Zero Actor Nominees for Academy Awards Have a Known Disability

Two Categories to Watch: Visual Effects and Full-Length Documentary Nominations Include People with Autism

Academy Award Oscar Statuettes

Photo by Toby Canham/Getty Images

Los Angeles, Calif. –As Hollywood gets ready to celebrate the Oscars this weekend, a glaring omission of nominees is evident. No known actor with a disability was nominated for an Academy Award. By not including authentic disability in the diversity conversation, Hollywood leaves out the largest minority in the U.S.

“Hollywood has to catch up with its audience,” RespectAbility President Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi said. “Diversity must really mean diversity – and that includes the one-in-five Americans who has a disability. Disability needs to be a part of every conversation on diversity. When films and television shows lack the inclusion of disability in their diversity efforts, Hollywood is disenfranchising the one-in-five Americans who have a disability.”

However, there are two examples of importance in this arena. Behind the scenes, Marvel’s Doctor Strange has been nominated in the category of visual effects. Two of the individuals who contributed to this cinematic technology, Jacob Fenster and Noah Schneider, have autism and currently work at Exceptional Minds Studios in Sherman Oaks, California. Marvel Studios is planning to partner on 15 more movies with Exceptional Minds, a nonprofit vocational school and working studio that prepares young adults on the autism spectrum for careers in digital animation and visual effects.

Additionally, Life, Animated was nominated for the full-length documentary category. The film shows how Owen, a young man with Autism who was unable to speak as a child, and his father are able to connect using Disney animated films.

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People with Disabilities Twice as Likely to be Employed in Some States as Others

  • Wyoming leads nation with 57.1 percent of their working-age citizens with disabilities employed.
  • Pennsylvanians with disabilities experience the biggest jobs gains of any state in the nation with 13,763 more people with disabilities entering the workforce.
  • Wisconsin edges Nevada out of the top 10 states after investing in school-to-work transition programs for youth with disabilities.

Washington, D.C., Feb. 24 – As governors convene in Washington, D.C., for the 2017 National Governors Association Winter Meeting, Americans with disabilities are finding their economic outcomes vary greatly based on where they live. For example, 57.1 percent of working-age people with disabilities in Wyoming have jobs, while only 24.4 percent of people with disabilities in West Virginia are employed.

According to the newly released 2016 Annual Disability Statistics Compendium, only 34.9 percent of U.S. civilians with disabilities ages 18-64 living in the community nationally had a job in 2015, compared to 76.0 percent for people without disabilities. Out of almost 20 million working age people with disabilities, only 7.1 million people with disabilities have a job. Millions who would rather be working are living on government benefits instead.

However, looking at national statistics only tells part of the story facing millions of job seekers with disabilities who want to become independent and earn an income. Digging into the data compiled by the Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Disability Statistics and Demographics (StatsRRTC) actually shows serious differences in employment outcomes at the state level. In fact, there are some states where people with disabilities are twice as likely to be employed as in other states.

Wyoming leads the nation with 57.1 percent of their citizens with disabilities employed. Wyoming is followed by the Dakotas where 51.7 percent of South Dakotans with disabilities have a job and 48.6 percent of North Dakotans with disabilities are employed. Other top 10 states include Nebraska with a 48.6 employment rate for people with disabilities, Minnesota (47.5), Iowa (46.3), Utah (45.8), Kansas (42.8), Alaska (42.6) and Wisconsin (41.2).

Minnesota under Gov. Mark Dayton, saw the biggest job gains for people with disabilities out of the top 10 states, with 12,652 Minnesotans with disabilities entering the workforce between 2014 and 2015.

Looking back at RespectAbility’s 2016 report on the best and worst states for workers with disabilities, Hawaii, Colorado and Nevada have since dropped out of the top 10 states. In fact, the number 10 spot has been claimed by Wisconsin, up from number 16 in 2016 and edging out Nevada by 0.1 percent.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker consistently has championed the issue of jobs for people with disabilities both in his past State of the State Addresses and in public appearances throughout the state. In particular, Walker consistently has worked hard to expand the number of highly successful Project Search sites in his state, providing youth with intellectual and development disabilities opportunities to successfully transition from school to work.

Table 1 – Top 10 States for Workers with Disabilities
State Ranking State Total # of PwDs (Aged 18-64) # of PwDs
Employed
Total # Jobs Gained + or Lost – Percentage of PwDs Employed
1 WY 37,643 21,508 + 4,042 57.1 %
2 SD 51,131 26,419 + 339 51.7 %
3 ND 38,112 18,582 – 414 48.8 %
4 NE 101,734 49,485 + 2,194 48.6 %
5 MN 297,630 141,257 + 12,652 47.5 %
6 IA 180,139 83,391 + 1,280 46.3 %
7 UT 155,508 71,185 + 6,085 45.8 %
8 KS 184,791 79,132 + 2,570 42.8 %
9 AK 47,039 19,951 + 1,741 42.6 %
10 WI 351,787 144,815 + 4,327 41.2 %
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Fighting Stigmas and Expanding Opportunities for People with Disabilities Through Hollywood

At RespectAbility, a national nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and expanding opportunities for people with disabilities, we have been working with several partners within the entertainment industry on the full inclusion of people with disabilities – in front and behind the camera. On Feb. 8, we held a webinar with several partners as part of the process of creating a Community of Practice to work on the closely connected issues of disability, diversity, inclusion, poverty and media.

The webinar is being followed up with in-person meetings for interested parties based in Los Angeles and New York City. We are looking for partners to help move the needle on two core important issues: inclusion and diversity in Hollywood and employment of people with disabilities.

Our most recent events were held on on Feb. 21, 2017 in Los Angeles. Throughout the day, we hosted meetings of leaders in philanthropy, workforce development and entertainment industry who care about diversity, inclusion and employment in Hollywood for people with disabilities. There is a great potential to gather committed stakeholders to join together to form a Community of Practice to work on the closely connected issues of disability, diversity, inclusion, poverty and media. We hope this gathering will inaugurate a Community of Practice composed of key stakeholders to move the needle on two core important issues: inclusion and diversity in Hollywood and employment of people with disabilities.

Please contact our Communications Director at laurena@respectabilityusa.org for more information.

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Super Bowl Ads for Coca-Cola, Airbnb and Google Home Leave out People with Disabilities

Rockville, Md., Feb. 6 – While many commercials during last night’s Super Bowl focused on diversity and inclusion, the majority did not include people with disabilities.

Coca-Cola reran an ad from the 2014 Super Bowl. “It’s Beautiful” features people of different backgrounds singing “America, The Beautiful” in different languages.

Likewise, Airbnb’s “We Accept” also showcased people of a variety of backgrounds. The ad is set to music with text laid over close-ups of people’s faces that read: “We believe no matter who you are, where you’re from, who you love, or who you worship, we all belong. The world is more beautiful the more you accept.” The ad ended with the hashtag #WeAccept, which went viral by halftime.

Google’s “Google Home” commercial included multiple minority groups by showing homes with rainbow pride flags and mezuzahs and people from all races cooking, eating, dancing and enjoying life.

Yet all three of these ads, which promoted inclusion of diverse people, failed to include people with disabilities, which is the largest minority in America, with almost one-in-five Americans having a disability. The disability community often is forgotten in diversity conversations in Hollywood and elsewhere.

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Four Oscar Nominations for Best Picture Go to Films with Disability Connections

Academy Award Oscar Statuettes

Photo by Toby Canham/Getty Images

Rockville, Md, Jan. 24 – Of the nine films nominated for Best Picture, four have themes or sub-plots related to disability.

For example, Manchester by the Sea includes themes of mental health, alcoholism and drug use. Likewise, Moonlight includes story lines surrounding drug addiction. Arrival, a science-fiction film, includes a child who dies from cancer.

Fences, a film that has received multiple accolades for its racially diverse themes, also includes a disability storyline. Lead character Troy Maxson (Denzel Washington)’s older brother Gabe Maxson (Mykelti Williamson) sustained a traumatic brain injury (TBI) during World War II. Children in the neighborhood often torment Gabe. When Troy bails Gabe out of jail for disturbing the peace, Troy unknowingly signs a paper that routes half of Gabe’s pension to a psychiatric hospital, forcing Gabe to be institutionalized.

Williamson does not have a disability himself, which is quite common when it comes to casting actors portraying people with disabilities. The Ruderman White Paper on Disability in Television found that non-disabled actors on television play more than 95 percent of characters with disabilities.

When asked by the Los Angeles Times about playing the role of someone with a TBI, Williamson acknowledged the many variables and “different levels of injury and effect” of someone with a TBI.

In the full-length documentary category, Life, Animated, a film about Owen, a boy with Autism, was nominated. The film shows how Owen, a young man who was unable to speak as a child, and his father are able to connect using Disney animated films.

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Supreme Court Case Could Determine Education for Students with Disabilities

exterior shot of front of Supreme Court of the United States from across the street

Supreme Court of the United States

Washington, Jan. 13 – Earlier this week, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a critical case for children with disabilities, Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District, one of the most important education cases in decades.

In 1975, Congress passed a federal law requiring school districts to provide a “free appropriate public education” for children with disabilities, which includes individualized education plan (IEP) for students to be included in public schools. The law also provided federal funds for these services. The act was renamed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in 1990. Unfortunately, IDEA has never been fully funded, leading to some school districts struggling to keep up.

This case, representing a boy with autism named Endrew F. (Drew), argues just how much educational benefit the IEPs must provide. While some lower courts have ruled the need for a “meaningful” educational benefit, others require only a bit more than de minimis – the bare minimum.

Since Drew’s parents felt he was not improving in public school, they sent him to a private school where he progressed at a much quicker pace. Under IDEA, parents can receive tuition reimbursement from the school district if their child does not receive enough “educational benefit” from public schooling. Drew’s parents were denied, leading to this case.

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Disability Group Challenges Meryl Streep to Walk the Walk in Breaking Down Stigmas & Bullying

Meryl Streep standing behind a microphone smiling. She is wearing a black dress with many colorful, light-reflecting jewels.

Meryl Streep delivering her Golden Globes acceptance speech

Washington, Jan. 9 – RespectAbility, a national nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and expanding opportunities for people with disabilities, thanks Golden Globe lifetime achievement award-winner Meryl Streep for talking about the importance of not making fun of people with disabilities.

“Disrespect invites disrespect; violence incites violence,” the winner of the Cecil B. DeMille Award said during her acceptance speech. “And when the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose.”

President-elect Donald Trump fired back via Twitter, calling Streep “over-rated” and “Hillary flunky who lost big.”

RespectAbility, while grateful to Streep for “talking the talk,” challenges her to “walk the walk.”

“Now I hope that Meryl Steep will use her power and influence to ensure that television and movies include people with disabilities with accurate and positive portrayals,” RespectAbility’s President Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi said. “Think about it – according to the U.S. Census, almost 1-in-5 of us has a disability. Yet according to GLAAD, fewer than two percent of scripted television characters have disabilities. For all the hundreds of shows on television, we are talking just 15 characters!”

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Facebook Attack Reminds Nation of Violent Reality Often Faced by People with Disabilities

Screenshot of Facebook live video of victim with face blurred

Screenshot of Facebook Live video of victim with face blurred

Washington, Jan. 6 – RespectAbility is outraged that a young man with disabilities was kidnapped and a victim of assault by four young adults who live-streamed the torture on Facebook. We are committed to ending violence against people with disabilities of all races, religions, colors, gender identities, sexual orientations, national origins, ages, genetics or political affiliations.

According the Bureau of Justice statistics, people with disabilities are 2.5 times as likely to be victims of violent crime as individuals without disabilities. Furthermore, people with disabilities between the ages of 12-15 and 35-49 are three times more likely to be victims of violent crimes.

Yet violent acts against people with disabilities often do not receive much public attention. Partially because this vicious attack was broadcast live on Facebook, members of the press and public are paying a great deal of attention. The footage quickly went viral online.

Hate crime charges, among other charges, have been filed against the four assailants.

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Our National Leadership Program Needs A Director – and Fellows!

Fellows wanted in Policy, Communications, Media, Inclusion and Development! 

respectability-fellows-standing-in-front-of-wh-summer-2015
RespectAbility Fellows standing in front of the White House in Summer 2015

RespectAbility is searching for a talented professional who is interested in working with young professionals to develop their skills and launch their careers. This person will be an essential part of our team as our Leadership Program Director. In this role, the Director will work directly to support talented young leaders who aspire to careers in policy, communications or media.

The Director will be responsible for recruiting diverse Fellows, providing needed accommodations and overseeing a program of guest speakers and work that will have a national impact to fight stigmas and advance opportunities for people with disabilities. If you or someone you know is interested in joining our team, please see the full job description on our website here: National Leadership Program

Our National Leadership Program provides participants with access to high level guest speakers, personalized skills training as well as the chance to work on serious projects that will advance RespectAbility’s mission. Since 2013, 74 different, diverse Fellows have participated in our program. Many have gone on to jobs at the White House, government agencies, think tanks, advocacy organizations, political campaigns, nonprofits and more. Others have pursued advance degrees at Georgetown, Columbia and at other top schools.

RespectAbility is actively recruiting talented young leaders for our Spring, Summer and Fall 2017 cohorts. Fellowships are available in public policy, strategic communications, religious inclusion and nonprofit development. To learn more about our program, please visit our National Leadership Program site.

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RespectAbility Receives Grant from Ford Foundation to Create Harriet Tubman Fellowships

headshots of Ming Canaday and Eddie Ellis with text: The First Cohort of the Harriet Tubman Fellow

The First Cohort of the Harriet Tubman Fellows: Ming Canaday and Eddie Ellis

Washington, Dec. 21 – RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities for people with disabilities, is delighted to announce that the Ford Foundation awarded a grant, which has enabled RespectAbility to create and offer Harriet Tubman Fellowships to select participants in the National Leadership Program. Tubman acquired traumatic brain injury when a slave owner hit her with a heavy metal weight leading to epileptic seizures and hypersomnia. Her work, while living as an individual with a disability, to free slaves and then for women’s suffrage is one of the great stories of how people with disabilities can help make a nation stronger and better.

Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, published a groundbreaking op-ed in The New York Times called “Internships are Not a Privilege,” which discussed how the practice of requiring people to do unpaid internships before they get good policy jobs harms diversity efforts and discriminates against people who cannot afford to do them.

“We are thrilled to have this new transformative support,” said Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, president of RespectAbility. “Thanks to the Ford Foundation, we will be able to strengthen and diversify our National Leadership Program for young leaders with and without disabilities who are going into public policy, advocacy, journalism, public relations and other leadership roles. Previously, many people who wanted to participate in the program could not do so because while it offered free lunch and a transportation stipend, it was an unpaid program. Now we will be able to pay $15 an hour to many of the fellows who otherwise could not afford to do such a leadership program.”

The National Leadership Program has three cohorts of Fellows – in the fall, spring and summer – for a total of at least 24 Fellows. Eight will be Harriet Tubman Fellows.  Our National Leadership Program enables young leaders to gain critical skills, contacts and experiences necessary to be accepted into graduate school or go directly into careers in public policy, media or advocacy.

The Ford Foundation’s grant will enable RespectAbility to include more participants with multiple minority status and/or low-income candidates who cannot afford the nine weeks of unpaid training. Two to three Fellows each cohort will be awarded with the Harriet Tubman Fellowship, which is a paid Fellowship.

“With the paid fellowships, we will be able to do our part to overcome the unequal opportunities sometimes created by unpaid internships,” RespectAbility Board Chair Donn Weinberg said. “Having the resources to pay our Fellows will allow us to offer this opportunity to people who otherwise might not be able to afford to gain the skills and the connections they need to enter careers in public policy, media or advocacy. This will be a significant factor in fully realizing our goals for diversity, recruitment and attracting quality applicants.”

Today only 65 percent of people with disabilities graduate high school and only seven percent complete college. For those lucky few who do complete college, only 53 percent of graduates with disabilities are currently employed as opposed to 84 percent of graduates with no disability. As a program that is fully accessible for people with disabilities and offers full-time in-house job coaching, skills development, networking opportunities, assistive technology and personal care support, our program has been designed to alleviate this situation.

The grant also will enable RespectAbility to hire a personal care assistant or interpreters as needed by any Fellow participating in the National Leadership Program.

“Many people with disabilities are faced with choosing to have a personal care assistant at home to help with necessary supports such as getting up in the morning and using the facilities or having personal care support at work,” Mizrahi said. “This grant allows us to offer the Fellowship to individuals needing this on-the-job assistance, which often becomes cost prohibitive to individuals, at no cost to them.”

RespectAbility’s Treasurer, Cal Harris, and Board of Advisors members, Janie L. Jeffers and Randall Duchesneau, will help shape the Harriet Tubman Fellowship program. Harris and Jeffers each have major leadership roles in Washington. A C5-C6 quadriplegic from a spinal cord injury during gymnastics, Duchesneau currently is a consultant based in Philadelphia who previously served as RespectAbility’s first Director of the National Leadership Program.

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