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Californians With Disabilities Respond to Being Left Out of New Employment Law

As a new California law again leaves out people with disabilities, a new PSA featuring Californians with disabilities shows the value of inclusion.

On September 30, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law a first-in-the-country mandate that will require boards of publicly traded companies headquartered in California to have at least one director of diverse background by 2021. The bill identifies race, ethnicity, and 11 other categories of diversity, but does not include disability.

‚ÄúWhile we in the disability community applaud every facet of diversity, we believe that disability is a critical ‚Äėunderrepresented community’ missed by the law,‚ÄĚ said Matan Koch, the California Director of the disability nonprofit RespectAbility. ‚ÄúMoreover,¬†we¬†are concerned that companies will potentially opt for¬†tokenism¬†instead of¬†building¬†truly inclusive organizations that value all aspects of intersectional identity equally.¬†Successful diversity and inclusion work is not a ‚Äėone and done’ hire or appointment. It requires a hard look at the sins of the past, while committing to the culture and systems change that create¬†a better future for all of us. Indeed, communities, companies and nonprofit organizations are at their best when they welcome, respect and include people of all backgrounds. This includes people of all races, ethnicities, sexual orientations and identities as well as people with disabilities, who might also have any of these other identities as well.‚ÄĚ

Individuals with disabilities might be the most economically vulnerable population, yet they have little to no visibility in corporate or nonprofit boardrooms. This population brings unique experiences and deep talents to decision-making tables. Because people with disabilities always have to find workarounds, they become natural innovators. Thomas Edison had learning disabilities, Harriet Tubman had epilepsy, Stephen Hawking used a wheelchair and EY co-founder Arthur Young was deaf. Today JPMorgan Chase, Coca-Cola, Walgreens, EY, Bank of America, The Walt Disney Company and others realize that hiring people with disabilities leads to a better bottom line.

That is why it is so disappointing that people with disabilities were omitted from the new law’s list of underrepresented communities. It’s critical that we address this erasure, which has happened before here in California. In 2018, Hollywood was offered¬†tax credits¬†for including underrepresented minorities, and people with disabilities were left out then as well.

PSA Features a Diverse Group of People With Disabilities

Therefore, this new PSA aims to ensure employers are inclusive of people with disabilities. Representing a diverse group of people with disabilities, the PSA’s stars speak directly to the camera in their own words. There was no script for the ads, only honest conversations with members of various disability communities. They represent the 61 million people in America who live with some sort of disability and exemplify why employers would benefit from including people with disabilities on their staff.

In a 2019¬†study¬†of foundations and nonprofits, RespectAbility found that only 29 percent of California’s social sector have people with disabilities on their boards and staff. This is despite the fact that California nonprofits and foundations vocally trumpet their commitment to equity and inclusion, and that more than 10 percent of the total state population, or 4.1 million people, are people with disabilities.

This lack of representation has real consequences. In 2018 only¬†37 percent of California’s 1.9 million working-age people with disabilities had a job ‚Ästand that was pre-pandemic.¬†As a group, people with disabilities have faced greater losses of employment and health changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic, an effect compounded by multiple minority status. For individuals who have a disability and are a member of an underrepresented race or ethnicity, job loss was more than 40 percent in May, as compared to less than 20 percent of people who are white and nondisabled. October is the 75th¬†National Disability Employment Awareness Month, and the perfect time to address this.

‚ÄúWe applaud California for understanding the importance of representation in fighting discrimination, but we urge all policymakers to include disability representation in that understanding,‚ÄĚ said Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, the president of RespectAbility. ‚ÄúAfter all, problems are best solved by working with people who have experienced them firsthand and know solutions that work. Just like issues that impact people of different racial, ethnic or other backgrounds, people with disabilities should be involved in solving issues that impact them.‚ÄĚ

Team of People With Disabilities and Their Allies Created PSA

RespectAbility, the creator of the PSA, is an education and advocacy nonprofit fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities so people with disabilities can fully participate in all aspects of the community. In 2018, the organization released a series of PSAs focused on inclusive philanthropy.

The creation of these groundbreaking PSAs required the help of many talented individuals who deserve recognition. RespectAbility board member and reality TV pioneer Jonathan Murray shot the PSAs at his studio in California. The PSAs used the same set and team who created the Emmy-winning series “Born This Way,” which stars seven young adults with Down syndrome. RespectAbility’s Lauren Appelbaum coordinated with the team leading up to and during the shoot.

RespectAbility also would like to thank Gail Williamson of Kazarian/Measures/Ruskin & Associates for her assistance in recruiting talent for these PSAs. RespectAbility would especially like to thank the outstanding people with disabilities who shared their time to tell their stories to the world. They include people who are deaf, blind, wheelchair users, amputees, or who have autism, learning disabilities or another disability. The PSA is inclusive of people who are Black, Hispanic, Latino, Asian, white and other backgrounds. Participants communicate both verbally and with American Sign Language. The PSA includes open captions, which is vital to 50 million Americans who are Deaf/hard of hearing.

The stars of the PSA include:

  • Angela Rockwood, an actress who is a C4-C5 quadriplegic
  • Delbert Whetter, a lawyer and film executive who is deaf
  • John Lawson, a writer/producer and actor who is an upper extremity double amputee
  • Kewon Vines, an actor and board operator who is a little person
  • Lathan Krup, an 11-year-old boy with autism
  • Maria Perez, an actress and audio describer who is blind and has congenital heart disease
  • Michael Aquila, an office worker who has a developmental disability

Californians with Disabilities Call for Equal Employment Opportunities from RespectAbility on Vimeo.


Kewon Vines:¬†I’m a board operator.
Maria Perez: I do audio description.
Angela Rockwood:¬†I’m a life coach, a speaker.
Michael Aquila:¬†I’m a legal assistant.
Delbert Whetter:¬†I’m an executive in business and finance.
Kewon Vines:¬†I’m a little person.
Maria Perez:¬†I’m also blind.
Delbert Whetter: I am deaf.
Angela Rockwood:¬†And I’m a C4 C5 quadriplegic.
John Lawson:¬†I’m an amputee father, an amputee grandfather. I’m a private pilot and I’m a scuba diving instructor.
Michael Aquila:¬†I’m a team player. I live by the rules. I finish all my work on time, never been late.
Delbert Whetter:¬†I find that being deaf isn’t a negative thing at all. It’s very positive actually. I can see things from different perspectives about different situations.
Lathan Krup: I have autism…but my autism allows me to build Legos faster than people that usually could.
Michael Aquila: I need all my coworkers to treat me with respect.
Kewon Vines: Respect.
Maria Perez: Respect.
Delbert Whetter: Respect.
Angela Rockwood: RespectAbility.