Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi

@jennifer-mizrahi | contributor
Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi is the president of, a nonprofit organization advancing opportunities for people with disabilities. She is also the publisher of, a publication at the intersection of disability and politics. She has a disability and knows what it means to parent a child with multiple disabilities. To reach her, email

Safety Tools to Proactively Protect People With Disabilities

Recently there has been a significant increase in hate crimes and bomb threats across the entire country. Minorities, including people with disabilities, are especially at risk not only for attacks and threats, but also for the stress and anxiety that can result from seeing what is happening around us. People with multiple minority status (i.e. people of color + disability, LBGTQ + disability, Jewish or Muslim + disability, immigrant + disability) are particularly vulnerable. The one-in-five people in America who have a disability need proactive and systematic planning in order to ensure they have the same safety and security as everyone else.Key issues and steps include: Anxiety, Addiction and Emotional Health: Even for people who do not have ongoing mental health issues and who are nowhere near bomb threats or hate crimes, the content of social and other media can be extremely frightening. Emotional reactions can include feeling physically and mentally drained, having difficulty making decisions or staying focused on topics, becoming easily frustrated on a more frequent basis, arguing more with family and friends, feeling tired, sad, numb, lonely or worried, and experiencing changes in appetite or sleep patterns. Most of these reactions are temporary and will go away over time. It is important to try to accept whatever reactions you may have and to look for ways to take one step at a time and focus on taking care of your needs and those of your family. Keep a particularly close eye on children and people with addiction issues (including Internet addiction) who may need extra supports. Some things that can significantly help your mental health are to limit your exposure to the sights and sounds of stress, especially on television, the radio, newspapers and social media, as well as eat healthy, get ample sleep and stay personally connected to family and friends. Stay positive. Remind yourself of how you’ve successfully gotten through difficult times in the past. Reach out when you need support and help others when they need it. Most major cities have a Jewish social services agency, which will help people of all faiths. Additionally, the Red Cross’ Disaster Distress Helpline is free and 24/7 for counseling or support. You can call 1-800-985-5990, text “TalkWithUs’ to 66746 or utilize Red Cross Mental Health Teams. Another resource is the American Counseling Association. They have fact sheets you can download on mental health services, including post traumatic-stress disorder and crisis counseling. Moreover, if you are feeling suicidal, you should reach out immediately to Create Your Evacuation Plan and Support System: Have you been in touch with your localpolice station and fire department? If not, do it now. A part of the services they provide is to keep track of the needs of residents with disabilities in times of threat or disaster. For example, if you use a wheelchair and live or work in a high-rise building, the fire department should and will literally come out for free to meet with you and create an individual plan for you in case of a fire or other emergency. If you have sensory, cognitive or other issues, it is vital for the police and fire department to know how to successfully support you in a time of crisis. Hundreds of Americans with disabilities are killed by police each year because the police have not been trained to recognize and address mental health or other disability issues. The time to have those conversations and training is before a disaster strikes. Because this issue is so important, RespectAbility has conducted a free webinar, which you can find on our website: Special Conversation With Special Olympics About Violence, Police Training and People With Disabilities. When it comes to evacuating people with disabilities, you must plan in advance. See the National Fire Protection Association’s terrific Emergency Evacuation Planning for People with Disabilities (June 2016). Have a “To Go” Kit Ready: If your building is evacuated, you will want to have several things handy. For example, you will want to have any medications you may need to take as well as your phone and charger, glasses, hearing aids and extra batteries if you use them, supplies for a service animal you may have and more. You also will want to let your loved ones, who might worry if they see a threat on the news, know you are OK. You can do that through phone, email or social media. There are terrific resources available through FEMA. If you use a communication device, mobility aid or service animal, what will you do if these are not available? If you require life-sustaining equipment or treatment such as a dialysis machine, find out the location and availability of more than one facility. For every aspect of your daily routine, plan an alternative procedure. Make a plan and write it down and print it out. Keep a copy of your plan in your emergency supply kits and a list of important information and contacts in your wallet. Create a Personal Support Network: If you anticipate needing assistance, make a list of family, friends and others who will be part of your plan. Talk to these people now and ask them to be part of your support network. Share each aspect of your crisis/emergency plan with everyone in your group, including a friend or relative in another area who would not be impacted by the same emergency and can help if necessary. If you have a cognitive, intellectual disability, or are deaf or blind, be sure to work with your employer and other key contacts to determine how to best notify you of an emergency and what instruction methods are easiest for you to follow. Always participate in exercises, trainings and emergency drills offered by your employer or landlord. Our nation is at its best when we are welcoming, respectful and inclusive of all. As many people are, or feel, at risk, we must show exceptional love and friendship to those around us. Special thanks to Elliot Harkavy for ideas and contacts that contributed to this piece. Learn more at RespectAbility. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here .

Four Oscar Nominations Go to Films With Disability Connections

The 2017 Academy Award nominations were released yesterday. Of the nine films nominated for Best Picture, four have themes or sub-plots related to 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 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. In the full-length documentary category, “Life, Animated,” a film about Owen, a boy with autism, was nominated. The film shows how Owen, who was unable to speak as a child, and his father are able to connect using Disney animated films. 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.” But while these films include disability themes, no known actor or other individual with a disability was nominated for an Oscar. As previously noted, more than 95 percent of characters with disabilities are played by non-disabled actors on television. 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. 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 is often 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. Advocating from Within Meryl Streep, who spoke out about the importance of not making fun of people with disabilities during her Golden Globe lifetime achievement award speech, has marked another lifetime achievement – her 20th Academy Award nomination. Our group, RespectAbility, previously called on Streep to “walk the walk” when it comes to full inclusion of people with disabilities. Actors with influence like Streep have the power and influence to ensure that television and movies include people with disabilities with accurate and positive portrayals. This includes not only characters but the actors themselves – as well as jobs on the other side of the camera. Streep is a three-time Academy Award winner who has been nominated for a record 19 Oscars and 30 Golden Globes. Change takes a lot more than pointing fingers at someone else’s shortcomings. It takes personal action and leadership. As one of the world’s finest artists and actors, she has tremendous power. How great would it be if the next time she was cast in a film or television show, she simply asked the script writers to ensure that the diversity of the roles, including people with disabilities, reflected society at large? 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 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 help 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,” “ Superstore” 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, like Arizona, an accomplished doctor on Grey’s Anatomy. There is good work being done by SAG-AFTRA, GLAAD, 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. Big stars can do a lot. But so too can showrunners, creative executives, writers, casting agents, actors and others. 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. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here .

Record Gains in Employment for People With Disabilities

According to the National Trends in Disability Employment (nTIDE), now marks the longest run of employment gains for Americans with disabilities since the Great Recession. Indeed, in the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Jobs Report released this week, the employment-to-population ratio for working-age people with disabilities increased from 26.6 percent in December 2015 to 28.7 percent in December 2016 (up 7.9 percent; 2.1 percentage points). Those are still horrific numbers. But finally, the trend is going in the right direction. “For the ninth consecutive month, we see improvement in the employment-to-population ratio for people with disabilities; the longest stretch ever seen since the BLS started publishing disability employment statistics in October 2008,” noted John O’Neill, PhD, director of employment and disability research at Kessler Foundation. “These improvements in the employment situation for people with disabilities in 2016 were better than the gains we saw last year. Let’s hope that this trend continues and we are able to reach pre-recession employment levels in 2017.” The good news comes just after the National Task Force unveiled a major report that outlines best practices and policy recommendations to help states remove employment barriers for people with disabilities. The Council of State Governments teamed with the National Conference of State Legislatures in the effort. The State Exchange on Employment Disabilities, or SEED, initiative of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy funded the effort. Nebraska state Sen. Beau McCoy, the 2016 CSG national chair, and Delaware Gov. Jack Markell, the 2016 CSG national president, co-chaired the task force. Markell has been at the forefront of expanding employment for people with disabilities for years. When he was chair of the National Governors Association, he led a major initiative on this issue. Markell, who is term limited and will leave government soon, has moved the conversation and actions tremendously across the country. Now it is up to us to do our part. The task force unveiled the 96-page report titled, “Work Matters: A Framework for States on Workforce Development for People with Disabilities,” at the Disability Employment Policy Academy during the 2016 CSG National Conference. Adkins, who opened the Policy Academy, said the workforce must reflect the diversity of society. When we think about workforce development just generally, it may not be specifically focused on people living with disabilities. But to me, it’s all about realizing potential,” he said. “When anyone is excluded, potential is left unrealized.” About 1 in 5 Americans live with a disability and there are 22 million working age Americans with disabilities. But many adults and youth with disabilities are unemployed or underemployed despite an ability, desire and willingness to work in the community and contribute to the economy. The task force convened four subcommittees focused on policy areas that impact the employability of people with disabilities: Career Readiness and Employability; Entrepreneurship, Tax Incentives and Procurement; Transportation, Technology and Other Employment Supports; and Hiring, Retention and Re-entry. Markell encouraged state policymakers to take action using the report. He said states cannot thrive if some people who want to contribute are left on the fringes. “We all want to be the jobs governor,” Markell said. “We want to be the jobs representative. We want to be the jobs senator. But we better aspire to be the jobs governor, senator, representative for everybody.” The full report is available online. My favorite part of the report, which is full of helpful and practical advice, is its guiding principles. The report states: “Disability is a natural part of the human experience that in no way diminishes one’s right to fully participate in all aspects of community life. As such, state disability policy should consider support of the following four goals: Equal opportunity, including treating people with disabilities as individuals, making assessments based on facts, objective evidence and science, and providing effective and meaningful experiences in the most integrated setting appropriate. Full participation in society, including engagement of people with disabilities in relevant decision-making at the individual and systems levels, self- determination, self-advocacy and informed choice. Economic self-sufficiency, including employment-related services and supports, financial literacy, entrepreneurship and work incentives. Independent living, including skills development and long-term services and supports. Disability can develop at any point during an individual’s lifetime and have varying impacts. As such, state agencies should ensure service delivery is relevant at all ages, is inclusive of all types of disabilities, and maximizes the strengths and abilities of the individual. States should also consider providing a centralized systems navigation process so that people with disabilities and their families have a place to ask questions and get answers about rights, responsibilities, services and supports. Successful disability policy embraces the “nothing about us without us” principle. Individuals with disabilities, alongside families, advocates and champions from agencies, education, business and communities, should be engaged throughout the policymaking process at all levels. This includes increasing the actual participation of people with disabilities at the highest levels of state government. People with disabilities are underutilized in our workforce and frequently experience social and economic disadvantage. There is strong rationale for including people with disabilities in public policy efforts targeting other underrepresented groups like veterans, women and minorities. People with disabilities have valuable and unique contributions to make. State disability employment initiatives have the best chance at success when employers are motivated to hire people with disabilities not because they have to or because it’s the right thing to do, but because they recognize that disability inclusion helps boost the bottom line through increased innovation, creativity and productivity. Learn more at RespectAbility. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here .

How Technology Helps People With Disabilities

Recently I got to hear a very sharp speaker, Jeff Kline, at a national conference on best practices. He is at the cutting edge of using technology to unlock the potential of people with disabilities. The Program Director of Statewide Electronic and Information Resources Accessibility at Texas Department of Information Resources, Kline is also the author of “Strategic IT Accessibility: Enabling the Organization.”   Before government service, Mr. Kline managed IBM’s Worldwide Accessibility Consulting and Business Transformation initiatives. His 26 year IBM tenure also included management in industrial design, software development, and system usability. Personally, I am a disaster when it comes to technology. But it is a lifesaver for many people with disabilities. It can help a lot of people with disabilities excel and contribute to society. Thus, I asked Jeff some questions, and got some very helpful answers. 1. What is Information Technology(IT) Accessibility and Inclusive Design? a. IT accessibility means that people with disabilities (PwDs) can perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with information technology, allowing them to participate equally in the economic and social aspects of society. It also has benefits to others, such as people with changing abilities caused by aging. Inclusive Design ensures that products and services are accessible and usable by everyone, including PwDs. 2. IT has become an integral part of today’s society. It touches nearly every aspect of daily life. Can you describe some of the challenges that IT presents for people with disabilities? a. For example, blind individuals rely on an assistive technology called a screen reader to interact with a website or application. The screen reader speaks what is displayed and identifies each element on the screen such as a link, or a picture, table, radio button form field, etc.  If the website or application is not coded to include accessibility specifications, the assistive technology cannot identify and read these elements to the user in a meaningful way, rendering the site very difficult, or in many cases, impossible for a blind person to use. b. Individuals with mobility impairments may use other types of assistive technologies such as head trackers or mouth sticks which also rely on proper accessibility coding. Without captions in videos, Deaf users have limited access to video information. Despite significant progress, many manufacturers and software development organizations still do not understand, plan for, design, or develop their technology with inclusive design in mind. 3. What are underlying reasons why so many IT products and services are not fully accessible to PwDs? a. While technology can still be a challenge, particularly for large “legacy” offerings where the original code may have been created before accessibility criteria was required or understood, there is now a robust body of knowledge and tools for developing and delivering accessible offerings. The underlying reason I see is the lack of commitment, culture, policy, and governance structure within organizations to put policies in place that consistently drive the development of accessible or inclusive products and services. 4. You’ve talked about the challenges for PwDs and the underlying reasons for inaccessible IT. Are there any other impacts that our readers need to be aware of? a. Inaccessible or non-inclusive IT creates barriers to education, training, employment opportunities, online government services, social media, and other aspects of life for PwDs that many of us take for granted. Additionally, public and private sector organizations also must realize that IT accessibility barriers are considered discriminatory under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), and there has been a strong uptick in IT accessibility related lawsuits. The US Department of Justice is more frequently intervening in these lawsuits on behalf of plaintiffs. 5. Can you tell us a little about your role within Texas state government, and what is being done there to close this broad gap of making IT accessible to PwDs? a. My role is to provide leadership, guidance, and oversight in IT accessibility to over 170 Texas state agencies and publicly funded universities, to help facilitate the development, procurement, and use of accessible IT.  Responsibilities include rulemaking, policy development, consulting, outreach, and accessibility services and information. Additionally, I am deeply involved in the integration of accessibility criteria into our state IT procurement processes to help obtain more accessible products and services from the vendor community. For our vendors to be able to consistently produce and provide accessible IT, they need to consider IT accessibility at a strategic  level, so we have recently implemented a new step in state IT procurement using the Policy Driven Adoption of Accessibility (PDAA) model developed by myself, my counterparts in Minnesota and Massachusetts, a group of state CIOs, and the National Association of State CIOs (NASCIO). The model requires vendors to complete a self-assessment at the beginning of the procurement process. The self-assessment calculates the maturity of their IT accessibility policies and programs using PDAA’s maturity model. Our customers can use the results to gauge vendors’ abilities to build and report about accessible products and services. Most importantly, we want all vendors to use the assessment results as a guide for implementing accessibility practices and policies within their organizations, ultimately resulting in more accessible products and services in the long term. Want to know more? Buy Jeff’s book on Amazon. Learn more at RespectAbility. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here .

Media Access Awards Celebrate Diversity and Inclusion in Hollywood

As Hollywood came together to celebrate people with disabilities, media creators recognized the importance of accurate representation of the largest minority in the U.S. Scott Silveri’s new hit show on ABC, “ Speechless,” which features a young man with cerebral palsy (Micah Fowler), won three awards including two for Silveri (Writers Guild of America West Evan Somers Memorial Award and SAG-AFTRA Disability Awareness Award along with director/producer Jake Kasdan and producer Melvin Mar.) Danny Woodburn (Photo Credit: Michael Hansel) The honors were presented at the Media Access Awards, an event promoting disability and its depictions in film, television, and new media. In attendance were key entertainment leaders with ties to disabilities. It was emceed by actor/comedian Danny Woodburn who also was awarded the Norman Lear – Geri Jewell Lifetime Achievement Award for both his acting career and his disability advocacy work. Casting Director Susie Farris, who cast Fowler, was awarded with the Casting Society of America Award. She spoke about the importance of Fowler’s character not being an inspiration. “ Speechless” now reaches seven million people. Silveri, who grew up in a family with a brother who has cerebral palsy, talked about not even thinking about including people with disabilities in his work for many years. When he came up with the idea of “ Speechless,” he said he found networks willing and interested. Silveri thanked disability advocates who have been working for years to open the doors for him. “If we’re going to be storytellers,” Silveri said, “then we have to include disability.” Speaking of “white able-bodied male jerks” who write for Hollywood, Silveri said many don’t get the importance of inclusion of people with disabilities, but they are not trying to be wrong. A&E’s Drew Tappon & Born This Way Executive Producer Jonathan Murray (Photo Credit: Michael Hansel) Another major winner was creator and executive producer of A&E Networks’ “B orn This Way” Jonathan Murray, who said people with disabilities “have been placed on the sidelines and the margins of primetime television. With ‘ Born This Way’ airing on A&E, that is no longer the case.” His newest show, Emmy-winning “ Born This Way,” features seven individuals with Down syndrome. During its first season, the show increased its viewership by more than 80 percent, which Murray says proves that making shows featuring people with disabilities “is not only the right thing to do, it’s also good business.” Awarded with the Producers Guild of America George Sunga Award, Murray has been promoting theimportance of including all minorities in his various television series such as “ The Real World,” “ The Challenge” and “P roject Runway.” The Media Access Awards aim to recognize depictions of disability that are accurate, inclusive and multi-faceted. The ceremony honors industry professionals who have advanced disability-related narrative in fields including writing, producing, casting, performance and directing. Speechless’ Cedric Yarbrough, Scott Silveri, Melvin Mar and Micah Fowler (Photo Credit: Michael Hansel) By promoting success stories of people with disabilities, both “ Speechless” and “ Born This Way” help to change negative perceptions of people with disabilities, especially among employers. “Each year 300,000 young people with disabilities reach the age to enter the workforce,” Murray 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 views of “ Born This Way” see young adults in our series contributing to their workplaces, and, in one case, starting her own business. It is also wonderful that our viewers see our cast as individuals, each with distinct personalities and dreams.” Media Access Awards Chairs Deborah Calla and Allen Rucker (Photo Credit: Lauren Appelbaum) Deborah Calla and Allen Rucker chaired the awards ceremony. Co-chairs included Ray Bradford, Pam Dixon, Jenni Gold, Sam Maddox, Paul Miller, Adam Moore, Kim Myers and George Sunga. Other winners included actress Jamie Brewer (SAG-AFTRA Harold Russell Award), who has Down syndrome, and MacGregor Arney (Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation Scholarship,) an upcoming young actor with cerebral palsy. Zach Weinstein, who presented Arney with his award, summed up one purpose of the awards ceremony. Talking about his 13-day-old son, he said he is happy to known he will grow upin a world “where disability is going to be normalized.” Learn more at RespectAbility. Have you seen the first film with a national release to star a person with Down syndrome? Check out the film “Where Hope Grows” today! Available for purchase on Amazon and iTunes .

Voters Want Candidates to Support Disability Issues

A new bipartisan poll of 900 likely 2016 voters found that by an overwhelming majority, voters are more likely to support a candidate who prioritizes a series of policies to advance opportunities for people with disabilities. The poll, which our group RespectAbility funded, was done by top pollsters, Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg, Ph.D., of Quinlan Rosner Research and Republican pollster Whit Ayes, Ph.D., of Northstar Opinion. It showed that more than 8 out of 10 voters are more likely to support a candidate who prioritizes “ensuring that children with disabilities get the education and training they need to succeed;” 61 percent are much more likely to support the candidate. Only 65 percent of youth with disabilities graduate high school, 19 percent less than students without disabilities, a White House study found earlier this month. Youth who do not graduate high school are more likely to be involved in the criminal justice system and have a more difficult time entering the workforce. Similarly, 84 percent are more likely to support a candidate who prioritizes “expanding job opportunities for people with disabilities, so they can succeed just like anyone else;” 59 percent are much more likely to do so. Only one in three working-age Americans with a disability has a job, despite the fact that studies show that 70 percent of the 21-million working-age people with disabilities are striving for work. More than 78 percent of non-disabled Americans are employed. Our nation was founded on the principle that anyone who works hard should be able to getahead in life. People with disabilities deserve the opportunity to earn an income and achieve independence, just like anyone else. Companies including Amazon, Starbucks, Pepsi and others have shown that employees with disabilities are loyal, successful and help them make more money. If we find the right jobs for the right people, it can and does increase the bottom lineof companies. On the issue of “ending rape and assault of children and adults with disabilities,” voters are 87 percent more likely to support a candidate who makes this issue a priority. People with disabilities are twice as likely to be victims of crime than people without disabilities. People with disabilities between the ages of 12-15 and 35-49 were three times more likely to be victims of violent crimes. Said Stan Greenberg, Ph.D., “This survey is a big lesson in how many people are affected by disabilities and how much it matters for elected officials to hear their very clear message. They too want politicians to do something about the risks they face and our founding principles: anyone who works hard should be able to get ahead in life. Ending rape and assault and expanding job andcareer opportunities matters for the partisans but most of all, for the undecided in this year’s congressional elections. They want to be heard.” Likewise, Republican Whit Ayres commented, “We are accustomed to thinking about ‘soccer moms,’ ‘Hispanics’ or ‘values voters.’ But this poll shows that Americans with disabilities – and those who care deeply about them – are a demographic we need to pay attention to in the future.” Today, children with disabilities are three times more likely to be victims of rape or sexual assault than children without disabilities. Every 9 minutes an adult with a disability is sexually assaulted or raped. Growing up as a young adult with a disability, I know personally how traumaticthis is. As a survivor of rape, it is incredibly reassuring to know how seriously voters view this problem and how it impacts their voting behavior. Strong majorities of likely voters also are more likely to support candidates who prioritize other policies to advance people with disabilities, including, “standing up against Hollywood bigotry and negative portrayals of people with disabilities (65%), ensuring that criminal justice reform specifically addresses the issues of the 750,000 people with disabilities incarcerated in America (58%), promoting positive media portrayals of people with disabilities in TV, Hollywood movies and books (58%). More than half of voters report that they themselves have a disability (16%), have a family member with a disability (33%), and/or have a close friend with a disability (10%). This survey took place October 21-24 among national likely voters. You can download the slide presentation here in accessible PPT or PDF.  The poll comes as our group, The RespectAbility Report, has covered all of the Democratic and Republican candidates for president, Senate and governor. We have completed 51 state voter guides based on a variety of disability issues. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here .

Disability, Sexual Assault and the 2016 Election

Has someone you love been sexually assaulted or raped? Do they have a disability? This is a hard topic. But given the news cycle and numerous people sharing their experiences via social media, as well as my own personal experience, I feel compelled to bring it up. Children with disabilities are three times more likely to be victims of rape or sexual assault than children without disabilities. Every 9 minutes an adult with a disability is sexually assaulted or raped. Rape and sexual assault – no matter if the victim is a person with or without a disability – is not OK. I know this personally. When I was 12 years old, due to my dyslexia, I could not really read or write. I had stopped growing, so I was already 5’10″ and looked a lot older than my actual age. But I couldn’t read. People called me “stupid,” “idiot,” “lazy,” “disappointing” and worse. Beginning in elementaryschool, I was bullied physically and verbally at school. When I was 12 years old, I trusted someone at school who made me feel “accepted” and special. I wound up getting raped. I blamed myself and did not report it at the time. For decades I did not discuss it. Like many other people, I was touched or grabbed in public, once on a bus and another time on a subway. For many years, I worked to help crisis centers but did not go public with my own story. But it is far toocommon to stay silent. All this press coverage is triggering a lot of feelings in a lot of people who this happened to as well. Rape and sexual assault is a lot more common than most people think. It happens to children, women and men. If you or someone you care about needs to talk about their experience with someone, contact RAINN or call them at 1-800-565-HOPE. That’s 1-800-565-4673. Their website is screen reader accessible and they are completely set up to accommodate and serve people who are hearing impaired. If you or a loved one is thinking of ending their life by suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. If you are looking for political candidates who care about these issues, questions 10 and 11 of RespectAbility’s nonpartisan candidate questionnaires specifically address these issues. RespectAbility also addressed these issues in our landmark report, Disability & Criminal Justice Reform: Keys to Success. RespectAbility and The RespectAbility Report are nonpartisan and do not endorse candidates. The questionnaire is purely for educational purposes. It is vital that our leaders around the country address sexual violence against people with disabilities immediately. Here is a sampling of what the candidates are saying on these issues. Kelly Ayotte (NH-R) “Yes. I helped introduce and enact into law legislation to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, which strengthened the health care system’s response to domestic and sexual violence. I’ve consistently supported full funding for VAWA and related programs. There is a provision in VAWA that specifically sets aside funding for grants to end violence against women with disabilities. I’ve additionally helped introduce the Runaway and Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevention Act which prohibits discrimination against any person – including specifically those with disabilities – when it comes to receiving federal assistance under those programs.” Former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold (WI-D) “The statistics on rape and sexual assault of people with disabilities are appalling. I believe that our society must do more to prevent sexual assault and to ensure that victims of rape and sexual assault are listened to and believed by law enforcement and by their communities. I am a strong supporter of the Violence Against Women Act, which provides funding for sexual assault prevention, and which my opponent, Senator Johnson, voted against reauthorizing. Some progress has also been made by the Justice Department, which issued new forensic examination guidelines that specifically address treating people with disabilities. But we must also do more at a grassroots level to support men and women with disabilities who are victims of sexual assault. I support outreach campaigns that raise awareness among people with disabilities and their allies about community resources for people affected by rape and sexual assault.” Dr. Bud Pierce (OR-R) “We need to have oversight, and vigorous investigation, to prevent abuse, including sexual abuse, of all people, and especially the vulnerable disabled.” Rep. Tammy Duckworth (IL-D) “Sexual violence is unacceptable in any situation, whether in the military, on a college campus, or in a situation that exploits people with disabilities. I have supported the Violence Against Women Act vigorously, including provisions that mandate rapists be held accountable and that prioritize the needs of underserved communities such as people with disabilities. In the Senate, I will fight passionately for the safety and protection of all people with disabilities from sexual violence.” Sen. Richard Burr (NC-R) “I believe one of the fundamental tasks of government is to protect the vulnerable, and protecting individuals with disabilities from those who commit the heinous crimes of rape and sexual assault is an issue I have made a top priority during my time in the Senate. Congress recently passed legislation I introduced, the Military Sex Offender Reporting Act, which closes a significant loophole that previously allowed some sex offenders to evade registration with the National Sex Offender Registry. Ensuring that sex offenders are registered and known is an important part of protecting the vulnerable from becoming victims of those who commit these horrific crimes, and I am currently working to provide strong oversight to ensure that these provisions are being implemented. “I am also committed to ensuring that the perpetrators who commit these crimes against people with disabilities are discovered, prosecuted, and prevented from reoffending. I have cosponsored legislation to ensure that rape kits are tested so that the perpetrators can be convicted, and I have supported laws providing resources to track down sex offenders who do not register. “The State Department has noted that individuals with disabilities are particularly at risk of being trafficking victims, and I have worked to stop human trafficking both in the United States and around the globe and to provide support for survivors. I’m also proud to have supported programs like the Department of Justice’s Training and Services to End Violence Against Women with Disabilities Grant Program, which was established in the Violence Against Women Act in 2000.” Mr. Foster Campbell (LA-D) “We need to ensure the very best screening, training and continuing education for professionals dealing with people with disabilities and their families. Streamlining reporting and investigation is a must. I will support legislation and policies that protect people with disabilities as a top priority.” See where more candidates for President, Governor and Senate stand on these issues here: #PwDsVote 2016 Disability Questionnaire Responses.

We Can't Ignore the Link Between Disability and Mass Incarceration

Colin Kaepernick, the San Francisco 49ers quarterback, refuses to stand up for the national anthem,saying “I’m not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” Whether you agree with his protest or not (and people have very strong views both ways), he has focused particularly on the epidemic of young black men who have been killed by police. But there is more to the story than the very important issue of race alone. Ableism is also a key factor. As was demonstrated in a major report commissioned by the Ruderman Family Foundation, disabled individuals make up a third to half of all people killed by law enforcement officers, and make up the majority of those killed in use-of-force cases that attract widespread attention. The media is ignoring the disability component of these stories, or, worse, is telling them in ways that intensify stigma and ableism. Given how the media has omitted the full facts, I doubt that Mr. Kaepernick or most of his fans, despite their good intentions, know this aspect of the story. Rightfully, there is increased attention to how to stop these killings and in criminal justice reform overall. But if we look at race alone, we will not achieve the success that is needed. We need to look at the scourge of racism and training for police and other law enforcement professionals. But we also need to own up to the fact that jails and prisons have become substitutes for psychiatric hospitals, a dire human rights abuse. Moreover, a critical piece of the puzzle has been missing from the conversation: the nearly 750,000 people with disabilities, most of whom are of color, currently incarcerated as well as hundreds of thousands who will enter the system if things do not change significantly. We need to understand and address the harsh realities facing people with all kinds of disabilities who are behind bars. As RespectAbility’s report,  Disability & Criminal Justice Reform: Keys to Success , points out, 32percent of people in prison and 40 percent in jail have at least one disability. More than 140,000 people in prison are blind or vision impaired, approximately the same number are deaf or have significant hearing loss and about 200,000 people have mobility issues. Fully 500,000 people who areincarcerated have cognitive issues. One of the biggest challenges is executive function disorder, a very real disability where people generally cannot follow multi-step instructions. Frequently people make the mistake of thinking these individuals won’t comply with multi-step instructions, when the issue is that they can’t, until the instructions are broken down into smaller chunks or they have visual prompts about the steps. Both of these things can be easily done – but are often missed. Executive function disorder is often caused by lead in paint or water, something all too common in low-income neighborhoods. The experiences of prisoners with physical disabilities, most of whom are people of color, show how unprepared the corrections system is to meet their basic human needs. For example, Joseph Heard, who is deaf, spent 22 months in prison after a judge dismissed charges against him and ordered his release, because no one communicated to him that he was free to go in an accessible manner. Raymond Fox developed permanent brain damage after being denied medication for his epilepsy. From a lack of training and accessible equipment to limited access to health care, our nation’s corrections system neglects people with disabilities. In response, our report Disability & Criminal Justice Reform: Keys to Success, outlines steps tointegrate the disability lens into criminal justice reform. Overall, three critical stages must be addressed. First, children with disabilities, especially those of color or who are new immigrants, need diagnoses, early interventions, resources, high expectations and work experiences. They face bullying, abuse or school suspensions and are among the most vulnerable when it comes to poverty, exploitation, victimization and violence. Only 61 percent of students with disabilities graduate high school, compared with 81 percent of those without disabilities – a 20-point gap. Addressing these issues can prevent these youngsters from joining the school to prison pipeline. Second, we must address the challenges that people with disabilities face inside the system and prepare them for success upon release. They need adequate access to counsel, accommodations and supports. People with epilepsy who experience seizures should not be forced to sleep on the top bunk, which is a huge safety threat. People who need canes to walk should no longer be denied them for “safety” reasons. Deaf individuals should not be placed where no one else speaks American Sign Language, effectively silencing them. People who are hearing impaired or have other disabilities should not be forced into solitary confinement for their own “protection,” as that can lead to mental health issues. We need to recognize and accommodate those with disabilities while ensuring access to literacy, including screen-reader technology for those who are vision-impaired. Many need to learn life skills. Not only should we respect the human rights of people with all abilities, but making these changes also will help reduce further crime when prisoners are released. Third, more than 200,000 people with disabilities leave incarceration each year. We cannot continue to pretend that just releasing people from prison or jail is enough when recidivism rates remain high and the majority of returning citizens and residents lack the support needed to succeed. Families, government agencies, nonprofits, faith, community leaders and others need the training and capacity to improve release, reentry and reintegration. This includes access to stable housing, medications for mental and physical health and, above all, jobs. The gap in labor force participation between people with and without disabilities is enormous, even for those without a criminal record, despite the fact that the majority of working-age people with disabilities want to work. As we approach Labor Day, we need to remember that only one-in-three working-age Americans with a disability has a job. These issues are so vital that we have included them in RespectAbilty’s candidate questionnaires. Already Hillary Clinton and 16 candidates for Senate or Governor from both sides of the aisle have given us policy ideas on these issues. We are still waiting to hear from Mr. Trump and many candidates for Senate or Governor. You can help us by reaching out and asking them to complete the questionnaire. Colin Kaepernick is right to focus on race – but it’s more than race alone. The discrimination and challenges faced by people with multiple minority statuses (i.e., disability + racial minority) requires national attention and resources. Without this critical piece of the puzzle, reforms will never truly succeed.  

'Vocational Training' Programs for Disabled Students Is Segregation

Frankie, my middle son, came home from school in a bad mood. “Mom, I saw some of Jaden’s classmates doing chores around the school today. I thought they weren’t supposed to do that anymore. It made me mad, and I want it to stop.” Frankie and Jaden are 17 months apart in age and have an extremely close relationship, much like twins. Frankie is forever Jaden’s best therapist, best advocate and best friend. Let’s back up. Two years ago, Frankie came home from school and casually mentioned he had seen his brother’s class when they “delivered the gym shirts.” Jaden was (and is) in a categorical classroom for children with autism. I didn’t really understand what Frankie was talking about, so I asked him some questions. It turns out the kids in that class were responsible for doing the gym laundry for the entire school. On further inquiry, I was told they also emptied the paper-recycling bins from the classrooms each week. Now, I am all for kids having responsibilities, and it just so happens that Jaden does his own laundry and other jobs around our home. But – and here is the key – so do the rest of us. See, I don’t just make my “special” child do the work while the rest of us engage in more interesting pursuits. It isn’t just the autism program doing the work. The other categorical classes – the rooms for students with cognitive and multiple impairments – are doing it too. Jobs from delivering mail to washing lunch tables and taking out the trash. My older boys tell me of the jobs they see the students with special needs doing around their building as well. These programs are put in place under the guise of “vocational training” but start in late elementary school – much younger than I believe is appropriate for job training. “Typical” students have the opportunity to take vocational training beginning in 11th grade. Besides, these “jobs” rarely do a good job of targeting actual employment skills. In addition, the students are required to continue to perform the tasks much longer than it takes to achieve mastery. Even though some students admittedly take longer than others to acquire skills, performing these tasks for years is not conferring any measurable educational benefit. This is unpaid labor, not education. A good measure of whether or not we are doing right by our students with disabilities is to use another protected class as a barometer. For example, would it be OK to have just the girls doing the cleaning jobs? What about just the non-white students? Clearly not. Then why do so many still think it is OK to do this to our students with disabilities? I contacted the schools where Jaden attends, and they didn’t agree with me that the practice should be stopped. I also contacted the local ISD, and though the person in charge of IDEA compliance agreed with me in spirit, the program isn’t breaking any laws, so he is powerless to make it stop. I went back to the schools. I suggested the program be turned into an all-school project, where homerooms rotate responsibilities for taking care of their school. Adding typical peers to the mix would improve social skills – and studies show that “soft skills” are the most important skills for kids to learn in schools if they are going to be employed as adults. But the general education students don’t have time to do such jobs because of all of the requirements under Common Core, I am told. So essentially, they have better things to do. Somehow, it makes sense to the schools to take the kids who need the most instruction out of the classroom and occupy them with jobs that confer no measurable educational benefit rather than giving them intensive instruction to help them achieve their best lives. I have since opted Jaden out of this program and replaced it with real learning opportunities, but wasting the time of these precious students isn’t even the most damaging thing going on here. The fact that these students are doing menial labor is not lost on the other students – the same students who will grow up to be community leaders, employers and neighbors of the students with disabilities. What is this program showing them? Programs like this promote the attitude among the non-disabled students that kids who are different are inferior – that they do not deserve the same education and can only learn menial tasks. This is insidiously damaging to the disabled students’ dignity and to their futures. The students of today are the community of tomorrow; if we are going to have a truly inclusive community in the future, we need to promote fairness, inclusion and equity for all right from the beginning. These practices of using students with disabilities for free labor must stop. Not just for their sake, but for the sake of the typical students who are being shown this 1984-esque caste-system where they are the Alphas and the disabled students are relegated to Delta status. We have come a long way in the quest for disability rights – Jaden lives at home with his family, not in an institution, and attends the neighborhood school instead of being shipped across the county to a segregated building — but programs like this “vocational training” show that we still have a long way to go. Even with all of the rules set forth in IDEA, students with disabilities are often still being set apart from their non-disabled peers in ways that are inappropriate, stigmatizing, and destructive. We need to stand for children with disabilities and their right to the same high-quality education as non-disabled students. Segregation and discrimination hurts everyone in the long run. We need to ensure that everyone belongs in our schools. Back to Frankie. I explained that Jaden is not allowed to do the jobs, but that the schools have not stopped this discriminatory practice yet, so for now, it is up to the other parents to opt out their own kids. I am sad to see him upset but pleased this injustice upsets him. I wish he was living in a better world, but I am so proud he is willing to stick his neck out to make the world better. Follow this journey on Bonum Vitae.

Stereotypes About Hiring People With Disabilities Hold Employers Back

More than 25 years after the passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), physical architecture and some educational opportunities thankfully have changed, but many negative attitudes and stigmas about people with disabilities have not. Indeed, a major Princeton study shows that while people with disabilities are seen as warm, they are not seen as competent. Meanwhile, a study published by Cornell Hospitality Quarterly analyzed results from a survey of employers at 320 hospitality companies in the United States. It found that all the companies share a concern that those with disabilities could not do the work required of their employees. Another top concern was the potential cost of unspecified accommodations they might need to provide for a person with a disability under the provisions of the Americans With Disabilities Act. This is despite the fact that most such accommodations are not exceptionally costly. There is also evidence that employers fear legal action should they terminate an employee with a disability. It is far more difficult to prove discrimination for not being hired in the first place. So, given the perception that people with disabilities aren’t competent, and could potentially be costly, why would an employer take the risk of hiring them? One of the employers who took the “risk” was Randy Lewis, former Vice President of Walgreens and Fortune 50 executive, who led Walgreens’ logistics division for sixteen years, as the chain grew from 1,500 to 8,000 stores. Randy introduced an inclusive model of hiring people with disabilities at Walgreens’ distribution centers that resulted in 10 percent of its workforce consisting of people with disabilities — all of whom are held to the same standards as their colleagues without disabilities. The outcome? Study after study turned out to be myth-busters. The employees with disabilities were more productive and loyal than their non-disabled peers! And most accommodations? Either free or cheap. But even when the relatively few more expensive accommodations were factored in, the overall costs of accommodations were far outweighed by the low turnover rates and better tenures of the employees with disabilities. Grateful for opportunities, and in many cases thriving on repetitive tasks, they are so loyal to Walgreens that recruitment costs were saved as the employees continued to stay in their jobs and deliver excellent results. You can learn more about this in Randy’s new book or on the Walgreens website. Other companies such as Ernst and Young (EY), have also found inclusive hiring to be a winning ticket. Starting with its founder, Arthur Young, EY has always embraced differing abilities. Trained as a lawyer, Arthur was deaf with low vision and he wasn’t able to comfortably practice. He turned to finance and the new field of accounting to build his career. His disability drove him to innovation and entrepreneurship, which played a pivotal role in the development of EY. Finding and engaging diverse talents has been a key part of EY’s ongoing success. Malcolm Gladwell’s new book, “David and Goliath,” extols the strength of people with disabilities. Because traditional ways of doing things don’t always work for people with disabilities, Gladwell demonstrates that they compensate for that in ways that benefit the workforce by developing incredible ways to innovate and succeed. AMC Theaters, Lowe’s, many grocery stores and others are also getting outstanding results by hiring employees with disabilities. So what are other employers waiting for? They are still blinded by negative stereotypes. It’s time for people with disabilities to be seen for what they can do, and not for what they cannot. What can people with disabilities do? Think about it. Beautiful music from a deaf man? It happened. Ludwig von Beethoven. World changing words from someone with dyslexia? It happened. Thomas Jefferson. A Super bowl champion NFL player who is deaf? It happened. Derrick Coleman. A Nobel Prize for a scientist who failed in school? It happened. Albert Einstein. Secrets of the universe being revealed by a man who uses a wheelchair and who can no longer speak? It’s happening. Stephen Hawking. It’s time to change the narrative of how we see people with disabilities, so employers can see the abilities they have and the positive impact on their business’s bottom line. It’s amazing that such a small change can have such a big impact. It can — if it is done in a focused and strategic way. Employing people with disabilities may take a little more forethought and planning. The U.S. government recently changed their expectations of federal contractors who now must become at least partially inclusive of hiring people with disabilities. There are many groups that can help in the process including Business Leadership Network, Project Search, National Organization on Disability and others. As the Baby Boomers continue to age, a powerful answer to labor and talent shortages already exists in our own backyards — our own family members and neighbors with disabilities who want to work. Recognize the disability. Imagine the possibility. Respect the ability. Learn more at RespectAbility USA.