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A still from Shadow with one of the main characters looking at the camera in a meeting roomAustin, Texas, March 17 – “When artificial intelligence overtakes human intelligence, how will people be treated?”

This is the question at the heart of the groundbreaking film Shadow, which made its world premiere at SXSW Film Festival earlier this week. Produced by Back to Back Theatre, a genre-bending drama with documentary elements, the film was created by individuals with intellectual disabilities and centers people with disabilities. Shadow unravels questions surrounding the disability community, ability, and the emergence of artificial intelligence. It tackles these innovative themes with fervor and a beautiful sense of artistic direction.

Three activists with intellectual disabilities, Simon, Scott, and Sarah, are leading a town meeting about the future impacts of artificial intelligence on the disabled community. However, things quickly go awry when there is tension between the three leaders and those they are speaking to. We come to understand that there is more than meets the eye in regard to the question of what artificial intelligence can do for people with intellectual disabilities. AI might be the consequence of a society that holds little value and humanity for those that don’t meet ableist, and sometimes absurd, standards. [continue reading…]

Los Angeles, March 15 – With less than one percent of children’s content featuring a disabled character, the new animated preschool series “Team Zenko Go!” is breaking barriers. The show follows a group of stealthy do-gooder kids who harness the art of distraction to perform anonymous acts of kindness for the residents of their town, Harmony Harbor.

One of the show’s main characters is a boy named Ari who recently has moved to town with his mother, and also happens to be a wheelchair user. Ari is voiced by Hartley Bernier, an actor who has lived with Intestinal Failure due to Total Hirschsprung’s Disease since birth, and also occasionally uses a wheelchair due to chronic pain.

“I think it’s really important for kids to see themselves represented on screen,” Bernier said. “There aren’t a lot of characters who have disabilities or medical complexities represented in mainstream kids programming.” [continue reading…]

(Trigger warning: sexual assault, bullying, homophobia, ableism)

Leo Allanach headshot smilingLos Angeles, March 14 – When you’re disabled, when you’re trans, when you’re a child growing up in a rural community of abuse, your body does not belong to yourself. The most important thing you can do, as impossibly difficult as it is, is to reclaim yourself.

I always thought part of my problem was taking up space. No matter how much I try, I feel like I’m on center stage, forcing everyone to look at me by virtue of existing. But it’s a negative space. I’m not seen as a full person when I use my cane – people come up and ask intrusive, rude, even hurtful questions. I’m not seen as something binary, and therefore “real,” but some strange queer Other, due to my transness and gender presentation. I’ve never had space to breathe, never had physical space to take up fully as myself. Nowhere was safe for me to exist. So, for a long time, I didn’t. [continue reading…]

Christina Link smiling headshot

Christina Lisk

Los Angeles, CA, March 12 – My wake-up call to learned carelessness came in Summer 2021, when a violent crash forced me out of a work-induced haze. Until then, I had spent years in a modus operandi wherein I was expected to treat my pain as though it didn’t matter. Physical, mental, emotional—none of it mattered when I was expected to fulfill the traditional definition of work. “Traditional” is the key word when coming from a background wherein other forms of work were treated as inferior, and illness was seen as an excuse.

For the five years leading up to that crash, I staggered through work as I struggled with two undiagnosed illnesses: hidradenitis suppurative and Lyme disease. I worked as a housekeeper, pet sitter, intern, volunteer mentor, and freelance writer. None of it mattered, however, as it didn’t lead to the “good job” with benefits or offer the opportunity to climb within a corporation. In the days leading up to the crash, I was throwing myself into work in hopes of getting this “good job” at long last.

Had I allowed myself to see the signs, I would have stepped away from work much sooner to take care of myself. In summer 2021, my health was in serious decline after various forms of stress sent it spiraling out of control. Along with stressors from the pandemic and a broken hearing aid, I had been left by my partner because I didn’t agree to his timeline for children. I swallowed Aleve like candy, chased it with caffeine, and tried to hide migraine symptoms under a theatrical smile. [continue reading…]

Headshots of 64 women with disabilities in a gridWashington, D.C., March 12 – As we celebrate Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day, which take place every March, RespectAbility recognizes the important contributions made by women now and throughout the history of the United States. It is important to note this includes more than 22.7 million women living with a disability.

In fact, women report higher rates of disability than their male counterparts. According to the most recent Census Bureau disability data, released just this week by the Institute on Disability at the University of New Hampshire, fully 13.6 percent of women living in the community (not institutionalized) in America had disabilities, compared to 13.2 percent of men in America who reported a disability in 2020.

Despite significant gains across multiple sectors of American society, disabled women still face worse employment outcomes than men with disabilities. Out of approximately 10 million working-age women with disabilities, only 36.1 percent had jobs, compared to an employment rate of 38 percent for 10.7 million working-age disabled men. [continue reading…]

Los Angeles, CA, March 10 – The concept of a traditional college experience has long been a popular theme explored by films and TV shows. Frat parties, keg stands, annoying roommates – chances are everyone can recall at least one movie or episode of their favorite show that focused on the character(s) antics during their time at college. However, for myself and many others in the Disability community, it’s rare that we ever get to see our unique and intersectional college experiences represented authentically on-screen. Luckily, writer-director Ashley Eakin‘s new short film, Roommates, which made its festival debut earlier this year at Slamdance and will soon screen at SXSW in Austin, TX on March 12, does exactly that.

Produced by Paul Feig’s digital production company Powderkeg, Roommates is a light-hearted but powerful film that follows two new college students, Izzy and Sophia, played by Kelsey Johnson (who also co-wrote the film with Eakin) and Kiera Allen respectively, who are placed together as dorm roommates because they’re both disabled. After a somewhat rocky start, they end up finding common ground while sharing a bottle of vodka and getting personal with each other while pre-gaming before a big dorm party. What starts out as a fun night of taking shots quickly turns into a full night of adventures, officially christening Izzy and Sophia’s year together as college roommates. [continue reading…]

Los Angeles, March 10 – Excitement continues to grow for the 94th annual Academy Awards as several disabled performers and disability-inclusive films have already broken new ground by being nominated.

CODA Makes History for Deaf Representation

A still from CODA with actors in the movie standing and applauding

A still from CODA. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

Arguably the biggest news is that CODA has been nominated for three Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Troy Kotsur), and Best Adapted Screenplay (Sian Heder). In addition, Troy Kotsur has made history as the first male Deaf actor to be nominated for an Academy Award. The film sheds an intimate light on Deaf culture and being a CODA (child of deaf adult) using authentic deaf actors and incorporating deaf professionals in behind-the-camera roles throughout the development and production of the film.

CODA first broke records when Apple acquired the distribution rights for a whopping $25 million out of the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Since then, CODA has won numerous awards including two Screen Actors Guild Awards, an NAACP Image Award, three Hollywood Critics Association Film Awards, and a Film Independent Spirit Award. “If there were any lingering doubts as to whether authenticity sells, they were put to rest with the stunning success of this film,” said Delbert Whetter, a RespectAbility board member who is a Deaf film executive. Several individuals from “CODA” joined Whetter and RespectAbility for a conversation presented fully in ASL with interpreters held on Sundance’s digital Main Street platform during the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. [continue reading…]

Trigger Warning: This article and the film discussed within contains mentions of suicidality. If you need help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

New York City, March 8 – Just Like You Films released a new documentary today that tackles one of the most pervasive nonvisible illnesses in today’s youth. Just Like You: Anxiety and Depression conveys the reality of living with anxiety and major depression by exploring the lives of several people of different ages and backgrounds who struggle every day with these mental health disabilities. Just like anyone else, those with anxiety and depression can live fulfilling and meaningful lives. The film provides a blueprint for how to learn more about this serious, but often overlooked, medical condition; how to seek the necessary tools and care; and how to have open conversations with your loved ones.

The film is a necessary step toward breaking the stigma of mental illness, a stigma that can stop people from saving future lives from anxiety, depression, and suicide. Director Jen Greenstreet shared, “The World Health Organization stated that over 500 million people live with these conditions, and the CDC reports that these conditions are one of the leading causes of death by suicide. So, we decided to make this movie because we believe that watching this film will help end the stigma around these conditions, empower people, and help them live happier and healthier lives.” [continue reading…]

Joy St. Juste smiling seated on a couch with her children lying down with her.

Joy St. Juste with her children

Los Angeles, CA, March 4 – A third-generation Los Angeles native, RespectAbility’s new Marketing and Communications Director Joy St. Juste began her career as a freelance journalist after graduating from Arizona State University. However, after facing a rut in her life, she made a leap of faith and took a job at the English language newspaper, The Guadalajara Reporter. Her time in Mexico was integral to connecting to her roots and key aspects of her identity. I asked her if she connects her Latinidad to her gender in any way:

“There is definitely a throughline there…In connecting with your ancestors.” St. Juste replied. “When I meditate, I never see a man. It’s always like my grandma and my great grandma there, you know? And it’s interesting being a mother of a boy and a girl… Having my daughter, I definitely feel that through line.”

St. Juste explains that being diagnosed with ADHD heavily plays into womanhood in a myriad of ways. She was not diagnosed until she was 37 and this presented its own unique challenges: [continue reading…]

Los Angeles, Feb. 28 – In honor of Black History Month, RespectAbility, a diverse, disability-led nonprofit that works to create systemic change in how society views and values people with disabilities, produced a new PSA campaign featuring Black disabled creatives. All month, this PSA has been in rotation on WarnerMedia’s platforms including HBO Max AVOD and others.

The PSA’s message is the importance of building a more inclusive future for the more than 5.5 million Black Americans living with disabilities.

“To me, being Black and disabled means bringing all of my lived experience to the table,” actress and model Tatiana Lee says in the PSA. Lee, who uses a wheelchair, also served as a producer of this PSA.

Actor and comedian Harold Foxx, who is deaf, adds, “We can help others through recognizing their work and then helping them to unite with allies.” [continue reading…]

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