The need for telework has risen rapidly this year. With telework comes the importance of ensuring that your meeting platforms support full accessibility for people with disabilities. Luckily, the process for selecting an accessible meeting platform matches the process for choosing any other technology. Below, please find tips from the Partnership on Employment & Accessible Technology (PEAT).
The key to success is to address accessibility requirements from the start. Incorporate accessibility into the procurement process, and then make sure to evaluate what technology providers promise and how they deliver.
First, evaluate the accessibility features of the meeting platforms you already use. The following websites describe accessibility features for several commonly used platforms for webinars, virtual conferences, and other collaborative activities:
Of course, you can’t always assume that a platform’s marketed accessibility features are sufficient to facilitate a fully inclusive virtual meeting. Consider how your organization can follow these important steps for procuring and using accessible meeting platforms:
Use strategies outlined in PEAT’s Buy IT! Guide to adopt a process for ensuring that any future technology you purchase adheres to best practices for accessibility. For example, the tool includes model procurement language that you can integrate into your contracts to ensure your vendors will have an obligation to remediate any accessibility issues that may arise.
The meditation-and-the-brain research has been rolling in steadily for a number of years now, with new studies coming out just about every week to illustrate some new benefit of meditation. Or, rather, some ancient benefit that is just now being confirmed with fMRI or EEG. The practice appears to have an amazing variety of neurological benefits – from changes in grey matter volume to reduced activity in the “me” centers of the brain to enhanced connectivity between brain regions. Below are some of the most exciting studies to come out in the last few years and show that meditation really does produce measurable changes in our most important organ. Skeptics, of course, may ask what good are a few brain changes if the psychological effects aren’t simultaneously being illustrated? Luckily, there’s good evidence for those as well, with studies reporting that meditation helps relieve our subjective levels of anxiety and depression, and improve attention, concentration, and overall psychological well-being.
Meditation Helps Preserve the Aging Brain
Last week, a study from UCLA found that long-term meditators had better-preserved brains than non-meditators as they aged. Participants who’d been meditating for an average of 20 years had more grey matter volume throughout the brain — although older meditators still had some volume loss compared to younger meditators, it wasn’t as pronounced as the non-meditators. “We expected rather small and distinct effects located in some of the regions that had previously been associated with meditating,” said study author Florian Kurth. “Instead, what we actually observed was a widespread effect of meditation that encompassed regions throughout the entire brain.”
Meditation Reduces Activity in the Brain’s “Me Center”
One of the most interesting studies in the last few years, carried out at Yale University, found that mindfulness meditation decreases activity in the default mode network (DMN), the brain network responsible for mind-wandering and self-referential thoughts – a.k.a., “monkey mind.” The DMN is “on” or active when we’re not thinking about anything in particular, when our minds are just wandering from thought to thought. Since mind-wandering is typically associated with being less happy, ruminating, and worrying about the past and future, it’s the goal for many people to dial it down. Several studies have shown that meditation, through its quieting effect on the DMN, appears to do just this. And even when the mind does start to wander, because of the new connections that form, meditators are better at snapping back out of it.
Its Effects Rival Antidepressants for Depression, Anxiety
A review study last year at Johns Hopkins looked at the relationship between mindfulness meditation and its ability to reduce symptoms of depression, anxiety, and pain. Researcher Madhav Goyal and his team found that the effect size of meditation was moderate, at 0.3. If this sounds low, keep in mind that the effect size for antidepressants is also 0.3, which makes the effect of meditation sound pretty good. Meditation is, after all an active form of brain training. “A lot of people have this idea that meditation means sitting down and doing nothing,” says Goyal. “But that’s not true. Meditation is an active training of the mind to increase awareness, and different meditation programs approach this in different ways.” Meditation isn’t a magic bullet for depression, as no treatment is, but it’s one of the tools that may help manage symptoms.
Meditation May Lead to Volume Changes in Key Areas of the Brain
In 2011, Sara Lazar and her team at Harvard found that mindfulness meditation can actually change the structure of the brain: Eight weeks of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) was found to increase cortical thickness in the hippocampus, which governs learning and memory, and in certain areas of the brain that play roles in emotion regulation and self-referential processing. There were also decreases in brain cell volume in the amygdala, which is responsible for fear, anxiety, and stress – and these changes matched the participants’ self-reports of their stress levels, indicating that meditation not only changes the brain, but it changes our subjective perception and feelings as well. In fact, a follow-up study by Lazar’s team found that after meditation training, changes in brain areas linked to mood and arousal were also linked to improvements in how participants said they felt — i.e., their psychological well-being. So for anyone who says that activated blobs in the brain don’t necessarily mean anything, our subjective experience – improved mood and well-being – does indeed seem to be shifted through meditation as well.
Just a Few Days of Training Improves Concentration and Attention
Having problems concentrating isn’t just a kid thing – it affects millions of grown-ups as well, with an ADD diagnosis or not. Interestingly but not surprisingly, one of the central benefits of meditation is that it improves attention and concentration: One recent study found that just a couple of weeks of meditation training helped people’s focus and memory during the verbal reasoning section of the GRE. In fact, the increase in score was equivalent to 16 percentile points, which is nothing to sneeze at. Since the strong focus of attention (on an object, idea, or activity) is one of the central aims of meditation, it’s not so surprising that meditation should help people’s cognitive skills on the job, too – but it’s nice to have science confirm it. And everyone can use a little extra assistance on standardized tests.
Meditation Reduces Anxiety — and Social Anxiety
A lot of people start meditating for its benefits in stress reduction, and there’s lots of good evidence to support this rationale. There’s a whole newer sub-genre of meditation, mentioned earlier, called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts’ Center for Mindfulness (now available all over the country), that aims to reduce a person’s stress level, physically and mentally. Studies have shown its benefits in reducing anxiety, even years after the initial 8-week course. Research has also shown that mindfulness meditation, in contrast to attending to the breath only, can reduce anxiety – and that these changes seem to be mediated through the brain regions associated with those self-referential (“me-centered”) thoughts. Mindfulness meditation has also been shown to help people with social anxiety disorder: a Stanford University team found that MBSR brought about changes in brain regions involved in attention, as well as relief from symptoms of social anxiety.
Cynthia DiBartolo’s journey to the New York Stock Exchange floor was fraught with challenges and difficulty.
In July 2021, DiBartolo’s firm, Tigress Financial Partners, became the first disabled and woman-owned floor broker to become a member of the NYSE.
Floor brokers are members of firms who execute trades on the exchange floor on behalf of the firm’s clients. They are physically present on the trading floor and are active during the New York Stock Exchange opening and closing auctions.
Tigress Financial Partners has been co-manager or selling group member on more than 620 IPO and secondary transactions with an aggregate market value of over $321 billion, including for companies such as Warner Music, Monday.com, and Airbnb.
In mid-2020, Wall Street banks, which are predominately run by white men, came under intense pressure to improve diversity following the Black Lives Matter protests.
Companies vowed to improve their practices via philanthropic programs, diverse hiring practices, and internships for underprivileged candidates. DiBartolo crafted a diversity questionnaire to make it easier for companies selling stock or issuing debt to find and vet minority and women-owned firms. American Airlines has already adopted the survey, and JPMorgan has begun to create a database to help automate the process.
Prior to launching Tigress Financial in 2011, DiBartolo served as a compliance director, an attorney, and as a risk management director for some of Wall Streets’ largest firms. However, her life would change in 2009 with a diagnosis of throat and neck cancer.
DiBartolo became severely disabled following life-saving surgery that compromised her ability to eat, speak and swallow. Through reconstructive surgery, DiBartolo was able to regain her ability to speak, but can only do so several hours a day.
Cancer not only took DiBartolo’s voice but also her career, as she recalled in an interview with CNBC’s Bob Pisani. “You see, there was no place for an attorney, risk management director, compliance director who couldn’t speak,” she said.
During her recovery, DiBartolo began to understand just how marginalized people in the disabled community were. “During the time I didn’t have the ability to speak, I realized how marginalized I was not just in financial services, but in society,” she said.
Inspiration from her father convinced her that she needed to act; “They took your tongue, not your brain.” her father told her. Using her experience from decades on Wall Street and tenacity DiBartolo launched the first and nation’s only disabled and woman-owned financial services firm.
John Donahoe is the CEO of Nike. When I was 28 years old, I got some advice that changed my life. It was 1988, and I was a consultant at Bain. These were intense years-long hours, little sleep, lots of travel, constant work, and trying to balance family life with a spouse and two young children. I was glad to be learning as much as I was, but I also remember feeling like I was barely staying afloat.
One day, during a training program for young consultants, a speaker came to impart some wisdom. I was half-listening at first, my mind drifting back to the office, when he asked us a question: How many of us wanted to be world-class at what we did?
Naturally we all raised our hands. The speaker laughed and said, well, that’s the intelligence test.
Then he explained. He said he spent years studying world-class athletes. (I’d always looked up to athletes and my ears perked up at this.) And he said that these top athletes all shared a unique trait: They take care of themselves.
He said for every hour they’re on the playing field, they train for 20 hours. They work out, they sleep well, they eat right. They look inward to learn their own strengths and weaknesses. And importantly, they are not afraid to ask for help — in fact, they view asking for help as a sign of strength.
“Michael Jordan has a bench coach, a personal trainer, a chef, and a mental coach. He wants to get help so he can get better,” the speaker told us. “But you businesspeople don’t take care of yourselves. You think not getting sleep is a badge of honor! And you want to be world-class? You think asking for help is a sign of weakness, not strength. I don’t get it!”
‘I was sacrificing my mental health at the altar of my work’
I was rocked back. My eyes were opened. He was right. Like so many others, I was sacrificing my mental health at the altar of my work, simply because I thought that was the only way.
As my career continued, I took his advice to heart. I’ve been fortunate enough to have some high-impact, challenging jobs over the years. And despite these leadership positions, I have always tried to keep perspective by taking care of myself and by asking for help.
Click here to read the full article on Yahoo! News.
Not everyone feels comfortable sharing their personal lives with their employers, particularly when it comes to health issues and disability. Legally, you are in no way obligated to disclose your disability to your employer, or even to a potential employer during an interview. It is also illegal for employers to ask about it outright, but once you bring it up, the topic is fair game.
Sometimes, however, it’s necessary to mention your disability to your employer, particularly when you are requesting a reasonable accommodation to help you perform your job better. While it may be a scary conversation, talking about your disability with your employer is an important opportunity to be an advocate for yourself, which is something that all employees should learn how to do.
Self-advocacy is as simple as taking the initiative and having the confidence to talk with your employer about your needs in the workplace. For some, this conversation may center on a deserved raise or promotion, but at its core, advocating for yourself is about communicating what you need to do your best work. Even if you are working with a case manager to find a job that embraces individuals with disabilities, you cannot and should not depend on other people to advocate for you.
We’ve seen the powerful impact self-advocacy has had on our customers here at Allsup Employment Services. One success story that stands out came from an individual who had returned to work at the Post Office after being out of work for a year due to her disability. She struggled to do the heavy lifting required for the job and was about to quit, when she received a letter from her union about the possibility of switching to light duty.
After speaking with one of our case managers about what that would look like and getting a letter from her doctor, she met with HR and the union, who helped her to outline the duties she could do to fulfill the light duty assignment. She has been back at work and thriving for months, all because she made the decision to speak up.
Advocating for yourself begins by having a conversation with HR or your employer, and the best way to start is by framing it in a way that makes your priorities clear: taking care of your health and doing your job well. Use this time to be transparent with your employer. Talk about the challenges that you’re facing and lay out specifically what you believe you need to overcome those obstacles and function at your highest level in the workplace.
Make sure to keep the conversation positive and highlight the correlation between the accommodation you are requesting and the impact it will have on your performance. One of our case managers was helping an individual who was working really hard to manage a job she couldn’t physically do, and her supervisor recognized that, as well as the fact that it wasn’t a good fit. But because of her hard work and dedication, her employer offered her the opportunity to transition into a position that aligns better with her abilities.
Another piece of the puzzle that stops employees from requesting accommodations is the confusion over whom to ask. It’s different for everyone, and it may be more than one person. For some, it could be HR or a manager, but it’s always best to start out having these conversations with your immediate supervisor. Someone with whom you work on a daily basis is in the best position to recognize the great work you’re doing and the workplace obstacles that might be hindering your performance.
Employers will often need to strategize with HR to determine employee eligibility for an accommodation and how to provide it, but in most cases, the biggest obstacle is that the employee doesn’t come forward out of fear. Often the solution could be as simple as a flexible schedule, for individuals who have frequent medical appointments, or an inexpensive piece of equipment to make a desk accessible for use of a wheelchair.
April is Autism Acceptance Month. It’s a good time to rethink not only how non-autistic or “neurotypical” people can best support autistic people –– but also how non-disabled people in general can do better in supporting people with any kind of mental, developmental, or physical disability. There’s no shortage of good intentions. Most people if asked would say that they at least want to do right by people with disabilities. But being a good disability ally requires more than goodwill.
The disabled community is well past the point of being satisfied with simple recognition or mere shows of support, as we might have been 30 years ago. We’re not even looking for advocacy, if it means non-disabled people speaking for us, defending their perception of our rights without our full participation or consent. It’s always important to do the right thing when you can, and to be counted on the side of disabled people and our needs. But it’s even more important to discover and center disabled people’s concerns, priorities, and preferences, even if you don’t always understand or agree with them. We need allies fighting with us, not just advocates fighting for us. Fortunately, we seem to be gaining more genuine allies every year. That’s worth celebrating.
Still, as more people learn about disability issues, it’s important to be alert for ways that disability allies can lose their way. The following are three of the most common ways that even the best, most committed disability allies can go wrong.
1. Listening to disability awareness seminars instead of disabled people.
Articles and training on disability issues and etiquette are certainly valuable. They can be especially useful for people just starting to learn disability issues. Formal training can teach the basics of how to behave towards disabled people in social situations. You can learn a bit about how everyday accessibility problems affect disabled people. And you can start to get some rough guidelines on common questions, like whether or not to ask disabled people about their disabilities, or what terminology to use and what to avoid.
But disability awareness seminars and webinars are no substitute for listening to actual disabled people. Our individual views and preferences don’t always match the standardized rules of “disability awareness.” Some of us want to be left alone; others crave interaction. Some of us invite questions and are happy to explain our experiences. Others of us feel besieged with people’s curiosity and want to choose when and how we will “educate” people about disability. Practical accessibility affects each disabled person differently too. Some of us are more bothered and confrontational about it than others. And we have different opinions on disability terms. Some, like the “R-word” for intellectual disability, are clearly off-limits. Others, like whether to say “person with a disability” or “disabled person,” are still open to debate and personal taste. Rules and philosophies learned in advance can help, but they will only get you so far.
The worst thing you can do is lecture disabled people you meet in real life on how we should process our own experiences. Yet, this happens, a lot. It’s entirely possible, even common, to meet disabled people whose views on disability are different from what you’ve been taught. Regardless, never tell or imply to a disabled person that you understand disability issues better than they do – even if you have reason to believe that might really be true. If you find yourself thinking that a disabled person’s views on disability issues are wrongheaded or uninformed, and that it’s your job to enlighten them – stop yourself. Think about it carefully, and proceed only with great caution. Or, leave it alone, and respect the opinions and choices of the disabled person you are talking to.
“You have to work hard on being your true self, and believe in the brands you promote.”
Words of advice from 32-year-old disabled influencer Tess Daly from Sheffield, who uses her 200,000-plus followers on Instagram to promote her beauty tutorials and advertise beauty brands.
Electric wheelchair-user Tess, who has spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), has worked on social marketing campaigns for the likes of Boohoo and Pretty Little Thing, as well as various make-up brands.
She still cringes at the term “social influencer”, but says that she wishes there were more people like her when she was growing up.
“So many people with disabilities have told me that I’ve given them the confidence, not only to embrace their disability, but to also pursue their own love of make-up,” she says.
Tess is one of a growing number of disabled influencers who work with Martyn Sibley and his digital marketing agency Purple Goat, which he launched at the beginning of lockdown last year.
Martyn, who was also born with SMA, started the agency as part of his mission for a fully inclusive world.
“I believe by helping big businesses make more profit through including disabled consumers via disabled influencers, we’ll get true inclusion quicker,” he says. “With this model it’s a win-win for everyone.”
Purple Goat has worked with more than 75 influencers so far, but Martyn is keen to point out that they’re not a talent agency with people on their books.
“We work for the client and find the right influencer for each campaign,” he explains.
Taking the plunge
Around 14.1 million people in the UK have some sort of disability, and with those sorts of numbers comes serious spending power. According to disability charity Scope, the so-called “purple pound” is worth approximately £273bn every year.
But while disabled people make up around 22% of the UK population, this is not reflected when it comes to advertising. Up-to-date figures are hard to come by, but research from Lloyds Banking Group in 2016 showed that disabled people featured in just 0.06% of advertising.
This was the main driver behind Martyn launching Purple Goat. He thinks the world of marketing and advertising is now becoming a lot more socially aware, and is ready for disruption.
“I believe it’s partly the way public opinion has improved around diversity and inclusion,” he says. “Brands have been fearful of getting disability wrong, but they’re now fearful of being called out for doing nothing.”
Tess has certainly seen a pick-up in social media work. Up until last year, it was something she did as a sideline, but towards the end of 2020 she took the plunge to become a full-time influencer, and now works with an agent to manage her workload.
It wasn’t as easy as people may think, she says. “You can’t just wake up one day and decide you want to become a social influencer.”
‘Demanding to be seen’
Last year London-based luxury shoe brand Kurt Geiger started working with Northern Irish amputee model and influencer Bernadette Hagans.
The company’s chief executive, Neil Clifford, thinks that the rise in disabled influencers is down to the public’s change of mood.
“The boom in social media has given a voice to those who have previously been under-represented in the public eye and they are, quite rightly, demanding to be seen and heard,” he says. “People expect businesses to utilize their influence to counter inequality and many brands are reacting to this need.”
Twenty-six-year-old Pippa Stacey from York works in the charity sector, and blogs about living with chronic illness. Pippa, who lives with myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), also known as chronic fatigue syndrome, has also worked with Purple Goat doing social media campaigns for brands such as Tesco.
“Influencer marketing is about so much more than just the hard sell. It’s about supporting a positive image of the brand and their values, of which inclusivity should be central in this day and age,” she says.
Inclusivity on the part of big brands shouldn’t just be a tick box exercise, something they feel compelled to do to avoid criticism, she says.
“Having an ongoing relationship with disabled influencers, and taking the time to understand their platform. and their audience can help brands construct the most effective campaigns in a socially conscious way.”
Sunrise Medical, a world leader in advanced assistive mobility solutions, is pleased to announce that it has completed two strategic acquisitions in Europe in 2022 – The Helping Hand Company based in the UK and Now Tech based in Hungary – continuing its strong pursuit for strategic improvements and growth.
The Helping Hand Company is a reputed British company specializing in the design, manufacturing, and distribution of pressure management seating and positioning products, Symmetrikit 24hour postural care range, independent living, and environmental products.
Its well-established operation and vertically integrated manufacturing will benefit Sunrise Medical group in strengthening production capability in Europe and further optimizing its global supply chain. It also extends the product portfolio, especially in the Seating and Pediatrics area, to offer more comprehensive 24-hour postural care products to satisfy the well-diversified customer demand.
Now Tech, a Budapest-headquartered tech start-up company, joins Sunrise Medical with a strong digital, software, and electronic engineering team, bringing highly desired technical skills and more than 10 years of industry-specific knowledge and expertise. Its latest innovation, the special head control product Gyroset Vigo, has already been well received by the market and will become part of Sunrise Medical’s SWITCH-IT power wheelchair special control product offering. The addition of Now Tech will significantly strengthen the group’s innovation power.
“We are very excited to welcome The Helping Hand Company and Now Tech into the Sunrise Medical family. Continuously improving our global operation excellence and striving for great, breakthrough innovations has always been the center of our strategy,” Thomas Babacan, the President and CEO of Sunrise Medical group (pictured above) commented. “Both acquisitions will significantly strengthen our group’s setup and competences, especially in global supply chain and our innovation talents, which will enable us to further improve our products & performances and serve our customers better in many ways.”
About Sunrise Medical:Committed to improving people’s lives, Sunrise Medical is a world leader in the innovation, manufacture and distribution of advanced assistive mobility devices and solutions. Distributed in more than 130 countries under its own 17 proprietary brands, the key products include manual and power wheelchairs, power assist products, motorized scooters, seating & positioning systems and daily living aids. Operating in 18 countries, Sunrise Medical group is headquartered in Malsch, Germany and employs over 2,300 associates worldwide.
Click here to find out more about Sunrise Medical visit.
With National Disability Employment Awareness Month just concluded, the Center on Employment at Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf is offering tips for employers conducting virtual interviews with deaf and hard-of-hearing job candidates.
“In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, we recognize that the usual approach to the interview process has been dramatically impacted, and many employers are turning to virtual platforms to conduct their interviews,” said John Macko, director of RIT/NTID’s Center on Employment.
Employers can ensure that deaf and hard-of-hearing job candidates have full access to communication for a successful interview. Here’s how:
Avoid having bright lights or a window directly behind you that can create glare and cause eye strain for the candidate. Make sure there are no distractions in the background, as well.
If the candidate is not familiar with the platform (Zoom, Google Meet, etc.) used for the interview, allow them to perform a test connection to make sure the candidate can connect at the time of the interview.
Encourage the candidate to let you know if communication is unclear. Ask questions and clarify comments to ensure the candidate understands everything that is happening during the interview.
Use a dry erase board, writing tablet, chatroom, or comment feature to help clarify your communication.
With the rapid rise of telework, the PEAT team recognizes it’s more important than ever to make sure virtual presentations are accessible.
These efforts allow all participants, particularly people with disabilities, to effectively engage with presented content. Below, you’ll find seven essential steps and related resources to help you create accessible presentations.
Before and During Your Presentation
Step 1: Research
Before hosting a virtual presentation, identify all accessibility features of the online platform you intend to use. The following websites discuss accessibility features for several commonly used platforms for webinars, virtual conferences, and other collaborative activities:
When sending invitations to join your virtual presentation, encourage participants to share their requirements and accommodation needs to engage effectively in your event. For example, you could craft a request like this:
“We strive to host an inclusive and accessible presentation. Accessible materials will be distributed to participants in advance, and live captioning will be provided during the event. If you have questions about the accessibility of our presentation, or want to request accommodations, please reach out to [add name] at [add email].”
Step 3: Put Systems in Place
Before your live event starts, check off these critical to-do items first:
Adjust your platform settings to record your presentation. Though this may not be specifically requested, it’s helpful for everyone to access content after the live event concludes.
Arrange captioning for your presentation in advance (such as through the Federal Relay Service for government employees or another service provider).
Secure sign language interpreters—if requested.
Step 4: Create Accessible Materials
In advance of your presentation, create and share accessible slide decks and other presentation materials with the audience. Sending your materials ahead of time ensures that participants have access to electronic versions in case they encounter accessibility issues during the live event. Consider these resources for creating accessible presentations and documents in Word (or another software application for word processing):
How to Make Presentations Accessible to All
Best Practices for Making Word Documents Accessible
Step 5: Prepare Speaker(s)
For a presentation to be fully accessible, speakers must understand how to use key features of the online platform and convey content in a manner that promotes accessibility. Participants with certain disabilities can absorb information better and more effectively engage in presentations when the speaker(s) follows recommendations for accessible communication.
We also suggest conducting a preparatory or dry-run session with the presenters in advance to verify their familiarity and comfort with the run of show and platform controls (e.g., screen sharing, muting/unmuting audio, etc.).
After Your Presentation
Step 6: Share Materials
After the event concludes, disseminate a recording of your presentation and the transcript to participants. This best practice enhances the accessibility of the information you shared and affords people with and without disabilities more opportunities to review and better understand the content you presented.
Step 7: Ask for Feedback
When sharing materials from your presentation, ask participants for feedback on the content of the presentation, its utility, and their experiences with the accessibility of your virtual event.
Learn more about how to foster accessibility for all your digital materials (e.g., emails, PDFs, social media posts, etc.) by reviewing PEAT’s digital accessibility basics
Watch a recording and access PowerPoint slides from this recent presentation: “Creating and Hosting an Accessible Online Presentation”
Utilize additional tips for virtual meetings and presentations: “Accessibility Tips for a Better Zoom/Virtual Meeting Experience”
Use PEAT’s Buy IT tool when evaluating a meeting platform for purchase
Devin Boyle is a consultant for PEAT supporting efforts to ensure new technologies, such as autonomous vehicles and X-Reality, are born accessible. She has more than 10 years of experience in policy analysis and development, stakeholder engagement, strategic communication, advocacy and partnership building.
Source: Partnership on Employment & Accessible Technology (PEAT)
Hollywood plays a massive part in shaping our understanding of different groups and helps us gain insight into worlds and cultures we may never have been able to on our own. The movies and TV series that flood our screens are more than just entertainment; they’re education. But with great power and influence comes great responsibility as there’s always the danger of misrepresentation.
Over the years, Hollywood has faced backlash from several communities and social movements about the issue of misrepresentation and underrepresentation. Groups identifying with Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ, the MeToo Movement, and protests like the OscarsSoWhite campaign come to mind.
People with disabilities, moreover racialized groups with disabilities, should also be at the forefront of this conversation, but they aren’t. This is a huge problem, especially considering that about a billion people live with some form of disability. In the U.S., one in five people have a disability, and for adults specifically, the disability count is about 26 percent, according to the CDC—roughly one in four adults.
“It’s almost impossible not to find people living with disabilities in any of these communities that feel let down by the entertainment industry’s depiction of their reality,” he said. “The discussion about proper inclusion and authentic depictions of a disabled person’s circumstances can only bode well for these groups and the entire industry as a whole.”
Disability isn’t new to the entertainment industry
Hollywood and the wider entertainment industry have many popular figures who are on the disability spectrum. Michael J. Fox has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, Jim Carrey has talked about having ADHD, and Billie Eilish was diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome as a child, to mention a few.
Many of Hollywood’s big names have also brought awareness to various disabilities by talking about their condition, advocating for better understanding and acceptance of people with disabilities, or donating to their cause. The industry has also taken steps to shine a light on disabilities by making movies and TV productions focused on varying disabilities, or casting lead characters as people with disabilities.
The problem here is that the bigger picture still tells a story of underrepresentation and a lack of inclusion with only 3.5 percent of series regular characters being disabled in 2020, according to GLAAD. Another study found that this number was reasonably higher in 2018—12 per cent higher in fact—but that the majority of these characters were portrayed negatively.
There have been reports over the years of actors, writers, and other workers in entertainment losing their jobs or not being considered for a position due to disability-related issues. So while some of the silver screen’s most loved names play the roles of disabled characters and win awards and recognitions, the disabled community isn’t seeing any reasonable increase in inclusion and accessibility in the industry. In fact, about 95 per cent of characters with disabilities in Hollywood’s top shows are played by able-bodied actors, and during the 2019 Oscars, only two out of the 61 nominees and 27 winners that played disabled characters were actually disabled.
This gives credence to the concern of inauthentic portrayals of any given disability or disabled person. “It has never made sense to me that disabled characters in our shows and movies are played by people who have no disability.” Musab opines, “You can’t give what you don’t have, not optimally anyway. The way I see it, it’s like getting Cameron Diaz to play Harriet Tubman. No matter how pure her intentions and commitment to deliver on the role, she simply won’t be able to do it justice. It is an indictment of the abilities of disabled artists.”
The real focus is not only on the disability of the Hollywood spectrum but on the lack of inclusivity for racialized groups within the disabled community. The stories of their lives may have been voiced on several platforms but never from the eyes of the Hollywood industry. This is an important recognition for racialized groups within the disabled community, to not only be recognized but seen through a macro spectrum of representations.