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Washington, D.C., August 20 – At RespectAbility’s annual disability summit on Capitol Hill, Vincenzo Piscopo, community and stakeholder relations director for the Coca-Cola company, discussed how to transform society’s perceptions of people with disabilities. By changing the labels put on people with disabilities and giving them opportunities, people with disabilities can be just as, or even more, successful than people without disabilities.

Through his work with Coca-Cola, Piscopo has reshaped the meaning of disability by giving people with disabilities the opportunity to define themselves, instead of letting society define and stigmatize them. [continue reading…]

Washington, D.C., August 19 – “The hardest part is to just start; your impact will be immeasurable,” said Steve Bartlett, a former congressman from Texas who was a primary co-author of the Americans with Disabilities Act and moderated a panel entitled, “Making a Difference.” This panel was part of the summit, “From Washington to Hollywood and Beyond: The Future of Americans with Disabilities,” so people with disabilities can fully participate in all aspects of society.

Bartlett, who represented Texas’s 3rd Congressional District, demonstrated his knowledge and experience on the subject. Showing up and making the initial connections are the most important parts of making a positive difference, both in the world and in one’s personal career, Barlett expressed. For instance, he relayed a powerful story of a chance meeting with a man who offered to volunteer for his campaign on Sunday nights. That man continued to advance in local politics and eventually ran for Barlett’s previously held seat and won, thereby succeeding Bartlett. [continue reading…]

Presents Award to Reality TV Pioneer Jonathan Murray

Washington, D.C., August 17 – California Congressman Brad Sherman spoke to RespectAbility Fellows, staff and supporters as they converged on Capitol Hill for the nonprofit’s annual summit, “From Washington to Hollywood and Beyond: The Future of Americans with Disabilities.”

As the congressman for California’s 30th congressional district, he opened his remarks by talking about Los Angeles as a city.

“It is in Los Angeles where dreams are put on the screen, and where the world’s culture is coming from. And that is a culture which has for far too long stigmatized those with disabilities, and one step at a time, that will change,” he said. [continue reading…]

Washington, D.C., August 16 – Opening in more than a dozen additional locations this weekend, The Peanut Butter Falcon is pulling in audiences from varied backgrounds. Centered on a marginalized character – Zak (Zack Gottsagen), who has Down syndrome – this film normalizes Zak and his journey precisely because it is presented as a universal dilemma. Zak wants what many others his age want – a chance at pursuing his dreams and independence.

The Drive for Independence

The Peanut Butter Falcon, which premiered at SXSW, is an example of a film providing cultural relevance on issues important to the disability community – and providing the opportunity to create wide-reaching impact. In the beginning of the film, Zak has been living in a residential nursing home for the past two-and-a-half years – a 22-year-old with roommates and friends four times his age. [continue reading…]

Rockville, Maryland, August 15 – RespectAbility today announced a $1.5 million two-year initiative that will allow exceptionally talented adults with disabilities from across the United States to travel to the Washington, D.C. area for a semester-long career-training fellowship. One of the funders, The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, has just committed $200,000 over two years to support this program.

Co-authors of the ADA with RespectAbility Fellows inside the US Capitol Dome

Co-authors of the Americans with Disabilities Act with RespectAbility Fellows inside the U.S. Capitol.

RespectAbility, a nonpartisan nonprofit that fights stigma and advances opportunity so people with disabilities can fully participate in all aspects of community, will run the training as a part of its proven National Leadership Training Program. Depending on the area of focus that they choose, National Leadership Fellows will have the chance to:

  • Enable diverse people with disabilities to get the skills and jobs they need for a better future.
  • Fight implicit bias and stigmas by promoting accurate portrayals of people with disabilities in TV, film and the news media.
  • Educate philanthropists and nonprofits about how they can include people with disabilities equally in their work.
  • Reach out to candidates for Senate, Governor and the Presidency in a nonpartisan way to encourage key conversations about issues that impact millions of people in America who live with a disability.
  • Include people with disabilities in faith communities.

[continue reading…]

Los Angeles, California, August 9 – RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization that fights stigmas and advances opportunities for and with people with disabilities, gratefully announces the launch of Project Moses, made possible by a Cutting Edge Grant from the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles (The Foundation). The $300,000 grant will be distributed over three years. Project Moses, named for our greatest Jewish leader, himself a person with a disability, is a training and placement program for talented Jews with disabilities to serve the Jewish community of greater Los Angeles. This will revolutionize the relationship between Jews with disabilities and the greater community.

Marvin I. Schotland smiling, wearing a suit in front of a plain grey backdrop

Marvin I. Schotland

“We’re proud to support RespectAbility and its groundbreaking work promoting inclusion and empowerment of people with disabilities,” said Marvin I. Schotland, Foundation president and CEO. “Through Project Moses, Jews with disabilities will have the training and opportunity to serve their communities in leadership roles. Their inclusion will produce a stronger, more diverse Jewish community where more voices are heard.”

The centerpiece of Project Moses is the training of 36 “Moseses” each year – college or equivalent educated Jews with disabilities who are new to Jewish leadership, have left or are at risk of leaving Jewish leadership roles after acquiring a disability, and are eager to stay engaged. If you are a potential Moses, or you know a potential Moses, RespectAbility is looking for you. [continue reading…]

Judy Heumann with RespectAbility summer 2019 fellows inside the Cleveland park library, smiling

Washington, D.C., August 6 – Judy Heumann, one of the main progenitors of the disability rights movement, recently gave a talk to the Fellows at RespectAbility. Heumann emphasized the importance of the growing disability movement and encouraged our involvement in it.

An immense amount of progress has been made in the past few decades in accessibility; many things that are taken for granted today are more recent than people realize. For instance, accessible busses and curbs on sidewalks developed largely as the result of regulations in the 1970s. More recently, college campuses created disability offices to accommodate students with disabilities. All of these advancements are the direct result of the work and energy that countless disability advocates like Heumann have put into the movement. [continue reading…]

George H.W. Bush signs the ADA into law with four people around him, two of whom are wheelchair users

President George H.W. Bush signs the Americans with Disabilities Act into law.

This year marks the 29th anniversary of the enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). After years of hard work, activism and protest by thousands of people with disabilities, an American president lifted his pen to tear down “the shameful wall of exclusion.” In signing the ADA, former President George H.W. Bush called on all Americans to join in the great work to “remove the physical barriers we have created and the social barriers that we have accepted.”

Today, nearly three decades later, the work to remove those barriers continues. “The ADA was meant to ensure that people with disabilities could earn an income and achieve independence, just like anyone else,” said former member of Congress and current Chairman of the national disability organization RespectAbility, Steve Bartlett, while reflecting on the anniversary. “Significant challenges remain to fulfill the promise of inclusion and independence.” [continue reading…]

New Amsterdam key art with Ryan Eggold as Dr. Max Goodwin in scrubs walking down a hallway with other doctors in the backgroundLos Angeles, California, July 18 – Looking for a show to catch up on this summer? Season One of NBC’s New Amsterdam may have ended, but for people with disabilities, it’s a show that may have stayed too far under the radar in terms of disability representation. From major story arcs about drug addiction and cancer to including people with disabilities as typical characters and authentic casting and storylines, New Amsterdam has overwhelmingly been an example of best practices.

Authentic Casting

In “Anima Sola” (January 22, 2019), Maren Thompson (Marilee Talkington) is a patient who became blind after spending 9 months in the ICU after giving birth to her daughter years earlier. Thompson is treated, leading to her seeing again. Talkington herself is legally blind and she is one of only a handful of legally blind actors in the country to earn an M.F.A in Acting, although 99 percent of the roles she has played have been fully sighted characters.

Blindness is severe vision impairment, not correctable by standard glasses, contact lenses, medicine or surgery. It interferes with a person’s ability to perform everyday activities. A person is legally blind when corrected vision in the best eye is 20/200 or less. Many people with vision loss are not considered blind but instead are considered to have low vision or limited vision. According to the CDC, more than 1 million Americans are blind and more than 12 million are visually impaired. [continue reading…]

Los Angeles, California, July 11 – “We’re going to demand change,” moderator Natalie Gross, Communication Coordinator for Inclusion in Hollywood, opened the Women of Color Disability Summit sponsored by Women of Color Unite and The JTC List Wednesday evening in Hollywood.

Gross was joined by five other women of color with disabilities talking about how to ensure women of color with disabilities are included in the entertainment industry.

“Getting a job out here is all about who you know,” Tatiana Lee, Hollywood Inclusionist at RespectAbility, as well as a model and actress with spina bifida who uses a wheelchair, said. “How can I do that if I literally cannot get in the room for networking events?”

Diana Elizabeth Jordan, an actress and director with cerebral palsy, said actors with disabilities need to have access to “rights that gives us equity, not an advantage.”

“An accessible dressing room is not a privilege. An ASL interpreter is not a privilege. A ramp is not a privilege. These are rights guaranteed to us under the Americans with Disabilities Act.”

However, she noted that many actors often do not ask for their rights for fear of being labelled as difficult. [continue reading…]

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