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Deafblind Lawyer Haben Girma Advocates for Disability Rights

headshot of Haben Girma wearing a blue dress and pearls

Haben Girma

Haben Girma has been advocating for herself since she attended elementary school in Oakland. She became the first Deafblind person to graduate from law school when she earned her degree from Harvard Law School in 2013. She is a civil rights attorney who advocates for disability rights, a public speaker who travels the country changing people’s perceptions of the disability community in the media and has been featured in Forbes “30 Under 30” and on NBC and NPR.

In 1983, five years before Girma was born, her mother Saba Gebreyesus fled Eritrea, a city in Africa with approximately six million people, taking two weeks to walk to Sudan and sleeping in trees “surrounded by hungry hyenas.” But she was determined to give Girma the opportunities her son wasn’t given; he also was born deafblind.

After her mom settled in California, Girma was born in Oakland in 1988. In elementary school, she learned Braille and later used a Bluetooth keyboard hooked up to a Braille reader to communicate with others. At school, she gained access to the materials she needed to be able to learn. She credits her supportive teachers and classmates, accessible materials such as interpreters and other accommodations, and developed study skills and homework strategies for her success.

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Actress with Cerebral Palsy Diana Elizabeth Jordan is Veteran of 40 Shows, Shorts and Movies

Diana Elizabeth Jordan smiling in front of a tree

Diana Elizabeth Jordan

Diana Elizabeth Jordan, an award winning actress, writer, producer and director, is an important figure in the conversation about the inclusivity or lack thereof of people with disabilities in Hollywood. She found a way to get into and around Hollywood, with the help of her faith and self-confidence.

“There have been plenty of times in my life where I haven’t felt positive but I try my best to let the positive outweigh the negative and I think my faith in God has a lot to do with that,” said Jordan.

Jordan has cerebral palsy, which mildly affects her speech and gait. She has been acting professionally since she graduated from college. She began her career working in Chicago Theater. She also was the first actor with a disability to obtain Masters of Fine Arts in Acting from California State University Long Beach in 2001.

Since beginning her career, Diana has built an impressive list of over 40 credits in theater, film and television including her first T.V. guest star role on The WB’s 7th Heaven in 2004. The majority of roles she has been cast in have not been disability specific. It has always been important to her to be cast in roles where her disability is incidental to the character or storyline.

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

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.

“I thought, my voice killed him; I killed that man, because I told his name,” she later said. “And then I thought I would never speak again, because my voice would kill anyone.”

Angelou had selective mutism, an anxiety disorder that causes a child to not speak due to physical and psychological trauma they endured. In the five-year span that she experienced this, her listening, observing and memorizing skills improved and her love of books expanded. This helped her later when she began working in becoming successful in her career.

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Whoopi Goldberg: Talented Actress, Comedienne and Talk Show Host Lives with Dyslexia

Whoopi Goldberg headshot wearing a gray sweater

Comedienne, actress and talk show host Whoopi Goldberg

Deloris in Sister Act, Whoopi on The View, Shenzi the Hyena in The Lion King—many of us can connect at least one character in a favorite show or movie with Whoopi Goldberg. Not as many can recognize her as a person with dyslexia. Dyslexia is a general term for disorders that involves difficulty in learning to read or interpret words, letters, and other symbols, but does not affect general intelligence. Indeed, singer and activist Harry Belafonte, Shark Tank star and businessman Daymond John and businessman Richard Branson all have dyslexia like Goldberg.

Goldberg is recognized widely for her work. She is one of few people to win an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony award. However, as a child, Goldberg constantly faced negative feedback. People used to think she was lazy or not trying. She dropped out of school by age 17 and continued her education by going to museums and public lectures, according to the Child Mind Institute.

“What I remember about being a kid was that I felt pretty protected, I wasn’t afraid, and I had a mother who understood after a while that there was something different about the way I learn,” Goldberg recalls in talking with the Child Mind Institute.

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Halle Berry: Living with Disability While Taking a Stand against Domestic Violence

Halle Berry headshot smiling facing the camera with gold hoop earrings

Halle Berry

Halle Berry is much more than a sex symbol; she is a fighter who lives with disability.

The best dressed actress is an advocate for ending violence against women, an advocate for individuals with disabilities, and has been fighting for virtually her whole life.

The Cleveland, Ohio native was raised by a single mother along with her sister after her abusive father abandoned the family.

“When I was a girl and my mother had the s–t kicked out of her, her self-esteem moved onto me,” said Berry.

Berry’s career began as a model. In 1985 she won first runner up in Miss USA and became the first African American Miss World entrant.

Just four years later, Berry was diagnosed with Type One Diabetes, meaning that her body does not produce insulin. “I fell ill – dramatically – when I was on the TV show, Living Dolls, in 1989. I felt I needed energy but I didn’t even have a minute to pop out and get a chocolate bar,” she said. “I didn’t really know what was wrong.”

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Solange Knowles: Role Model for African American Performers with Disabilities

Solange Knowles wearing a black and yellow dress smiling for the camera

Solange Knowles

When it comes to the traditional expectations of a pop star in Hollywood, Solange Knowles shatters the glass ceiling as a woman of color who also happens to be diagnosed with a disability that affects 10 percent of the U.S. population: ADHD. Knowles has been outspoken about her ADHD, educating people about her disability.

Through her impressive resume that includes music, art, dance and acting, Knowles is recognized as an elite in her industry. As a Soul Train Award recipient, an honoree at Glamour’s Women of the Year 2017 Awards, and, of course, holding a Grammy which celebrates her debut album “A Seat at the Table,” Knowles shares a positive portrayal of women of color in the art scene. It is no secret that Knowles is a powerhouse through her unique artistry.

“I was diagnosed with ADHD twice,” Knowles said. “I didn’t believe the first doctor who told me, and I had a whole theory that ADHD was just something they invented to make you pay for medicine, but then the second doctor told me I had it.”

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Missy ‘Misdemeanor’ Elliott ‘Works it,’ Serves as Role Model for Young Women with Disabilities

At the height of her career, Missy Elliott experienced a dramatic and dangerous weight loss; she was diagnosed with Graves’ disease, which attacks the thyroid.

Missy Elliot smiling for the camera, dressed in a black and white outift

Missy Elliott

Forty-six-year-old businesswoman, rapper and Grammy award winner Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott never has had it easy. She was born and raised in a “rat infested shack” in Virginia. As a child, she watched her father brutalize her mother and at the age of 14, she was raped by her cousin. It was only after begging her mother to leave her father did the two women escape and Elliott began the start of what was going to be a tumultuous and exceptional career.

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IBM: Recruiting Talent with Disabilities, Serving Customers with Disabilities

Rockville, Md., Oct. 25 – IBM always has been inclusive of the disability community ever since they first hired a person with a disability in 1914. Since then, the company has taken numerous steps and created various programs to ensure that people with disabilities are well accommodated for within their organization and that their consumers with disabilities are provided with accessible and sound products.

More than 25 years ago, Yves Veulliet, a wheelchair user, started as an entry-level administrative assistant at IBM.

“IBM already had very high accessibility standards back then and I could work without any obstacles,” he said. “All my colleagues could interact with me easily and I felt completely autonomous.”

In 2005 he was promoted to Global Disability & Inclusion Manager. “To me, it was a way of paying back IBM for all they allowed me to be and become in my professional path.”

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Accessibility Through Innovation is Model of Success

Comcast NBCUniversal sends message “status quo is not good enough”

Rockville, Md., Oct. 25 – Tom Wlodkowski, who is blind, loves TV.  He knows first-hand that, contrary to conventional wisdom, he’s not the only blind or vision-impaired person who is passionate about entertainment and news media. Indeed, millions of vision-impaired people love to watch television. However, since blind and low-vision people could not access the menus for the hundreds of channels that Comcast offers, Comcast was missing out on customers – and vision-impaired people were missing a lot of shows.

Because of Wlodkowski, who is Vice President, Accessibility for Comcast Cable, and his team, Comcast invented a new interface to solve the problem so that vision-impaired customers could use their remote controls to choose their favorite shows. The navigational text of the set top box is announced in speech when highlighted by the push of a button on the remote. It is the nation’s first talking cable TV interface.

Tom Wlodkowski holding a remote in front of a wall mounted TV showing a baseball game

Tom Wlodkowski, Vice President, Accessibility for Comcast Cable, demonstrates how a blind person can access Comcast’s vast offerings.

Comcast as a company, as well as its customers with vision-impairments, each benefited by the fact that Comcast has people with disabilities in leadership positions and throughout its team. As a company, Comcast understands the importance of making its products and services open to all users, regardless of their abilities. People with disabilities serve in various roles throughout the company.

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Freddie Mac Enlists Employees on the Autism Spectrum

People with Autism Possess Skills that Strengthen Workforce

Rockville, Md., Oct. 25 – “An untapped reservoir of talent.”

This is how Megan Pierouchakos, Diversity Manager at Freddie Mac until earlier this year, describes a commonly overlooked segment of candidates poised to work for the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation.

Since 2011, Freddie Mac and The Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) have partnered to create internship opportunities for recent college graduates on the autism spectrum. These interns gain experience and enter the workforce of a leading American company. Through Freddie Mac, the interns are able to access valuable work experience that suit their specific skill set. In return, Freddie Mac gets new and talented recruits.

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