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Dear Meryl Streep,

There’s still work to be done.

At the Golden Globes on Sunday night, Meryl Streep called out Trump for publicly mocking a disabled reporter and high fived Hollywood for its inclusiveness, identifying her community as “crawling with outsiders and foreigners.” While I was excited to see a major star use such a huge platform to defend the dignity of Mr Kovaleski and speak out against the unjust treatment of persons with disabilities, Hollywood is not yet deserving of a pat on the back for total inclusion, especially as it relates to disability representation.

Across multiple media, including television and film, disability is still grossly underrepresented, misrepresented or just plain ignored. In her speech, Streep said “An actor’s only job is to enter the lives of people who are different from us, and let you feel what that feels like.” But in the world of entertainment, disability stories are often little more than stereotypes of victims and burdens, heroes or freaks; lazy tropes that are used to make us feel specific emotions. These careless characterizations are not just hurtful, they’re dangerous. They inform how we see disabled people in real life and lead us to believe they are low-status individuals. The real stories of disability are still not being told.

The arts are by nature forward-thinking and innovative. Media is one of the most effective vehicles to elicit change in hearts and minds. Hollywood has a real opportunity to influence and normalize how we see disability, just as it has for other marginalized groups.

Thank you Ms. Streep for shining a massive light on this issue. I hope this is just the beginning of this conversation about the accurate and authentic inclusion and representation of disability in Hollywood and across all media.

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I’d like to talk about misconceptions — things assumed by culture as a whole. These ideas about people with physically disabilities are often false:

1. A physical disability automatically means a mental disability as well.

2. Wheelchair users are confined to their chairs and it’s a miracle when we actually walk.

3. We can’t speak or do anything for ourselves, so look to whoever is with us instead of talking to us.

4. We can’t be self-sufficient and independent, go to college or get real jobs.

5. We are not whole or good enough. We need fixing and healing. Pray for us in public.

6. A physical disability means more inability than ability.

7. We need a lot of physical therapy, surgeries, constant caregiving, adaptive equipment, etc. and are miserable.

8. A physical disability means we instantly relate to another person with a disability.

9. We can’t date, get married, or have fulfilling romantic relationships.

10. We are inspirations for reaching “normal” milestones and leading “normal” lives.

We need to bring these misconceptions into the light. Those living with physical disabilities are always people first — valuable human beings. We carry the same hopes, dreams, and ambitions in our hearts. We want to be a part of culture, actively involved in the community around us, not separate.

There is a growing gap between what culture says and what we know to be true, because assumptions pervade the air.

However, we can fight the misconceptions. We can bridge the gap, but we can’t do it alone. We need our family and friends to speak up with us.

Speak on our behalf when we are not present.

Start the hard conversations.

Remind others to stop assuming anything based on outward appearance.

Even if a person looks different, please try your best to not make them feel different. That person just wants to be seen, known, and loved as an equal.

For every misconception I face, I’m that much more thankful for everyone who loves the real me.

Will you bravely ignore all these misconceptions? Can you give us a chance?

Read more at Laura C. Robb.

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People with invisible disabilities share what others can do to reduce the stigma of invisible disabilities.

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Recently I got to hear a very sharp speaker, Jeff Kline, at a national conference on best practices. He is at the cutting edge of using technology to unlock the potential of people with disabilities. The Program Director of Statewide Electronic and Information Resources Accessibility at Texas Department of Information Resources, Kline is also the author of “Strategic IT Accessibility: Enabling the Organization.”  Before government service, Mr. Kline managed IBM’s Worldwide Accessibility Consulting and Business Transformation initiatives. His 26 year IBM tenure also included management in industrial design, software development, and system usability.

Personally, I am a disaster when it comes to technology. But it is a lifesaver for many people with disabilities. It can help a lot of people with disabilities excel and contribute to society. Thus, I asked Jeff some questions, and got some very helpful answers.

1. What is Information Technology(IT) Accessibility and Inclusive Design?

a. IT accessibility means that people with disabilities (PwDs) can perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with information technology, allowing them to participate equally in the economic and social aspects of society. It also has benefits to others, such as people with changing abilities caused by aging. Inclusive Design ensures that products and services are accessible and usable by everyone, including PwDs.

2. IT has become an integral part of today’s society. It touches nearly every aspect of daily life. Can you describe some of the challenges that IT presents for people with disabilities?

a. For example, blind individuals rely on an assistive technology called a screen reader to interact with a website or application. The screen reader speaks what is displayed and identifies each element on the screen such as a link, or a picture, table, radio button form field, etc.  If the website or application is not coded to include accessibility specifications, the assistive technology cannot identify and read these elements to the user in a meaningful way, rendering the site very difficult, or in many cases, impossible for a blind person to use.

b. Individuals with mobility impairments may use other types of assistive technologies such as head trackers or mouth sticks which also rely on proper accessibility coding. Without captions in videos, Deaf users have limited access to video information. Despite significant progress, many manufacturers and software development organizations still do not understand, plan for, design, or develop their technology with inclusive design in mind.

3. What are underlying reasons why so many IT products and services are not fully accessible to PwDs?

a. While technology can still be a challenge, particularly for large “legacy” offerings where the original code may have been created before accessibility criteria was required or understood, there is now a robust body of knowledge and tools for developing and delivering accessible offerings. The underlying reason I see is the lack of commitment, culture, policy, and governance structure within organizations to put policies in place that consistently drive the development of accessible or inclusive products and services.

4. You’ve talked about the challenges for PwDs and the underlying reasons for inaccessible IT. Are there any other impacts that our readers need to be aware of?

a. Inaccessible or non-inclusive IT creates barriers to education, training, employment opportunities, online government services, social media, and other aspects of life for PwDs that many of us take for granted. Additionally, public and private sector organizations also must realize that IT accessibility barriers are considered discriminatory under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), and there has been a strong uptick in IT accessibility related lawsuits. The US Department of Justice is more frequently intervening in these lawsuits on behalf of plaintiffs.

5. Can you tell us a little about your role within Texas state government, and what is being done there to close this broad gap of making IT accessible to PwDs?

a. My role is to provide leadership, guidance, and oversight in IT accessibility to over 170 Texas state agencies and publicly funded universities, to help facilitate the development, procurement, and use of accessible IT.  Responsibilities include rulemaking, policy development, consulting, outreach, and accessibility services and information.

Additionally, I am deeply involved in the integration of accessibility criteria into our state IT procurement processes to help obtain more accessible products and services from the vendor community. For our vendors to be able to consistently produce and provide accessible IT, they need to consider IT accessibility at a strategic  level, so we have recently implemented a new step in state IT procurement using the Policy Driven Adoption of Accessibility (PDAA) model developed by myself, my counterparts in Minnesota and Massachusetts, a group of state CIOs, and the National Association of State CIOs (NASCIO). The model requires vendors to complete a self-assessment at the beginning of the procurement process.

The self-assessment calculates the maturity of their IT accessibility policies and programs using PDAA’s maturity model. Our customers can use the results to gauge vendors’ abilities to build and report about accessible products and services. Most importantly, we want all vendors to use the assessment results as a guide for implementing accessibility practices and policies within their organizations, ultimately resulting in more accessible products and services in the long term.

Want to know more? Buy Jeff’s book on Amazon.

Learn more at RespectAbility.

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