From Inclusion to COVID, Meet the These Hollywood Stars Doing the Most for the LGBTQ+ Community

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Wilson Cruz with a group of Star Trek fans

From allies to active members of the LGBTQ+ community, meet some celebrities who have currently been working to further the rights and safety of LGBTQ+ people.

Cathy Rena

Longtime LGBTQ+ PR icon Cathy Rena has always found herself on the forefront of the United States’ LGBTQ+ history.  From Ellen DeGeneres’ coming out story to Michael Shephard’s beating in the 1980s to the creation of Pride events, Rena has worked with journalists and LGBTQ organizations for decades to properly portray and advocate for the community in its most difficult times.

Now, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Rena is working diligently to advocate for the community’s needs and specific struggles during this time. Not only is she an integral member in creating the first-ever virtual global pride, but she also has been working to make the public aware of the inequality of resources that has been given to the LGBTQ+ community.

Omar Shariff Jr.

Omar Shariff Jr., actor and grandson of Omar Shariff, has been one of the most vocal voices for LGBTQ+ people in a time of uncertainty. Already being an active member in the community, formerly serving as a GLAAD spokesperson and an ambassador for the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation, Shariff has taken his activism to paper in an article that informs the public of how COVID-19 has directly affected the LGBTQ+ community through healthcare discrimination, the need to isolate with unsupportive family members, and the inability to donate blood, to name a few.

Shariff hopes speaking out about these issues will result in a more unified community and a decrease in homophobia by the time the pandemic has ended.

Wilson Cruz

Actor Wilson Cruz, pictured with fans, from the hit TV show My So-Called Life, is moving from in front of the camera to behind it, serving as one of the producers of the new docu-series, Visible: Out on Television. The Apple TV Plus series is set to show how the LGBTQ+ community has been represented in media and how it was used as a platform for activism in the 1970s.

Being one of the first actors to be openly gay in the entertainment world, Cruz hopes to use his influence to encourage others in the community to feel comfortable and proud of who they are.

Natalie Wood

Starring actress of Miracle on 34th Street and West Side Story Natalie Wood was best known for her successful acting career before her tragic death in 1981. Despite her passing nearly 40 years ago, Wood’s support for LGBTQ+ people has become a popular topic in the last few weeks due to her newest documentary, Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind. Actress Natasha Gregson Wagner, Natalie Wood’s eldest daughter, narrated and produced the HBO released documentary that closely accounts for Woods’ life outside of the public eye.

Being no stranger to standing up for herself as a woman in Hollywood, Woods was also quite accepting of the LGBTQ+ community, despite society’s view of LGBTQ+ people during the time. Wagner recalls being practically raised by gay men as her mother was friends with many men who identified as gay. Two men in particular, Matt Crowley, a playwright, and Howard Jeffrey, a producer and choreographer, were some of Woods’ closest friends who identified as gay. The two men, though not romantically involved with each other, lived in Woods’ guest home and were made Wagner’s godfathers.

“She would have been in the forefront,” Wagner says of her mother, “She would be waving the rainbow flag with the best of them.”

The Cast of “Queer as Folk”

The 2000’s British TV show, Queer as Folk came back together earlier this month to raise money for CenterLink, the parent company of over 200 LGBTQ centers. Money raised for the organization came from both donations and an auction of some of the show’s memorabilia. The event streamed live on YouTube on May 1 and is still available in its four-hour entirety for viewers to watch. The event was hosted by Scott Lowell but also included other cast members, such as Gale Harold, Randy Harrison, Sharon Gless, Michelle Clunie, Robert Gant, Peter Paige, and many more.

To date, the Queer as Folk cast is still hosting donations to be given to CenterLink. Should you want to donate, the link is provided here.

2 Blind Brothers Launch Clothing Company to Raise Money Toward Finding a Cure for Blindness

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New York brothers Bryan and Bradford Manning lost their vision due to a rare genetic eye disorder. Their new clothing brand, Two Blind Brothers, is funding research for a cure.

What would you do if the world around you started disappearing? When Bradford Manning began to lose his vision at about 5 years old, “panic and anxiety set in,” he tells PEOPLE. Two years later, a doctor diagnosed Manning with Stargardt disease — a rare genetic eye disorder that can cause blindness. Manning’s younger brother, Bryan, would soon be diagnosed with the same condition.

Growing up with the disease came with its many challenges and awkward moments, the brothers note:

(Image credit: Courtesy Two Blind Brothers)

meeting a new friend and immediately forgetting what they look like, constantly squinting to see what a teacher writes on the chalkboard, not being able to drive.

It can be super isolating,” Bryan, 30, says. “People can’t see your visibility, so you deal with people who make comments or do things that can really hurt if you aren’t willing to own up to who you are.”

The New York brothers have dedicated their lives — and work — to finding a cure for eye diseases like theirs. In 2016, they founded the clothing brand Two Blind Brothers, which simulates the experience of shopping while blind. All profits benefit organizations like the Foundation for Fighting Blindness that research prevention, treatments, and cures for degenerative eye conditions.

Read the full article at PEOPLE.

Chris Nikic Shatters Stereotypes to Become First Person with Down Syndrome to Complete an IRONMAN

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Chris Nikic and Dan Grieb running past the finish line

As the sun barely began to rise at 5:52am on Saturday morning, 7 November 2022, Special Olympics Florida athlete Chris Nikic and his Unified partner and coach Dan Grieb, entered the water in Panama City at the start of the IRONMAN Florida triathlon.

Sixteen hours and 46 minutes later, as the nighttime darkness settled in, Chris crossed the finish line and made history of as the first person with Down syndrome to finish a full IRONMAN race.

Chris conquered a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride and 26.2 marathon run to complete the IRONMAN in a total time of 16:46:09. During the race, Chris suffered an attack by ants during a nutrition stop and fell off of his bike a couple of times. With blood dripping from his knee, he jumped right back on in a show of true sportsmanship and grit.

Chris’ achievement landed him on the Guinness World Records list. Craig Glenday, Editor-in-Chief, watched Chris persevere with great joy saying, “It’s an honour to welcome Chris into the Guinness World Records fraternity as the first athlete with Down syndrome to complete an IRONMAN, and I look forward to seeing what more is in store from this remarkable young man.”

To stay motivated during the long months of training, Chris and his father Nik developed the 1% better principle – get better, faster and stronger by 1% every day. According to Nik, IRONMAN is further proof that all things are possible with a plan and determination. “To Chris, this race was more than just a finish line and celebration of victory,” he said. “IRONMAN has served as his platform to become one step closer to his goal of living a life of inclusion and leadership.”

“I’m no longer surprised by what Chris can accomplish because I recognize who Chris is; a human being who has goals and dreams just like everyone else,” said Coach Dan. “He wants to make the path easier for those just like him and can follow his lead.”

Continue on to the Special Olympics to read the full article

Photo Credit: Getty, Michael Reaves / Stringer

 

Entertainers Discuss Disability Representation in Hollywood

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Marlee with her Oscar at the 59th Annual Academy Awards

It’s an old cliche that if an actor wants to win an Oscar, he or she should consider playing a character with a disability.

And it’s not entirely unfounded advice: 61 actors have been nominated for playing a character with a disability and 27 have walked away winners. But only two of those actors actually had a disability-Marlee Matlin in “Children of a Lesser God” and Harold Russell in “The Best Years of Our Lives.”

That’s just one of the things that needs to change, according to a group of entertainment industry professionals with disabilities including actors Danny Woodburn, “A Quiet Place’s” Millicent Simmonds and “Peanut Butter Falcon’s” Zack Gottsagen. They and other creatives with disabilities, from directors to VFX artists, spoke about the state of representation in front of and behind the camera in series of virtual panels organized by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences that debuted Monday night. The panels, funded in part by a grant from the Ruderman Family Foundation, coincides with the 30th anniversary year of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“It would be really helpful to have a disabled (Disney) princess,” said actor and comedian Maysoon Zayid, who has cerebral palsy.

Zayid noted that people with visible and invisible disabilities make up about 20% of the American population but a miniscule number of characters on television and in film.

“The message being sent out to disabled kids is you do not belong in this world,” Zayid said. “People with disabilities face enormous amounts of bullying, violence and discrimination. Positive images of disability can stop that.”

Part of that is casting actors with disabilities to play characters with disabilities. Simmonds, who is deaf, said she’s had to go up against non-disabled actors for disabled roles. She recalled that her “A Quiet Place” director John Krasinski had to fight to cast a deaf actor and that producers wanted someone who was hearing.

“Deaf roles should be played by deaf actors,” she said through an interpreter.

At times she’s even taken it a step forward to advocate for herself.

“I’m not above calling directors or producers and suggesting that they have a deaf actress for a particular role,” she said.

But another part of the equation is giving actors rich and nuanced storylines that go beyond the three they usually get: “’You can’t love me because I’m disabled,’ ‘heal me’ or ‘kill me,’” said Zayid.

Woodburn, who has dwarfism, remembers watching actors like Michael Dunn when he was young and seeing only stereotypes and tropes like the “sad little man” or the “devious little man” and storylines that were the same.

There is also the issue of working and how productions can be more accommodating to people with disabilities both on screen and behind the scenes. Many noted that they don’t want to ask for special accommodations.

Zayid remembered being unable to get into her trailer on the set of “You Don’t Mess with the Zohan” and basically had to ask a production assistant to help hoist her up.

“Adam Sandler saw and said, ‘What is happening? Make her trailer accessible!” I said I didn’t want to be high maintenance,” she said. “He said ‘look around, we’re in Hollywood.’”

Continue on to ABC News to read the full article. 

How Kindness Changed the Life of this Child with Cerebal Palsy

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Briella riding her scooter

By Paige Long 

“Now more than ever, during these uncertain times, we need to be more kind,” said Caroline Naif.

The Michigan mother of a determined 6-year-old living with cerebral palsy (CP) wants you to understand how kindness has made a difference in her daughter’s life.

“We are all facing challenges daily and life looks a little different for each of us, but we can and we will get through this if we work together, be patient and respect one another,” she said. Caroline’s daughter, Briella, was diagnosed with CP at 21 months old. This is the most common motor disability in children, caused by abnormal development or damage to the parts of the brain that control movement, balance and posture. CP looks different in each individual, and in Briella’s case, her speech and leg mobility are affected.

“Briella was born six weeks early, weighing only 3 pounds and 11 ounces, and spent the first 24 days of her life in the NICU. By her first birthday, Briella wasn’t hitting all of her mobility milestones, and right away, we admitted her into physical and occupational therapies. Later, an MRI scan revealed Briella had Spastic Diplegia Cerebral Palsy, caused by a lack of oxygen, either shortly before or after her birth,” said Naif.

Doctors told Caroline that her daughter may never walk or talk on her own.

At three-and-a-half, Briella had Selective Dorsal Rhizotomy, a life-changing lower spinal surgery to get rid of the spasticity and tightness in her legs to strengthen her mobility. This procedure also allows a more independent lifestyle. Briella took her first steps four months after her surgery.

“When you receive a diagnosis, you never know what to expect or how life will look down the road. Our family has gotten to where we are today by lots of research, faith, patience, inspiration and the friendships of other amazing warrior families through social media.”

Briella continues to become stronger and more independent with the physical and emotional support of Variety the Children’s Charity of Detroit – one of the international children’s charity’s 45 “tents.”

Briella, who has been a “Variety Kid” since age 2, received an adaptive bike, which she can pedal and steer by herself, rode Max the horse in the nonprofit’s equestrian riding program, and even modeled in the annual Variety SHINE Fashion show. Through Variety’s mission to simply serve Detroit-area kids, no matter the need, Briella’s never-give-up attitude has blossomed, and she took her first 100 independent steps without her walker earlier this year.

“Briella is a shining example of why Variety is committed to serving kids through programs that enable and empower mobility, confidence and independence. The support and services that Variety provides are simply life-changing, and we are proud to be a small step on Briella’s journey to walk,” said David King, President of Variety the Children’s Charity of Detroit. Briella’s story and involvement in Variety programs were recently featured in a national webcast by the clothing brand Justice.

Over the last 12 months, Briella also started talking in full sentences and began to read. Caroline is encouraged to see Briella’s communication and physical strength grow. “We are finally starting to hear her sweet voice, and it is priceless. She works so hard at school, in therapy and at home as we work toward her goals. My husband and I have seen the growth, and Briella is more centered and aware of her body, giving her less fear to tackle different movement and mobility challenges in physical therapy and daily living.”

Despite meeting challenges many kids her age will never have to consider, she continues on with determination and greets each obstacle with a smile. Briella loves to play, swim, ride her bike, go horseback riding, read books, work with arts and crafts, and attend school and physical therapy. Briella loves to play veterinarian with her stuffed animals and talks about someday being a teacher or working with animals.

“Briella has many goals to keep working towards as she grows from child to teen to adult,” said Caroline. “Ultimately, it’s getting her comfortable with daily living skills and having her involved in the process as much as possible, whether that’s helping brushing her own teeth, getting dressed or assisting with meals. We want Briella to be as comfortable and independent as possible, but at the same time, want her to be able to express her feelings and ask for help when needed.”

“Our world is starting to become more adaptive and inclusive for kids like Briella, but unfortunately, we still have a long way to go by making buildings, stores, schools, playgrounds- you name it- more adaptable and accessible for kids and adults who have mobility issues.”

Briella is a shining example of someone who has, and will continue to surpass expectations with unmatched determination.

You can follow Briella and Caroline’s journey on Facebook and Instagram at Briella + Me.

How the Child Care for Working Families Act Benefits Children With Disabilities and Their Families

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A child in a wheelchair at the park with his mother

By MK Falgout and Katie Hamm 

More than 1.1 million children under age 6 in the United States receive services for a disability,1 while 2.5 percent of parents of young children have a disability that affects their workforce participation.2

All families, including those with disabilities, benefit from access to affordable child care that will support their children’s development in inclusive and enriching environments. These programs also provide parents with the support they need to thrive. But the dearth3 of inclusive, affordable child care options causes job disruptions for parents of disabled children at twice the rate of those whose children do not have disabilities.4 This fact sheet highlights how the Child Care for Working Families Act provides a comprehensive solution to meet the child care needs of all families.

Families of children with disabilities and the current child care system

The current child care system requires additional public resources to reach all the families who need high-quality services. This lack of public investment results in a mostly private-pay system that marginalizes historically underserved communities.

  • Although 1 in 8 children ages 3 to 5 who is enrolled in an early childhood program has a disability or significant social or emotional challenges,5 nearly 1 in 3 parents of disabled children report that finding available slots is a primary difficulty in accessing child care, compared with 1 in 4 families with nondisabled children. 6
  • Nearly one-third of children with disabilities live in poverty,7 making most licensed child care options nearly impossible to afford.8
  • Children of color are underrepresented in early intervention9 programs through infancy and toddlerhood for reasons pertaining to disproportionate lack of access to quality health care.10
  • New data suggest that in all but six states, no more than 2 percent of children who receive a child care subsidy have a disability.11*
  • Children ages 3 to 5 who have disabilities are 14.5 times more likely to face suspension or expulsion than children without disabilities,12 due in part to the fact that only 1 in 5 early childhood educators and providers report “receiving training on children’s social and emotional development.”13
  • Child care workers, primarily women and disproportionately women of color, earn on average less than $12 an hour,14 and only 1 in 5 early childhood educators receives training on children’s social and emotional development.15 Both of these realities contribute to the inadequate support for providers caring for children with disabilities, given that nearly 10 percent of the early childhood workforce works mostly with children who have disabilities.16

The Child Care for Working Families Act benefits children with disabilities

The Child Care for Working Families Act (CCWFA) creates a new standard for inclusive and accessible child care by investing in communities historically underserved by an underfunded child care system dependent on parental fees to cover the high cost of care.17 Just as importantly, the CCWFA ensures that providers are appropriately compensated for providing quality child care. More specifically, the bill has the following benefits:

  • The CCWFA prioritizes policies and funding that serve disabled children in high-quality, inclusive early learning environments by:
    • Affirming the importance of child care in supporting children with disabilities by setting benchmarks that ensure the system provides care for children with disabilities alongside children without disabilities.
    • Investing in expanding the supply of high-quality, inclusive child care for children with disabilities and infants and toddlers with disabilities.
    • Requiring states to consider the additional cost of providing high-quality and inclusive care to children with disabilities when developing child care provider payment rates, as well as requiring that parents of disabled children are consulted in the process of developing these rates.
    • Requiring states to provide training opportunities for child care providers so that they can learn how to care for children with disabilities and conduct developmental screenings.
    • Prohibiting the use of suspensions, expulsions, and adverse behavioral interventions in all child care settings receiving public funds.
    • Establishing a new funding stream to provide early intervention services in child care settings.
    • Allowing states to prioritize funds to construct or renovate child care, including for providers who are caring for children with disabilities.

Continue on to AmericanProgress.com to read the complete article and to view original sources.

StableStrides: Why Horses are Used for Therapy for Veterans

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A man wearing camoflague standing next to a black horse

by April Phillips, StableStrides

Horses are not only “good for the inside of a man,” but uniquely suited for mental health therapy for veterans due to both instinct and behavior. When paired with a human, a horse will intuitively react to behavioral patterns or body language from the human.

This gives insight into how a person is being perceived. Because they are prey animals, horses are constantly on the lookout for danger and respond quickly with either confrontation or flight. This instinct allows for a deeper level of intervention with a therapist that surpasses any other mental health treatment.

StableStrides is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit whose primary focus is mental health therapy with horses. Situated in the large military community of Colorado Springs, CO, StableStrides is uniquely positioned to serve veterans, active duty servicemembers and military families. On a mission to significantly improve the lives of people through a connection with horses, StableStrides exists because of horses and their ability to touch the lives of people.

Horses and humans share a history that goes back to ancient times and has continued to today. Their role in medicine was first prescribed by Hippocrates (460 BC-375 BC) as a form of natural movement that strengthened the body. Hippocrates, the “Father of Medicine,” believed in health that united body and mind and studied treatment for trauma and mental healthcare. Since then, relationships between horse and human has been studied and incorporated into modern medical practices, both physical and mental.

The physical aspects of horseback riding are used to develop physical strength, muscle development and other physical benefits, while the relationship between horse and human is known to strengthen both mind and spirit. Today, the term Equine Assisted Activities and Therapies (EAAT) defines the use of the horse in recreational and medical intervention. A large portion of EAAT is focused on veterans and their healing journeys during and after service. When partnered with a horse, a veteran is asking the horse to enter into a relationship with them that requires mutual trust and some degree of vulnerability.

One veteran reflects on his mental health sessions at StableStrides by asking:

“How could they go from resting and relaxed to full alert, with a first instinct to run, then to relax again, in seconds? How they could let go of that tension and anxiety and just “be?” As a herd animal, they entrust leadership to the strongest. That leader makes the decisions for the herd for as long as it’s capable or trusted. How can a prey animal, the horse, come to trust an apex predator, a human, with their safety? What a concept. This huge, powerful animal, easily capable of killing me, that fears me because I am a predator, could come to trust and work for me because it wants to.”

As prey animals, centuries of domestication have done little to lessen the horse’s response to danger. They understand that their best chance in escaping danger is to flee. As a result, the horse’s “fight-or-flight” instinct is used for decision making. In addition, horses are extremely perceptive and communicate with body language to convey fear, anger, calm or anxiety.

In a herd, each member relies on the leaders in the hierarchy to make decisions for the safety of the herd, if that leader can be trusted. When in the absence of a herd, the horse will determine if the human is to be trusted as the leader. If not, the horse will decide on his own what is safest. 

Therapists have selected horses to incorporate into therapy due to these characteristics, including what many call “mirroring of emotions”. While horses aren’t mirrors, they will often reflect their leader’s emotions. If their leader senses danger and responds with fear, so will the horse. If the horse senses calm in their leader, the horse will likewise be calm, trusting their leader’s instinct. In mental health therapy, the therapist incorporates the horse and the relationship between veteran and horse for a dynamic and therapeutic environment. Through the horse’s reactivity, a veteran and therapist are able to examine and process behavioral reactions or emotional incongruencies. This requires the veteran to be present and mindful as to what is unfolding, and to be transparent about reactions.

Many organizations such as StableStrides exist for the horse-human connection and improve lives through EAAT. Through a connection with horses, mental health therapy strengthens families and individuals. Because of the horse’s unique qualities and instincts, incorporating horses into mental health allows for a therapeutic intervention that surpasses any other form of mental health therapy.

Photo Credit: Amy May Images

Dating Sites for Singles with Disabilities

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disabled woman in wheelchair smiling looking over her shoulder at camera

It doesn’t matter if you’re looking for a great date or a long-term relationship—check out the below dating sites to find someone for you:

Match.com
This site has more singles than any other dating site — and that includes singles with disabilities. Match.com allows you to easily search and filter profiles for those with disabilities, as well as list your own disability on your profile if you so choose.
http://www.match.com/free

Elite Singles
82 percent of its users have earned a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctorate degree, and 90 percent are over 30 years old.
https://www.elitesingles.com/free


Zoosk

Zoosk is quickly gaining in popularity with disabled singles due to its search-and-filtering capabilities similar to those at Match.com. Its demographic tends to attract younger than that of Match.com (18 to 28 typically). http://www.zoosk.com/browse-free

MySpecialMatch
MySpecialMatch is a special social networking site for anyone living with different mental, physical, or emotional ability levels. From finding someone special to share your life with or sharing stories with a someone who fully understands you, Special Bridge really is “bridging the gap for love, friendship, and support.”http://myspecialmatch.com/


Whispers 4 U
Since 2002, the team at Whispers 4 U has been helping thousands of disabled singles find love and companionship. They cater to those seeking everything from simple chats to finding solid dating potential, or even landing that one you keep. Video tutorials are in place for helping set up a killer profile and how to best utilize a webcam safely. Free and paid memberships options are available.http://www.whispers4u.com/

Disability: IN North Carolina’s ADA 30th Anniversary Drive-In Theatre Night on July 23, 2020!

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ADA-30 Years logo

2020 marks the 30th Anniversary of the passage of the landmark civil rights legislation, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) which was signed into law on July 26, 1990.

Due to social distancing guidelines many celebrations have been cancelled or scaled back to virtual online events. Disability: IN North Carolina decided to get creative to mark this momentous occasion in an engaging manner.

Drawing from the past, we invite our supporters, members, and stakeholders to experience a “Drive-In Theatre” and join us for an unforgettable ADA 30th Anniversary celebration. Disability:IN North Carolina is hosting a screening of the award-winning documentary film, “Lives Worth Living” (directed by Eric Neudel and produced by Alison Gilkey) on July 23, 2020 from 6:00 pm to 10:15 pm at the LeGrand Center in Shelby, NC.

We are grateful to Wells Fargo and the Diverse Abilities Team Member Network, their Employee Resource Group (ERG) for being the corporate sponsors of this ADA celebration. The celebration will also feature guest speakers, musicians with disabilities, and food trucks! Participants will be able to enjoy an evening under the stars and celebrate the ADA from their cars or favorite lawn chair, in support of social distancing guidelines.

Advance registration is required but due to a generous donation, registration in now FREE.

Register today and plan to join us on July 23, 2020 for an evening of shared celebration, uplifting messages and old-fashioned fun! (This is a family friendly alcohol-free event.)

Event Location:
LeGrand Center | 1800 E. Marion Street, Shelby, NC, 28152
Event Date and Times: July 23, 2020 from 6:00pm to 10:00pm

Register here!

How Emojis are Improving Inclusion

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In fall this year, we can expect an array of new emojis coming to our smart devices, including ones that are more inclusive to differing genders.

The Unicode Consortium announced earlier this year that there would be 62 new emojis coming to smart devices, including 55 emojis that will strive to be more gender inclusive.

Emojis of the transgender flag and of non-binary individuals in occupations that were previously only available as women and men will be just some of the new additions we can expect to see.

 

Some of the new gender inclusive emojis to be released later this year
Some of the new gender inclusive emojis to be released later this year

By implementing these emojis, people of differing gender identities will not only be able to express themselves through messages and social media in a smaller, normalized way, but will also attempt to include those of all genders to feel validated in who they are.

While these emojis are set to appear on most devices around September or October, some smart devices could receive the new additions early.

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)

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