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Dennis Tran headshot wearing a suit and red button down shirt

Dennis Tran

Los Angeles, CA, April 8 – Growing up Vietnamese American to a family with disabilities and unhealed intergenerational trauma was something very eye opening for me. In my experience, mental health and disability are rarely discussed in our Vietnamese American cultural upbringing, and they are often seen as shameful. In fact, they were portrayed as a curse or bad luck. On my dad’s side of the family, showing any sort of emotions or opening up about our struggles would be seen as either a weakness or a threat. I have observed many comparisons and slights that my dad experienced for being disabled and different from his own relatives and siblings.

This was something very common among kids with immigrant parents, especially in Asian families. The stigma surrounding mental health and disability has been around for decades. The society we grew up in didn’t really prioritize or support mental health and disability. There was a lot of injustice, inaccessibility, and inequity to resources and opportunities. News and entertainment media at the time didn’t help to destigmatized this. Instead, it contributed to toxic masculinity and the idealization of physically strong looking male figures while continuing the narrative that anyone who looks or seen as different should be shamed upon or ostracized. [continue reading…]

Los Angeles, CA, April 7 – “Being Michelle” is a powerful and emotional documentary film that follows the life of a Deaf woman with autism who has survived numerous instances of abuse and injustice at the hands of the U.S. incarceration system. The film had its world premiere at Big Sky Documentary Film Festival this week, and will soon screen at the Florida Film Festival as well. At its core, “Being Michelle” is a story about hope and resilience in the face of adversity due to one’s family upbringings, circumstances, and the ableist injustices of the U.S. incarceration system. No matter what you are going through, you are not alone, and this documentary is a reminder of that through the story of Michelle’s journey as she continues to be that ray of sunshine for others despite what she has gone through. Her story matters and is an example for others to be able to learn and take up space.

Throughout the film, audiences learn that Michelle experienced an abusive family dynamic growing up; a pattern and experience that unfortunately followed her into the incarceration system, where police officers were quick to condemn her due to a lack of understanding of her disabilities, and without really trying to understand her or why she was acting or behaving a certain way. The documentary really brings to light how society is quick to judge and make assumptions about someone without getting to know them, as in the case of Michelle, who was misunderstood and could not articulate what she wanted to say and express her emotions due to a lack of means to communication between the Hearing officers and prison employees and herself as a Deaf woman. [continue reading…]

Eric Ascher smiles in the spin room at the 2020 Democratic Debate in Des Moines Iowa

Selfie of Eric Ascher in the spin room at the CNN Democratic Debate in Des Moines Iowa

Rockville, Maryland, April 7 – I remember when my parents first told me that I was on the autism spectrum. I was in high school. They gave me a document with typical characteristics of what was then referred to as “asperger’s syndrome.” I clearly fit the bill. For example, I am passionate about a small list of things. I have trouble making friends, and I am socially awkward.

But I’m ashamed to admit that I remember not wanting to call myself autistic. I knew other autistic kids at school, and how they “acted out.” I didn’t want to be associated with them. As a 16-year-old, I was the exact type of person who might have used the phrase “differently-abled” or some other euphemism to describe myself, had I known that euphemisms were an option. I’ve previously written about how I was bullied throughout my school years, and how the harassment literally kept me in the closet. I wanted nothing more than to be “normal,” to not be different.

But more than a decade later, I’m proud to be on the autism spectrum. I’ve been exposed to the perspectives of autistic people that I follow on social media and other autistic people that I’ve befriended over the years. I’ve learned that it’s not a bad thing, it’s simply who I am. I know there are some things I’m never going to be as good at as my neurotypical peers. I can’t give an impromptu speech to save my life, and networking events are super uncomfortable for me. But there are other areas where I excel. I know everything about Apple products that any one person could reasonably know. I do a great job managing websites and precisely editing videos. [continue reading…]

Washington, D.C., April 4 – RespectAbility is pleased to announce two new awards in honor of Justin W. Chappell and Steve Bartlett, both key contributors to our work. Nominations for the first-annual awards are open now and will close on May 15. Winners of the awards will receive $1,000 and will be recognized in a ceremony.

headshot of Justin Chappell wearing glasses grayscale photo

Justin W. Chappell

The Justin Chappell Memorial Award honors a former or current Apprentice of the National Leadership Program who demonstrates a strong commitment to the advancement of the disability community in policy, entertainment, or philanthropy. This award honors Justin W. Chappell, who devoted his life to human and disability rights and passed away on September 9, 2021.

Steve Bartlett is smiling and wearing a black suit, white shirt, a spotted tie and an american flag pin on his jacket, grayscale photo

Steve Bartlett

The Steve Bartlett Award recognizes and honors an individual in the private or public sector who demonstrates a strong commitment to using the political system to advance public policy in support of people with disabilities. The award recognizes local, state, and national leaders who advocate policies that help to advance opportunities for people with disabilities in different areas including economic growth, educational excellence and achievement, sustainability, workforce and employment, and equity. This award is in honor of Steve Bartlett, former Chairperson of RespectAbility, former member of Congress (1983-1991) and former mayor of Dallas. [continue reading…]

Building on Momentum as Capacity Grows, New Hires Pave the Way for Greater Societal Impact

Los Angeles, April 3 – RespectAbility, a diverse, disability-led nonprofit that works to create systemic change in how society views and values people with disabilities and that advances policies and practices that empower people with disabilities to have a better future, continues to expand its scope with five new hires across the entire organization.

The new team members – who collectively bring more than 50 years of experience in fields such as adult education, the entertainment industry, and corporate fundraising – include:

Jacquill Moss, Entertainment Media Program Coordinator; Graciano Petersen, Senior Director for Training, Culture, and Leadership Development; Theresa Soares, Media Business Development Associate; Joy St. Juste, Director of Marketing and Communications; and Wally Tablit, Director of State Policy.

These new hires will ensure RespectAbility is able to continue its mission of fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities so people with disabilities can fully participate in all aspects of community. [continue reading…]

Setting the theme of ‘Connection,’ RespectAbility and more than 1400 companies and organizations will drive calls to action to address the surge of loneliness and isolation felt by millions as a result of the pandemic

Learn more at 

Mental Health Action Day logo. Text: Get ready for Mental Health Action Day on Thursday, May 19Los Angeles, April 1 – RespectAbility announces today its participation in the second-annual Mental Health Action Day held on Thursday, May 19 with more than 1,400 other leading companies, brands, nonprofits and cultural leaders globally.

As the global conversation around mental health continues – including the White House’s new unity agenda strategy to address mental health in the United States – finding effective resources and knowing how to get help remains a challenge. Convened by MTV Entertainment Group, Mental Health Action Day was created with an open-source model that has effectively united and galvanized brands, organizational leaders, and cultural leaders to seamlessly integrate the message and spirit into their existing branding and voice. [continue reading…]

Los Angeles, CA, March 31 – As a Black girl, you are often made to feel small, and the moment you feel emotions you are seen as too emotional, confrontational, and other not so pleasant adjectives that are far too often used to describe Black women. There is this stereotype that we must be strong, and we can handle whatever life throws at us. Now, in some ways that may be true, but it’s a part of our heritage that was perpetuated on us since the beginning of slavery. I can tell you firsthand Black women are tired of the idea that we must be strong all the time. Sometimes we want to be vulnerable, experience joy, and feel like we can ask for help and support. But it’s sometimes even hard for us to ask for that support.

Headshot of one of the subjects of the documentary film "My Girl Story"I had all these thoughts while watching “My Girl Story,” the insightful documentary produced by filmmaker and 2021 RespectAbility Entertainment Lab Alumna Tameka Citchen-Spruce. It tells the story of two young Black women who struggled with bullying and subsequent fighting in school. As Executive Producer on the film, Citchen-Spruce explains, “Growing up I never saw media representation that resembles my story. So it’s an honor to produce a story of the next generation of Black disabled girls.” [continue reading…]

Los Angeles, CA, March 31

My Dear Younger Self,

Courtney Munnings smiling headshot wearing a black suit jacket and pink shirtI’m sorry to tell you, you’ll always be different. You won’t always see it, but you’ll feel it. And others will too. The problem is, there are more of them than there are you. So, you will feel wrong. And you won’t fit in. But it won’t be for lack of trying.

For many more years, you will feel desperate to belong. Because belonging means safety, so your mind will make it happen. You will do subtle things to mimic your peers in the same way that you breathe –automatically. You mostly won’t know that you’re speaking or looking or moving like the Others; you will only know that they like you. A lot. But you won’t take it for granted. In fact, you will be hyper-vigilant about people-pleasing. All of your interests and personal goals will relate to being good, looking good, and doing good for others. [continue reading…]

Los Angeles, CA, March 30 – An authentic story with a universal theme can connect with anyone on a global scale. Any true creative strives to tell such a story in their career, and the band Delta Spirit successfully achieved this in their latest music video for their single “What’s Done is Done.” Directed by Michael Parks Randa and starring Zack Gottsagen (The Peanut Butter Falcon) and Jamie Brewer (American Horror Story), the music video recently premiered at the 2022 SXSW Film Festival and was released online on March 21st for World Down Syndrome Day. This is the first music video starring two individuals with Down syndrome.

The music video chronicles a love story of two individuals with Down syndrome. What makes the video high impact is its subtext: love is universal. Rarely is romance accurately explored within the disability community, especially in commercial filmmaking. This music video shows that people with Down syndrome explore romance and have romantic issues the same as everyone else. The stigma that romance does not apply for people with disabilities is so wrong. Not only is Zack and Jamie’s chemistry onscreen enigmatic but it had me as an audience viewer envious that love so beautiful exists. [continue reading…]

Los Angeles, March 28 – “This is dedicated to the Deaf community, the CODA community, the disabled community. This is our moment,” Troy Kotsur said when making history after winning the Oscar for Best Actor in a Supporting Role for CODA.

Indeed, it was Kotsur’s – and the deaf and disability community’s – moment during the 94th Academy Awards, as CODA won all three awards it was nominated for, including Best Picture.

CODA first made news when it sold for a record-breaking $25 million during the 2021 Sundance Film Festival to Apple TV+. Kotsur then broke several records throughout this year’s awards season, and on Sunday evening, he became the first deaf male actor to win an Oscar. He is the second deaf person to win an Oscar after Marlee Matlin (CODA costar) won best actress in 1987 for Children of a Lesser God. [continue reading…]

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Respect Ability - Fighting Stigmas. Advancing Opportunities.


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