Red carpet for Academy Awards.

Zero Nominees for Academy Awards Have a Known Disability

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As Hollywood celebrates Oscars weekend, a glaring omission of nominees is evident. No known actor or other individual 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 United States.

Hollywood has to catch up with its audience. 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.

The only nomination featuring someone with an actual disability is “Life, Animated,” which 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.

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

Of the nine films nominated for Best Picture, four have themes or sub-plots related to disability. However, none of those roles are played by an actor with a known disability. “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 with 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 an actor mimics someone from any minority group, whether it be racial or disability, he takes a job from an actor who genuinely has that characteristic and perpetuates that group’s under-representation in the industry.

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.

One film that exemplified the positive portrayal of disability this year is “Finding Dory,” yet it was not nominated for an Oscar. It was the number one film at the domestic box office last year. Financial successes like this film show that positive portrayal of disability is a winning theme. In “Finding Dory,” disability is not something Dory needs to overcome, but something she needs to learn to accept and work with to accomplish things “in her own Dory way.”

Including Disability in Diversity

“Fences,” as well as “Moonlight” and “Hidden Figures” are all films nominated for best picture that have been noted to be racially diverse. In addition, six black actors have received a nomination, which is a record high.

“The studios and major film distributors really gave it to us this year,” said Gil Robertson, the African American Film Critics Association’s co-founder and president. “By any measurement, it’s been an exceptional year for blacks in film. From comedies to high-quality dramas and documentaries, 2016 will forever represent a bonanza year for black cinema, and all cinema really.”

In a statement, Robertson also spoke of the importance of other minority communities, listing out the “Asian, Hispanic, Native American and LGBT communities,” but he failed to include the disability community – a common occurrence even among the best-intentioned.

People with disabilities are the largest minority in America, with almost one-in-five Americans having a disability. Yet the disability community often is forgotten in diversity conversations. According to GLAAD, fewer than 2 percent of scripted television characters (15) have disabilities. In addition to the lack of representation in general, what does exist is misleading. Almost all portrayals of people with disabilities in media are white, despite the fact that disability impacts all ethnicities.

According to a recent report by The Media, Diversity, & Social Change (MDSC) Initiative at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, only 2.4 percent of all speaking or named characters in film were shown to have a disability in 2015 and none of the leading character were from underrepresented racial or ethnic groups. “Depictions of disability are not only marginalized,” the report says, “they also obscure the true diversity of this community.”

It is important to note that anyone can join the disability community at any point in time and that people with disabilities come from all communities – including the African American, Asian, Hispanic, Native American and LGBTQ communities.

Importance of Inclusion

Culture plays a critical role in American society. It contributes to the values and ideals that define us, and what we desire to share with our families, friends, coworkers and children.

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.

Sadly, for generations, television and movies have shown people with disabilities as objects of pity. From the Jerry Lewis telethons to stories where school teams become heroes simply by letting one kid with a disability play for a few minutes out on the court or field, society’s television sets and movie screens have brought the American public stigmas that undermine people who have a disability.

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 affected 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 in television and film can significantly help to end stigmas that limit their health and lives. Award-winning actors, producers and directors can use their immense talents to fight stigmas and advance opportunities for the 22 million working-age Americans with disabilities, only one-in-three of whom has a job today.

RespectAbility wants to see many more great shows come out of Hollywood – like A&E’s Emmy-winning and stigma-busting docu-series “Born This Way,” starring diverse young adults with Down syndrome who achieve in education, employment and good health. There should be more role models like those seen in “Speechless,” “Switched At Birth” and “Finding Dory.”

In addition to television shows and movies highlighting disability, RespectAbility calls on Hollywood to include people with disabilities in all television shows and movies. People with disabilities should be seen for the abilities and contributions they can make. For example, in scenes where people are working as doctors, lawyers, teachers, etc., the actor could just happen to have a disability – without the focus being on the disability. In this way, more successful role models of people with disabilities will be available.

There is good work being done by SAG-AFTRAGLAAD, the Media Access Awards, and other key leaders from the television, film and disability community. However, much more must be done to tear down stigmas that undermine people with disabilities’ opportunities to receive the education, training and employment opportunities needed to succeed, just like anyone else.

This can start with more people with disabilities being visible in front of – and behind – the camera. Changing hearts, minds and behaviors takes great messages, delivery systems and message repetition. Diversity and inclusion processes are also needed inside networks and studios so diversity and accurate portrayals become natural and consistent.

Learn more at RespectAbility.

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Why We Need More Doctors With Disabilities

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Modern day father of neurosurgery Harvey Cushing said “I would like to see the day when somebody would be appointed surgeon somewhere who had no hands, for the operative part is the least part of the work.”

I would also like to see the truth of Dr. Cushing’s words come to pass. Dr. Cushing is saying that as long as a doctor can properly synthesize information, come up with a strong diagnosis and treatment plan for the patient, that’s all that matters. Throughout today’s world, many are stigmatized by what society thinks an ideal doctor should be like — the perfect student with good legs and arms. But what about true empathy, compassion and wisdom, which are essential doctor traits? Where do those originate from? I believe they come from our biggest vulnerabilities and weaknesses.

To integrate more doctors with disabilities, our ideals and views need to change. There are many ways to perform clinical tasks as a doctor with a disability, and perhaps not just the traditional way – there also are safe personal aids that help to us do the clinical tasks just as well as any other doctor. Medical schools and hospitals should do their best to accommodate the needs of professionals with disabilities. Being flexible in accommodating for medical students and doctors with disabilities is not about special treatment. It is about equalizing the field of employment and ensuring every person gets a fair go. It is also about ensuring the physician is practicing clinical procedures safely with the necessary support and interventions.

Imagine having a doctor who truly understands what you are going through, who knows all the ups and downs and challenges and could reassure you everything is going to be OK. Who truly cared about your goals and aspirations, and would walk with you through all the physical and emotional problems you are facing with fierce resilience in their heart and mind. What if employing a doctor with a disability could do so much more than bring intellect and knowledge? What if it could cure the limited and negative mindsets some people often have of people with disabilities, and open our mind to the infinite possibilities? What if it could teach other doctors to truly accept their patients’ differences and see the abilities and skills they all have to offer?

As an aspiring doctor myself with a physical disability, I would like to see more national advocacy for greater acceptance of medical students and doctors with disabilities. I believe we need to be more tolerant, nondiscriminatory and welcoming to this idea and integrate professional services and resources to ensure a healthy work environment for physicians with disabilities.

The current medical education system has many flaws which need to be addressed systematically to accommodate people with disabilities. Their inclusion would only be an asset to the medical world.

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Why I'm Grateful Cory Booker Spoke Up About IDEA in His Speech

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It’s promising to know there are members of Congress who care about children with disabilities. With the current cabinet pick, it is reassuring that some individuals are still fighting for the rights of those marginalized in society. I was especially grateful for Cory Booker’s speech, the senator from my home state of New Jersey. He urged members of Congress to vote against DeVos. Although Democrats did not get the outcome they desired, his speech still has a lot of merit.

Cory Booker spoke about how the federal government’s Office of Civil Rights helps parents who need to hold school districts accountable to follow the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). He told the story about a child with a disability who was restrained and held face-down for too long. The parents filed a complaint with the federal government to get justice for their son.

As Senator Booker spoke, I cried tears of joy and sorrow. I cried for joy that someone cared enough about our children with disabilities to fight for them. Sorrowful tears because these atrocities even occur.

Throughout my career as an educator, I have witnessed how children with disabilities can be greatly misunderstood. Some school employees without adequate training or knowledge of autism spectrum disorders take meltdowns personally and feel the child is misbehaving. Once, I saw a boy with autism be harshly reprimanded by the principal of his school because he had a meltdown about going in a certain room. He was told he would have to stand all day if he didn’t go into the library, a place that for some reason was traumatic for him. This same child was made to stay in the room that was traumatic for additional time. He was told the longer he screamed, the longer he was going to have to stay there. My heart truly broke for this child who was so greatly misunderstood.

So, as Senator Booker spoke, I wept for this child and for all children who are treated unfairly. My family has been extremely fortunate to be around educators and administrators who are patient with my son who has autism. He has not had to endure being held down or yelled at during a meltdown. However, this does happen, and there needs to be a law in place to prevent it. My hope is the current administration and Secretary of Education — with the help of Congress — continue to improve the lives of children and all individuals with disabilities.

There are many children that spend their day frustrated and feeling unheard. Thank goodness there are individuals out there who are willing to stand up for them.

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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What I Wish I’d Known the Day Dream and Disability Collided

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February 6, 2015 was the day my dream career and lifelong, but recently diagnosed disability collided. Extremely long and incredibly painful story short, in the months that followed, my life collapsed. Combine that with existing anxiety and depression, and I fell apart. Here’s what I wish someone had told me that day.

1. You are not alone. Everyone tells you to “find your passion and follow your dreams.” No one tells you what to do when they get ripped away from you due to a disability. If you believe commonly quoted phrases like “nothing’s impossible,” this isn’t even supposed to happen. But it does, and no one talks about it. You aren’t the only one to have this happen; it only feels that way.

2. It’s not your fault. I was convinced that I had done something wrong and this was my punishment. No matter how many times I was told it wasn’t, I couldn’t believe that. Your disability is not your fault; the loss of the life you imagined isn’t, either.

3. Prepare for an emotional roller coaster. You are about to experience every intensity level of every emotion imaginable. This is where I realized that society’s philosophy of “choosing happiness” didn’t work for me. I eventually came to the conclusion that peace is a process. Your choice isn’t whether or what you feel, but whether or not you work through it.

4. You may question everything, from your worth and abilities, to what you believe and how the world works, the list of questions bombarding your mind is probably endless. Unfortunately, you may never get answers. Even if you did, they probably wouldn’t satisfy you.

5. Health and coping are key. You may be tempted to drown your sorrows and quiet your constantly spiraling thoughts in substances, junk food, endless hours of mindless TV, or 24/7 use of the internet. Try to maintain as normal and healthy a life and routine as possible. It’s perfectly OK to indulge and find comfort, but letting healthy habits slip too much will make it harder to recover. Find a healthy coping mechanism early, and rely on it often.

6. Appropriate support is essential. When friends and loved ones rally around you, lean on them, but maintain appropriate expectations. There’s no shame in seeking professional help. As much as others can offer support, your well-being is ultimately your responsibility. Also, remember to appreciate and treat your support system with respect. You’re going through hell, but that doesn’t give you the right to mistreat those who choose to go through it with you.

7. There is no timeline. Most people mean well, but they can be less than helpful at times. Whether it’s expectations to get a job immediately, advice to “just get over it,” pressure to hang out all the time to distract you, clichés meant to help you “look on the bright side,” or well-intentioned reminders of how hard what you lost was, their pressure on top of everything else you’re dealing with can be overwhelming. This is your journey, no one else’s. As long as you’re moving forward, you’re doing just fine.

8. Avoid major decisions. When you feel like your life is falling apart, it’s easy to frantically think through every available option for putting it back together. The problem is that desperate decisions often lead to regrets. If a decision or action is unavoidable, consult with those who have your best interests at heart. Otherwise, let the dust settle before taking any major steps.

9. Approach social media with caution. Posting to social media when you’re upset can be a bad idea. You may also find your pages filled with reminders of life before your condition, so it suddenly feel like a constant slap in the face. There might also be questions or criticism from those who don’t know the whole story. Remember, you always have the option to take a break, and you don’t owe anyone an explanation.

10. Don’t burn bridges. If I’ve learned anything from this, it’s that life can be completely unpredictable. Don’t ruin your own, or someone else’s reputation on impulse. Your worst enemy today may be the best person to help you in 10 years. Maintain appropriate contact with your professional and/or academic connections. You never know what’s coming in the future.

11. You will move forward. I know you may not believe me and this feels like the end of the world, but I promise it’s not. You may be a different person after this, and your life won’t look like what you expected, but you will find a way forward.

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Why Love Will Always Win in Our Relationship as a Couple With Disabilities

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Life with disabilities is challenging; adding an intimate relationship can multiply the challenges. Both partners having disabilities would then seem to make a relationship almost impossible — but actually, with both of us disabled, we each can deal with our disabilities better than if we were not together.

Both of us had prior partners who were not sympathetic, who were even disbelieving of the symptoms and issues that preceded actual and complete disability. We were existing: holding down jobs for the necessity of living expenses, having to take days off for those times when the symptoms were more than we could bear. We forced our bodies through the daily motions of life. Without accommodating the symptoms and the signs, with poor sleep due to pain and stress, we were both getting sicker.

We were both working when we met. We kept wishing we had more time than just a few hours each evening and the weekends to be together. Be careful what you wish for. It may happen. It certainly did for us.

I was the first to be ill enough that I went out of work on short-term disability, and then on long-term. I have fibromyalgia and degenerative osteoarthritis in my spine, along with a few other issues that aren’t major problems on their own, but add up to just another reason I can’t work. My single worst symptom is chronic, intractable pain. If I am not medicated, my pain levels hit about 8-9 on the 1-10 scale. Not only couldn’t I work, but with that much pain going on, just living life was a challenge.

Being our sole source of income, he felt the pressure to work harder. He used to work for a cable company as tech support for the customers. He could handle that – what he couldn’t handle and what ended up breaking him was his supervisor. She created a very hostile working environment with the stated goal of dismantling his team.

For three years, he had worked under that threat. One morning he started to reach for his keys and had a panic attack. We were able to get an emergency appointment with our doctor, who told him that he had used up his lifetime supply of being able to handle stress. He ended up voluntarily checking into a mental health facility for a week.

When he came home, he had updated diagnoses. He went from being bipolar type II to bipolar type I. The doctors had also added further diagnoses: borderline personality disorder and stress anxiety disorder. Between mental health issues and the physical issues already present, not only was he unable to return to his job, he was no longer able to do any job.

So there we were, with endless amounts of time together. Now on a very limited budget, we spent almost all of our time at home, each of us on a computer. We were able to have conversations as long as we wanted to talk. We watched movies together. At one point, I was not medicated for pain. I don’t remember much of about a six month period. I do know he looked out for me, made sure I ate and made sure I was comfortable as possible. When he had his bad spells, I would take care of him.

One day he said to me, “We are essentially retired. We can live anywhere we want to. Where shall we go?” We did our research and removed those portions of the country that were not suitable either in climate or in cost of living. (Part of the reason we were moving was because the cost of living in northern VA is very high and access to organic foods very limited.) We chose Eureka, CA and he set the date we would go: November 1, 2013.

The last six months before the move were busy. I gave away things; I donated stuff to the local thrift stores; I gave heirloom items to my children. We were taking nothing with us but four suitcases and two carry-on bags, flying first class across the country — which I highly recommend! We had packed a few boxes (mostly kitchen stuff) that his parents sent later on, once we were settled.

It was hard to leave behind family and friends, but the advantages – lower cost of living, organic foods, better climate — were too great to not go. And in the three and a half years we’ve been here, we have never regretted the decision. We’ve been married for six and a half years and have had more stuff happen to us in that time than many people see in a lifetime. We’ve had our differences, even unhappy words occasionally, but most days, we are in sync and happy. We both acknowledge that if it weren’t for the other, we might not be alive today because doing this alone would have been too much. That’s not going to happen now, because neither of us will leave the other.

Would life have been easier without the disabilities? Of course. Would our marriage be as rock-steady and lasting as it is? Maybe. Who knows? If your relationship has never been tested, you don’t know what will happen between you in a rough time, in adversity. We’ve been tested, that’s for sure. Loss of income, loss of health, loss of social contact (due to that lack of health).

Even as much as we love living in Eureka, there is still the loss of physical contact with our families. I have four grandchildren and I’ve never seen and held the youngest. We live across the country from all family: my kids, his parents and sister, my brother, my parents. No one is close enough to just pop in for an hour. So when we got here, we had each other as a familiar face. We’ve made friends, but it’s not quite the same as someone who shares your DNA.

The road has been really rough. We’ve each had a lot of problems. But that has only made our relationship stronger. We are so in tune with each other that we can tell without being told when the other is feeling bad, or didn’t get enough sleep. We share the chores and what doesn’t get done, just doesn’t get done – until someone is feeling up to dealing with it. We both cook, so there’s always a hot meal if we want it. We both have someone who can check our skin in places we can’t reach/see to make sure we’re not getting pressure sores; who can remind us of our various appointments; who can give a hug and a kiss just because.

I cannot imagine going through the reality of my life and actually being able to deal with it appropriately if I didn’t have him – and I know he feels the same way about me. Our relationship has been tested by fire, so to speak, and we are still here, we are still together and we will not willingly leave each other. I don’t see that changing any time at all, let alone soon. Does it sometimes require effort to maintain the intimacy, the kindness, the love, when we’re feeling particularly bad? A bit, but the rewards are so much greater that the effort is gladly made, without any ponderous thoughts about doing it.

I love him. He loves me. Nothing else really matters, because Love will always win.

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Ryanair Flight Takes Off Leaving Passenger in Wheelchair at the Gate

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On Friday, a Ryanair flight departing from Dublin, Ireland headed for London, England left Niamh Herbert, 20, a passenger who was supposed to be on the flight and who uses a wheelchair, behind at the gate.

“I was shocked,” Herbert, who, along with her brother, lives with Friedreich’s Ataxia, told The Mighty. “We’ve always travelled with difficulty, but it has never been this extreme. I didn’t think anything like that would happen in this day and age.”

According to Herbert, Ryanair had her board last, asking her if she could get out of her wheelchair and walk up the stairs to the plane for “easiness’ sake.” “It was then, Herbert says, the captain called the boarding desk and said, while he understood the situation, the plane would take off without her,” The Guardian reported. Herbert told her friends to board without her, that she would get a flight later, and was left behind at the gate.

A Ryanair spokesperson told The Guardian:

While we regret any inconvenience, this customer arrived at the boarding gate 13 minutes before the flight was due to depart and had not booked any wheelchair services. Our crew provided full assistance and as a gesture of goodwill, transferred this customer on to the next available flight, free of charge, and the customer flew to London Stansted. Had this customer booked wheelchair assistance and arrived at the boarding gate on time, there would have been no issue. Every effort was made to accommodate this customer on to their flight and they were then transferred to the next available flight.

Herbert disagrees with Ryanair and said she did book wheelchair assistance with her flight, noting that her original flight was supposed to be on Thursday and that when she switched her flight to Friday, she assumed the wheelchair services would be switched over as well.

Herbert said she has not heard from Ryanair since her flight, and, based on her experience, doesn’t expect to. “Ryanair, specifically, need to change their policy on boarding wheelchair users last,” she said. “They’re the only airline I’ve flown with who do this. Consideration isn’t much to ask for.”

Update: Ryanair told The Mighty in a statement: 

A name change was made online at 2.39am (16 Feb) and no wheelchair assistance (which is provided at Dublin Airport by OCS) was booked. The only reason this customer did not board their original flight was because they arrived at the gate late and had not booked wheelchair assistance. Had they arrived at the gate on time and booked assistance, they would have travelled without issue, as they did when returning from London Stansted.

WATCH BELOW: World’s First Fully Accessible Water Park to Open in 2017 

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