an aunt with Cerebral Palsy.

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Emmy-Winning Reality Show Features Self-Determination for People with Disabilities in Healthcare Choices

Watch #BornThisWay on A&E, Tuesday at 10/9c.

Join RespectAbility for a live Twitter chat during the east coast broadcast using #BornThisWay and #BTWchat.

Rockville, Maryland, May 22 – Fully one-in-five Americans has a disability, and in many cases, their rights and lives are needlessly put at risk. While some healthcare choices are easy to understand, others are highly complex. For the first time on reality television, the issue of how adults with intellectual, mental health or other disabilities make competent decisions that can literally be life changing, or life enabling, is being addressed.

Born This Way, which recently won an Emmy for being the best reality show on TV today, is not an ordinary reality show. It stars seven diverse young adults with Down syndrome as they deal with issues around employment, independent living, education and romance.

This Tuesday night, A&E’s Born This Way will cover the potentially life-saving issue of supported decision-making for medical care. Supported decision-making is an emerging strategy to enable individuals with developmental and other disabilities to make their own choices. This is especially helpful in the health care setting where every person utilizes the expertise of his or her provider and other resources to make difficult health related decisions.

“RespectAbility applauds Born This Way for its informed and sensitive coverage of how adults with disabilities can safely and successfully interact with the healthcare system,” said Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, president of RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization that fights stigmas and advances opportunities for people with disabilities. “It’s not every day that reality shows can save lives – but this episode absolutely can do that. It also demonstrates that every human being has the right to be treated with dignity.”

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Unprecedented New Job Gains for People with Disabilities

National Numbers Improve: Spotlight on WI as 4,327 more Wisconsinites with disabilities get jobs, earn an income and become independent

Wisc. Gov. Scott Walker unveils plan to reward schools that help students with disabilities get jobs

Eau Claire, WI, Apr. 7 – As labor markets tighten and people with disabilities prove to be a solution for market growth, RespectAbility will join Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, a national leader on employment and opportunities for people with disabilities, for a tour of three dynamic and successful inclusive employers across Wisconsin. Gov. Walker will be highlighting the success stories of Wisconsinites with disabilities and talking about several new initiatives that are preparing more people with disabilities enter Wisconsin’s workforce.

Gov. Scott Walker

Gov. Scott Walker

Between 2016 and 2015, 4,327 more people with disabilities entered Wisconsin’s workforce, driving the state’s disability employment rate higher to 41.2 percent. That means Wisconsin is vastly outperforming other states such as New York and Connecticut, where people with disabilities are leaving the labor force each year. According to data from Disability Statistics Compendium, Wisconsin now is one of the top 10 states with the highest employment rates for people with disabilities.

Wisconsin is at the forefront of nationwide gains in terms of disability employment. In a new report published by the Kessler Foundation and the University of New Hampshire’s Institute on Disability (UNH-IOD), people with disabilities have experienced a solid year of job growth.

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People with Disabilities Twice as Likely to be Employed in Some States as Others

  • Wyoming leads nation with 57.1 percent of their working-age citizens with disabilities employed.
  • Pennsylvanians with disabilities experience the biggest jobs gains of any state in the nation with 13,763 more people with disabilities entering the workforce.
  • Wisconsin edges Nevada out of the top 10 states after investing in school-to-work transition programs for youth with disabilities.

Washington, D.C., Feb. 24 – As governors convene in Washington, D.C., for the 2017 National Governors Association Winter Meeting, Americans with disabilities are finding their economic outcomes vary greatly based on where they live. For example, 57.1 percent of working-age people with disabilities in Wyoming have jobs, while only 24.4 percent of people with disabilities in West Virginia are employed.

According to the newly released 2016 Annual Disability Statistics Compendium, only 34.9 percent of U.S. civilians with disabilities ages 18-64 living in the community nationally had a job in 2015, compared to 76.0 percent for people without disabilities. Out of almost 20 million working age people with disabilities, only 7.1 million people with disabilities have a job. Millions who would rather be working are living on government benefits instead.

However, looking at national statistics only tells part of the story facing millions of job seekers with disabilities who want to become independent and earn an income. Digging into the data compiled by the Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Disability Statistics and Demographics (StatsRRTC) actually shows serious differences in employment outcomes at the state level. In fact, there are some states where people with disabilities are twice as likely to be employed as in other states.

Wyoming leads the nation with 57.1 percent of their citizens with disabilities employed. Wyoming is followed by the Dakotas where 51.7 percent of South Dakotans with disabilities have a job and 48.6 percent of North Dakotans with disabilities are employed. Other top 10 states include Nebraska with a 48.6 employment rate for people with disabilities, Minnesota (47.5), Iowa (46.3), Utah (45.8), Kansas (42.8), Alaska (42.6) and Wisconsin (41.2).

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Zero Actor Nominees for Academy Awards Have a Known Disability

Two Categories to Watch: Visual Effects and Full-Length Documentary Nominations Include People with Autism

Academy Award Oscar Statuettes

Photo by Toby Canham/Getty Images

Los Angeles, Calif. – As Hollywood gets ready to celebrate the Oscars this weekend, a glaring omission of nominees is evident. No known actor with a disability was nominated for an Academy Award. By not including authentic disability in the diversity conversation, Hollywood leaves out the largest minority in the U.S.

“Hollywood has to catch up with its audience,” RespectAbility President Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi said. “Diversity must really mean diversity – and that includes the one-in-five Americans who has a disability. Disability needs to be a part of every conversation on diversity. When films and television shows lack the inclusion of disability in their diversity efforts, Hollywood is disenfranchising the one-in-five Americans who have a disability.”

However, there are two examples of importance in this arena. Behind the scenes, Marvel’s Doctor Strange has been nominated in the category of visual effects. Two of the individuals who contributed to this cinematic technology, Jacob Fenster and Noah Schneider, have autism and currently work at Exceptional Minds Studios in Sherman Oaks, California. Marvel Studios is planning to partner on 15 more movies with Exceptional Minds, a nonprofit vocational school and working studio that prepares young adults on the autism spectrum for careers in digital animation and visual effects.

Additionally, Life, Animated was nominated for the full-length documentary category. The film shows how Owen, a young man with Autism who was unable to speak as a child, and his father are able to connect using Disney animated films.

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#RespectTheAbility Campaign: Spotlight on UCLA Medical Center

#RESPECTTHEABILITY CAMPAIGN: SPOTLIGHT ON PROJECT SEARCH

Job Openings in Healthcare Market Growing: Employees with Disabilities Help Hospitals Help Patients

A young woman answering the phone

“It felt like freedom,” Corinna Hitchman, storekeeper in materials management, said when she was offered a job in the unit where was interning.

Los Angeles, Calif., Feb. 17 – Filing, answering phones, providing customer service and making linen orders are just a few of the tasks Lily Fischer-Gilday completes in her rotation as an office assistant at the PathPoint Project SEARCH site at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center and UCLA Medical Center, Santa Monica.

Fischer-Gilday is learning skills transferable to many industries, working alongside her supervisor Remy Abraham, who previously served as a job coach for the program. In September 2016, she began a yearlong program that has a greater than 70 percent success rate in ensuring its participants, all of whom have a developmental disability, find appropriate employment in an integrated setting.

“I’m an office assistant,” Fischer-Gilday proudly stated when asked about her position. “This is my first rotation. For my second rotation I hope to be trying out making badges. That seems pretty cool.”

At UCLA Medical Center and at other hospitals around the county, Project SEARCH interns work throughout the hospital, assisting the regularly employed staff in any task they need help fulfilling. Participation in the internship provides employers with great talent and the interns are compensated with work experience they can take with them into the competitive labor market.

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Super Bowl Ads for Coca-Cola, Airbnb and Google Home Leave out People with Disabilities

Rockville, Md., Feb. 6 – While many commercials during last night’s Super Bowl focused on diversity and inclusion, the majority did not include people with disabilities.

Coca-Cola reran an ad from the 2014 Super Bowl. “It’s Beautiful” features people of different backgrounds singing “America, The Beautiful” in different languages.

Likewise, Airbnb’s “We Accept” also showcased people of a variety of backgrounds. The ad is set to music with text laid over close-ups of people’s faces that read: “We believe no matter who you are, where you’re from, who you love, or who you worship, we all belong. The world is more beautiful the more you accept.” The ad ended with the hashtag #WeAccept, which went viral by halftime.

Google’s “Google Home” commercial included multiple minority groups by showing homes with rainbow pride flags and mezuzahs and people from all races cooking, eating, dancing and enjoying life.

Yet all three of these ads, which promoted inclusion of diverse people, failed to include people with disabilities, which is the largest minority in America, with almost one-in-five Americans having a disability. The disability community often is forgotten in diversity conversations in Hollywood and elsewhere.

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#RespectTheAbility Campaign: Spotlight on Embassy Suites by Hilton Omaha-La Vista

#RESPECTTHEABILITY CAMPAIGN: SPOTLIGHT ON PROJECT SEARCH

Embassy Suites by Hilton Omaha-La Vista is Prime Example of Progress of Jobs for People with Disabilities

a woman with a disability working as a barista offers a customer a coffee as an example of the #RespectTheAbility campaign

Embassy Suites by Hilton Omaha-La Vista

Omaha, Nebraska, Feb. 2 – David Scott is a charismatic Australian immigrant who has been showcasing the American values of opportunity at Embassy Suites by Hilton Omaha-La Vista. The message that he has for the hospitality industry is simple: “Hiring people with disabilities is just simply great for business!”

Indeed, the Embassy Suites Omaha-La Vista in Nebraska has consistently ranked as the only hotel property to have achieved the #1 ranking for quality, service and guest satisfaction three times. Determined to continue this trend, management was faced with the question: How do we keep this momentum going? Their answer came to them when they were approached by their local school district to be a partner as a Project SEARCH host site.

Project SEARCH is an internship program for transitioning students with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Students are immersed in the workplace where they participate in three 10-week rotations to learn transferable job skills and explore career options. Project SEARCH was launched in 1997 at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center in 1997 as a way to fill high-turnover positions, and help youth with disabilities prepare for adult life. Since then, this model program has grown rapidly to nearly 500 host sites in 48 states and four countries.

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Four Oscar Nominations for Best Picture Go to Films with Disability Connections

Academy Award Oscar Statuettes

Photo by Toby Canham/Getty Images

Rockville, Md, Jan. 24 – Of the nine films nominated for Best Picture, four have themes or sub-plots related to disability.

For example, Manchester by the Sea includes themes of mental health, alcoholism and drug use. Likewise, Moonlight includes story lines surrounding drug addiction. Arrival, a science-fiction film, includes a child who dies from cancer.

Fences, a film that has received multiple accolades for its racially diverse themes, also includes a disability storyline. Lead character Troy Maxson (Denzel Washington)’s older brother Gabe Maxson (Mykelti Williamson) sustained a traumatic brain injury (TBI) during World War II. Children in the neighborhood often torment Gabe. When Troy bails Gabe out of jail for disturbing the peace, Troy unknowingly signs a paper that routes half of Gabe’s pension to a psychiatric hospital, forcing Gabe to be institutionalized.

Williamson does not have a disability himself, which is quite common when it comes to casting actors portraying people with disabilities. The Ruderman White Paper on Disability in Television found that non-disabled actors on television play more than 95 percent of characters with disabilities.

When asked by the Los Angeles Times about playing the role of someone with a TBI, Williamson acknowledged the many variables and “different levels of injury and effect” of someone with a TBI.

In the full-length documentary category, Life, Animated, a film about Owen, a boy with Autism, was nominated. The film shows how Owen, a young man who was unable to speak as a child, and his father are able to connect using Disney animated films.

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Supreme Court Case Could Determine Education for Students with Disabilities

exterior shot of front of Supreme Court of the United States from across the street

Supreme Court of the United States

Washington, Jan. 13 – Earlier this week, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a critical case for children with disabilities, Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District, one of the most important education cases in decades.

In 1975, Congress passed a federal law requiring school districts to provide a “free appropriate public education” for children with disabilities, which includes individualized education plan (IEP) for students to be included in public schools. The law also provided federal funds for these services. The act was renamed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in 1990. Unfortunately, IDEA has never been fully funded, leading to some school districts struggling to keep up.

This case, representing a boy with autism named Endrew F. (Drew), argues just how much educational benefit the IEPs must provide. While some lower courts have ruled the need for a “meaningful” educational benefit, others require only a bit more than de minimis – the bare minimum.

Since Drew’s parents felt he was not improving in public school, they sent him to a private school where he progressed at a much quicker pace. Under IDEA, parents can receive tuition reimbursement from the school district if their child does not receive enough “educational benefit” from public schooling. Drew’s parents were denied, leading to this case.

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