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#RespectTheAbility

Bank of America: Including Employees with Disabilities Helps Us Be Better

Speakers and guests at Bank of America's Southern California DAN event smiling together. Text: #RespectTheAbility

Speakers and guests at Bank of America’s Southern California Disability Advocacy Network annual event.

Los Angeles, California, Oct. 31 – “Don’t limit us to what you think we are capable of doing,” Tatiana Lee said to hundreds of Bank of America employees assembled to celebrate the power of employing people with disabilities. “We will surprise you.”

Employees with disabilities and their allies gathered to recognize the value of including people with disabilities, both in terms of staff and as customers. The Southern California’s Disability Advocacy Network (DAN)’s signature year-end event recognized National Disability Employment Awareness Month, seeking advice from disability advocates on how they can be more inclusive of people with disabilities. Globally, DAN has grown by 70 percent over the last three years and now has more than 7,000 global members. Not all members, however, are people with disabilities or their family members. Some members joined DAN because they recognize the role of allyship and how employees with disabilities makes their company stronger.

Four panelists sitting and speaking as part of a discussion on the power to include people with disabilities in the media.

Panel on Media Representation of People with Disabilities at Bank of America’s Southern California Disability Advocacy Network annual event

“My mother never doubted what I could do,” said Lee, an actress with spina bifida who uses a wheelchair. “But she did say because I am a black girl with a disability, I’m going to have to fight three times as hard.” Lee, speaking to the Southern California DAN members, advocates for disability inclusion in the entertainment industry by partnering with the nonprofit RespectAbility.

Closing the event, DAN Executive Sponsor John Berens, who is a mortgage and vehicle operations executive in global technology and operations at Bank of America, emphasized the bank’s approach to a socially conscious model of working with people with disabilities, versus a charity model of working for people with disabilities. “We believe in inclusiveness at the bank,” he stressed. “It helps us be better.”

This annual event is just one of several ways Bank of America acknowledges the contributions of people with disabilities. In 2017, the bank conducted a self-identification campaign for their employees, which resulted in the number of employees who disclosed having a disability doubling. Building a culture where employees feel comfortable disclosing – even in an anonymous manner – is an important step leading to full inclusion for potential hires, employees, customers and the communities the bank serves. [continue reading…]

Pride Month 2019: More Than One-Third of LGBTQ+ Adults Identify as Having a Disability

Washington, D.C., June 28 – Throughout National LGBTQ+ Pride Month (June), the LGBTQ+ community has been reflecting on the ongoing struggle to secure, protect and expand their rights. The LGBTQ+ community and the disability community intersect in significant ways. According to a study published in 2012, fully 36 percent of women in the LGBTQ+ community and 30 percent of men in the community also self-identify as persons with disabilities. Digging deeper shows that 26 percent of gay men, 40 of bisexual men disclosed having a disability as did 36 percent of lesbians and 36 percent of bisexual women.

Identifying the full scope of the LGTBQ+ community remains a significant challenge due to continuing fears about disclosure and stigmas that remains a painful fact of life in many parts of the United States. The best available estimates put the total number of LGBTQ+ Americans at around 11 million individuals. Extrapolating from there, RespectAbility estimates that there are roughly 2.3 million women with disabilities in the LGBTQ+ community. That number is joined by approximately 1.4 million men with disabilities in the community. [continue reading…]

Ryan O’Connell: Special Creator Breaks New Ground for Disability and LGBTQ+ Representation

Los Angeles, California, June 28 – According to GLAAD’s 2018-2019 Where We Are on TV Report, while the 2018-19 television season includes 18 characters with disabilities, versus 16 in 2017-18, that number still vastly underrepresents the actual number of people with disabilities, representing less than one-sixth. Furthermore, while more than one-third of LGBTQ+ adults have a disability, GLAADs report found only four LGBTQ+ characters with disabilities.

Ryan O’Connell is helping to change that. His new Netflix series Special premiered earlier this year and broke new ground for representation of LGBTQ+ people and people with disabilities. For Pride Month 2019, RespectAbility asked O’Connell a few questions about his life, intersectionality, and where he hopes Special will go in the future.

Q: On Special, you compare coming out as gay to coming out as disabled. Why do you think it was easy for you to do the first and harder to do the second?

In a bizarro way, I think it’s easier to be gay than disabled. I mean, look at all the Pride stuff going on right now. All the events, all the discourse, all the corporations showing their support. Can you imagine something on that scale for disability? I can’t! There still is limited dialogue and visibility around disability and until that changes self-love for a disabled person is going to be hard. [continue reading…]

Successful Pioneer of Change Janet LaBreck Serves as Role Model for African American Women with Disabilities

Honoring Women with Disabilities During Women’s History Month

Janet LaBreck smiling in front of an American flagJanet LaBreck is a pinnacle of change for people with disabilities. Having served as the first African American Commissioner for both the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) as well as the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind, she has extensive knowledge of the political sphere. LaBreck overcame significant odds to become a wildly successful pioneer of change. 

LaBreck first noticed her gradual loss of vision as a child when she started having difficulty seeing at night, reading the blackboard and her school textbooks. She would struggle to read aloud in class, sometimes “[guessing] the next word, which usually turned out to be incorrect.”

Teachers initially perceived this as a behavioral issue rather than the onset of LaBreck’s declining vision. When a teacher realized that LaBreck might be having trouble seeing rather than acting out, she went for a vision exam. It took two years for her and three of her siblings to be diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa (RP). LaBreck contends that acceptance of her disability was a long journey lasting from childhood to adulthood. After learning skills that enabled her to perform tasks in non-visual way and meeting people who also were living with vision loss, she was able to accept her disability. [continue reading…]

Lori Golden, Self-Advocate and Trailblazer in Disability Inclusion in the Workplace

Honoring Women with Disabilities During Women’s History Month

Lori Golden smiling, sitting on a black leather chairLori Golden is committed to advancing opportunities for people with all abilities in the workplace, from serving on several nonprofit boards and working as a strategy leader for the accounting consultant firm Ernst & Young (EY).

Self-Advocate with Non-Visible Disabilities on Disclosing at Work

Golden is a self-advocate for people with disabilities. She has what many call “invisible disabilities,” but Golden prefers to refer to them as non-visible.

“To me the term invisible carries tones of kind of purposeful concealment or hiding, and there’s obviously no shame and no reason to hide,” Golden said, who also is the mother of young adults with non-visible disabilities.

She acquired her disabilities later in her life – starting in her 20s. Golden asserts the importance of “sharing as much information as you need to” regarding one’s disability in order to achieve desired outcomes. Sharing just enough, she says, ensures that one does not appear not to meet expectations. [continue reading…]

Selma Blair: Positive Role Model for Success

Selma Blair is an American actress who is best known for Cruel Intentions, Legally Blonde, the Hellboy series and the show “Zoe, Duncan, Jack and Jane.” She also has an active life in fashion. Blair has worked with fashion icons such as Chanel, GAP, designers Marc Jacobs & Christian Siriano, and magazines such as Vanity Fair, Glamour and Vogue.

Selma Blair in front of a white backgroundIn August 2018, Blair was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. She announced it on Instagram the following October. “I am disabled,” she posted. “I fall sometimes. I drop things. My memory is foggy. And my left side is asking for directions from a broken GPS. But, we are doing it. And I laugh and I don’t know exactly what I will do precisely. But, I will do my best.”

Multiple sclerosis affects between 850,000-915,000 people in the United States. It affects women three more times than men. It can appear in any age, but it is more common among people as young as 20 and as old as 60 for when they are diagnosed. Moreover, it is not uncommon for people to get disabilities later in life. As of 2002, 25.2 percent of adults acquired their first disability between the ages of 45 and 64. Between seven and nine percent of those who first inquire disabilities are children. Common disabilities include musculoskeletal injuries, cancer (70,000 people between 20-40 each year), depression, heart problems and nerve system disorders (200,000 people before 65), such as multiple sclerosis. [continue reading…]

Maya Angelou, Legendary Poet and Civil Rights Activist Who Had Disability, Inspires Generations

Honoring Women with Disabilities During Women’s History Month

Image of Maya Angelou from around 1970, black and white photo of her face looking to the side

Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou was an award-winning author, poet, civil rights activist, college professor and screen writer. Most recognized for her literary works, Angelou was and remains among the most influential woman of her time. After passing away in 2014, Angelou still is widely remembered and honored for her hard work and perseverance over decades.

As a child, Angelou was sexually abused and raped by her mother’s boyfriend. She told her brother, who told the rest of their family. While the boyfriend was found guilty, he was jailed for just one day. Four days later, he was murdered, with the theory that Angelou’s uncles did so. As a result, Angelou became mute for almost five years. [continue reading…]

Salma Hayek, Role Model for Latina Women with Disabilities

Honoring Women with Disabilities During Women’s History Month

Salma Hayek wearing a black tank smiling for the camera

Salma Hayek

Actress and producer Salma Hayek Jiménez has embraced her disability – dyslexia – from a very young age. Born in Mexico, Hayek was sent to a Catholic boarding school in New Orleans at the age of 12 where she was quickly expelled for setting all of the nun’s clocks back three hours.

“I’m very lucky I didn’t have it easy, because I’ve learned so much from having to figure out everything on my own and create things for myself,” said Hayek. “Now I can teach what I’ve learned to the next generation.”

After boarding school, Hayek spent time at the Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City; however, she quit to pursue her acting career and left Mexico for Hollywood. [continue reading…]

Lois Curtis: Woman with Disabilities Fights for Freedom For All

Honoring Women with Disabilities During Women’s History Month

Lois Curtis smiling

Lois Curtis

People with disabilities can thank Lois Curtis for paving the way for them to live in the community while receiving the services they need.

In what many called “the most important decision for people with disabilities in history,” the Olmstead Decision justified the right for people with disabilities to live independently but would take four years to come in effect including being heard in the Supreme Court.

At the center of the 1999 lawsuit that cited a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 were Lois Curtis and Elaine Wilson, two women with mental and intellectual disabilities. They were held in Georgia Regional Hospital for years after their treatment team determined they were able to live in the community because the state did not want to give them the funds they needed to live independently.

While she was growing up, Curtis was diagnosed with intellectual and mental disabilities. As a result, she would get into trouble constantly – at home and at school. The police were called several times and they would take her to jail or to a mental hospital. [continue reading…]

Simone Biles: Olympic & Disability Champion Makes History While Mesmerizing Many

Honoring Women with Disabilities During Women’s History Month

Simone Biles speaking at a podium wearing an orange blazer and white shirt

Simone Biles

Simone Biles is known widely as the Olympic champion who dominated the sport of gymnastics during the 2016 Rio Olympics. Biles has won four consecutive all around titles and is the first female to do so since the 1970’s. She also has competed and won 14 world championship medals.

At a young age, Biles was diagnosed with Attention Deficient Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD). Confidential medical records were revealed to the public around the time she was competing in the 2016 Olympics. Since being vocal regarding her ADHD, many have classified her as a hero, especially those who have endured stigma from the disability. She has taken to Twitter vocalizing her disability and what she has been doing to treat her ADHD.

[continue reading…]

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