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Deborah Calla smiling for the camera

Deborah Calla

Rockville, Md., Feb. 16 – Deborah Calla is a Brazilian-born producer, writer and director. Calla is best known in the disability community for reviving the Media Access Awards (MAA). Her involvement in the disabilities movement and social justice stem from two sources: her professional experiences in Hollywood and her Judaism.

Calla came to film and TV by chance. A friend of a friend thought that because she directed and produced plays, she would be a good film producer, so he asked her to produce his first film.

“It was a very trying experience as I didn’t really know what I was doing and producing film can be an overwhelming effort especially if you have no experience,” Calla said. “In the end, I survived and loved it.”

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Washington, D.C., February 16, 2018 – The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation joined a small cadre of exceptional champions for inclusion and equality by awarding $145 million in grants to groundbreaking projects that will include people with disabilities equally in their work. MacArthur’s initiative, 100&Change, is a competition for a $100 million grant to fund a single proposal that promises real and measurable progress in solving a critical problem of our time. A part of the MacArthur Foundations’ review was a series of questions and a check list to ensure the inclusion of people with disabilities in multiple aspects of the grant recipients proposed projects.

“Historically, major philanthropists have not asked potential grantees to see and treat people with disabilities equally,” said Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, president of RespectAbility, a nonprofit that fights stigma and advances opportunities for people with disabilities. She is also the co-founder/director of the Mizrahi Family Charitable Fund. “Funders who would never imagine funding groups that discriminate due to race or gender sadly discriminate against people with differing abilities. Often, it’s not a question of will, but of skill, as even the best-intended philanthropists often do not know how to include people with disabilities. However, MacArthur has now raised the bar on equality by including the one-in-five people on earth who have a disability.”

Never before has a grant anywhere near this size asked grantees to address how they plan to ensure access to benefits for persons with disabilities. Based on the strong ideas from each of the teams, the MacArthur Foundation decided to grant three finalists with $15 million each. Thus, the four winners collectively were awarded $145 million.

A young girl engages with Elmo at an informal tented settlement near Mafraq, Jordan, in February 2017

Photo courtesy of Sesame Workshop / Ryan Heffernan

The $100 million-dollar grant was awarded to Sesame Workshop and International Rescue Committee (IRC) to educate young children displaced by conflict and persecution in the Middle East. Sesame Workshop and IRC will use the $100 million grant to implement an evidence-based, early childhood development intervention designed to address the “toxic stress” experienced by children in the Syrian conflict region—Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, and Syria. The project will improve children’s learning outcomes today and their intellectual and emotional development over the long term. Children and adults with disabilities will have equal access to every aspect of the project. [read more…]

This is the first poll to cover a number of new issues from a disability perspective, including the views of the disability community on the NRA, pro-life groups, President Trump, healthcare, values and other issues.

Contact: Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi
202-365-0787 |

Washington, D.C., February 13, 2018 –

(View all poll data, PDF and Accessible PPT)

Cover slide for survey results, with logos for RespectAbility, Democracy Corps, and Greenberg Research. The title is "Disability Community Determined to Voice Opinions in 2018"

A new national phone poll of registered voters shows the size, scope, and varied nature of the disability community in the United States. Fully 63 percent of American voters are in the extended disability community — people with disabilities, a family member with a disability, a close friend with a disability, work on behalf of people with disabilities, or volunteer for disability causes.

Half of electorate in disability community: 63% in extended disability community; 51% with disability connection; 54% in disability community

People with disabilities, 17 percent of voters, are 9 percent more likely to be extremely interested in voting in 2018 than those outside the extended disability community. While there are key issues on which the majority aligns with Democrats, such as support for the ACA and opposition to the new tax cuts, they are varied and dynamic in their political affiliation. Majorities in the extended disability community and outside of it agree that the country is on the “wrong track” (55 and 56 percent wrong track, respectively).

There has been a significant shift in voting patterns of this swing demographic over the past four years. In 2014, a 55 percent majority of voters with disabilities or a disability connection voted for Republican candidates for congress while in 2018, only 39 percent plan to vote for the Republican candidate. This shift is even greater than 17-point shift towards Democrats among voters that are not in the disability community.

Importantly, these voters with disabilities are more likely to be unemployed and looking for work. Fully 54 percent of voters without disabilities are employed full time compared to only 22 percent of their counterparts with disabilities. Only 4 percent of voters with disabilities who are unemployed are not in the market for work.

Only one-in-three working-age Americans with a disability has a job, despite the fact that studies show that 70 percent of the 21-million working-age people with disabilities are striving for work. More than 78 percent of non-disabled Americans are employed.

Both voters with and without disabilities place importance on the value of “treating everyone equally.” People with disabilities, however, are more likely than those without disabilities to prioritize “loving, supporting & defending [their] country”, “being loyal to family members”, and “keeping [ones] promises & fulfilling [ones] duties.”

Another bi-partisan poll from October 2016 of 900 likely 2016 voters found overwhelming support for a series of policies to advance opportunities for people with disabilities. More than 8 out of 10 voters are more likely to support a candidate who prioritizes “ensuring that children with disabilities get the education and training they need to succeed;” 61 percent are much more likely to support the candidate.

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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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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 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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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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A portrait of Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman is known as one of the most influential leaders of our nation. She was a former slave turned abolitionist who bravely risked her life to free both slaves and her own family members through the underground railroad.

Tubman was a Maryland native. She was born around 1820 in Dorchester, County, Md. Her mission was getting as many men, women and children out of bondage into freedom.

When Tubman was a teenager, she acquired a traumatic brain injury when a slave owner struck her in the head. This resulted in her developing epileptic seizures and hypersomnia. Unfortunately, Tubman’s experience of violence occurred on a daily basis which made her brain injury worse.

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Tuesday, February 27, 2018
7:00 PM – 9:00 PM
Congregation Har Shalom: 11510 Falls Rd, Potomac, MD 20854

RespectAbility, in partnership with Congregation Har Shalom, is proud to present the acclaimed film “Spectrum: A Story of the Mind” on Tuesday, February 27 at 7:00 p.m. in a sneak-peek preview event for the 2018 ReelAbilities Film Festival of Northern Virginia, which is organized by the Jewish Community Center of Northern VA.

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