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Josh Feldman, Deaf Gay Trailblazer in Hollywood, Discusses the Importance of Representation

Josh Feldman in This CloseJosh Feldman did not see himself on TV growing up. “As a young kid, I wondered who my deaf gay role models were, so that I could have an idea of what deaf gay adults could do, or what kind of people they were in society,” he told RespectAbility.

That Feldman did not see representation growing up does not mean that LGBTQ people with disabilities do not exist. Among lesbian, gay and bisexual adults, 30 percent of men and 36 percent of women have a disability. Yet the number of LGBTQ characters with disabilities on TV today is still in the single digits.

Feldman decided to change that for future generations. He wrote and starred in This Close, a comedy-drama that premiered on Sundance Now in February. This Close was the first TV show created by and also starring people who are deaf.

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Justin Chappell: Advocate for LGBTQ and Disability Rights Sees Politics as Avenue for Change

headshot of Justin Chappel wearing glasses color photoJustin Chappell identifies as “a gay man with a disability from a multi-racial family.” He was born with spina bifida and is a wheelchair user. Politics has played a major part in his life, including meeting his husband at a Democratic National Convention.

In late 2015 and early 2016, Chappell spent months on the campaign trail engaging presidential candidates in the early primary states on behalf of RespectAbility as a Democracy and Outreach Fellow. He spoke with many of the candidates on both sides of the aisle multiple times.

“Government needs to be educated on disability issues, and government works better when it engages people with disabilities in politics and policy,” Chappell said about lessons learned on the trail.

Now, Chappell is becoming more involved in the world of politics, becoming a candidate himself. He is running for a place on the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee of Maryland. [click to continue…]

Jonathan Murray: Openly Gay Reality Television Pioneer Advocates for Underrepresented Communities

headshot of Jonathan Murray wearing a gray striped shirt and facing the camera color photo

Jonathan Murray is one of the best allies that the one-in-five people with disabilities has on earth. While Murray does not have a disability himself, he knows what it is like to be stigmatized as someone who is openly gay. He told RespectAbility that he’s “always felt like a bit of an outsider,” continuing:

“Growing up gay, you learn how to adjust your behavior to fit in with the predominately straight population. I think this gave me an appreciation for the challenges of people with disabilities, as well as other communities that have been marginalized.”

Murray is widely credited with helping to usher in the modern reality television genre. He has created and executive produced some of the industry’s most innovative, unscripted entertainment television programs.

But Murray’s programming does more than just entertain. It has played a major role in fighting stigmas that underrepresented communities face.

Murray’s shows have featured positive, accurate portrayals of people from the LGBTQ community and people from the disability community. He was featured in Variety’s 2017 Inclusion Impact Report for his work on the issue of representation. Murray also serves as a board member for RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities for people with disabilities. He has hosted many of RespectAbility’s gatherings of disability and Hollywood leaders, including the launch of RespectAbility’s Hollywood Disability Inclusion Toolkit.

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Darren Walker, Gay Black Man, is One of the World’s Best Allies for People with Disabilities

Darren Walker Headshot against a red backgroundWhen Time Magazine, in a 2016 profile written by Elton John, highlighted Darren Walker as being one of the 100 most influential people on earth, it was even before he began championing people with disabilities. And yet just months later, the Ford Foundation’s President became one of the most important allies to the one-in-five people with disabilities when he published a perception-shattering and agenda-setting essay “Ignorance is the enemy within: On the power of our privilege, and the privilege of our power.” By focusing his most powerful tool – his authentic voice as a gay, black man who was raised by a single mother – on the inequalities and barriers that another marginalized group – people with disabilities – face, he single-handedly raised critical consciousness all around the globe. [click to continue…]

Muhammad Ali—Dyslexic Role Model Fought in the Ring and for Racial and Social Justice

Photo of Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali was known to many as a champion boxer and a man who fought for racial and social justice his entire life. He acquired Parkinson’s at age 42 and became a role model for people with physical disabilities. What many may not know, however, is that Ali also had dyslexia.

“As a high school student, many of my teachers labeled me dumb…I knew who the real dummies were. I barely graduated…There was no way I was going to college—I never even thought about it. I could barely read my textbooks,” Ali has told others.

When Ali was growing up, teachers and researchers did not know much about dyslexia or how to help children who struggle with the disability. Ali was not aware of the fact that he had dyslexia, either, which led to a lack of confidence in his ability as a student.

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One Woman with Disabilities Fight for Freedom For All

Lois Curtis smiling

Lois Curtis

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

In what was 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.

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Olympic & Disability Champion Simone Biles Makes History While Mesmerizing Many

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.

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Clarence Page Credits ADHD with Making Him a Better Journalist

Clarence Page headshot wearing black suit, white shirt and glasses

Clarence Page

Clarence Page is a highly accomplished journalist. He is a Pulitzer-winning syndicated columnist for the Tribune network, a member of the Chicago Tribune’s editorial board, a regular contributor to The News Hour with Jim Lehrer and has appeared on The McLaughlin Group, NBC’s The Chris Matthews Show, ABC’s Nightline and BET’s Lead Story.

He is also an African American who identifies as having Attention Deficient Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD), which can affect basic functioning due to hyperactivity and a pattern of inattention. Page has been outspoken about having ADHD and educating people about his disability.

One-in-five Americans has a disability, and polls show that most of them want to work. Yet 70 percent of working-age Americans with disabilities are outside of the workforce. There are 5.6 million African Americans with a disability in the United States. Only 28.7 percent of African Americans with disabilities are employed in the United States compared to 72 percent of African Americans without disabilities.

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First Deaf African American Lawyer Claudia Gordon, Anti-Discrimination Advocate

Claudia Gordon standing in front of two flags, smiling.

Claudia Gordon

Claudia Gordon is recognized as one of former President Barack Obama’s key advisors for disability issues. She was also the first deaf African American lawyer to graduate law school and pursue a career devoted to helping individuals with disabilities. Today she works in a senior role at Sprint, a company with many accessibility features that enable people who are deaf to communicate.

At the age of eight, Gordon began to develop severe pain in her ears, which resulted in her becoming permanently deaf. She faced discrimination in her own home country of Jamaica and realized she could not stay there, so she attended high school and college in America. By junior year of high school, she knew being a lawyer was the career she wanted to pursue. Gordon never let doubt or fear be a hindrance in her life. She made the best out of her disability and prospered. 

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Highlighting African Americans with Disabilities in Honor of Black History Month

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.” – Shark Tank star and businessman Daymond John, who has Dyslexia

Rockville Md., Feb. 5 – As we celebrate Black History Month, which takes place every February, RespectAbility recognizes the contributions made and the important presence of African Americans to the United States. It is important to note this includes more than 5.6 million African Americans living with a disability in the U.S., 3.4 million of which are working-age African Americans with disabilities. Therefore, we would like to reflect on the realities and challenges that continue to shape the lives of African Americans with disabilities.

Only 28.7 percent of working-age African Americans with disabilities are employed in the U.S. compared to 72 percent of working-age African Americans without disabilities. This is in line with the rest of the country, with fully one-in-five Americans having a disability and just 30 percent of those who are working-age being employed, despite polls showing that most of them want to work. This leads to approximately 40 percent of African Americans with disabilities living in poverty compared to 22 percent of African Americans without disabilities.

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