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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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Job Growth Slows for People with Disabilities

  • Only 111,804 people with disabilities entered the workforce in 2017, down from the previous year’s increase of over 343,000 new jobs for people with disabilities.
  • Florida experienced the biggest growth in job numbers with over 23,000 people with disabilities entering the workforce. Of the 50 states, 29 states saw job gains for Americans with disabilities.
  • Vermont, under Gov. Phil Scott, becomes one of the top 10 states with the best employment rates, and Rhode Island, under Gov. Gina Raimondo, jumps from 47th in the nation to 19th.

Washington, D.C., Feb. 14 – New statistics released this week show that Americans with disabilities saw a slowdown in job gains compared to those of the previous year. The Disability Statistics Compendium, released by Institute on Disability at the University of New Hampshire, shows that the employment rate for people with disabilities has risen to 37 percent. The Compendium also shows that geography has an impact on employment outcomes for Americans with disabilities. People with disabilities in North Dakota are twice as likely to have jobs as West Virginians with disabilities.

The newly published 2018 Annual Disability Statistics Compendium compiles data collected by the Census Bureau. The Compendium is intended to equip policy-makers, self-advocates and others with clear statistics on disability in America today. Out of over 20 million working-age people with disabilities, 7.5 million have jobs. This data also shows the serious gaps that remain between disabled and non-disabled Americans. 37 percent of U.S. civilians with disabilities ages 18-64 living in the community had a job, compared to 77.2 percent for people without disabilities. [continue reading…]

Award to be given at United Nations; 3,000+ Experts from 70+ Countries Involved

Washington, D.C., Feb. 14 – RespectAbility, a United States based nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities for and with people with disabilities, will be recognized for “Innovative Practice 2019 on Independent Living and Political Participation for People with Disabilities.” The award will be given at the United Nations in Vienna, Austria. The prize is for RespectAbility’s work in fighting stigmas through Hollywood and job creation for people with disabilities. Fully 1-in-5 people on earth (1.2 billion people) live with some form of disability.

I will be speaking at the Zero Project Conference 2019

More than 3,000 experts and disability leaders from 70+ countries are involved in the The Zero Conference. This event, founded by the Essl Foundation, brings together over 700 experts from more than 70 countries and 30 exhibitors. The three-day program will start Wednesday, February 20, and will end on Friday, February 22 and will be live-streamed. RespectAbility’s founder and president, Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, will deliver a co-keynote presentation at the conference. She will be speaking on specific work to fight implicit bias which limits jobs and other opportunities for people with disabilities. To see all the winners, go to: https://zeroproject.org/2019-awardees. All of the presentations will be live-streamed for free. [continue reading…]

David Belkin with RespectAbility staff and Fellows in front of the RespectAbility banner

David Belkin with RespectAbility Staff and Fellows

Rockville, Maryland, Feb. 11 – With more than thirty years of experience in nonprofit fundraising, David Belkin has been asked many times about the processes he relies on to convince potential donors to invest in a cause. But, as Belkin puts it, fundraising does not involve any secret techniques or magic phrases, but rather one’s ability to utilize empathy. Empathy in fundraising does not require technical skill, but it does require the ability to listen to a donor’s goals and interests, not only to establish a connection with them, but to help the donor feel a connection to the fundraiser’s cause.

Belkin’s time in the nonprofit sector has taken him from one high-profile job to another. In all these positions, Belkin has been involved with nearly all aspects of fundraising, ranging from capital campaigns, endowments, planned giving programs and grant seeking. Because of his experience, Belkin was asked to address the Spring 2019 Fellows Cohort of RespectAbility’s National Leadership Program to discuss how to use empathy to attract donors. [continue reading…]

As we celebrate Black History Month, it is important that the medical drama Grey’s Anatomy not only shatters stigma against mental health but also portrays African American characters with a variety of disabilities.

Representation of characters with disabilities – including mental health – who are successful in their careers, such as prominent doctors, is important. According to GLAAD, the amount of regular primetime broadcast characters counted who have a disability has slightly increased to 2.1 percent, but that number still vastly underrepresents the actualities of Americans with disabilities. Yet even when representation is done well, it often lacks accurate representation of underrepresented racial/ethnic groups.

In the past few episodes, Grey’s Anatomy has bucked this trend. Drs. Miranda Bailey (Chandra Wilson)’s Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Richard Webber (James Pickens, Jr.)’s battles with alcoholism and Catherine Fox (Debbie Allen)’s cancer lead the storylines. All of these characters are African American, which is important to note as often when disability representation is done right, it shows a character that is white (and usually male and cisgender as well). [continue reading…]

By Lauren Appelbaum and Hon. Steve Bartlett

Washington, D.C., Feb. 7 – As newly elected officials begin their service, it is important that America’s largest minority group are included in policy discussions in a meaningful way. Thus, RespectAbility put together an easy guide with eight tips for leaders and their staff to ensure they reach this important constituent group.

1) Start right away on building connections to people of disabilities and disability groups in the same way that you do with other groups of constituents. 

America has 56 million people with disabilities, more than 20-million of whom are working age. Polls show that the majority of constituents either have a disability or a loved one with a disability. The extended disability community — when you include family members, those with close friends with disabilities and those who work on behalf or volunteer for a disability cause — is 63 percent of Americans. We want to be included in all policies that impact our lives and we are ready to be your partners in success. [continue reading…]

Microsoft, Coca-Cola Make Intentional Decision to Be Inclusive

Rockville, Md., Feb. 4 – Mass media plays a huge part of what society believes and America’s favorite pastime besides football is watching their favorite commercials especially during the biggest primetime event of the year: The Super Bowl.

The Super Bowl preshow showcased inclusion as while Chloe X Halle and Gladys Knight sang America the Beautiful and the national anthem respectively, Deaf talent Aarron Loggins interpreted in ASL. Yet, CBS only showed him for a few seconds. To ensure true inclusion, the network could have shown him in picture-in-picture throughout the entire song. Furthermore, when a large American flag was spread out over the field, people with visible disabilities were absent. [continue reading…]

From Intellectual Disabilities and ALS to Mental Health and Deafness, Sundance Films Showcase Variety Important Disability Topics

Park City, Utah, Jan. 24 – As Hollywood takes over Park City, Utah, many conversations are taking place about the importance of diversity and inclusion.

While stats exist, for example, for the number of films directed by one or more women (40% – 45 of the 112 feature films), directed by one or more filmmaker of color (36% – 40) and directed by one or more people who identify as LGBTQIA (13% – 15), no such statistics yet exist for people with disabilities.

However, the festival is taking steps to ensure that disability is fully included in all diversity initiatives, expanding beyond previous focuses on gender, race and sexual orientation.

Karim Ahmad, Director of Outreach & Inclusion at Sundance, has worked with several partners and organizations to further the inclusion of people with disabilities at both the festival and at events throughout the year.

“As we’ve grown our Outreach & Inclusion program over the last year, it’s been deeply important for us to include artists with disabilities in our planning,” he said. “At the Festival, we’ve made considerable advances to bring more accessibility to screening and panel venues, including an elevator at the Filmmaker Lodge and closed captioning and audio description capabilities at all screenings. In our the artist programs, we’ve included artists with disabilities as one of our core priorities for support in targeted fellowships for both emerging and mid-career creators from underrepresented communities, and we are seeing the beginnings of great impact.”

People with disabilities working both in front of and behind the camera have taken notice.

“Hollywood is beginning to wake up to the fact that people with disabilities represent a major slice of American life, and that there is tremendous creative potential, talent and market power just waiting to be tapped,” said Delbert Whetter, who is deaf and the Chief Operating Officer & Head of Business Affairs of Exodus Film Group, as well as a board member for RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities for people with disabilities. “Nowhere are the pioneers of this movement better demonstrated today than at Sundance and in independent film.”

Tatiana Lee, an actress who is a wheelchair user, added: “Sundance is a big deal in the film industry. So to be making big strides this year to include disability, in the films, talent, and panel discussions is an amazing step forward in Hollywood’s inclusion of people with disabilities. As a actor and creative in this industry it gives me great hope toward more opportunities for our community in Hollywood.”

The festival, which prides itself in showcasing the most diverse voices in independent film, will take place from January 24 – February 3 in Park City, Salt Lake City and at Sundance Mountain resort in Utah. In addition to many films promoting inclusion, a panel on disability inclusion will be held on Saturday.

Below please find a guide to films featuring disability in the plot or talent with disabilities. [continue reading…]

Los Angeles, Jan. 16 – At the Critics’ Choice Awards Sunday night, Taye Diggs praised how this year has been great for inclusivity for “all under-represented people,” specifically calling out successes when it comes to gender, sexual orientation and race. While this is extremely important, it is upsetting that once again the largest minority in the U.S. – people with disabilities – was not mentioned as well. This also was the case at the Golden Globes. With several more awards show coming up this season, there is a chance for this to change.

“It has been another great year for movies and for TV shows,” Diggs said. “Not only was it an amazing year for creativity but a great year for inclusivity. All under-represented people of all genders and orientations played prominent roles in front of and behind the big camera in many of this year’s biggest films, television and streaming series.”

When disability is excluded from diversity conversations, and not visible in film and television shows, Hollywood is disenfranchising the one-in-five Americans who have a disability. There is reason to celebrate, however, as several winners have visible and invisible disabilities. Yet little attention is paid attention to this fact – unlike when organizations tout the increase of winners who are women, people of color or LGBTQ. For example, Henry Winkler (Barry), who won Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series, has dyslexia. Millicent Simmonds (A Quiet Place), who was nominated for Best Young Actor Actress, is deaf. Several individuals with mental illness took home awards, including Elsie Fisher (Eighth Grade) and Lady Gaga (A Star is Born). [continue reading…]

Rockville, Maryland, Jan. 16 – In the United States, there are more than 20-million working-age people with disabilities. However, only a third of them have opportunities for employment. Around the country, there are state-wide employment programs for people with disabilities. But, it takes a special company to create its own employment program. Vertical Harvest, one of the world’s only multi-story hydroponic greenhouses, provides year-round produce in a rural mountain town and meaningful employment to community members with disabilities. The staff members and its inclusive atmosphere are highlighted in Hearts of Glass, a documentary that is premiering this month at the Wild & Scenic Festival.

Hearts of Glass documents the early beginnings of Vertical Harvest and its employees with disabilities. Some of the featured workers include Kyle Burson who loves to use his brain, Zac Knudsen who rides horses, Ty Warner who loves to go to the carnival, Johnny Fifles who is a self-made My Little Pony fanatic or “brony” and Mycah Miller, a hometown artist. The cameras roll at their first days of work, training, promotions and even during their daily lives.

Director Jennifer Tennican was looking forward to making stories about Jackson, Wyoming since moving there in 2002. She had one goal in mind for her stories: Community – and the story of Vertical Harvest captured her interest.

“I was drawn to documenting a once-in-a-lifetime story about innovation and possibility unfolding in my backyard,” said Tennican. “That story includes community members with disabilities.” [continue reading…]

Empowerment project for women and girls with disabilities and their allies features distinguished author Donna Walton, Ed.D.

New York City, Jan. 16 – A new training program aimed at empowering women with disabilities begins this month, bringing the lens of inclusion and equality to New York City’s civic life. RespectAbility, a national disability advocacy organization, will launch the Inclusion Advocacy Training Series in New York City on January 26, 2019, with the first of this monthly, six-part series. The series is made possible by funding from the New York Women’s Foundation and Coca-Cola Foundation.

Donna Walton

Dr. Donna Walton

Intersectionality Among Women and Girls with Disabilities and Their Allies showcases author and inclusion expert Dr. Donna Walton, who will address critical issues impacting women and girls with disabilities in New York City. Dr. Walton has made an unprecedented impact in the disability and women of color communities through her leadership and her writing. She has a clear message for her fellow self-advocates and allies.

“I am more than just one leg. I am a woman. And I am a woman with a disability. Standing forthright in power unapologetically. So, when I show up, I show up authentically. In that space, consistently,” expressed Dr. Walton.

RespectAbility is dedicated to raising the voices, lives and experiences of New York City’s almost 500,000 women and girls with disabilities. Amidst one of the greatest cities in the world, a stunning 44 percent of New York women with disabilities live below the poverty line. Furthermore, in the city itself, only 29 percent of African American women with disabilities are employed, while only 24 percent of Latina women with disabilities have jobs.

“To change these outcomes,” Dr. Walton said, “New York women and girls with disabilities need new opportunities to make their voices heard, impact their communities and change the city for the better.” [continue reading…]

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