'Born This Way' Features Healthcare Choices and Self-Determination for People With Disabilities


Watch #BornThisWay on A&E, Tuesday, May 23 at 10/9c.

Join RespectAbility for a live Twitter chat during the east coast broadcast using #BornThisWay and #BTWchat.

Lauren Appelbaum is the communications director of RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities for people with disabilities.

Fully one-in-five Americans has a disability, and in many cases, their rights and lives are needlessly put at risk. While some healthcare choices are easy to understand, others are highly complex. For the first time on reality television, the issue of how adults with intellectual, mental health or other disabilities make competent decisions that can literally be life changing, or life enabling, is being addressed.

“Born This Way,” which recently won an Emmy for being the best reality show on TV today, is not an ordinary reality show. It stars seven diverse young adults with Down syndrome as they deal with issues around employment, independent living, education and romance.

This Tuesday night, A&E’s “Born This Way” will cover the potentially life-saving issue of supported decision-making for medical care. Supported decision-making is an emerging strategy to enable individuals with developmental and other disabilities to make their own choices. This is especially helpful in the health care setting where every person utilizes the expertise of his or her provider and other resources to make difficult health-related decisions.

“RespectAbility applauds ‘Born This Way’ for its informed and sensitive coverage of how adults with disabilities can safely and successfully interact with the healthcare system,” said Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, president of RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization that fights stigmas and advances opportunities for people with disabilities. “It’s not every day that reality shows can save lives – but this episode absolutely can do that. It also demonstrates that every human being has the right to be treated with dignity.”

The issue is highlighted in the show (spoiler alert!) when Sean McElwee goes into the hospital for surgery.

“One of my most important jobs as being Sean’s mom is to help him weigh the choices that he has in gaining healthcare,” said Sandra McElwee, Sean’s mother and author of three books on inclusion.

When asked to comment, Sean said, “I had a good experience.” In addition to being a cast member on Born This Way, Sean started a new business selling t-shirts, mugs, hats and bags with his comedic comments on them. Less than five years ago, Sean’s speech was difficult to understand, and today he celebrates his speech by immortalizing it on swag.

“Frequently our current healthcare system provides inadequate consideration for the needs of adults with developmental disabilities,” Mizrahi added. “But ‘Born This Way’ models how every adult with a developmental disability can have access to appropriate healthcare options.”

To learn more about supported decision-making, check out this wonderful kit on Supportive Decision Making, which covers healthcare issues and a whole lot more, from the ACLU: How to Make a Supported Decision-Making Agreement. Also, view this 10-minute video from the Special Hope Foundation to learn more about Supported Decision-Making: Supported Decision-Making: Gabby’s Story.

Learn more at RespectAbility.

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