Congressman to Discuss Disability Employment on Emmy-Winning TV Show


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

Rep. Brad Sherman, the 10-term Congressman, is known as a serious legislator. So what is he doing in a reality show made by the same company that created “Keeping up with the Kardashians,” “Rob & Chyna” and “Total Divas?”

The reason is simple: he co-hosted a major event in his district with Emmy-winning reality-TV innovator Jonathan Murray (executive producer of the shows listed above, in addition to “Real World,” “Born This Way,” “Autism the Musical” and others) and former President George W. Bush appointee on disability issues, Steve Tingus.

The event, entitled “Ending Stigmas & Bigotry: Expanding Employment for People with Disabilities,” was presented by Sherman working in partnership with RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities for people with disabilities. Both Murray and Tingus are on the board of RespectAbility, whose president, Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, and communications director Lauren Appelbaum (author of this article), also are featured in the episode.

Participants in the event included stars from the cast of Emmy-winning reality show “Born This Way,” which features seven diverse young adults with Down syndrome, as well as other individuals with autism, multiple sclerosis, spina bifida, physical disabilities, amputations and non-visible disabilities. Local experts including Cathy GottElaine HallSandra McElwee and others also participated. Together, participants brainstormed new ideas to move the needle forward on the employment of people with disabilities in a shared agenda. The congressman facilitated these discussions.

“Today in California, 115,600 youths with disabilities, between the ages of 16 and 20, are preparing to enter the labor market,” Sherman said. “They have high expectations and deserve the opportunity to achieve the American Dream. Young people with disabilities may simply need some thoughtful help to transition into the workforce. People who are blind, deaf or nonverbal frequently use assistive technology. Similarly, people with developmental disabilities can benefit greatly from internship opportunities and job coaches. Comcast, Ernst & Young LLC, Lockheed Martin, Sprint and other companies have seen that people with disabilities can be extremely capable and loyal workers.”

“Born This Way” is a breakthrough show on diversity and changing the disability lens from a “hand out” to a “hand up.”

Megan Bomgaars runs her own successful company, Megology, and Sean McElwee just started his own company as well called Seanese. John Tucker is a rapper, and his YouTube video has been watched more than 150,000 times. All of the stars have Down syndrome. When the show was recognized with an Emmy for outstanding unstructured reality program, three of its stars became the first people of color with disabilities to win an Emmy.

Steven Clark says that having a successful career is key to becoming independent for himself.

“I get to have more freedom,” Clark said. “I get to be more adult-oriented. I can finally relate to everyone else in the world who gets up early in the morning for a job.”

Promoting success stories of people with disabilities in shows like “Speechless” and “Born This Way” helps to change negative perceptions of people with disabilities.

“Each year 300,000 young people with disabilities reach the age to enter the workforce,” Mizrahi said. “However, despite polls showing that most of these young people want to work, they often hit a roadblock because of negative stigmas. So it is wonderful that viewers of ‘Born This Way’ will see young adults collaborating with a member of Congress to expand opportunities for employment and starting their own businesses.”

The episode will air on Tuesday, June 6 at 10 PM ET on A&E Network.

Key Facts:

  • Only one-in-three working-age people with disabilities have a job and people with disabilities are the poorest of the poor.
  • Some of the most talented people – from scientist Stephen Hawking to finance wizard Arthur Young – are, or were, people with disabilities. Hawking uses an electronic mobility device. Young, the co-founder of Ernst and Young (EY) was deaf and was a wiz at both math and finance. Today EY employs more than 150,000 people globally, and is known to be a leading expert in engaging talent with disabilities.
  • The Israeli military recruits people with autism for their elite unit 9900 because they find them exceptionally good at computer and pattern recognition skills.
  • Today Comcast has a service where you can talk to your TV remote control to find the shows and channels you want to watch. It was invented by Tom Wlodkowski, Comcast’s vice president of accessibility, an engineer who is blind.
  • In recent years Apple, Microsoft, Google and others have created breakthroughs in technology that use innovations to enable people with a wide range of disabilities to succeed in school and the workplace. This includes the fact that computers can now read out loud to people who are blind and YouTube can automatically add captions to videos for free so that people who are hearing-impaired can follow them.
  • Studies show that most people with disabilities want to work.  The Harvard Business Review, Fast Company, Wired and other publications have extolled the “disability-advantage” to companies that hire talent that includes people with disabilities.
  • People with disabilities are the largest minority in America, with almost one-in-five Americans having a disability. However, according to GLAAD, fewer than two percent of scripted television characters (15) have disabilities in 2016. The stars of “Born This Way” are the first-ever people with disabilities of color to ever be recognized with an Emmy.

Learn more at RespectAbility.


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