The casting of performers with disabilities should be part of Hollywood’s ongoing efforts to be more inclusive, but it’s often not, even though the Americans with Disability Act of 1990 makes it just as illegal to discriminate against the disabled as it is any other protected group.
“Disability is consistently overlooked in the conversation about diversity and inclusion,” said Anita Hollander, national chair of SAG-AFTRA’s Performers with Disabilities Committee, who hosted the union’s panel Thursday on disability inclusion in Hollywood. The discussion was part of the guild’s Stop the Hate summit.
“There are just too few opportunities for performers with disabilities,” said Camryn Manheim, SAG-AFTRA’s national secretary-treasurer, in her opening remarks. “In fact, people with disabilities make up less than 3.5% of all onscreen characters. And when we do see characters with disabilities, they are often played by non-disabled actors. It’s a fact, the number of people with disabilities onscreen and working on set and behind the camera is just dismally low, and that must be addressed by our industry.”
Even so, the panelists agreed that things are getting better, both in the casting of disabled performers and with on-screen depictions of persons with disabilities.
Jay Ruderman, whose Ruderman Family Foundation is one of the nation’s leading advocates for the disabled – and for many years one of Hollywood’s harshest critics – noted that white papers the foundation has issued found that “A couple of years back, only 5% of characters with disabilities were authentically portrayed; then it jumped up to 22% a few years ago. We also did a marketing study showing that 25% of the United States population, the world population has a disability and there’s billions of dollars that the industry can make by authentic portrayal. And most people in this survey said they want to see authentic portrayal.”
But Hollywood has been slow to catch on. “In the last 30 years, half of the men that have won the Best Actor Oscar won for playing a disability when they themselves did not have a disability,” Ruderman said. “There is a mind-set that playing disability by an able-bodied actor is great acting.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.
Billie Eilish is an international pop icon, a seven-time Grammy Award winner, and she lives every day with Tourette Syndrome. Tourette’s is a rare nervous system disorder that presents with repetitive and uncontrolled movements (liking blinking or shoulder shrugging) or sounds, called “tics” The disorder starts in childhood; Billie, 19, has stated in the past that she’s had it her “whole life.” Here’s what you need to know about the “Bad Guy” singer’s experience with Tourette Syndrome:
While Billie has spoken openly about her experience with Tourette Syndrome, she hasn’t gone into too much detail. Aside from saying on Instagram that she “grew up” with the disorder (see below), she hasn’t revealed at which age she was diagnosed. According to the Centers for Disease Control, Tourette Syndrome, on average, presents in children between the ages of three and nine.
Billie also hasn’t elaborated on what her tics are, only that “certain things” can increase the intensity or trigger episodes. Fans who made compilations of her tics on YouTube gathered clips of the “No Time To Die” singer shrugging her shoulders, blinking rapidly, and looking upward. She told fans in the Instagram post revealing her diagnosis that she does think the videos are “low-key funny.”
Billie bravely revealed to her fans that she lives with Tourette’s after they started to notice her tics. They even made compilation videos of the 16-year-old, causing her to speak out on Instagram: “I would love to get this straight so everyone can stop acting goofy… I have diagnosed Tourette’s. I’ve never mentioned it on the internet because nobody thinks I’m deadass… as well as the fact that I’ve never wanted people to think of Tourette’s every time they think of me,” Billie wrote in April 2019.
“MY tics are only physical and not super noticeable to others if you’re not really paying attention (believe me, HAVING them is a whole different type of misery),” she continued. “My Tourette’s makes easy things a lot harder. Certain things increase and/or trigger the intensity of the tics. But it’s something I grew up with and am used to. My family and closest friends know it as a part of me. I’ve taught myself techniques to help reduce them when I don’t want to be distracting in certain situations. But again, suppressing them only makes things worse after the moment is over.
“Not gonna go into FULL detail but if you want to know more, I am an open book. Wasn’t planning on talking about this on here maybe ever, but it’s gotten to a point… lol. These compilations y’all been making of my tics are low-key funny even when y’all make fun of them n sh*t. I know you’re all confused so as to what it is, so just to let ya know… it’s Tourette’s.”
Click here to read the full article on Hollywood Life.
In an interview with Sunday Today’s Willie Geist, actress Amanda Seyfried spoke candidly about how she has experienced panic attacks and the toll they have taken on her.
“Yeah, it feels like life or death,” the Oscar nominee, 35, told Geist when asked about the experience of having a panic attack during her “Sunday Sitdown” interview. “That’s what a panic attack is, really. Your body just goes into fight or flight. The endorphin rush and the dump that happens after the panic attack is so extraordinary. You just feel so relieved and your body is just kind of recovered, in a way. It’s so bizarre because it’s physiological but it starts in your head.”
She added, “It never goes away.”
A panic attack is defined as a sudden episode of intense fear or anxiety that triggers physical reactions despite no actual threat of danger. They are surprisingly common in the United States, as an estimated 2.4 million Americans have at least one panic attack in a given year.
Seyfried has been transparent about her mental health in the past. She began seeing a psychiatrist in her late teens due to anxiety about unfounded health concerns, and found that it helped her manage her anxiety, as well as her obsessive-compulsive disorder.
“A mental illness is a thing that people cast in a different category [from other illnesses], but I don’t think it is,” Seyfried told Allure in 2016. “It should be taken as seriously as anything else. You don’t see the mental illness: It’s not a mass; it’s not a cyst. But it’s there.”
Click here to read the full article on Yahoo! Life.
Sam Jordan and his parents won’t soon forget the Lake Norman High School’s football game on Saturday night.
Over the weekend, the 19-year-old senior ran a touchdown ahead of kickoff for a game during which the football team that he has managed for the last four seasons at Lake Norman High in Mooresville, North Carolina, faced off against Vance High School.
Sam, who has Down syndrome, opened up about the experience on the Today show Monday, telling Savannah Guthrie, Hoda Kotb, Craig Melvin and Dylan Dreyer that the “heartwarming” and “awesome,” moment, orchestrated by both teams and their coaches, “was the best thing that ever happened to me.”
“It felt pretty good because it brought [the teams’] character — showed them that they really care and just let me run that touchdown,” he said. “That was the biggest encouraging moment for me.”
“They said, ‘He’s not only going to be a part of it — we have something special that we’re cooking up.’ So they took it from there, and then that beautiful sight of inclusion that you see,” she added of the viral video that has racked up more than 2 million views on Twitter as of Monday afternoon.
In the video, Sam can be seen rushing down the field to the cheers of both his teammates and the opposing team, who congratulate him and even lift him into the air after he scores.
Sam’s dad Roger, a former football player himself, said on Today that “it was absolutely amazing” to see his son on the field, calling it both a “highlight” for himself as well as of Sam’s entire “high school career.”
“When he was born, we had no idea that he had Down syndrome. It was two weeks after he came home that we even knew,” Roger said. “For me, the first thing I thought was, ‘He’s never gonna be able to play football.’ And this was a dream come true for me and for him.”
“And when they told me they were gonna dress him out, I told my wife, ‘He’s got to have cleats. He can’t just go out there in tennis shoes and run — he’s gotta look the part,’ ” the proud father added. “I’m so thankful to the coaches and to the other team, as well — the sportsmanship that they both showed.”
Last night during “The Women Tell All” episode of “The Bachelor,” fan favorite Abigail Heringer talked about representing the hearing loss community, what it was like being the first deaf contestant, and how being deaf differs from being Deaf (with a capital D).
“I was really scared when I decided to come on just because I think people view the hearing community and then the Deaf community—with a capital ‘D’—as black and white,” Heringer said. “And I’m kind of that gray space in the middle that hasn’t had a lot of light shown on.”
She went on to explain that while she was born “profoundly deaf” and can’t hear without her cochlear implant, she hasn’t been accepted as part of the Deaf community because she communicates vocally rather than with sign language.
“I had no idea how people were going to receive me,” the 25-year-old said of her time on the reality show. “The response has been incredible. I’ve had so many people reach out and say, ‘Thank you for sharing your story, I have a very similar one.'”
When it comes to the difference between “deaf” and “Deaf” (or “little d” and “big D,” as it’s commonly referred to in the hearing loss community) that Heringer spoke of, it basically boils down to this: To be deaf, means to have the audiological condition of not hearing, while being Deaf refers to being part of a specific group of deaf people who share a language (American Sign Language, or ASL) and a culture, according to the National Association of the Deaf (NAD).
For instance, people who are deaf may not attend school for the deaf, describe hearing loss only in medical terms, identify with hearing people, and use oral communication instead of ASL. On the other hand, people who are Deaf typically have a strong deaf identity, attend schools and programs for the deaf, and use ASL to communicate.
That being said, big D and small d are simply reference points—there’s no right or wrong choice, and some people change their identity over time. Another term, “hard of hearing,” is often used by people with a mild-to-moderate hearing loss, but it may also be used by a deaf person who doesn’t have or want any cultural affiliation with the deaf community. As the NAD says, it comes down to choices, comfort level, mode of communication, and acceptance.
In addition to explaining that to the audience, Heringer also shared that fans told her how much they appreciated her showed hearing loss in a romantic light. “Because disability isn’t always romanticized,” she explained.
That meant also talking about the potential tough stuff that may have come up during the course of their relationship. During her time on the show, Heringer told “Bachelor” Matt James that if she was to have a family, there’s a “really strong possibility” that her kids would be deaf. On the February 1 episode, Heringer opened up to real estate broker James, telling him, “I think there’s just something about you, I’m super excited. I literally get the biggest smile on my face when I’m around you.”
Then things got serious, with Herninger revealing, “But I’m also going to be as open with you, obviously, through this process. You want a wife and you want a family and you know I want those things too. But if I were to have a family, there’s a really strong possibility that my kids would be deaf.”
Mikayla Holmgren has already made history, and she’s hoping to do it again.
The 26-year-old became the first woman with Down syndrome to compete in a Miss USA pageant in 2017 when she entered Minnesota’s competition. But Holmgren is now hoping to cross another barrier by becoming the first female model with Down syndrome to be featured in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit.
Holmgren hopes to be an inspiration for many people who have her condition. About one in every 700 people in the U.S. are born with Down syndrome, which occurs when an individual is born with an extra copy of chromosome 21, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 6,000 babies in the U.S. are born with the chromosomal condition each year.
“We tell all our people who have special needs or Down syndrome, go ahead and do it,” Holmgren tells Gretchen Carlson in Friday’s episode of PEOPLE (the TV Show!). “Just follow your dreams and then do things.”
Holmgren recently submitted her audition tape to Sports Illustrated and is waiting to hear back — but she isn’t nervous about the answer.
“I just wait and see,” she says, “and fingers crossed.”
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