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Six million students with disabilities and 22 million working age adults with disabilities in America deserve chance to succeed by receiving education and jobs they need to be independent

Washington, D.C., June 21 – As President Donald Trump is expected to announce his desire to merge the U.S. Departments of Education and Labor, RespectAbility urges caution.

“Reorganizing agencies is risky, ” RespectAbility’s President Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi said. “Clearly we need better outcomes and it is worth exploring change. But creating a better future depends on making sure everyone understands the scale of the problem facing people with disabilities as well.”

There are six million students with disabilities in America’s public schools and more than 20 million working-age adults with disabilities in the U.S who are eager to work. [read more…]

Los Angeles, California – “When we talk about diversity, we need to include disability.”

This was the message last week at the beginning of Variety’s A Night in the Writers Room, an event aimed at educating and providing writers resources and information from seasoned writers and showrunners.

Before two panels featuring writers of drama and comedy television shows, Easterseals and Variety announced a new partnership and challenge to the entertainment community to be more inclusive of people with disabilities both in front of and behind the camera.

Nic Novicki standing at a podium with the sign Media Access Awards

Nic Novicki receiving award at the Media Access Awards

Easterseals and Variety challenged all writers to include at least one writer with a disability in the writers’ room and to write at least one character with a disability by the end of the 2018-2019 screenwriting season, even if their disability is not the defining factor of their disability. Learn more at

“True inclusion will not happen until disability has a prominent place at the table,” said Nic Novicki, founder of the Easterseals Disability Film Challenge. [read more…]

Throughout LGBTQ Pride Month (June), the LGBTQ community will be reflecting on the past and looking forward to the future. Among lesbian, gay and bisexual adults, 30 percent of men and 36 percent of women also identify as having a disability. The disability community intersects with every other minority group, and the LGBTQ community is no exception. The LGBTQ rights movement has made tremendous progress over the past five years, but there is a lot of work left to be done to ensure that LGBTQ people are truly equal.

Both people who identify as LGBTQ and people who have invisible disabilities such as learning disabilities like dyslexia, mental health or ADHD have to decide whether or not to “come out of the closet.” This is not an easy decision for most people because of the uncertainty of whether or not acceptance will follow. LGBTQ youth who come out sometimes are rejected by their families and friends. Some are even kicked out of their homes and forced to live on the streets. According to a University of Chicago report, LGBTQ young adults had a 120 percent higher risk of reporting homelessness compared to youth who identified as heterosexual and cisgender.

[read more…]

Frida Kahlo black and white headshot

Frida Kahlo

Frida Kahlo, a Mexican woman who had multiple disabilities including polio as a child and spinal and pelvis damage from a car accident, became a world-renowned self-portrait painter. She has since served as a role model for generations of artists, people with disabilities and bisexual women.

Kahlo was married to artist Diego Rivera; each of them had lovers as well. Kahlo had affairs with both men and women, including movie stars Dolores del Rio, Paulette Goddard and Maria Felix, among others. Her painting Two Nudes in a Forest clearly shows her attraction and love of women. One of her affairs was said to be with American painter Georgia O’Keeffe.

The LGBTQ community and the disability community intersect in many ways. Among lesbian, gay and bisexual adults, 30 percent of men and 36 percent of women have a disability.

[read more…]

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.

[read more…]

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. [read more…]

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.

[read more…]

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. [read more…]

Lee Ridley wearing shirt saying "I'm only in it for the parking" against white background

Lee Ridley

Rockville, Maryland, June 4 – The story of Britain’s Got Talent 2018 is a story of two hilarious comedians who happen to have disabilities finishing in the top 2: Lee Ridley and Robert White.

Lee Ridley, Lost Voice Guy

After receiving more than two and a half million votes, Lee Ridley, who goes by Lost Voice Guy, won this season of Britain’s Got Talent. His prize is £250,000 and a spot on the bill at the Royal Variety Performance in front of the Queen. According to The Sun, Ridley also will be appearing as a guest on America’s Got Talent this summer on NBC.

Ridley is a comedian with cerebral palsy who uses an iPad and a speech-to-text application to communicate. He wrote out his jokes ahead of time and, as one of the judges pointed out, hit the play button with perfect comedic timing, and won the nation over. He wore a different blue shirt in each round, with jokes such as “I’m only in it for the parking” and “I’m a friend with benefits” written on them. His first audition included the joke “when I realized I couldn’t talk, I was speechless” and the punch lines only got funnier from there.

[read more…]

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