RJ Mitte – Seizing Every Opportunity

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RJ Mitte collage with his cover image and several samll images of his work inclusing the cast from Breaking Bad

By Brady Rhoades

You might do a double-take when actor RJ Mitte, most famous for his role in the acclaimed AMC drama, “Breaking Bad,” gives you his take on disabilities.

“The best thing about being human is that the ability to overcome is amazing,” said Mitte, 28, who was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy at age 3. “There’s no trick in life. Whether you’re 19 or 45, you can still set out and do what you wanted to do at 19.”

Second best thing?

“I believe if you have a disability, you have an asset. You’re coming from a different human condition.”

Mitte became a TV fixture with the debut of “Breaking Bad” in 2008 (the show ran for five seasons). “Bad” won 16 prime time Emmys and two Golden Globe Awards, among a slew of other accolades.

RJ Mitte at a red carpet event with three other individuals
Becky Curran (L), RJ Mitte (2nd R) and guests attend the 2017 Reel Abilities Film Festival at JCC Manhattan in New York City. (Photo by Jenny Anderson/WireImage)

Bryan Cranston portrayed a middle-aged chemistry teacher – Walter White – diagnosed with inoperable cancer. Driven by financial concerns and a shortage of time, he started cooking the purest crystal methamphetamine in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and making top dollar on his way to running an empire.

Mitte played Junior, White’s sweet, sarcastic and, ultimately, conflicted son.

For the role, Mitte had to exaggerate his Cerebral Palsy symptoms; unlike Junior, Mitte doesn’t use crutches or speak with a pronounced slur. However, the 28-year-old actor has faced many of the same medical and social challenges as his character.

“People with CP overcome hurdles every day,” Mitte told Brain&Life Magazine. “One thing I’ve learned from my disability is that when there is an obstacle, you adapt and grow. You can’t let that obstacle break you down and discourage you.”

When asked how Hollywood is faring when it comes to placing actors, directors and producers with disabilities in places of power and esteem, Mitte says he sees more opportunities than ever.

“You can’t make a movie now without the diversity talk, “he said. “You’ve got to say: ‘We need diversity.’”

And his view on what the industry’s doing as far as physical accommodations?

“Are the accommodations always there? No.” he said. “I try to make my own accommodations.”

But Mitte, who’s involved with SAG-AFTRA as a member of the union’s Performers With Disabilities Committee, says he’s seeing a change; a mutual effort.

“The key thing in everything is when both sides want it.”

RJ Mitte at a screening event, laughs while being interviewed
Breaking Bad star RJ Mitte is interviewed by Rachel McGrath, entertainment reporter at The Huffington Post. (Photo by Tabatha Fireman/Getty Images)

Breaking into Stardom

Born in Jackson, Mississippi, Mitte was adopted shortly after he was born by Ray Frank Mitte Jr. and his wife, Dyna. He was a happy child who walked on his toes as a toddler – something doctors told his parents they would fix by the age of 4 if he didn’t walk properly by then.

A friend of Mitte’s grandmother recognized the signs of CP when he was 3 and urged the family to have him evaluated. After he was diagnosed, Mitte was then fitted with leg braces to straighten his limbs and used crutches throughout most of his childhood.

However, over time, his body became stronger through sports and exercise and he no longer needed any walking devices by his teenage years.

In 2006, Mitte moved with his family to Los Angeles, where his youngest sister, Lacianne Carriere, received an offer for a role in a film project. He became interested in film and took acting lessons, which then led to appearances on SHOWTIME’s “Weeds,” NBC’s “Vegas,” CW’s “Everybody Hates Chris” and a co-star role on ABC Family’s hit show, “Switched at Birth,” before being cast in his life-changing role on “Breaking Bad.”

RJ Mitte poses at the golden globes with the cast of " Breaking Bad"
Actors Bryan Cranston, Anna Gunn and Betsy Brandt, writer-producer Vince Gilligan, actors R.J. Mitte and Aaron Paul celebrate winning Best Series – Drama for “Breaking Bad” in the press room during the 71st Annual Golden Globe Awards in Beverly Hills, California. PHOTO / ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images)

Mitte then reemerged on the big screen in “Dixieland” – his first non-handicapped leading role. Following that, he starred opposite Wesley Snipes in “The Recall” and was also seen in “Tiempo Compartido” (an official 2018 selection in the World Cinema Dramatic Competition at the Sundance Film Festival).

In 2018, he starred alongside John Cusack and George Lopez in “River Runs Red,” and also guest starred on Starz’ coming-of-age television thriller, “Now Apocalypse,” which premiered in early 2019.

In 2020, he portrayed a disabled teen who seeks acceptance as a high school wrestler with Oscar winner Terrence Howard as his coach in “Triumph,” which was delayed because of the Coronavirus crisis. He also started shooting “Issaac,” a romantic thriller.

Most recently, Mitte turned to modeling as a celebrity face and model of GAP International’s “Lived in Spring” campaign, with his image appearing on mediums such as billboards, buses and life-sized posters in cities across the world from Tokyo to Dubai and across the U.S. He made his way to the catwalk, modeling in Men’s Fashion Week in Milan, Berlin and New York City for designers Vivienne Westwood, soPopular and Ovadia & Sons.

Cutting the Bullying

Aside from coping with his physical challenges, Mitte also faced his share of taunting and bullying as a child.

“I was verbally harassed, knocked down, and even had my hand broken,” Mitte told Brain&Life.  “Having CP made me a target for bullies, and I learned that kids with disabilities are twice as likely to be bullied as other kids.”

To bring awareness to bullying and prejudice, Mitte has engaged in public speaking and serves as the official ambassador for United Cerebral Palsy and Shriners Hospitals for Children and partners with Shriners to spearhead its #CutTheBull campaign to advocate anti-bullying for children with disabilities.

RJ MItte speaks to an audience at a runway event
RJ Mitte hosts the Runway Of Dreams Foundation Fashion Revolution Event at in New York City. (Photo by Noam Galai/Getty Images for Runway Of Dreams Foundation)

Mitte has involved himself wholeheartedly in anti-bullying, through #cutthebull.

“Everyone bullies, not just kids,” he said. “I find with bullies that removing yourself from the situation is sometimes best… because a bully wants you to fight, they want an adversary.”

And if that doesn’t work?

“I always recommend to talk to your peers, talk to your allies.”

Mitte used every defense in his arsenal when he was bullied as a youth.

“Did it end the way I wanted it to end? Not always. I asked bullies straight out: ‘Why do you want to hurt me? Maybe you need help.’” And Mitte stresses that, often, you can’t go it alone, and to prioritize your own health and safety.

A Dream Sequel

Mitte has projects in the works, but one project — a dream, really — is never far from his thoughts.

He’d like to see a sequel to “Breaking Bad” in which Junior follows in his dad’s footsteps. You might call it Heisenberg 2.0. Better, more enriching, maybe, more evil. The kind of follow-in-pops’-footsteps that you don’t want to encourage in real life, but you might want to watch on TV.

And in true Mitte form, he’s pitched it more than once.

There are, of course, doubts. Could people see Junior in such a dark role? How do we make that happen? How can we keep the plot seamless and still make you a villain? There are a million moving parts.

RJ Mitte poses in front of an El Camino
RJ Mitte attends the premiere of Netflix’s “El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie” at Regency Village Theatre in Westwood, California. (Photo by Rodin Eckenroth/FilmMagic)

At this point, here’s one more thing you must know about Mitte.

He’s not big on the word “can’t.”

“I grew up with can’t not being a choice,” he said. “You can’t what? No, you’re going to go do this.”

It’s what he tells people with disabilities who ask him about obstacles. “Before “can’t” can even get out of the starting gate, just start doing the thing you want to do.”

If “can’t,” as Mitte said, is a decision, then his dream-role is just a greenlight away from becoming reality. He wants it. He’s envisioned it. He’s never stopped pitching.

Walter White Junior, sweet and devoted son, breakfast connoisseur, as the baddest of bad guys? Drug lord? Killer?

You might do a double-take.

Look again, and imagine not what is impossible, but what is possible.

Whatever you do, don’t count

DEAF AWARENESS WEEK: 3 OF THE BEST FILMS AND DOCUMENTARIES IF YOU’RE KEEN TO LEARN MORE

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Riz Ahmed wearing head phones and looking away from the camera from the film Sound of metal

By Prudence Wade, Independent

It’s Deaf Awareness Week: an opportunity to “promote the positive aspects of deafness, promote social inclusion and raise awareness” around the organizations that support the community.

The tides are changing for deaf representation in Hollywood: Sound Of Metal has been one of the breakout movies of the year, and the upcoming Eternals film features Lauren Ridloff as the first deaf superhero in the Marvel Universe.

In the meantime, you can celebrate Deaf Awareness Week by watching these films and documentaries…

1. Sound Of Metal
There’s a reason Sound Of Metal has garnered so much awards season buzz: it’s a touching, sad, yet uplifting portrayal of a heavy metal drummer – played by Riz Ahmed – who suddenly loses his hearing. As an addict, this loss could send him into a tailspin, so he checks into a shelter supporting deaf recovering addicts. There, he starts to live with his deafness – learning sign language and getting to know deaf children.

It deals with some big issues – such as the arguments for and against cochlear implants (some think deafness doesn’t need to be ‘fixed’) – and the performance of Paul Raci (who is a hearing child of deaf parents) as the shelter’s leader is particularly moving.

Watch on Amazon.

2. Deaf U

Deaf actor and model Nyle DiMarco produced Netflix’s Deaf U, a reality TV show following deaf students at university in Washington DC The show, released in 2020, was groundbreaking for onscreen deaf representation, and even had a 50% deaf crew behind the scenes.

It feels like a classic teen reality TV show, with the characters navigating relationships, sex and dating – but all are either deaf or hard of hearing. DiMarco’s aim was to show the deaf experience is varied, and told Vanity Fair: “There is no one right way to be deaf.” Deaf U was criticised for not fully representing deaf people of colour – to which DiMarco replied: “This show is unprecedented. It’s already an amazing deep dive on the community, but of course we can always do better. We must always strive for better every time we come to the table to create.”

Watch on Netflix.

Click here to read the full article on the Independent.

Gamers With Disabilities Praise Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart’s Accessibility Features

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cartoon Video game characters preparing for battle

BY RHIANNON BEVAN, The Gamer

The recent gameplay showcase of Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart was met with praise across the gaming community. With a detailed look at levels, items and gameplay modes, there was a lot to get excited about if you have your eyes on this next gen platformer.

Right at the end of the video, Insomniac also highlighted a wide range of accessibility features that will be in the game.

It’s hardly common practice for a game showcase to mention video game accessibility, even though it is a subject that will affect thousands of players. This break with industry convention is being met with praise among accessibility advocates, who say that such segments should feature in more gameplay trailers.

“I have mobility issues so the use of my hands is a problem in games”, explains Bobby, a freelance gaming and accessibility writer. “The toggle option will give me the ability to work the controls around my own ability level, such as toggling aim instead of being forced to hold it down to aim, using auto-aim features to help me when my hands become tired.”

Bobby has raised awareness on video game accessibility in the past, particularly in Nintendo titles that fall short. Despite the industry taking progress slowly, he tells TheGamer he’s incredibly happy with what was seen at the showcase. “This to me was very meaningful as I felt considered and seen as a disabled gamer. This does appear to be more inclusive than most other AAA games on the market right now”.

Sharing this sentiment is fellow accessibility advocate, Laura Kate Dale. After the showcase, she tweeted “I am so, so glad this is becoming a Sony first party game staple. Other developers, take notes on this. Such a great accessibility feature.”

Both Laura and Bobby allude to The Last of Us Part 2 in their praise of Sony. It was lauded for its accessibility last year, which was so well designed that a sightless player was able to complete the game multiple times.

Speaking to members of r/disabledgamers on Reddit, others were also happy to see Sony platform the topic in this manner. User tysonedwards shared that they would benefit from the visual accessibility features, as Rift Apart allows for extensive changes to the shades used in-game. The user says this will allow many with low vision to play what would otherwise be an “unapproachable game”. u/chaZ04 agrees, sharing that everything seen so far looks promising.

However, Sony hasn’t always got accessibility right. Despite the praise, u/tysonedwards also commented: “given Sony’s overall aggressive stance towards accessibility features within the hardware and operating system like screen reader support, text-to-speech, reduce motion, system wide subtitle toggle, combined with their policy of issuing PSN bans under a Code of Conduct Violation for use of modified controllers in ‘competitive games’, I won’t be buying.”

Click here to read the full article on The Gamer.

Cleanlogic bath & body care with inclusivity in mind

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ClenaLogic body and bath products scattered around shower stall

Cleanlogic, the fastest-growing global bath and body care accessories manufacturer, announces a relaunch with new branding and product offerings to provide an enhanced, all-encompassing consumer experience.

Cleanlogic, which saw 180 percent growth in 2020 alone, was built upon delivering innovative, sustainable, inclusive and socially responsible product experiences to consumers-such as featuring Braille across all packaging. These core values drive the brand’s mission- Nice and Clean.

The relaunch incorporates a fresh, bold and modern look featuring a new logo and trend-forward fabric colors. Coinciding with the new packaging, the brand is introducing all-new sensitive skin products and enhanced facial exfoliation products as well as four distinctly enhanced product collections- Bath & Body, Sport, Detoxify and Sustainable – each identified by its own unique color and product enhancements such as charcoal-infused and certified organic cotton material.

Cleanlogic products continue to deliver superior quality and innovation including:
● Stretch Fiber TechnologyTM​, a patent-pending blend of materials that ensures a flexible full body exfoliating experience
● Antimicrobial Protection, which slows the spread of microorganisms such as bacteria and mold
● Dual-Texture Exfoliators, designed with a textured side for deeper exfoliation and a microfiber side to smooth skin

Beyond feeling physically good after using Cleanlogic’s products, consumers can also feel good about investing in a brand that truly takes conscious beauty to heart. “Our mission is to be really good people who make a really good product that gets you really clean,” said Isaac Shapiro, President and Co-CEO of Cleanlogic. “We believe feeling nice and clean is a basic human right and we want our products to reflect this ‘Nice and Clean’ position.”

Inspired by co-founder Isaac Shapiro’s mother, who lost her eyesight as a child, Cleanlogic is a pioneering beauty company in the U.S. and one of the first to feature functional braille on all product packaging as a way to support over 25 million people in the U.S. who are blind or have low vision. Additionally, a portion of all sales are donated to visually impaired organizations including American Foundation For the Blind.
CleanLogic wash glove with soap on it and hand inside flashing a peace sign
As another testament to the brand’s commitment to “be nice and clean,” Cleanlogic is proud to house its own company-owned, Control Union-certified factory for all production that ensures fair trade and fair pay and hiring initiatives. The brand will expand its production footprint to the U.S. by introducing a Philadelphia-based factory later this year, in addition to the original factory in China.

Historically, the biggest barrier to people using body exfoliators was worry about harming the skin. Cleanlogic’s 2021 relaunch sets out to educate the general public about the benefits of exfoliation, including softer, healthier and cleaner skin, all while amplifying the Nice and Clean mission.

The fusion of beauty and wellness is driving the skincare industry and as a result of the pandemic, people are focusing on their skincare routine more than ever before. Cleanlogic leads this movement with products that make your skin feel renewed, refreshed and ready for anything. The entire product portfolio is suitable for all skin types and is offered at an accessible price point starting at $5.00.

Beginning today, consumers can purchase the new Cleanlogic products at www.cleanlogic.com and Amazon.

About Cleanlogic:
Founded in 2001 by Isaac Shapiro and Mike Ghesser, Cleanlogic produces and sells sustainably made bath and body care products to its worldwide customer base. The company is the fastest growing global brand in the bath and body accessory industry and the top brand in that category in the U.S grocery channel. For more information, visit www.cleanlogic.com.

Feeling the Music and Fueling Inclusivity – A Moment with Mandy Harvey

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Mandy Harvey onstage sideview signing in to microphone bright pink show lights in background

If you watch Mandy Harvey perform, one of the first things you notice about the “America’s Got Talent” finalist is her amazing voice. What you might miss is that she’s not wearing any shoes.

“[It’s] so you can feel things better when you’re standing on the stage,” Harvey told NPR news. “You can feel the drums, and you can feel the bass. So, being able to feel the music through the floor, it makes me feel like I’m a part of the band and not just the only person in the room who doesn’t really understand what’s going on.”

This award-winning singer, songwriter and motivational speaker lost her residual hearing at the age of nineteen while a freshman vocal major at Colorado State University. She pursued multiple career options, but returned to music, her true passion. She quickly became an in-demand performer and has released four albums as well as a book about her incredible journey.

DiverseABILITY Magazine had the pleasure of speaking with Harvey about her personal journey, her songwriting career and the impact she’s had on disability inclusivity – both within and without the music industry.

DiverseABILITY: You partnered with Voya Financial and Disability:IN to create and headline a concert that featured multiple artists (musicians, and even a painter, with disabilities) in October 2020 for National Disability Employee Awareness Month, encouraging and highlighting the push to hire people with disabilities and special needs in order to create more inclusivity in the workplace. Why was this event so important to you and what were your considerations as you planned and orchestrated this event? Do you think it had the measurable impact you were hoping to achieve?

Harvey: First and foremost, I wanted to celebrate National Disability Employment Awareness Month, which is incredibly important because it is painfully obvious that a lot of businesses are not inclusive. They’re missing out on having a lot of really talented and amazing workers be a part of their company and team. And so, it was important to me to be able to encourage businesses to hire diversely.

There are a lot of businesses that are already striving, but [there were also] a lot of other businesses that made big commitments to hiring inclusively with the event. So that’s a measurable impact; even if that means one company hired one person – that’s a measurable impact in my life. We had a lot of CEOs make good commitments to change for inclusion, which is amazing.

The other part that was important to me is that I wanted to have a concert that was totally inclusive. With everything going virtual, there’s all these pop-up concerts but most of them are not inclusive or they’re featuring people who are not necessarily living inside of that community. And so, I wanted to allow different people to have the opportunity to showcase their art and to further the understanding that it doesn’t matter if you have an ability or disability, that you are an active contributor to the world, and you have the ability to make a difference.

Mandy Harvey book cover
Photo Credit: Amazon.com

DiverseABILITY: When you imagine inclusive spaces, especially in the music industry, what do they look and sound like? How are they different from what is most often seen and experienced by our society now?

Harvey: For the music industry, having an inclusive environment is so rare that it’s difficult to know what that would look like. I have personally been invited to several concerts where the building ended up providing an interpreter, but the interpreters didn’t have any access to the feed, so they couldn’t understand what the singer was singing. They were not given any materials, so they ended up just standing there and staring at me for the entire concert.

To be able to have different forms of communication throughout a concert, or in the music industry in general, is difficult because it’s one more thing for a company to have to think about — but at the same time, when you don’t think about it, you’re excluding a large pool of people who could be attending your shows and who want to.

Having lyrics available, having an interpreter who actually knows the songs ahead of time and is prepared to be there, even for big corporate events, having some type of audio description or captioning would [all] be amazing and beneficial. And not just for the people who are needing it — how many times has there been a concert or a corporate event where you didn’t understand what they were saying because too many people were talking at the same time? If you could actually see the captions in front of you, you would be more of a participant than you were before.

DiverseABILITY: The song that introduced and catapulted you into the spotlight was your self-written “Try.” It deals a lot with the issue of self-advocacy, which is the very difficult but necessary first step towards achieving anything in life. If you could expand on that song today and its message, now that you’ve traveled and spoken to so many fans who love it and have shared their stories with you, what would you add or change? What would you tell the young woman who wrote that song those years ago?

Harvey: I think that having that first step is so incredibly important, to be brave enough to even contemplate getting up off the floor. However, I’ve written other follow-up songs to “Try” that continue forward with the next stages of what I did — including the song “This Time.” The central idea of that is, “Yes, I’m trying. I keep failing, but I’m going to continue to try. However, because I’m not doing it alone, I know that I’ll be successful.” So, that song is a lot more about gathering a team around you of people who can encourage you when you fail or fall apart, and who can push you past your comfort zone to achieving something beyond maybe what you’re capable of even dreaming in that moment.

I don’t think there was anything that I could have said to that young woman that would have really hit home at the time. I needed to live my experiences, and I would have ignored anything that you said in the midst of that pain anyway. I was told everything, but I needed to find my own path.

DiverseABILITY: There’s a great song by another beautiful artist called “I Was Here” that boldly declares, “When I leave this world, I’ll leave no regrets/ Leave something to remember, so they won’t forget.” What do you want your something to be? When it’s all said (or signed) and done, what does your legacy look like?

Harvey: If I could work towards anything, it would be to continuously be a gracious and compassionate person in everyday life. Yes, I would like to have a ripple effect for change, positivity and inclusion, and to be able to be there for people on a grand-scale, but just being a person who can sit next to somebody and not say a word while they cry has an impact that is a legacy in itself.

“Try” is about understanding that you’re broken and wanting to be different. My new single coming out in March, “Masterpiece,” is saying that I am embracing the parts of me that are broken, and realizing that they’ve made me who I am.

The point of “Masterpiece” is to say that even though you might not know where you’re going in that moment, when you shoot forward in time and you look back on it, you’ll realize how much you’ve learned and how much you’ve grown. And that’s a part of such a big story that I feel people should know about.

I don’t ever want to change that girl who wrote “Try,” and diminish the struggle that she went through because that has changed and impacted who I am and how compassionate I am towards others, so much so that I would never want to take back any part of my past journey. I hope that people can truly embrace their journeys however difficult they may be, and realize that it’s making you stronger.

Mandy Harvey continues to perform around the United States and has been featured on CNN, NBC Nightly News, Canada AM, The Steve Harvey Show and in the Los Angeles Times. In addition to performing and speaking, Mandy has become an ambassador for No Barriers USA with a mission to encourage, inspire and assist others to break through their personal barriers. She published her first book on her life story, Sensing the Rhythm: Finding My Voice in a World Without Sound, in 2017.

TSA To Improve Screening For Travelers With Disabilities

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A TSA worker wears a mask while helping travelers get through a security checkpoint at Miami International Airport.

By Shaun Heasley, Disability Scoop

The Transportation Security Administration is set to start implementing new staff training and screening procedures to better serve individuals with disabilities as they make their way through airports across the country.

Beginning as soon as May, the TSA says that it will educate its officers to look for designations on driver’s licenses and other state identification cards denoting that a person has a disability that may pose a communication barrier.

Several states have updated their laws recently to allow people with disabilities to add what’s known as a “communication impediment designation” in order to alert law enforcement officers of potential issues. U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Mich., and 11 other lawmakers reached out to the TSA late last year to ask the agency to train its officers on the new driver’s license notations.

“We are updating applicable trainings to ensure that all (Transportation Security Officers) are aware of communication impediment designations and expect to deliver the updated training to the TSOs as early as May 2021,” wrote the TSA’s Darby LaJoye in a response to Kildee.

LaJoye said the TSA is also “discussing the possibility” of integrating communication impediment designations into its credential authentication technology which allows agents to retrieve pertinent information about a traveler by scanning their identification card.

Click here to read the full article on Disability Scoop.

Hearing Loss & Access to Captioned Telephone Service

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man wearing glasses and holding cell phone up to face

Did you know that approximately 48 million Americans experience some degree of hearing loss? Communication is central to all aspects of daily living—including health care, socialization, education, and employment—but without the right assistive tools and technology to facilitate that communication, people with hearing loss often encounter significant barriers. Accessible communication technology is integral to removing these barriers and ensuring the best possible quality of life.

Under Title IV of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Americans who experience a hearing and/or speech disability have a right to access telecommunications services that is “functionally equivalent” to those relied upon by consumers without such disabilities. One such available service is Internet Protocol Captioned Telephone Service (IP CTS), or captioned telephone service, which is provided for at no cost to users through a program administered by the Federal Communications Commission.

When a person with hearing loss picks up a captioned telephone (or uses a mobile app offered by an official captioned telephone service provider) to make a call, the call is automatically routed through a call center. Once the call is received in the call center, everything the other party says is accurately captioned either through a combination of advanced automatic speech recognition (ASR) technology and a skilled transcriber, or by ASR technology only. The captions are then sent back to the captioned telephone service user’s phone or app in real-time. It’s a vital service that enables people with hearing loss to easily engage in conversations.

Robert Eugene Richardson, a Vietnam veteran and retired attorney who experiences significant hearing loss, has benefited immensely from access to captioned telephone service. “It was a game changer for me,” he shares. “I used it when I worked at legal jobs outside the courtroom. I use it to communicate with my children, and I use it to communicate with my friends and my doctors and other healthcare providers. I use it to stay engaged in my community. I may be retired from work, but not from life. I am still involved, and the ability to connect with people using the phone is critical to this.”

The Clear2Connect Coalition is dedicated to empowering all people with hearing loss to access the communication tools they need to thrive, just as Mr. Richardson does. Comprised of a range of disability, military, and veteran-serving organizations, our goal is to advocate for protecting the quality and accuracy of captioned telephone services so that anyone who needs them can benefit. We know how important it is for people with hearing loss to be able to connect with the people in the families, networks, and communities. Telephone captioning helps makes this connection happen.

VIEW THE VA ACCESSIBLE PDF HERE.

For more information on how to access free captioned telephone service, to learn about Clear2Connect Coalition’s advocacy efforts, and to sign up for their updates, visit the Clear2Connect Coalition website or email them at: info@clear2connect.org.

Employee Self-Advocacy: How To Talk To Your Employer About Your Disability

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Three business people standing in their suits speaking with one another in an office library

By Paula Morgan, Forbes

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.

Click here to read the full article on Forbes.

Oscars 2021 – Disabled actors, characters take center stage at this year’s Academy Awards

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Crip Camp team pictured on the red carpet of the academy awards

2021 will go down in history books for the record number of Oscar nominations for disabled actors and characters in the Academy Awards. Disabled actors and disabled characters won nominations in prominent categories, all signs of inclusive storytelling becoming a more authentic part of Hollywood.

With three team members on wheelchairs, one accompanied by a service dog, the much talked about Crip Camp made a strong statement for disability inclusion on the Oscars Red Carpet in the 2021 Academy Awards. The documentary tells the story of Camp Jened, a summer retreat in the Catskills where many young people with disabilities experienced the joys of community from 1951 to 1977.

“We’re on the red carpet! #Oscars,” Crip Camp’s official Twitter account said proudly. “Sending hope & gratitude to my friends on the #CripCamp team today!,” tweeted “Crip Camp” writer David Radcliff, who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair. “No matter what #Oscars bring, I hope this is a tipping point after which seeing disabled people at awards doesn’t seem so revolutionary. Thank you for all the work you’ve done & the doors you have helped to open.”

And Crip Camp has indeed opened doors. It may have lost out in the Best Documentary Oscar category but the nomination clearly led to a major push for disability inclusion in the awards ceremony. For the first time an accessible stage was created and there was captioning for the broadcast as well.

Spotlight on movies on disability
The greater emphasis on disability inclusion was evident all around. A Google commercial during the 2021 Oscars generated nearly as much attention as the nominees. This was a Google ad featuring a pair of grandparents who are deaf using various pieces of technology to communicate amid the pandemic.

“Thank you so much @Google for featuring this story during the @Oscars2021Live_ about a CODA (Child of Deaf Adult),” was one of the tweets. “I absolutely loved the inclusion of the grandson signing “more” when he was eating. Sign language at its finest! #Google #Oscars2021 #inclusion.”

How #ActuallyAutistic helped me come out as neurodiverse

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National Autism Awareness Month. illustration with text

By Amanda Morin

As we headed into what has been traditionally known as Autism Awareness Month, it’s the first year I don’t feel a pit of dread in my stomach. In part, that’s because of the National Autism Society of America’s push to make April “Autism Acceptance Month.”

I have three children, two of whom are loudly and proudly #ActuallyAutistic, and for many years I’ve wondered what it is we want people to be aware of when it comes to autism? Is it that autistic people like my sons exist? Is it that autism exists? That’s not in question. What is in question is whether other people accept them for the neurodiverse people they are.

But that’s only part of the reason I don’t feel as much dread this year. It’s also because neurodiversity is opening its aperture to include people like me, who aren’t autistic, but share some of the same ways of thinking and learning differently.

The way my extreme difficulty with sensory processing, social anxiety, and thinking differently presents has led to a diagnosis of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). But I think it’s possible that under other circumstances, evaluated by a different clinician, in a different time, I, too, would have been diagnosed as having autism.

The specific diagnosis doesn’t matter to me; what matters is being able to say I’m neurodiverse. To stand loud and proud next to my sons to make sure we live in a world that sees neurodiversity through an asset-based lens, not a deficit-based one. A world that recognizes learning and thinking differently is a variation of human experience, and one that recognizes autism is only one of the diagnoses people who identify as neurodiverse carry.

It’s been encouraging to see conversations about neurodiversity starting to include ADHD in addition to autism. They often occur together, but the omission of these types of differences in the realm of neurodiversity has left people like my younger son, who is autistic and has ADHD, subject to people understanding only part of who he is.

That matters not just for him, but also for the one in five people in the U.S. like me, who learn and think differently because they have variations in how the brain processes information. Those variations can affect attention, sensory processing, reading, writing, math, and other skills. On its own, processing information differently may not be a concern, but because of the way our schools, workplaces, and communities are set up, they impact people’s ability to thrive in some aspect of their lives.

These disabilities are invisible in many ways, and the result is that disabled people like me have often been overlooked. There’s still a deep misunderstanding of differences other than autism and ADHD and how they affect people. In fact, according to research done by the National Center for Learning Disabilities, fifty percent of people believe that learning disabilities don’t exist. Forty-eight percent of parents believe incorrectly that kids outgrow them, and thirty-three percent of classroom teachers and educators believe these challenges are just laziness.

Over the past year, it’s been encouraging to see movements for racial, social, and economic justice accelerate to improve the lives of people who have not had equal rights or opportunities for so long. It’s thrilling that the White House named a disability policy director to sit on its Domestic Policy Council, elevating disability to the same policy level as other things that impact everyday life.

Yet for all this progress, as someone who works to promote inclusion, it’s important to me that learning and thinking differences aren’t overlooked in other spaces: corporate diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, progressive education initiatives, and our society at large. Moving from awareness to acceptance is a great start. At the same time, there’s also room to start moving toward action.

So, how do we include other types of neurodiversity in acceptance months and employer-recruitment initiatives without devaluing the tremendous strides the #ActuallyAutistic community has made not only toward acceptance, but also toward celebrating difference?

Personally, I think the answer lies in the question, the same way what has been learned from the fight for racial equality and desegregation informed the disability rights movements in a way that lets us say that disability rights are civil rights, too. It’s because of the work that has come before us that we can begin to make room for other differences in the broader conversation about neurodiversity.

This Autism Acceptance Month, I want to thank the loudly proud autistic community for paving the way for people like me to come out as neurodiverse. I’m ready to celebrate the ways in which we think differently and join forces in pushing forward the assumption that my family and I should be accepted as the neurodiverse people we are.

About Amanda Morin
Associate Director, Thought Leadership & Expertise
Understood

Amanda Morin is an author, parent advocate, and mom to kids who learn differently. She worked as a classroom teacher and as an early intervention specialist for 10 years. In her thought leadership role at Understood, she leads efforts to build internal knowledge about learning and thinking differences, works toward establishing Understood as an authority in the field, and ensures that the organization’s work is evidence-based and reflects unique expertise and innovative perspectives.

Amanda has been working in print and digital media as a writer and editor for over 15 years, empowering parents and educators to affirm the pivotal roles they play in children’s education. She played an integral role in launching Understood.org in 2014. Some of Amanda’s other clients over the years have included Education.com, Parenting Special Needs Magazine, VeryWell (formerly known as About.com), and Popsugar Moms.

During her years as an early childhood educator, she taught kindergarten and worked with infants, toddlers, and preschoolers with disabilities. She provided education and training to parents of children with disabilities and led multidisciplinary teams in developing and implementing Individual Family Service Plans.

Morin received a bachelor’s degree in education from the University of Maine and special education advocacy training from the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates. She holds a certificate in Universal Design for Learning from the UDL Implementation and Research Network.

She is the author of five books: The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education, The Everything Kids’ Learning Activities Book, On-the-Go Fun for Kids: More Than 250 Activities to Keep Little Ones Busy and Happy — Anytime, Anywhere!, What Is Empathy? A Bullying Storybook for Kids, and Adulting Made Easy: Things Someone Should Have Told You About Getting Your Grown-Up Act Together.

Morin is a member of Matan’s Professional Advisory Board. She and her family reside in coastal Maine.

This Fairhaven native actor proves minorities and people with disabilities can take center stage

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Brennan Srisirikul posing in front of an all blue backdrop while sitting in his wheelchair

By Seth Chitwood, Standard-Times

FAIRHAVEN — Brennan Srisirikul knew about the Easterseals Disability Film Challenge, but never had the confidence to submit a film — especially since he’s never made one. But after a crazy year, he knew it was time to go for it.

“With the anti-Asian murders in Georgia, it was personal for me, because I’m a mixed race,” Srisirikul said. “My dad is Chinese and my mom is American.” Srisirikul was born in Bangkok, Thailand and grew up in Fairhaven.

“My race wasn’t really ever something that I thought about,” he said. Srisirikul has cerebral palsy and has been in a wheelchair all his life. “I’m disabled. So, in my mind, for so long, I thought like that was the only thing people saw.”

But, Srisirikul said that during the pandemic he first faced anti-Asian racism. “The first time it ever happened, someone walked up to me and shouted in my face, ’15 Dollah! 15 Dollah!’”

Srisirikul also is a singer and actor. He wanted to create a short film that not only addressed racism but incorporated his background in musical theater. Alas, “BRENNAN! A New Musical, But Actually A Short Film” was born.

The short film stars Srisirikul opposite John M. Costa as Mike, his therapist. They discuss the impact of COVID-19 and Srisirikul wanting desperately to perform because of his new-found confidence for singing. Srisirikul struggled with his singing voice ever since he was 14.

“The most dramatic thing that ever happened to me was puberty,” he said

Click here to read the full article on Standard-Times

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