CEOs That You Never Knew Had a Disability

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Steve Jobs standing on stage talking into a microphone at a conference

By Monica Luhar and Sara Salam

CEOs with disabilities such as cerebral palsy, ADHD, or dyslexia have an impact on society through their innovative, creative, and out-of-the-box thinking. They have also led the way for promoting diversity and inclusivity in the workplace, while not letting their disabilities be the sole trait that defines their ability to lead.

Several well-known CEOs have also turned or viewed their disabilities as strengths or opportunities that help challenge society’s attitudes and misconceptions of the disability community.

Below is a list we compiled of CEOs that have shared some of their struggles, achievements, and advice throughout their leadership career:

Sir Richard Branson – Founder of Virgin Group

Sir Richard Branson is the founder of Virgin Group, a family owned growth capital investor. The corporation now controls more than 400 companies globally. Boasting more than 53 million companies worldwide, Virgin Group earns over £16.6B in annual revenue, according to its website. The company employs 69,000 people in 25 countries.

Branson established the Virgin Group in 1970 by launching a mail-order record business that developed into Virgin Records. Virgin Records was the first Virgin company to reach a billion-dollar valuation in 1992.

Branson attributes much of his success to his dyslexia and learning disabilities. According to an interview with the Washington Post, delegation played a large role in his approach to running his business. His motivations are rooted in wanting to do good in the world.

“Since starting youth culture magazine Student at age 16, I have tried to find entrepreneurial ways to drive positive change in the world,” Branson shared on his LinkedIn profile. “In 2004, we established Virgin Unite, the non-profit foundation of the Virgin Group, which unites people and entrepreneurial ideas to create opportunities for a better world.”

Source: virgin.com

J.K. Rowling – Best-Selling & Award-Winning Author

Best known for her Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling (born Joanne Rowling) always knew she wanted to be an author. At age eleven, she wrote her first novel—about seven cursed diamonds and the people who owned them. Rowling came up with the idea for Harry Potter in 1990 while sitting on a delayed train from Manchester to London King’s Cross. Over the next five years, she began to construct a framework for each of the seven books of the series. She moved to northern Portugal to teach English as a foreign language, married, and had a child. When the marriage ended in 1993, she returned to the UK to live in Edinburgh, with her daughter and the first three chapters of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. After several rejection by literary agents, she received one yes. The book was first published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books in June 1997.

Rowling has shared the role depression played in her success; at one point she contemplated suicide and suffered chronic depression. In a Harvard University commencement speech, she stated, “Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one area where I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realized, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter, and a big idea. And so rock bottom became a solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”

Source: jkrowling.com

Paul Orfalea – Founder of Kinko’s aka FedEx Office

Businessman Paul Orfalea founded what is now known as FedEx Office (originally called Kinko’s). He built Kinko’s from a single shop in Santa Barbara to a national chain with more than 1,000 locations and 25,000 employees. FedEx bought Kinko’s in 2004. It has been reported that Orfalea never carried a pen, often allowing others to handle correspondence for him because he didn’t like to read or write. He has dyslexia and ADHD, which he credits as the blessings that allowed him to see the world differently from his peers. “Lacking the ability to learn by reading, I embraced every chance to participate in life. I started businesses, like my vegetable stand. I skipped school to watch my father’s stockbroker at work. I learned early that I would only get through school with a lot of help from a lot of people. I learned to appreciate people’s strengths and forgive their weaknesses, as I hoped they would forgive mine.”

Sources: https://cagspeakers.com/paul-orfalea/

https://latimesblogs.latimes.com/money_co/2008/06/post-2.html

Tommy Hilfiger – Fashion Designer, CEO/Entrepreneur, Tommy Hilfiger Corporation

American fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger built an extraordinary and widely distributed fashion line from the ground up. The company made strides in the disability community by recently unveiling a clothing line geared toward people with disabilities. From a very young age, Hilfiger was equipped with an entrepreneurial spirit and an iconic eye for fashion. He wasn’t diagnosed with dyslexia until much later on in life, although he shared that he often felt embarrassed to reach out to people for help.

He quit school at age 18 and went on to work in the retail industry in New York City, where he began altering clothes for resale. He and his friends from high school started selling jeans and opened a store called the People’s Place, which became an instant hit. Eventually, the People’s Place went bankrupt when Hilfiger was 25. But, he picked himself back up and continued to focus on his designs before launching what would be known as the iconic Tommy Hilfiger.

Hilfiger recently partnered with the Child Mind Institute in a PSA titled, “What I Would Tell #MyYounger Self.” In the campaign video, he said, “As a child, I was dyslexic. I didn’t realize it until later on in life. I faced many challenges along the way. If you are facing challenges, the best thing you could possibly do is reach out to an adult because adults can help you somehow. I didn’t realize it at the time; I was embarrassed to talk to my teachers and family about it. But if something is bothering you, if you think you have a challenge, reach out to an adult and allow them to help you.”

Although Hilfiger struggled to read and write, he tapped into his creative strengths in other ways and diverted his attention to the world of fashion with a highly successful brand with estimated sales of $6.7 billion.

Barbara Corcoran – Founder of the Corcoran Group and Shark on ABC’s “Shark Tank”

As a child, Barbara Corcoran often felt isolated and lonely due to her dyslexia. She struggled to read in the third grade and often found herself daydreaming about creative business ideas that were not related to the school curriculum. She struggled in high school and college, received straight Ds, and also experienced a ton of setbacks. She job hopped a total of 20 jobs, but never gave up on her quest to find her true passion and a career that she was passionate about.

One of the most life-changing moments of her career was when she decided to borrow $1,000 from her boyfriend, quit her job, and follow her dream of starting up The Corcoran Group, a small real estate company in New York City. Today, it’s known as the largest in the brokerage business.

Over the years, Corcoran—an American business woman, investor, author, and TV personality—has invested in over 80 businesses and is a highly recognized motivational and inspirational speaker. She is also the author of the bestselling book, Shark Tales: How I turned $1,000 into a Billion Dollar Business.

Today, Corcoran does not view her dyslexia as an impediment. She has learned to use her dyslexia as an opportunity to push her creative entrepreneurial spirit even further, and to help others on that journey as well.

Steve Jobs – Co-Founder & Former CEO of Apple

You can thank Apple founder Steve Jobs for some of the world’s most innovative tech products that make today’s communication and connectivity a breeze.

Although Jobs grew up with dyslexia, he never claimed or publicly shared his disability. He struggled in school and dropped out after one semester at Reed College. But instead of giving up, he decided to think outside of the box in 1976 by conceptualizing the iconic Apple Computer in what was his parents’ garage.

According to Business Insider, 10-15 percent of the U.S. population are dyslexic, but only a few individuals acknowledge and receive treatment for it. Jobs’ disability served as a creative gift that allowed him to take risks and chances with his concepts for Apple.

In his commencement speech at Stanford University in 2005, Jobs discussed the power of trusting in your abilities and believing that the hard work, setbacks, and struggles that you experience today will eventually connect the dots and help you reach your full potential down the road:

“Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards,” Jobs said. “So, you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something—your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”

Monica Luhar is a creative copywriter, content writer, and former journalist. Her bylines have appeared in NBC News, KCET, KPCC, VICE, India-West, HelloGiggles, Yahoo!, and other hyperlocal, weekly, and national news outlets. She has covered topics ranging from diverse representation in the media, entrepreneurship, disability rights, mental health, and has reported extensively on the Asian American and Pacific Islander, LGBTQ and Latino communities. You can follow her on Twitter at @monicaluhar or view her writing at monicaluhar.com.

Steve Jobs Photo: Apple CEO and co-founder Steve Jobs delivers the keynote speech to kick off the 2008 Macworld at the Moscone Center January 15, 2008 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by David Paul Morris/Getty Images)

5 Questions That Help Define The Outlines Of Disability Advocacy

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graphic of people with disabilities working on laptops

What is the shape of disability activism? There is a lot of natural variation in the large and diverse disabled population, and many different opinions among the smaller core of committed disability activists.

But there are some beliefs, positions, and mindsets that shape the community of individuals and organizations loosely referred to as “Disability Activism.” They aren’t exactly boundaries or litmus tests. They are more like magnets that draw disability advocates in certain directions. What are these key positions? How do we identify them?

Here are five questions that go a long way towards defining disability activism as more than a set of moods and activities, but rather a movement with both diversity and a distinct direction.

Is disability mainly a medical or a social experience?

The disability experience has two main aspects. First, there are people’s own mental and physical conditions, practical impairments, pain, discomfort, illness, and lack or loss of functioning. These form the conventional components of disability itself. It is essentially a person experience, and medically based.

Then there are the barriers people encounter that are related to their disabilities, but come from the outside. This can include lack of physical, sensory, or mental access to essential spaces, processes, goods, and services – and discrimination by individuals, laws, institutions, and practices. These are the social forces that make disability so much more than a purely personal and medical experience.

These two aspects of disability have for some time been referred to as the “Medical” and “Social” models of disability. Most disabled people experience elements of both. But whichever comes to be your dominant concern is both affected by and then further shapes how much you look to yourself for a better life and how much you look to outside people and social forces.

Modern disability activism is mostly based in the Social Model of disability. It is more concerned with collective action to make society more accepting, equitable, and accessible, and focused much less on funding for medical research or development of new treatments and therapies. This less a matter of right or wrong, than it is a difference in focus. But it’s enough of a difference to give disability activism a noticeably different tone, flavor, and direction than, say, fundraising for medical research, or treatment of disabling conditions. Broadly speaking, disability activism seeks to fix society’s ableism, not fix disabled people’s disabilities. That gives disability activism it’s most essential and distinct shape and dimension.

Read the full article at Forbes.

European Space Agency announces call for ‘parastronauts’ with disabilities

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graphic of three astronautsl; standing to right of a large ruler

The European Space Agency is diversifying its astronaut pool with its first call for astronauts that is open to candidates with physical disabilities.

In this call for new astronauts, the agency’s first recruitment drive in over a decade, ESA announced that it plans to accept four to six career astronauts (who will be permanent ESA staff) and about 20 “reserve astronauts,” who could fly for shorter missions to destinations like the International Space Station.

As part of this call for astronaut applicants, ESA Director General Jan Wörner revealed during a recent news briefing that the agency is aiming to bring its first “parastronaut,” or astronaut with physical disabilities, on board, according to SpaceNews.

As part of what it calls the “Parastronaut feasibility project,” “ESA is ready to invest in defining the necessary adaptations of space hardware in an effort to enable these otherwise excellently qualified professionals to serve as crew members on a safe and useful space mission,” the agency said in a statement, adding that it will open up this opportunity for one or more applicants.

For this parastronaut, who would be the first astronaut with physical disabilities selected not just by ESA but in history, the agency is “looking for individual(s) who are psychologically, cognitively, technically and professionally qualified to be an astronaut, but have a physical disability that would normally prevent them from being selected due to the requirements imposed by the use of current space hardware,” ESA added in the same statement.

ESA consulted with the Paralympic Committee to determine exactly which physical disabilities would work consistently with space missions, according to a New York Times. Currently, the agency is accepting applicants with leg amputations, significant differences in leg length or who are very short (typically, space agencies have a height minimum for astronaut candidates), according to the Times, though the agency hopes to expand this opportunity to others in the future.

After being recruited, astronaut candidates chosen as part of this project would work with the agency to determine what physical accommodations they might need to fly to space.

Continue on to Space.com to read the complete article.

Bumble Is Driving Powerful Change for Disabled Women Like Me

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Bumble founder, Whitney Wolfe Herd at the Fast Company Innovation

The trailblazing social network Bumble has had a busy, history-making month, one that proves the female-focused company’s strategy is poised to shape the future of social media.

First, Bumble rolled out a new policy on body shaming in an effort to “create a kinder and more accepting internet for everyone.”

Their updated terms and conditions explicitly prohibit “unsolicited and derogatory comments made about someone’s appearance, body shape, size, or health. This includes language that can be deemed fat-phobic, ableist, racist, colorist, homophobic or transphobic.”

Users who engage in body shaming, either in their profile or through the app’s chat feature, will receive a warning and repeated violations will result in a permanent ban. To illustrate the prevalence of body shaming, Bumble also released a video featuring disabled users talking about times they were shamed for their bodies.

As a disabled woman, I’ve regularly experienced body shaming on the internet; in fact, the taunts and mocking has steadily increased over the years. People have made fun of my appearance, called me things like “ugly” and “blobfish” and even used my photo in last summer’s cruel new teacher prank on TikTok.

While I mostly just roll my eyes at these comments now, they still hurt because it’s another reminder of just how embedded ableism is in our culture. And it’s also one of the reasons I’ve avoided joining dating apps altogether — I don’t need yet another place to be bombarded by body shaming and ableist rhetoric.

That’s why I was thrilled to see the disability community represented in Bumble’s video. In a world where we continually view disabled bodies as “less than” and unworthy, this ad is the societal pushback we need in 2021. We need to normalize disabilities and disabled bodies and Bumble is taking a much-needed step in that direction.

Bumble user Alex Dacy agrees. The social media influencer, who has spinal muscular atrophy, appeared in the video and was excited to be a part of such a pivotal moment for disability representation, especially coming from a large company like Bumble. The conversation around disabilities and body shaming is long overdue and Dacy is happy to see Bumble leading that conversation.

Read the full article at CNN.

What To Look For In A Disability Organization

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There’s an important question that may get too little attention in the world of disability services, activism, and culture. If we really care about people with disabilities and disability issues, we should all do better than just tossing pocket change in every fundraising bucket we see, or signing up for every walkathon a coworker’s kid puts in front of us.

But how do we choose which disability-related causes and organizations to support? Some criteria are the same for any kind of charity or organization seeking voluntary support. Look for sound, transparent finances and accounting practices. Make sure they use funds to further an important mission rather than simply enriching top executives. Support organizations that give regular, readable reports of services provided, advocacy accomplishments, and goals achieved. Look for strong oversight by a genuinely representative Board of Directors or similar governing entity.

These are basic tips for choosing any charity or cause, for donations or for volunteering. But what other qualities should we look for specifically in disability organizations? Here are some criteria and questions to ask, and why they are important:

  • Medical research and treatment

This is the most traditional and well-known type of disability organization. Their goals are mainly to fund medical research into treatments and cures for specific disabling conditions, and in some cases to help provide some of those treatments to people with those conditions.

The closest thing to an original is the March of Dimes, started by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1938 to find a cure for polio. But the model continues, with some modernizing alterations, in the March of Dimes itself and in other legacy organizations like the Multiple Sclerosis SocietyMuscular Dystrophy AssociationUnited Cerebral Palsy Association, and the Alzheimer’s Association. Notably, many of these organizations are better known to the general public for their fundraising events, and less for the work they do.

  • Direct services

Most disability organizations provide at least some personal and material assistance directly to disabled people and their families. For some, direct service is the main focus. Services can include funding for adaptive equipment, paying for certain high-cost medical procedures, or enriching experiences like support groups and summer camps. In local chapters and offices, direct services may also include one-on-one information, counseling, and advocacy assistance to address disabled people’s everyday needs, concerns, and barriers.

Read the full article at Forbes.

‘Framing Britney Spears’ Doesn’t Bring Up Disability and That’s a Problem

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Britney Spears performing close up photo

Britney Spears is physically able-bodied, beautiful, and successful. It’s not what disability narratives have historically prized throughout the years.

Everyone has an opinion on Britney Spears, even if you think you don’t. Since the pop star’s infamous series of erratic decisions starting in 2007 — which led to her being placed in a conservatorship for the last 12 years — there have been numerous opinions stated about whether Spears is a prisoner or being protected. This week, FX’s “The New York Times Presents: Framing Britney Spears” sought to lift the veil on what many people have heard about Spears and her confinement, but one word was noticeably absent throughout the hour-long broadcast: disabled.

Last year, as the #FreeBritney movement started up, disabled rights advocate and writer Sara Luterman brought up Spears’ conservatorship with regards to disability rights issues in The Nation. A conservatorship, as Luterman lays it out, is “generally imposed on people with a documented disability who are determined, by a judge, to be unable to care for themselves.” A conservator determines how the conservatee spends their money, takes care of themselves day to day, and anything else falling under a wide swath of things deemed necessary.

As Luterman points out, “Guardianship is most commonly used on young adults with intellectual disabilities and older adults with dementia. It isn’t clear how many people are under guardianship in the United States, but in a 2013 report, the AARP’s ‘best guess’ was 1.5 million Americans.

Yet within “Framing Britney Spears” the topic is never couched with regards to disability. Instead they make it clear that conservatorships are usually reserved for those who are elderly. The distinction is pertinent, as elderly doesn’t always mean disabled — but too often disabled always means elderly. The series also limits their discussions to #FreeBritney allies or those with legal connections to conservatorships, and never does it solicit the opinions of disabled rights advocates.

And this is disturbing, because there are elements of Spears’ life that definitely sound troubling — but when you factor in the more nefarious ways conservatorships control a person’s medical and, especially, sexual and reproductive health, it’s reminiscent of the numerous ways those with disabilities have been controlled and prohibited from being considered actual people.

Read the full article at Indie Wire.

The First Blind Man to Climb Mount Everest and Other Inspiring Athletes Star in Super Bowl Ad

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Erik Weihenmayer

Guaranteed Rate, one of America’s top 5 retail mortgage lenders, announces that the newest ad in its national brand campaign, Believe You Will, will air during this year’s Super Bowl.

The 60-second spot will feature some of the Believe You Will campaign’s ambassadors, including Dustin Poirier, who recently defeated UFC legend Conor McGregor, and Ryan Newman, who will be racing to win his second Daytona 500 next week, marking the one-year anniversary of his infamous, fiery crash.

“It’s exciting to be a part of the most iconic sporting event in the world,” said Guaranteed Rate President and CEO Victor Ciardelli. “Our new Believe You Will campaign is authentically us. We are a mortgage company that believes ‘We Grow For Good’–the more we grow, the more good we can do. We believe people are amazing and can do anything they want in the world; they just have to believe they can.”

Guaranteed Rate’s ad, as well as the entire Believe You Will campaign, was produced by the company’s in-house creative team. The Believe You Will campaign’s ambassadors were identified based on their personal stories and philosophies, which connect directly to the idea that incredible goals can be attained through the power of positivity and belief.

“At Guaranteed Rate, our core values are rooted in the power of belief and positive thinking, to achieve audacious goals,” said Guaranteed Rate Chief Marketing Officer Steve Moffat. “To share that philosophy, we found remarkable stories of people who believed in their abilities to overcome challenges and achieve their goals. We hope that people around the world will be inspired by these stories and will believe that they too can achieve great things.”

The spot airing during the game highlights several of the campaign‘s inspiring ambassadors, including:

  • Dustin Poirier, who believes he will regain the UFC lightweight title after having just defeated the legendary Conor McGregor in a vicious 2nd-round TKO on January 23.
  • Ryan Newman, who believes he will win his second Daytona 500, one year after being in one of the sport’s most shocking crashes ever.
  • Erik Weihenmayer, who believed he could defy the odds to become the first blind person to climb to the summit of Mount Everest.
  • Rose Namajunas, who believed she could rise above extremely tough circumstances and become a UFC champion.
  • Seth Jones, who believed that even though his dad was an NBA veteran, he could forge his own path to become an NHL All Star.
  • Starr Andrews, who believes she can accomplish her dream of being an Olympic figure-skating champion in Beijing.
  • The voice of the ad and the entire Believe You Will campaign is motivational speaker and coach Dr. Eric Thomas, known to many as “The Hip Hop Preacher.”

Guaranteed Rate rolled out its Believe You Will campaign after a year of momentous growth for the company as it met record-breaking consumer demand and launched various high-profile sports sponsorships. Well known for its title sponsorship of the Chicago White Sox’s Guaranteed Rate Field, the company sponsored a wide array of sporting events in 2020, from mainstream sports like NASCAR, IndyCar, MLB and NHL, to more niche sports like professional bass fishing, figure skating, bowling and lacrosse.

To preview Guaranteed Rate’s Believe You Will Super Bowl ad, please visit:
rate.com/about-us/purpose and follow the company on Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and Facebook @GuaranteedRate and #believeyouwill.

About Guaranteed Rate Companies

The Guaranteed Rate Companies, which includes Guaranteed Rate, Inc., Guaranteed Rate Affinity, LLC, and Proper Rate, LLC, has more than 9,000 employees in over 750 offices across the United States. Headquartered in Chicago, Guaranteed Rate Companies is one of the largest retail mortgage lenders in the United States, funding over $73 billion in 2020. Founded in 2000 and located in all 50 states and Washington, D.C., Guaranteed Rate Companies has helped homeowners nationwide with home purchase loans and refinances. The company has established itself as an industry leader by introducing innovative technology, offering low rates and delivering unparalleled customer service. 2017 marked the launch of Guaranteed Rate Affinity, LLC, a mortgage origination joint venture between Guaranteed Rate, Inc. and Realogy Holdings Corp. (NYSE: RLGY), a global leader in residential real estate franchising and brokerage. In 2020, the company launched Proper Rate, LLC, a mortgage origination joint venture between Guaranteed Rate, Inc. and @properties, one of the nation’s largest residential brokerage firms. Collectively, the Guaranteed Rate Companies have earned honors and awards including:Top Lender for Online Service for 2018 byU.S. News & World Report; Best Mortgage Lender for Online Loans and Best Mortgage Lender for Refinancing by NerdWallet for 2021; HousingWire‘s 2020 Tech100 award for the company’s industry-leading FlashCloseSM technology; No. 3 ranking in Scotsman Guide‘s Top Retail Mortgage Lenders 2019;ChicagoAgent Magazine‘s Lender of the Year for five consecutive years; Chicago Tribune‘s Top Workplaces list for seven consecutive years. Visit rate.com for more information.

SOURCE Guaranteed Rate

Is the Beauty Industry Glossing Over Disability?

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Close up image of a black woman in a wheelchair doing her makeup

As marketing moves to be more inclusive, people with visible disabilities are still largely missing from mainstream beauty ads. Teacher and advocate Xian Horn discusses the changes she hopes the industry makes next.

Growing up a biracial Asian girl with an X in my name who had Cerebral Palsy and walked with two adapted ski poles for support, I never expected to see myself represented. I identified strongly with other women, but I was too niche and, for the most part, I liked that. My family cultivated the best in me, so I grew up believing my disability was an

(Getty Images. Design by Bella Geraci)

asset. My mom, an art director for Estée Lauder and Avon, always said, “There’s always going to be someone smarter than you, prettier than you, taller than you, and that’s OK, just be you.” But not everyone receives that level of support, and the beauty industry has long touted a perfectionist, no-flaw standard free of wrinkles and stretch marks. Perhaps it is this vantage point that the industry struggles with marketing the beauty of disability. The beauty industry created a fantasy that society still feels pressured to make a reality.

It was in 2006, after this Dove Evolution video was viewed by millions, that I noticed mainstream advertising imagery that included plus-size and older women with the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty. Two years later, I got excited when a photo of a plus-size model with her belly exposed went viral. This is also when I realized no beauty company had focused on disability.

In 2010, a friend helped me film a 1-minute pitch to the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty in my mother’s living room in which I asked the otherwise inclusive brand to start also including people with disabilities. Once on YouTube, the pitch’s visibility expanded, with people around the world watching and sharing its message. I received letters of support from people in the Philippines, Australia, Japan, and all over the U.S.

Read the full article at Allure.

Ken Ross: “I want to see a disabled person who’s as famous as Brad Pitt on screen”

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Ken Ross leaning on the wall wearing blue sweater trees in the background

The film producer Ken Ross on how having a son with Down syndrome inspired him to promote inclusion in the industry.

Award-winning film producer Ken Ross is calling for more people with disabilities to be seen on TV and film screens all around the world. “If we never give individuals these roles, we’ll never move forward. We don’t need to change people to be the part we want them to be, and we don’t need to be worried about casting someone with a disability,” he says. “You would never ask someone to ‘black up’ to play Nelson Mandela – so why would you ask an actor to ‘impersonate’ someone with a disability?”

Ross has spent the past two decades working with the UK government, the NHS, Bafta and various other institutions to promote greater diversity and inclusion of people with disabilities. And although much has changed for the better (the Baftas and Oscars both recently revamped their diversity requirements, and actors such as Tommy Jessop, who has Down syndrome, are increasingly gaining industry-wide recognition), there is still serious work to be done. Ross says: “We need to get sales agents feeling more comfortable screening films that have people with disabilities. And we’ve got to see people writing their own stories, too.”

Today, despite Covid-19 preventing many TV and film projects from getting off the ground, Ross, who is also a real estate investor, has been screening calls from producers and directors keen to cast more actors with disabilities, among them George Clooney, who is talking to Ross about improving opportunities for people with Down syndrome across the industry. Ross’s last two projects, Innocence and My Feral Heart, both of which star actors with the condition, won various international awards, with Innocence in the running for an Oscar this year.

“Producers call me up and say, ‘Look, I’ve had a part written for this actor after I saw him in your film and was blown away,’” explains Ross. Creating jobs for people with Down syndrome in the film industry is great for both spreading awareness of the condition and showing that it can be seen in a positive light, he adds. “When statistics show that only 6% of people with a learning disability are in paid work, it makes sense to create jobs in the film industry, where you can reach an audience of millions and encourage people to think a little bit more about how they can include others.”

Why TV Writer Katherine Beattie Stopped Hiding Her Disability: ‘We Need Disabled People In All Levels’

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Katherine Beattie sitting is a wheelchair wearing leather jacket and jeans

By Allison Norlian for Forbes.

These days, work looks a lot different for Katherine Beattie. A producer on CBS’s hit procedural drama NCIS: New Orleans, Beattie and the rest of her colleagues had to adjust their storytelling to fit Covid-19 protocols.

They now meet remotely to produce each episode of season 7 versus being on set. They are also shooting in fewer locations, with fewer action scenes, and mask-wearing is mandatory. The most significant change for Beattie, who has worked on the show since its inception in 2014, is not traveling to New Orleans to shoot.

Adjusting has been an arduous task for almost everyone involved – but not necessarily for Beattie, who has spent her entire life adapting to a world not built for her.

Beattie was born with cerebral palsy, a group of movement disorders impacting muscle tone and posture. CP happens as the brain is developing before birth and affects how a person’s brain communicates with their muscles. CP affects everyone diagnosed differently. For Beattie, having CP means tight muscles and getting tired quickly. She didn’t need mobility aids for much of her upbringing, but she has used a wheelchair full-time for almost eight years in her personal life. In her professional life, though, she’s only used a wheelchair for four years.

That’s because, for a while, she hid her disability.

Beattie, 34, grew up in Los Angeles County and was tangentially involved in the entertainment industry. Her

(Image Credit – Forbes)

father, who worked in politics, would often take political candidates to screenings of The Tonight Show, and sometimes Beattie and her twin sister would tag along.

Beattie loved being backstage and meeting the celebrities. At this point, she knew she wanted to work in television in some capacity, but it would take years before she realized she wanted to be a screenwriter. She eventually decided to attend Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas, and majored in their Radio, Television, and Film program.

Through a contact at The Tonight Show, Beattie landed an internship at The Ellen DeGeneres Show. After graduation, in 2008, Beattie was offered a job at the show in their human-interest department. She assisted the producer with all non-celebrity segments. Beattie loved her coworkers and working for the show, she says, but she quickly found herself dissatisfied.

Read the full article at Forbes.

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