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Dr. Victor Santiago Pineda Transforms Rights into Practice in Cities Around the World

Dr. Victor Pineda with a backdrop of a city's skyline behind himRockville, Maryland, Sept. 23 – For more than 20 years, Dr. Victor Santiago Pineda has spearheaded initiatives to advance the principles of access and inclusion in the US and abroad. Pineda moved to the United States from Venezuela when he was seven years old because he was denied a right to an education. As a wheelchair-user, he grew up in Orange County and was 12 years old when the ADA was signed into law. By the time he graduated high-school, he realized that he had benefited from rights in the United States that were missing in many parts fo the world. He was driven to understand why some parts of the world advanced while others were left behind. He completed a dual degree in Political Economy and Business Administration. He continued on to a master’s in City and Regional Planning from UC Berkeley’s prestigious College of Environmental Design. His mentor, Judith Heumann, encouraged him to continue his studies and training, and completed a Ph. D. in Urban Planning from the University of California, Los Angeles. [continue reading…]

Labor Day 2020: 30 Years of the ADA and the Future of Work

There are more than 22 million working-age people with disabilities in America, and today fewer than 1 in 3 has a job. Learn from top experts who are enabling employers to thrive by bringing in the talents of people with disabilities. 

Four people in Zoom boxesWashington, D.C. Sept. 6 – This Labor Day, it is important to look beyond the headlines and the current economic crisis, and see where there is hope for the future. Yes, people with disabilities have been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, across the country, there are professionals in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors dedicated to finding solutions and making the future of work better for the 22 million working-age Americans living with a disability.

Some of those leaders spoke earlier this summer during RespectAbility’s ADA30 virtual summit. On Thursday, July 30, leaders from across the economic and political spectrum gathered to discuss strategies, emerging practices and advancing inclusion for workers with disabilities.

This Labor Day, the RespectAbility invites you to learn from this insightful commentary and conversation brought forward by those leaders. The conversation that RespectAbility hosted that day reflects critical lessons that employers, large or small, as well as people with disabilities need to learn. With the annual celebration of Labor Day, now is a good chance for decision-makers to reflect on what advancing opportunities for people with disabilities really means.  [continue reading…]

Lachi: NY Music Sensation & Ardent Disability Champion

New York City, March 19 – From club releases to EDM songs, recording/performing artist, songwriter and record producer Lachi is a long-established talent that continues to astound many with her diverse musical creativity and expression.

With millions of streams and spins, her songs have debuted on national dance charts, played on national television shows, feature films, documentaries, broadcasted on radio, and have been mentioned on sites like HuffPost, NPR, MTV, Buzzfeed, Popdust,, and Oprah Radio. She has received awards such as an Independent Music Awards nomination and was even a finalist for the International Songwriting Competition.

Adding to several associated acts she recently performed with fellow artists like Snoop Dogg and Markus Schulz, it is an understatement to say that Lachi’s celebrity status has risen to tremendous heights. Using this incredible platform, she has committed herself to be a role model within the disability community. [continue reading…]

Super Talent Sneha Dave Sets Standards for the Future: by Larry Lipman

Fellowship Alumna Sneha Dave Creates Network for Teens and Young Adults with Chronic Health Conditions

Sneha Dave smiling

Sneha Dave

Rockville, Maryland, Jan. 15 – Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa, was just another obstacle in the road for Sneha Dave. But reaching the summit – more than 16,000 feet above the plateau – was all the more challenging for Sneha, who has had a chronic and often debilitating disease since childhood.

When Sneha was six years old, she was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, a chronic condition that affects the large intestine and often leads to surgery to remove the inflamed organ. The disease caused Sneha (which her mother told her means “someone that you love a lot”) to miss much of middle school and high school as she underwent several surgical procedures.

“I was more of a fulltime patient than I was a fulltime student at that time,” says the now 21-year-old senior at the University of Indiana in the Hutton Honors College. [continue reading…]

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…]

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