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Selma Blair is an American actress who is best known for Cruel Intentions, Legally Blonde, the Hellboy series and the show “Zoe, Duncan, Jack and Jane.” She also has an active life in fashion. Blair has worked with fashion icons such as Chanel, GAP, designers Marc Jacobs & Christian Siriano, and magazines such as Vanity Fair, Glamour and Vogue.

Selma Blair in front of a white backgroundIn August 2018, Blair was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. She announced it on Instagram the following October. “I am disabled,” she posted. “I fall sometimes. I drop things. My memory is foggy. And my left side is asking for directions from a broken GPS. But, we are doing it. And I laugh and I don’t know exactly what I will do precisely. But, I will do my best.”

Multiple sclerosis affects between 850,000-915,000 people in the United States. It affects women three more times than men. It can appear in any age, but it is more common among people as young as 20 and as old as 60 for when they are diagnosed. Moreover, it is not uncommon for people to get disabilities later in life. As of 2002, 25.2 percent of adults acquired their first disability between the ages of 45 and 64. Between seven and nine percent of those who first inquire disabilities are children. Common disabilities include musculoskeletal injuries, cancer (70,000 people between 20-40 each year), depression, heart problems and nerve system disorders (200,000 people before 65), such as multiple sclerosis.

Multiple sclerosis has affected Blair’s walking (using a cane to walk with) and speech (also known as spasmodic dysphonia, which affects the vocal muscles). However, until her diagnosis, doctors never took Blair’s concerns seriously. “I was really struggling with, ‘How am I gonna get by in life?’” she said. “And not taken seriously by doctors, just, ‘Single mother, you’re exhausted, financial burden, blah, blah, blah.’”

Blair isn’t the only woman who hasn’t been taken seriously by doctors about health concerns. It has become a common problem. According to a survey from the National Pain Report, more than 90 percent of women with chronic disabilities believe there is a harsh discrimination between them and men when it comes to treatment. Forty-nine percent of women feel that female doctors understand their pain better than male doctors. As of 2008, women were 13-25 percent less likely than men to receive medicine for pain.

Blair wants to show the world how anyone can live with multiple sclerosis, documenting it on Instagram. In early 2019, Blair made an iconic return to the public at the Academy Awards with a Ralph & Russo dress and her cane. The public and the disability community gave her praise for both her style and being a role model for the disability community. Blair also wants to contribute to the disability community by creating a fashion line of accessible clothing. She told Vanity Fair, “I would like to partner with someone like Christian Siriano on a line for everyone—not just people who necessarily need adaptive clothing, but for those who want comfort, too. It can still be chic. You shouldn’t have to sacrifice style. Like, let’s get elastic waistbands to look a little bit better.”

During her interview with Good Morning America, she was in the midst of an attack. She told anchor Robin Roberts, “It is interesting to put it out there, to be here to say, ‘This is what my particular case looks like right now.’” She also joked, “No one has the energy to talk when they’re in…flare-up. But I do ’cause I love a camera!”

Just 34.6 Percent of Working-Age Women with Disabilities Are Employed

More than 20.9 million women live with a disability in the U.S., including more than 10.2 million of which are working-age (18-64).

Fully one-in-five Americans have a disability and studies show that most of them want to work. Yet 70 percent of working-age Americans with disabilities are outside of the workforce. Only 34.6 percent of working-age women with disabilities (3.5 million) are employed in the U.S. compared to 82.5 percent of working-age women without disabilities. This is in line with the rest of the country, with fully one-in-four American adults having a disability just 37 percent of those who are working-age being employed, despite polls showing that most of them want to work. This leads to approximately 22.6 percent of women with disabilities living in poverty compared to 14.7 percent of women without disabilities.

Blair is proving that people with disabilities, with the right support, can change these statistics.

Leading the Way

Role models such as Blair make a big difference in setting high expectations for people who acquire disabilities. Our nation’s economy is strongest when it is inclusive of the value that diverse talent brings to the workplace. Haben Girma became the first Deafblind person to graduate from law school when she earned her degree from Harvard Law School in 2013. Harriet Tubman had epilepsy, performer Selena Gomez lives with lupus, business leader and Shark Tank superstar Barbara Corcoran is dyslexic and gymnast Simone Biles has ADHD. Each of them, like Blair, is a positive role model for success.

All throughout Women’s History Month, we will post pieces about female role models with disabilities. These women are featured examples of RespectAbility’s #RespectTheAbility campaign, which highlights successful individuals with disabilities, as well as companies that employ people with disabilities. Read more today:

At its heart, Happy Face is a film about a teenage boy, Stan (Robin L’Houmeau), attempting to reconnect with his mother who is dying from cancer. His mother, who often manipulates Stan, feels a sense a loss of self-worth when she loses her beauty due to cancer treatments. In a misguided attempt to learn how she feels, Stan deforms his face with bandages and joins a therapy workshop for patients with facial differences.

While the film, which screened at the 2019 Slamdance Film Festival, shines a spotlight on the lives of many individuals with facial differences, Stan’s relationship with his mother remains a major theme – making this a film not about disability or just for people with disabilities but a film about important family dynamics that is relatable to everyone.

Stan’s bandages are a metaphor for his own pain and confusion over how to react to his mother’s declining health. When he is discovered for being a handsome individual with no facial scarring, he convinces the group members to let him help them face their fears beyond the physical issues. Yet Stan is not allowing himself to do the same. Ultimately, his new support group helps him do so. [continue reading…]

Rockville, Maryland, March 21 – I did not realize that March was the month for me. I mean, March already has a personal connection to me. My father passed away on the 19th two years ago of cancer. March was supposed to be my birth month until doctors decided to kick me and my three roommates (I am one of four quadruplets) out of my mom at 31 ½ weeks (You don’t know what being claustrophobic mean unless you are squished by the siblings to the point where you can’t grow normally 😊). No, it turns out that March is both National Women’s Month and National Cerebral Palsy Month. So, because I have cerebral palsy, I have my personal National Minority Month. As I celebrate my gender and my disability, what does it to mean to be disabled and female? [continue reading…]

Honoring Women with Disabilities During Women’s History Month

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. [continue reading…]

For some people, Valentine’s Day is a day to celebrate the one you love. For others, the day is a commercial holiday that either causes financial pressure or feelings of loneliness. For me, it’s the anniversary of my first sexual assault.

Since the #MeToo movement came to light in 2017, the world has learned how dangerous it is to be a woman. We heard countless and horrific stories of sexual assault and harassment that occurred anywhere from the workplace to dark and isolated alleys. Powerful and iconic men were revealed to be serial sex offenders. And women from all walks of life joined together to say, “enough is enough.”

The Vast Majority of Women with Disabilities Are Sexually Assaulted

An alarming 27 percent of women report being sexually assaulted at least once in their lifetime. But a shocking 83 percent of women with disabilities report the same. And they often are victimized more than once, particularly if they have an intellectual disability. People with disabilities can be extremely vulnerable, sometimes helpless to defend themselves. And those with intellectual disabilities are easier to manipulate and considered less trustworthy to police.

It should naturally follow, therefore, that the media would report many more #MeToo stories about women with disabilities than without. However, it has been the exact opposite. Women with disabilities rarely are discussed in terms of sexual assault. When I learned these statistics in 2016, I was desperate to go back in time and tell my younger self that neither of my assaults were my fault. I realized how much of my life I wasted trying to self-correct everything from how I dressed to the friendships I made in attempts to avoid another assault. [continue reading…]

Honoring Women with Disabilities During Women’s History Month

Salma Hayek wearing a black tank smiling for the camera

Salma Hayek

Actress and producer Salma Hayek Jiménez has embraced her disability – dyslexia – from a very young age. Born in Mexico, Hayek was sent to a Catholic boarding school in New Orleans at the age of 12 where she was quickly expelled for setting all of the nun’s clocks back three hours.

“I’m very lucky I didn’t have it easy, because I’ve learned so much from having to figure out everything on my own and create things for myself,” said Hayek. “Now I can teach what I’ve learned to the next generation.”

After boarding school, Hayek spent time at the Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City; however, she quit to pursue her acting career and left Mexico for Hollywood. [continue reading…]

Honoring Women with Disabilities During Women’s History Month

Lois Curtis smiling

Lois Curtis

People with disabilities can thank Lois Curtis for paving the way for them to live in the community while receiving the services they need.

In what many 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.

While she was growing up, Curtis was diagnosed with intellectual and mental disabilities. As a result, she would get into trouble constantly – at home and at school. The police were called several times and they would take her to jail or to a mental hospital. [continue reading…]

Honoring Women with Disabilities During Women’s History Month

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.

[continue reading…]

Washington, D.C., March 13 – As we celebrate Women’s History Month, RespectAbility recognizes the contributions made and the important presence of women to the United States. It is important to note this includes more than 20.9 million women living with a disability in the U.S., more than 10.2 million of which are working-age (18-64). Therefore, we would like to reflect on the realities and challenges that continue to shape the lives of women with disabilities.

Only 34.6 percent of working-age women with disabilities (3.5 million) are employed in the U.S. compared to 82.5 percent of working-age women without disabilities. This is in line with the rest of the country. With fully one-in-four American adults having a disability, just 37 percent of those who are working-age are employed, despite polls showing that most of them want to work. This leads to approximately 22.6 percent of women with disabilities living in poverty compared to 14.7 percent of women without disabilities. [continue reading…]

Honoring Women with Disabilities During Women’s History Month

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.

“I had crossed the line. I was free; but there was no one to welcome me to the land of freedom. I was a stranger in a strange land,” she often is quoted as saying. [continue reading…]

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