Boy with Down syndrome in preschool.

Why I Won't Let Fear of Trump Marginalizing People With Disabilities Overwhelm Me

I knew one kid who had a disability growing up. One. His name was Brian, and he walked with a cane and talked with a slight slur. I didn’t know when I was 8, 9, 10 that he probably had cerebral palsy. We didn’t talk about diagnoses at that age. We talked about trading Garbage Pail Kids and jelly bracelets. Brian was in our classroom all day and learned the same as we did. He tripped and fell more often, but he refused help. He got up by himself and he often had a smile on his face. I remember thinking of him as a kind and determined person.

But I didn’t know anyone who had cognitive challenges and behavioral challenges. No one with Down syndrome or autism. Surely the incidence of Down syndrome and autism would have caused me to come across some person with those conditions in my formative years. I never did. You may not have either.

“We used to institutionalize kids like that.”

You’ve probably thought or heard that before. It’s true. We used to institutionalize kids with disabilities. That’s why I only knew one Brian.

The laws have changed to help create ways for people with disabilities to be more included and truly valued members of our society. With regard to education, IDEA requires public schools to provide a free and appropriate education to all children with disabilities. With regard to medical coverage, many severely disabled and medically complicated children – who would have been institutionalized 30 years ago – now qualify for state Medicaid waiver programs designed to help parents raise their children within their home and community.

I am not a person who is interested in politics by nature. My son, however, has forced me to research these issues that are front and center in our headlines. They directly affect him, our family, and our society as a whole.

I fear that with Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education, many able-bodied children will opt out of public school, leaving less funding available to children with disabilities. She has refused to say whether or not all publicly funded schools will be required to abide by IDEA, a federal law. Consequently, my son may end up segregated from his peers who are more typical in their development, peers he so desperately needs. Right now, he is thriving in a public preschool classroom of kids with and without disabilities. He has good behavior modeled to him and is exposed to the same curriculum as the rest of the class. He is not progressing at the speed they are, but he has made – and will continue to make — great advances academically and socially. He needs to be included in our schools.

Trump’s proposal to offer block grants to states for Medicaid also worries me. I fear our state will choose to slash therapy and quality medical services for children like mine. Supplemental health care, respite care, medical equipment and home modifications would simply not be made available. The entitlement programs which were originally designed to help the members of our society who could not care for themselves have been diluted and traded for political favors over the years. Now it’s a mess left for family members to fund and resource alone.

A society will be judged on the basis of how it treats its weakest members.” – Pope John Paul II

This is true for the unborn and the elderly, the refugee and the orphan, and the disabled. The vulnerable among us are experiencing this crisis of our society.

I could become completely consumed by fear and anger over whether or not my child’s life will be valued because of his disabilities… About if and how he will be accepted and included within our community schools. About if or how we could handle the cost of his medical complications.

I don’t have the luxury of letting fear overwhelm me. I only have one voice – the voice that speaks for me and on behalf of my child. That’s why I blog, that’s why I call and email my state reps, and that’s why I will keep advocating for access to my son’s education and many medical therapies.

The outcomes of these issues are out of my control. All I can do is ask you – plead with you – to get to know someone like Brian, someone like my son. I only knew one Brian as a kid. Knowing him forced me to look beyond myself and understand true kindness and determination. Brian made an impact on me. I hope that one day my son will, with great dignity, be welcomed to do the same.

Editor’s note: This story reflects an individual’s experience and is not an endorsement from The Mighty. We believe in sharing a variety of perspectives from our community.

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Betsy DeVos at Senate Confirmation Hearing

Why Parents of Kids With Disabilities Are Concerned About Betsy DeVos

I, like many other parents across the country, was truly disappointed to see Betsy DeVos was confirmed yesterday as Education Secretary. As a special needs parent, it’s disheartening to think someone with a complete lack of knowledge on what rights my child has to a fair and equitable education will be in charge of enforcing those rights.

One of the reasons this is so fresh in my mind and I was interested in the outcome of this confirmation is because we just had an interesting and telling interaction with a community preschool we were considering for my son, Josiah. Although he will automatically qualify to receive preschool services at the local Early Intervention (EI) preschool, which will be a great resource for occupational therapy and some articulation courses, I feel like he would benefit from being in a school environment with his neurotypical peers. And I think his neurotypical peers would benefit too.

We have been on one preschool’s waitlist for a year. This preschool was recommended to us by our EI specialist and has a good proven track record of working with EI to have kids with disabilities in a mainstream preschool setting. We are still number 7 on that list, so we started looking at other options.

One that had been on our minds was a local Christian school that has a preschool starting at age 3 and goes all the way through to the 12th grade. It’s a popular choice among folks that attend our same church, and one of my husband’s colleagues sent their kids there and raved about the academics and the environment.

A few weeks ago, my husband Josh and I went to go take a look at this school and do a little tour. I had already spoken with the admissions representative over the phone and explained we were looking for a community preschool for our son with cerebral palsy. I told her Josiah has some mobility impairments and issues with fine motor skills but that cognitively, he appears to be “age-appropriate.” She said over the phone that as a private school, they are not required to provide any special treatment or services to him, but she said it in such a kind way that the subtext was, “I’m only saying this because I have to.” I stated that I completely understood, and so we set up a meeting and a tour of their campus.

Since we’d already discussed it on the phone, I was a little bit thrown off when she brought it up again in our face-to-face meeting.

“Now, you know that as a private school, we’re not required to provide any services for Josiah,” she said with just the slightest hint of defensive posturing.

“We understand,” Josh and I chimed together. “We realize this is a private school, and we know that’s the deal.”

After our brief meeting with the admissions representative, she took us on a tour of the property. We saw some of the general areas, and Josh was able to access most of them easily. When we reached the preschool building, there was a stair to get in, so I bumped Josh, and we went in to look at the classrooms.

On our way to the classroom, we stopped by the little boys bathrooms, and we observed that the toilets were still pretty high off the ground for preschoolers. One boy went into a stall, and we could see his little feet dangling in the air over the sides of the potty. We pointed this out to the admissions rep and had a brief discussion about toileting. I made a comment that generally it’s better for kids’ feet to be on the floor. I mean, just imagine trying to poop with your legs dangling in the air. No good!

“We could maybe have a step stool in there for him,” she suggested. “You know, we’re still several months out from September. There’s a lot that can change in kids this age between now and then.”

I agreed she was right, a lot can change in a few months.

We continued on to the classroom. One wall was covered in the students’ renditions of Olaf in cotton balls. Another wall had several laminated posters of the seasons, the months of the year and the days of the week. We even saw the same R2D2 backpack Josiah uses hanging on a hook with all the other little backpacks and jackets. It was a typical classroom setting.

I noticed there were a couple small circular desks and surrounding each of these desks were several of your basic plastic stackable chairs for little kids. Some chairs were still fairly high off the ground, and it would probably be tough for Josiah’s feet to touch the floor while sitting in one of them. For fine motor activities, he really does need both feet on the floor. They help to ground his body, which gives his torso the necessary support to do things with his hands that require some concentration. If you ask him to do a craft activity or draw a picture without having a good seating setup, he eventually shifts over to the left side and can lose his balance.

“You know, I’m just looking at the seating set up, and he would definitely need a chair where his feet touch the floor… possibly something with arms on it too,” I noted.

The admissions rep looked at me and said, “Well, you know, we don’t have to provide anything.”

I’m sure the look of shock on my face was obvious. “We would provide a chair for him,” I said with a hint of incredulity. “That would be something we would purchase and give to the classroom for his use!”

She pursed her lips and thought for a second. “I suppose that’s something you could discuss directly with the teacher.”

We finished out the tour and exchanged pleasantries when we left, but the defining moment had come and gone. This was not the right place for our child. If they were going to give pushback on a chair — a chair –– what else would they pushback against?

On the ride home, I couldn’t keep my voice from dripping with disdain for the school. It has a conservative Christian ideology, but when a prospective parent of a child with a disability asks for a chair, they can’t find it in their hearts to make an accommodation?

I fumed. Josh stayed pretty even-keeled.

“If they’re going to act like that about a chair, then we’re going to have bigger problems down the road,” Josh stated matter-of-factly as we drove home.

Josiah isn’t even 3 years old yet, and already, we are having to fight for his education. Yes, this was our interaction with a private school, and no, they don’t legally have to provide anything — equipment, services, etc. — to him so he can receive an education at their school. But this was our very recent experience dealing with a private school, and I fear under DeVos, a disabled child’s right to a fair and equitable education will be compromised.

Josiah’s mobility issues are minor, and his cognitive abilities are on par with his peers. I can’t even imagine what other parents of kids with disabilities deal with when their child’s challenges are more involved.

This Upworthy list is a good place to start when it comes to ways we can support the education system, but I would add one more item:

Find a family with a child who has a disability and ask how you can support them. Attend school board meetings with them, write letters on their behalf, help fundraise for adaptive equipment or just encourage your child to be friends with their child. Let them know you are on their side and will do what you can to ensure their child gets the same opportunities in school as your child.

Thanks in advance for your support.

Editor’s note: This story reflects an individual’s experience and is not an endorsement from The Mighty. We believe in sharing a variety of perspectives from our community.

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Boy wearing hoodie and dinosaur-themed bike helmet

How I Advocate Locally for the Disability Community as a Mom

“Mommy and Daddy asked for a perfect baby boy… And we got you! You are perfect. We love you.”

I tell my son Gabriel this every night. Gabriel is 7 years old, nonverbal with autism, and a perfect little boy. His father Michael and I just want everyone else to see this, too.

Gabriel was diagnosed at around 18 months as on the autistic spectrum due to developmental delays, speech-wise and motor developmental issues, as well as regression. As soon as we discovered this, I immersed myself in literature on the subject, reading about all the activities that could possibly help my son progress and thrive.

One was dance and music. I registered Gabriel for a toddler boys’, non-recital hip hop class. I was so happy until I spoke to the dance school’s director, who promptly informed me that my son was not permitted to attend because 1) parents are not allowed in the classroom and 2) the dance school had no teachers with special needs qualifications. I argued… I was turned down, hurt and saddened by the ignorance. Then I bounced back.

Unfortunately, as I searched for “special needs” or “autism” specific activities in my community, I found none. Zero. Not even anything extracurricular at the schools! So I decided I would be the one to resolve this in my community.

Three opportune chances came into play. The first was I was able to reach the local movie theater’s headquarters and get consent to speak to the local general manager about showing sensory movies. He was warm and willing to try one. Sensory movies don’t have trailers, the sound is lowered and the lights stay on in the theater and are dimmed, Attendees can make noises and stim. They can also bring their own snacks. Now the local theater opens specifically for my sensory showings — another plus! Three years later and I still arrange monthly sensory movies.

The second opportunity was in signing Gabriel up for swimming lessons. I was able to meet my town’s director of recreation. Since I had to request a one-kid-to-one-instructor ratio lesson for my son, as opposed to four-kids-to-one-instructor, I asked the director of recreation and he was extremely willing to listen and make it work. He also established Special Needs Swim during the summer due to the necessity in the community for it. Our town is a peninsula, surrounded on three sides by water.

I am friends to this day with the director of recreation and have been able to create many programs with him. Voluntarily, I run a Special Needs Lego Club (all Lego toys were donated!) and Special Needs Play-Doh Club, as well as Sensory Readings with crafts. Also, together, we formed the first Buddy Baseball league in my town, beginning its third year May 2017. The first year, 2015, the mayor and I threw out the first ball, and my husband caught it!

Lastly, I jumped on the chance to speak with a new, incoming mayor of our town. He granted me his very first constituent meeting. The mayor was extremely open to hearing about the needs of the special needs community. He asked me to establish an online page for information. I requested an all-ability playground for the community. The mayor found a grant, and within a year, the playground was built. He has told me to let him know what the community might need, and he’s come through every time.

Informally, I advocate constantly for my community. I fundraise and have even won bikes and equipment for my son’s school. I have a parent/sibling/child with disabilities group called “Gabriel’s Friends” and include everyone in activities such as bowling, playground get-togethers, holiday celebrations and anything we can all do together.

Gabriel, my son, is still perfect, and now he has many of the opportunities his peers also do. Local businesses are always welcoming. I took an obstacle and made a path straight through it for my son and his friends.

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Betsy DeVos at confirmation hearing for Department of Education Secretary

To Betsy DeVos, From a Special Needs Mom Filled With Hope

Ms. DeVos, I hear you are the subject of a lot of controversy. To see my newsfeed, one would think you have already committed a crime! My homeschooling friends have fears about you might do to their homeschooling freedoms, and my public school friends have fears about what you might do to their funding.

Let me tell you why I’m the one filled with hope.

I am a mom to seven kids. Four of my children came to us having suffered trauma and loss early in life. Either as a result of their difficult beginnings or biology, all four have dyslexia and three have auditory processing disorder. Out of my seven children, two are neurotypical. At the time we made the decision to homeschool, five of my children were on IEPs and four were also in the ESL program at our local public school. This was only after I obtained an advocate, filed complaints with the Department of Justice and Department of Education over the school’s refusal to evaluate my children for services or provide an adequate ESL program. I begged and pleaded with the school district to please evaluate my children for special education and heard every excuse under the sun as to why they didn’t think it was a good idea.

I experienced one heavily educated and profoundly qualified administrator sent from Central Office to an eligibility meeting who told me, “We want to make sure we aren’t violating your son’s civil rights by finding him eligible for special education when he really shouldn’t qualify.” Yes, I had IDEA thrown in my face at my son’s eligibility meeting where my social worker and I sat in dismay as he was found ineligible due to “low cognitive ability.” The school psychologist said, “We want to be careful not to set goals where we expect much progress. Given his ability, it’s not fair to expect him to really progress.” My son has dyslexia, auditory processing disorder, is a non-native English speaker, and experienced trauma early in his life. Yet the people who should have been advocating to help him overcome those struggles decided that he was simply just not capable of progress. Having “borderline cognitive ability” made him ineligible for services due to the lack of discrepancy in his poor academic scores.

This scenario played out over and over with my children. “Borderline cognitive ability” is the keynote to a speech against qualifying for special education. I fought for them to be fairly evaluated a second time and brought lawyers to their next eligibility meetings. The resulting IEPs were literally forged with my dogged determination and tears.

Imagine the feeling, then, of thinking you had finally figured out how to win the game, but suddenly the rules were changed by the other players and they refused to share the playbook. I thought IDEA was the standard by which children with disabilities were identified and helped. Instead my experience was that it has become the screen used to keep qualification for services at a minimum, and the filter for keeping specific programs out of reach for children who need them. I believe a system where adequate progress is determined by those providing the services, not by real life results of those receiving them, is a system set up to fail the very ones it’s meant to help.

I had to watch my kids struggle both before I was able to have them properly evaluated, and then continue to watch in horror while their IEPs were not complied with and needed services were not provided all in the name of “adequate progress.” I was on the phone, email and social media every single day trying to find someone, somewhere who cared enough to help me change the way things were done.

Ultimately there was no one willing to stand with me. Yes, our community could have risen up and demanded better, but that’s the thing about knowing everyone in a small town. People were scared of losing their jobs or their standing in the community for exposing how a school system can use the legal language in IDEA as a screening tool to actually prevent children from receiving services. Yes. You read that right.

As a mother, I had to choose between taking on a corrupted system or focusing my time and energy on my children at home.

It’s been two years since we pulled the kids out, and my only regret about that decision is that I did not do it sooner. It has been a hard pill to swallow accepting that the school received thousands of federal dollars for each of my children identified as having a disability while refusing to provide necessary services under federal law. As a homeschooling parent I receive exactly $0 to help with resources or services for education. We cannot even take off expenses on our taxes.

So you see, Ms. DeVos, I have already lived this nightmare people speak of fearing. My children were denied what they needed, and to this day I am not sure why our community did not rally for us. I can speak from experience that it’s never easy to protest against “the way it’s always been.”

What I can tell you is that the last thing I wanted to see right now was one more overly qualified and richly experienced educator placed in a position to keep things “the way they are.”

You’ve made mistakes, but I hope you have learned greatly from them. I hope you have learned what works and what doesn’t so you can work to ensure a higher quality education for all of our children. Why else would a person want a position such as the one you have just been confirmed for?

Please know that for me, a school choice voucher is what I’ve been praying for. It’s literally the only way we can possibly manage to provide the resources our children need. In my experience, I can educate all of them, at home, for far less than the public school was receiving and do a far better job. I’m not sure if that’s a kudos to me or a sad revelation of our school system. Whichever it is, Ms. DeVos, I want you to know that as a special needs mom, I am sincerely hoping you and the programs you implement are a great success because my children deserved better.

Editor’s note: This story reflects an individual’s experience and is not an endorsement from The Mighty. We believe in sharing a variety of perspectives from our community.

Follow this journey on The Johnson Journals.

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Photo source: C-SPAN video

Jenna being pushed in her wheelchair.

The Assumptions That Make Me Feel 'Other' as a Person With a Disability

I’m still shuddering from a conversation I had this week.

“When people see you, they see your wheelchair and not you as a woman,” an acquaintance, who I’d recently met and who does not have disabilities herself, said to me. “Around you, people must feel awkward, uncomfortable, and will try to give you a wide berth. They will avoid eye contact with you and hurry on by as if you are invisible. Given you communicate with a writing board, they will also assume you are…” her voice trailed off as she twirled her finger beside her head to give the universally disrespectful symbol for someone who has cognitive disabilities or mental health struggles. Her expression conveyed this perception would be most terrible.

While the acquaintance was full of righteous anger on my behalf against the injustices she assumed people must feel and perpetrate towards me, her words hurt. In my immediate family, two people have cognitive disabilities, my beloved grandma has dementia, and others have fought brave battles against mental health conditions. These are the people I most love in this world. I’m still adjusting to what it means to have had my own disabilities become much more visible over the past year, and so her words also left me shaken, doubting myself, and confused about the motives of others.

One of the things I value most in this world is the ability to connect with people and form genuine, warm relationships with those I believe God has brought across my path and into my life. It hurts my heart to think something as superficial as a piece of metal on wheels that carts me around could get in the way of that. Fortunately, as I look back over the past year, I can recall very few incidents of judgment, compared to time after time after time of genuine kindness, acceptance, and love from the people in my life. I have some great people in my life who have shown me acceptance based on who I am.

Strangers sometimes do take a while to figure out how to relate to and communicate with me, but that could be just as much from the fact that I wheel to the beat of my own drummer. More often than not, after a few moments of conversing with someone new, I sense that the foundational blocks of a relationship have begun construction, in much the way it was in the days before my disabilities were visible and easily apparent.

While I am grateful that my own experiences have largely been positive and contrary to my acquaintance’s negative assumptions, it was an eye-opener for me.  In rapid succession, I then stumbled across two statements this week that further opened my eyes and showed me how education is still needed. The first was by a well-known contemplative author whose work I have previously enjoyed:

“People with disabilities “are considered marginal in our society. They don’t make money; they are not productive and all of that, but they are the real poor. Jesus said, ‘Blessed are the poor.’ Jesus doesn’t say, ‘Blessed are those who care for the poor.’ Jesus doesn’t say, ‘Blessed are those who help the poor.’ He says, ‘Blessed are the poor.’ That means the blessing of God is right there in their vulnerability, in their weakness, and that is what I experience.”- Henri Nouwen

When we group society into one collective thought group that considers people with disabilities as marginal, we close the door to free thought as well as grace-filled acceptance of people despite any abilities or disabilities, weaknesses or strengths they may have to offer as a person. We begin to think in the opposite manner from everyone belonging and having something to offer (beyond offering a “blessing” to others).

This quote makes stigmatizing assumptions that a person with a disability is “less than” anyone else and has less to contribute. I don’t know anyone who wants to be seen as marginal or “the poor.” Further, to state that people with disabilities do not make money or can’t be otherwise “productive” is certainly not the case for all people who have disabilities. There are plenty of people who contribute highly in life, regardless of their disability. Many people are not poor financially, nor lacking in social connections. This is the expectation I have for both of my kids, who have plenty of abilities to contribute to society as a whole. Likewise, many people with and without disabilities are not able to work or earn money.

However, I’ve never met a person, disabled or otherwise, who didn’t contribute in some way to the world around them. I used to work in group homes and schools with individuals with extremely complex physical and cognitive disabilities, and some of these people contributed to my life in such meaningful ways that I still think of them with regularity many years later.

From the bonds we form with each other, to the love in our hearts, to the fact that as living and breathing humans we reflect a sacred image through our very humanity; we all have a place in the world. In terms of blessings… I do hope God’s blessing is on me, but I want it not to be assumed automatically just because I have disabilities. I’d prefer someone dislike me for my stubbornness or the paralyzing shyness that can strike at the most inopportune of times, than like me because my wheelchair is seen as a marginalized weakness that brings blessings.

The second quote, by Michael W. Higgins, does the opposite of “marginalizing.”

“The people who are disabled are our reward.  And they remind us of the deeper truths, the truths that sustain us as a culture, humanize and enoble us…..Those who are intellectually and physically challenged have no time for illusions; they force us to confront the reality, not the false dreamscape of humanness.  They are the true sentinels of our larger hope…

There is something very particular in their kindness, in their afflictions… a great and liberating mystery to touch the bodies of of those who couldn’t communicate verbally.  In fact it was unnecessary to do so; their bodies proclaimed ‘love me.’  Such a communication arose naturally from their very depths of who they are — they are their bodies, broken, ruptured, fragile, incomplete. But theirs are wrapped in love… The tenderness of the disabled heals us, breaks us free…”

On the surface, this may sound like kindness. But delve into the meaning and it becomes clear that to view a person as a reward to “us” because of “their” innate humanity or kindness in “affliction” is to create an “us versus other” world. To see a person as a sentinels of “our larger hope” solely because they have a disability is to patronizingly give that person a wide berth that prevents seeing him or her as a human being. It takes courage sometimes to reach out to each other, despite any differences we have.

My own experience being in a wheelchair has opened my eyes to the fact that it is not our differences that separate one from another, but our fear of those differences. However, when we look into our hearts, we discover we’re all not so different after all. I believe inside of every heart is a desire to be seen as we are, to be accepted for who we are, to know we matter, and to be deeply loved.

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Why Did So Many 2017 Super Bowl 'Diversity' Ads Exclude People With Disabilities?

While many commercials during the 2017 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” featuring 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.

According to GLAAD, fewer than two percent of scripted television characters (15) have disabilities.

When we tweeted @CocaCola about their ad asking where were the people with disabilities, the account responded: “While we cannot meaningfully represent every group in 1 minute, we value everyone and everything they bring to our country.”

“Large companies like Coca-Cola, Airbnb and Google Home have the opportunity to challenge this and ensure their television advertisements include people with disabilities,” RespectAbility President Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi said. “How great would it be if the next time these companies created a commercial if they made it a priority to ensure that the diversity of the roles, including people with disabilities, reflected society at large?”

But two other companies succeeded in disability inclusion. In an ad that poked fun at President Trump’s hair, It’s a 10 Hair Care’s commercial featured a wide variety of individuals, including a man in a wheelchair – bodybuilder, model, dancer and entrepreneur Adelfo Cerame Jr.

Cerame, a T-12 paraplegic following a car accident, is a competitive wheelchair bodybuilder. He also has some awesome hair, which seemed perfect for the ad.

Another ad by the American Petroleum Institute, which many deemed controversial, featured uses for petroleum other than gas – like paint, heart valves and lipstick. The ad also included Angel Giuffria shooting a bow and arrow with her prosthetic arm and hand.

Giuffria, who acted in the “Hunger Games” series, first thought her bionic arm could be a hindrance to her goal of being an actress, but since getting an advanced prosthetic arm, she has learned to embrace it.

“When it comes to Hollywood and big budget movies, they have a specific vision in their heads,” she said in a June 2015 interview. “So at first I always thought it was a hindrance, but since I got this arm I kind of decided that I was going to embrace it. The other hand I had before this it was not as much fun to wear, and this one is fun to wear. I’ve actually gotten great responses, and because of that I booked “The Accountant” and I’ve been contacted to audition for several other things. I just feel like my arm is actually opening doors where I was concerned were closed to me before.”

The 2015 Super Bowl was an awesome year for television ads including disability, thanks to remarkable personal statements in television ads by football legends Derrick Coleman and Steve Gleason.

Coleman, who is deaf, told his story in first-person for Duracell, while Gleason was featured in an ad for Microsoft. These ads show that wherever there is a disability, there also is ability. Coleman and Gleason, both in real life and their ads, showed that their disability is not a disqualifer for equal and successful participation in life.

What people see and hear impacts what they think and feel – and what they think and feel has life and death consequences. People with disabilities lack access to healthcare, education and employment opportunities. Medical professionals withhold treatments due to valuing people with disabilities less than those without disabilities. This ranges from OB/GYNs recommending abortions for fetuses with non-fatal prenatally diagnosed conditions to orthodontists not placing braces because of prejudice.

A major Princeton study showed that people with disabilities are seen as warm, not competent. Similarly, a Cornell Hospitality Quarterly study revealed companies are concerned that people with disabilities could not do the required work. Thus, employers who are largely impacted by what they see out of Hollywood do not want to give people with disabilities a chance.

“An increase in positive, diverse and accurate portrayals of people with disabilities on television and film can significantly help end stigmas that limit their health and lives,” Mizrahi added. “Changing hearts, minds and behaviors takes great messages, delivery systems and message repetition. Diversity and inclusion processes also are needed inside companies so that diversity and accurate portrayals become natural and consistent.”

Learn more at RespectAbility.

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