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“We all have gifts and talents. Discovering our strengths and leading from a position of ability is the way forward for us all.”

– Valora Blackson

Valora Blackson smilingValora Blackson, an ally to people with disabilities, participated in a RespectAbility training program at Guttman Community College in New York City: Empowerment Training for Female College Students with Disabilities. The training focused on women’s disability leadership, inclusion, advocacy, and empowerment for college students in the greater NYC area. Valora led a small group session, entitled Community-wide Advocacy 101: How to Broaden Inclusive Advocacy Beyond Campus. She focused on internships, volunteer experience, and the issue of when to disclose a disability to an employer. Valora was inspired by the incredible women she met and considers it an honor to have been asked to participate in the empowerment training. [continue reading…]

La'Rina Carolina headshot smilingAs the country celebrates the contributions of African Americans during Black History Month, webhost La’Rina Carolina reflects upon her intersecting identities of being a being a deaf Black woman in the United States today, noting each of these three parts of her identities becomes a “barrier.”

“I am proud of being black and I love myself and my heritage,” Carolina said. “But driving while black is real and driving while deaf is even scarier. I don’t understand why, we aren’t treated equally.” [continue reading…]

However, only 29.7 percent of working-age African Americans with disabilities are employed

Washington, D.C. Feb. 25 – 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 5.4 million African Americans living with a disability in the U.S., 3.2 million of whom 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.

New statistics released by the Institute on Disability at the University of New Hampshire show that the employment rate for African Americans with disabilities has continued to grow even as other part of the disability community have lost economic ground. In 2018, the disability employment rate of working-age African Americans with disabilities increased to 29.7 percent compared to 28.6 percent in 2017. While that is an improvement, it lags far behind the 74.4 percent of working-age African Americans without disabilities who have jobs. Indeed, national statistics show that only 37.6 percent of working age people with disabilities overall have jobs compared to 77.8 percent of working-age people without disabilities. Fully 32.3 percent of African Americans with disabilities live in poverty, compared to just 22.4 percent of African Americans without disabilities. [continue reading…]

Barely 29,000 new jobs for people with disabilities in 2018.

  • Only 29,893 people with disabilities entered the workforce in 2018, a ten-fold decrease compared to the more than 343,000 new jobs for people with disabilities two years ago.
  • Arizona saw the biggest job gains of any state, adding more than 17,000 people with disabilities to the state’s economy.
  • At the same time, California saw the biggest job losses among people with disabilities, with more than 21,000 workers with disabilities leaving the labor force.

Washington, D.C., Feb. 24 – New statistics show that job gains among Americans with disabilities have dramatically fallen compared to previous years of sustain growth. The Disability Statistics Compendium, released earlier this month by the Institute on Disability at the University of New Hampshire, shows that the national disability employment rate has only risen to 37.6 percent compared to 37 percent last year. [continue reading…]

Zack Gottsagen First Actor with Down syndrome to Present an Award While Tobias Forrest and Victoria Canal Broke Additional Barriers in Performance

Zack Gottsagen presenting with Shia LeBeouf on stage at the 2020 Academy Awards with captions on screenLos Angeles, Feb. 13 – When actor Zack Gottsagen presented an award alongside The Peanut Butter Falcon co-star Shia LeBeouf Sunday evening, he made history as the Academy Awards’ first presenter with Down syndrome. The Peanut Butter Falcon provides cultural relevance on issues important to the disability community such as independence while creating wide-reaching impact. The film has grossed more than $20 million and holds an approval rating of 95% on Rotten Tomatoes – showing that casting authentically can lead a studio to financial and critical success.

Neither Gottsagen nor the film were nominated for an Oscar, however, which Emily Kranking raised in an article about the lack of disability being included in conversations about diversity at the Oscars. In 1993, Educating Peter, a film that follows third-grade student Peter Gwazdauskas, who lives with Down syndrome, won the Oscar for best documentary short. [continue reading…]

“It’s nice to have an ally like RespectAbility that sees a need and then takes the necessary steps to help inclusion across multiple platforms—not only in film and television, but also in the political arena.”

– John Lawson

John Lawson black and white headshot. Lawson is a double amputee.John Lawson, a self-advocate, has been an integral part of RespectAbility’s team fighting stigmas in Hollywood. He has participated in panels discussing disability and representation in the media; accompanied RespectAbility’s vice president of communications to meetings with various studio heads and network officials; and recently participated in RespectAbility’s inaugural Summer Lab Program. John says the Lab program has been the highlight of his time with RespectAbility so far, because he has had the opportunity to be both a mentor and a participant. [continue reading…]

174,000 people with disabilities live in New Hampshire

Manchester, NH, February 7 – Tonight, as seven candidates prepare to take the stage in the first Democratic debate after the Iowa caucus, RespectAbility’s Ben Spangenberg and Justin Chappell will be in the media spin room trying to get candidates on the record on disability issues. They are there on behalf of The RespectAbility Report, an online publication at the intersection of U.S. politics and disability.

Justin Chappell holds an iPad filming Bernie Sanders giving an answer to a question he askedSpangenberg has been with RespectAbility for more than four years, and currently serves as the director of its National Leadership Program for college students and recent graduates who want to become future leaders in the disability community. He and Chappell married two weeks after Spangenberg joined the staff. Together, they previously covered debates in the 2016 Election cycle, meeting all major candidates on both sides of the isle.

People with disabilities have been historically underrepresented in political campaigns, debate and coverage for far too long. I look forward to asking the candidates about policy changes that matter to the disability community,said Ben Spangenberg. [continue reading…]

Ash Williams with RespectAbility staff and Fellows in front of the RespectAbility banner

Ash Williams with RespectAbility Staff and Fellows

Rockville, Maryland, January 24 – Gender education is necessary to creating an inclusive and safe space free of hatred where trans people can fully participate in their place of work. Ash Williams visited RespectAbility and delivered a three-hour long training on the importance of gender-based terminology, pronouns, advocacy, inclusion and intersectionality.

Williams divided us into four groups to talk about gender-based terminology. Each group was given two words and the groups shared what those words meant to them. Words included transition, cis, transphobia, trans-misogyny, and trans. Ash recalled multiple workshops where people had hesitation over how words were defined for them so this activity expresses the importance of gender terminology being used contextually and not in a vacuum defined by others.

At RespectAbility it is common for people to introduce themselves with their names and pronouns at meetings, a practice that was put in place earlier this year prior to this Fellowship cohort. When someone asked about not being asked to identify their pronouns – in this situation because this individual was fluid in the pronouns this individual chose to use on any given day – Williams shared the importance of increasing choice by asking future Fellows to “share your pronouns if you want to.” Williams also added that the word “preferred” should never be used when asking for pronouns because a person’s pronouns are the only way they can be addressed. Using “preferred” waters down the importance and makes it harder for trans people to be present in the room. Williams also advised adding “is there anything else you want us to know about you so we can better support you” to our accommodation request forms. [continue reading…]

First Edition of National Voting Guide Highlights Presidential Candidates’ Responses to 2020 Disability Candidate Questionnaire

Washington, D.C., Jan. 22 – As people with and without disabilities get ready to go to the polls to vote in their state’s primary elections, a disability rights nonprofit has released its first edition of the National Disability Voter Guide. While primary elections do not begin for a few more weeks, early voting begins earlier in many localities across the country. Early voting gives voters with and without disabilities the flexibility and choice to their ballots long before primary day.

Research conducted in the 2018 election shows that 74 percent of likely voters either have a disability themselves or have a family member or a close friend with disabilities. The upcoming elections and their results will have an impact on people with disabilities, so it is important to become familiar with the candidates’ positions on certain issues.

As a nonpartisan national nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities so people with disabilities can participate fully in all aspects of community, RespectAbility has invited all candidates in the presidential race on both sides of the aisle to submit their answers to a 2020 Disability Voter Candidate Questionnaire. This questionnaire covers some of the most important issues impacting people with disabilities including employment, education, immigration, criminal justice and accessibility. [continue reading…]

Everything’s Gonna Be Okay premieres on Freeform on Thursday, January 16

Los Angeles, Jan. 16 – Newcomer Kayla Cromer is breaking barriers in the entertainment industry as one of the first people on the spectrum to play a character on the spectrum in a lead role. A neurodiverse actress and activist, Cromer stars as Matilda, a high school senior who is driven to succeed and is on the autism spectrum, in Freeform’s new comedy series, Everything’s Gonna Be Okay.

Before Cromer started to pursue a career in the entertainment industry, her original goal was to attend the FBI Academy and become a criminal profiler – a passion of hers since her pre-teens. After being invited to model in a San Francisco photoshoot and one of the photos went viral, her modeling career took off. Cromer has appeared on magazine covers and editorials nationwide, which led to getting represented in both San Francisco and Los Angeles. Now she is focusing on her acting career, with role models like Kiera Knightly and Orlando Bloom, who both have dyslexia. [continue reading…]

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