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Shark Tank: People with Disabilities Can Be Best Talent on Any Team

Rockville, Md., Oct. 9 – To the everyday viewer, the television show Shark Tank seems like the opportunity for a budding entrepreneur to pitch an idea to a panel of sharks that either will or will not bite. However, the show is much more than that.  

Shark Tank proves that people with disabilities can be the best talent on any team.

Three out of the six sharks, as well as one guest shark, have dyslexia, which is an umbrella term for a learning disorder that causes a person difficulty reading and interpreting words. Richard Branson calls it an “opportunity,” while Barbara Corcoran credits her determination and drive to her childhood diagnosis of dyslexia. Daymond John says he sees “the world in a different way than most people and for me, that’s been a positive.” Kevin O’Leary says his dyslexia gives him “some really unique perspectives and abilities that I’d call superpowers.”

Not only does each one of these four sharks have immensely successful careers; they also are fighting stigmas about people with disabilities each and every day.

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Speechless Puts the Spotlight on Inclusive Education

Rockville, Md., Oct. 8 – The most recent episode of Speechless focused on the importance of inclusive education.

Maya is pleasantly surprised to learn a group of families with kids with disabilities have joined them at Lafayette after hearing a speech she gave at a conference about “mainstreaming and the parent-educator-student partnership.”

“It’s the school that teaches the child, but it’s the parents who teach the school,” Maya said, stressing how that as a parent you want to make sure that the school has the tools needed for your child to succeed in class that will help them later in life.

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Good Doctor Visual Effects Artist Views Life Visually Like Dr. Shaun Murphy

Sherman Oaks, Calif., Oct. 7 – The Good Doctor, which ABC just awarded a full season, features a young surgeon on the autism spectrum who thinks in terms of visual images. What viewers may not realize is one of the show’s visual effects artist thinks in the same way.

Side view of Andrew Dugan working on his computer

Andrew Dugan

Twenty-seven-year-old Andrew Dugan, who is on the autism spectrum, works in the visual effects studio at Exceptional Minds (EM), a nonprofit vocational school and working studio that prepares young adults on the autism spectrum for careers in digital animation and visual effects.

After completing EM’s vocational program, beginning part time and then full time for the last two years of the three-year program, Dugan was hired by EM to join its in-house studio in June 2016. A photographer and visual effects artist, Dugan is a very visual thinker. What viewers see when they watch The Good Doctor, Dugan sees in his life.

Dugan is one of five EM employees who completed split-screen shots for the first two episodes for ABC’s new series. Dugan, as well as Patrick Brady, Eli Katz, Tiana Fazio and Mason Taylor worked on split-screen composition, which involved creating a single, seamless shot from multiple takes. They combined two different takes of a scene using the performance of one actor from one take and another actor from a second take. Instead of reshooting, visual effects artists blend them together so it looks like it was the same take.

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Seanese: A Talk with Sean and Sandra McElwee of A&E’s Born This Way

All of the fellows and staff standing in a large group against the wall with the RespectAbility logo all over it

Sean and Sandra McElwee with RespectAbility Fellows and Staff

Rockville, Md., Oct. 7 – Sean and Sandra McElwee walked into the conference room and handed out brightly colored brochures for Seanese, Sean’s new t-shirt company, to RespectAbility staff and fellows on Wednesday morning. Sean asked a few Fellows what their favorite shirt design was as they looked excitedly at the brightly colored sayings in Sean’s trademark language.

Sean and Sandra had a busy week visiting the Washington, D.C., area, which included lobbying for the National Down Syndrome Society on Capitol Hill and participating in the Northern Virginia Buddy Walk. They also visited the site of the Battle of Gettysburg during the Civil War.

“That’s where the first civil rights battle was fought,” Sandra said.

The battle for Sean’s civil rights started when he was born, and the doctors’ first words to Sandra were, “I’m sorry.” Sandra thought Sean was dying when they said that.

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Guilty Pleasures Night Includes Knock-Out Performances By Two Contestants with Disabilities

Rockville, Md., Oct. 6 – Dancing with the Stars Guilty Pleasures Night hit the screens with a bang showcasing knock-out performances by the remaining 11 couples.

Two contestants with disabilities earned high scores and top-notch reviews from the judges.

Victoria Alan, Paralympian

Paralympic swimmer Victoria Alan (Val Chmerkovski) attacked the dance floor with enthusiasm and determination as she performed a Quickstep to her guilty pleasure song Tub Thumping. Diagnosed with Transverse Myelitis and Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis as a teen, she was speechless and motionless for four years. After using a wheelchair for ten years, she began to gain feeling in her body and to walk again a year ago. She is famous for winning silver and gold medals in the London 2012 Paralympics.

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Disabled Vet Leads Restaurant, Hires Other Vets with Disabilities

the exterior of Fourth and Olive showing glass windows

Fourth and Olive

Long Beach, Calif. – Chatter fills the room. Floor to ceiling windows encompass a room interwoven with a wall here or there. The smell of freshly cured bacon hangs in the air mingling with the scent of steak fries and fish. Exposed wooden beams hang from the ceiling, and white cloths cover the tables. The space is intimate.

It is Friday night at Fourth and Olive, Long Beaches’ best restaurant of 2017 (LA Weekly). And just like any other great restaurant, there is magic coming from the kitchen but with a special twist.

Co-owner and chef Dan Tapia started Fourth and Olive not only to produce great food but also to employ great people. Tapia is a retired Navy Submariner with a disability. He uses a walking cane. After facing discrimination by a former restaurant where he worked, he opened Fourth and Olive – a restaurant where employment will never be discriminated against because of a disability.

“When you hire someone with a disability, you’re hiring someone with something to prove who is never going to do anything to jeopardize the opportunity because he or she is not taking anything for granted,” says Tapia.

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Shark Kevin O’Leary Calls Dyslexia His Superpower

Kevin O'Leary headshot wearing a dark gray suit and a red tie

Kevin O’Leary

Rockville, Md., Oct. 3 – One of the most pronounced, dangerous and hungry sharks out there has no fins, no tale, and no sharp teeth at all; however, he does have one characteristic that he attributes to his success and even refers to as “his superpower.”

Entrepreneur, investor and famous Shark from ABC’s television show Shark Tank, Kevin O’Leary has dyslexia.

“The way to look at dyslexia is as a unique power instead of an affliction,” O’Leary told Entrepreneur in an interview. “Very few people have the abilities that dyslexics have. If you look down the road, as they grow, what happens to dyslexic men and women is they become very successful in business. This is because dyslexia gives you some really unique perspectives and abilities that I’d call superpowers.”

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Shark Tank Entrepreneur Barbara Corcoran Proves Dyslexics Can Be Successful

Barbara Corcoran pointing toward the camera wearing a blue top and silver necklace

Barbara Corcoran

Rockville, Md., Oct. 3 – Barbara Corcoran is an American Business woman who started a real estate brokerage business at the age of 23. Famous for her TV personality on ABC’s Shark Tank as an entrepreneur and judge, she credits her determination and drive to her childhood diagnosis of dyslexia.

“When you cannot pronounce the other words that other kids are reading readily and the kids are laughing at you or are shouting the wrong letter to you, or the wrong syllable to you, it’s as painful as a child that I have never gotten over it. Honest to God, I’m sure of that. And so, when I got out of school, I really decided that I’m going to prove once and for all that I am not stupid,” she said in an interview with Spectrum News NY1.

Hailing from Edgewater, New Jersey, Corcoran comes from a large family and is the second eldest of ten children, which taught her to interact with different personalities. In an interview with The New York Times she said: “Everybody’s got to mesh, so you get training early on for getting along with people. It’s a great advantage.”

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Richard Branson: Dyslexia is an Opportunity

Richard Branson smiling with arms crossed, wearing a black top

Richard Branson

Rockville, Md., Oct. 3 – Richard Branson always has had a “go getter attitude” in life, even when it comes to his dyslexia.

“Dyslexia is a kind of disability, but actually it’s an opportunity if you turn it into such,” he said during the SkyBridge Capital’s SALT Conference in Las Vegas.

As a child, Branson struggled in school with his dyslexia, failing at the all-boy school Scaitcliffe. When he was 13, he transferred to the Stowe school, a boarding school in Buckinghamshire, England. His struggles in school did not get any better, so at the age of 16, he dropped out of school.

This led to the beginning of his entrepreneur career; he started a magazine that was made by and for students. Called Student, the first edition sold an estimated 8,000 advertisements, enabling him to give out the first 50,000 copies for free.

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Daymond John: Clothing Entrepreneur and “Shark Tank” Star with Dyslexia


Spotlight on FUBU’s Daymond John

Headshot of Daymon John in grayscale with text: #RespectTheAbility, “I see the world in a different way than most people and for me, that’s been a positive thing.” - Daymond John, Black History Month 2018

“I see the world in a different way than most people and for me, that’s been a positive thing.” – Daymond John

Rockville, Md., Oct. 2 – Growing up, Daymond John struggled in elementary school, where he was diagnosed with a general “learning disability” without being provided many resources or support. Today, John boasts unimaginable success as a multimillionaire and entrepreneur as the co-founder and CEO of FUBU and a shark on The Shark Tank.

John credits his dyslexia with setting him on his path to entrepreneurial success. “I see the world in a different way than most people and for me that’s been a positive thing,” he said in an interview with AOL.

When John went to school in the 1970’s, the public still lacked information on dyslexia, so children with the disability were given a general diagnosis of a learning disability, like John was. His math and science skills were exceptional, but his reading and writing grades were below average. The entrepreneur was anxious about his difficulty reading and writing until 1999, when he finally saw a medical professional who diagnosed him as dyslexic.

“It was like a light bulb went off. I finally understood why I struggled the way I did,” John said in an interview with AOL.

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Respect Ability - Fighting Stigmas. Advancing Opportunities.


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