I run a talent agency for models and actors with disabilities and visible differences. We’ve cast for Disney and Gucci — our clients’ success is the best part of my job.

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Zebedee Management Director Laura Johnson (left) and model Sarah D.

By , Insider

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with talent agent Laura Johnson. It has been edited for length and clarity.

The idea for a specialist talent agency came to me and my then-friend, now-sister-in-law Zoe while we were walking on the beach one afternoon in Eastern England.

It was 2017 and I was on maternity leave from my job as a social worker. During our walk, the conversation turned to the performing-arts classes Zoe led for children with disabilities.

While the children were talented and many were passionate about pursuing modeling and acting, there was sadly a lack of inclusion among traditional fashion brands, advertising, and media for those with a disability or visible difference of any sort. Not only did this lack of representation seem unfair, it also wasn’t exactly business-savvy considering people who live with disabilities are the largest minority group in the world.

The more we discussed it, the more we began to ask ourselves, “If no one out there is representing people with disabilities and differences, why don’t we?” Between my social-work background and Zoe’s work as a model and drama teacher, we had experience working with underrepresented groups.

Despite the fact that neither of us had ever worked at a talent agency before, we decided to join forces and launch Zebedee Management representing disabled and visibly different models, actors, and influencers who up until then had been virtually excluded.

We began by inviting Zoe’s students to apply and reached out to various disability groups seeking talent from within their community.

Talent was never going to be our challenge — getting clients to sign our talent was the biggest obstacle. We decided instead of waiting for jobs to come in casting people with disabilities or visible differences, we would simply pitch our talent for traditional commercial jobs.

In the beginning. it wasn’t easy. Many casting agents simply paid us lip service with no intention of actually booking our talent, but we continued trying.

Then a month after launching, we locked in two major bookings. One was for a print ad for Disney with child model Grace Wharton, and the other was for the Teatum Jones runway show during London Fashion Week with model Vicki Balch, who lost her leg in the Alton Towers accident.

Every time we get a call or receive a note from one of our models sharing their positive experiences with us, it just reinforces our mission.

One of our models named Louisa sent us a note saying: “I was always scared of what society would think of a young person in a wheelchair and I was afraid that people would judge, but then I found Zebedee, who wanted me for my disability rather than looking at my disability as a bad thing. They wanted me to spread awareness and make disability beautiful and change society’s thoughts and how they see disability.”

Another of our model’s named Roisin said: “I honestly feel so grateful to be part of something so special. The opportunities that Zebedee has given me are amazing. If me two years ago spoke to me now, she would be astonished and so proud, and that is because of the Zebedee community. Sometimes I feel like pinching myself because I feel so lucky. Also, I am amazed that I am part of the change I want to see.”

Click here to read the full article on Insider

This 31-year-old woman with Down syndrome launched a cookie company 5 years ago — and has already made over $1.2 million

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iVitto is the CEO and COO of Collettey’s Cookies, a fast-growing bakery start-up that sells cookies online, at 7-Eleven convenience stores and at the TD Garden sports arena in Boston.

By Cory Stieg, CNBC

At age 26, Collete DiVitto had just graduated from Clemson University. She moved to Boston in hopes of working and living on her own — but hiring managers kept saying she “wasn’t a good fit.”

“I was ready to be independent,” DiVitto, now 31, tells CNBC Make It. ”[But] it was hard to find jobs.”

Coming from a family of entrepreneurs, DiVitto — who was born with the genetic disorder Down syndrome — had quiet aspirations to turn her baking hobby into her own business. The process felt daunting, so her mother, Rosemary Alfredo, decided to teach her the basics of getting a small business up and running.

Today, DiVitto is the CEO and COO of Collettey’s Cookies, a fast-growing bakery start-up that sells cookies online, at 7-Eleven convenience stores and at the TD Garden sports arena in Boston. The Charlestown, Massachusetts-based company has made $1.2 million in lifetime revenue since launching in December 2016, according to a CNBC Make It estimate, which the company confirmed.

Collettey’s Cookies is also profitable, the company says — no small feat in a daunting food industry.

The company has 15 employees, many of whom also have disabilities, which DiVitto says is intentional: A challenging job market is an unfortunate reality for the majority of adults with disabilities in the United States. In 2020, only 17.9 percent of people with a disability were employed, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

DiVitto says she makes a point to personally train her employees with disabilities, one-on-one. “Creating more jobs for people who are disabled,” she says. “That’s my whole mission.”

Crafting a recipe for a small business
Entrepreneurship runs in DiVitto’s family.

Her maternal grandfather owned a small landscaping business. Today, Alfredo and her siblings each own several businesses. “We’re all kind of sassy and stubborn,” Alfredo says, citing both as valuable qualities when you’re working for yourself and tasked with regularly making big decisions.

Alfredo’s first step to teaching entrepreneurship: walking DiVitto through the logistical steps of determining a legal structure, registering the business, designing a logo and creating a website. Then, DiVitto — who has been baking since age 4 — brought samples of her chocolate chip cinnamon cookies to a local Boston shop called Golden Goose Market.

Perhaps she got lucky, or the desserts were really tasty, or both: The market’s owner, intrigued, ordered 100 12-packs of cookies. “We’re buying 40-pound bags of flour, bringing them into our apartment, thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, I don’t know what’s gonna happen,’” Alfredo recalls.

“I was so scared at the very beginning,” DiVitto adds. But landing the deal, she says, made her feel “amazing and confident. I never, ever felt that way in my entire life.”

The following week, the pair secured space in a commercial kitchen, giving DiVitto more cookie-making space. Altogether, Alfredo says, it cost “less than $20,000” in out-of-pocket expenses to get the business off the ground — with most of that going to kitchen rent.

And then, as Alfredo puts it, DiVitto’s story “went viral.”

DiVitto says she sold 4,000 cookies in her first three months of business, and more than 550,000 since launching. As of Monday, Collettey’s Cookies has more than 40,000 followers on Facebook, and another 28,000-plus on Instagram.

According to the company: DiVitto’s chocolate chip cinnamon cookie — called “The Amazing Cookie” — remains the most popular of the company’s five flavor options.

Paying it forward to aspiring entrepreneurs
When it comes to developing recipes and baking the cookies, DiVitto is the expert and authority. “My mom and also her family, they don’t know anything about baking,” she says. She’s in the commercial kitchen six days per week, often starting work at 4 a.m.

She’s also born much of the weight of growing the company. Alfredo says Collettey’s Cookies has never received outside funding, though not for lack of trying: “That was our biggest challenge, people questioning [DiVitto’s] abilities and the potential success of the company with her as the CEO and COO.”

Nadya Rousseau, the founder and CEO of marketing and PR firm Alter New Media, credits DiVitto’s success to a mix of ambition and direct candor — the same factors, she says, that drew her to work with Collettey’s Cookies pro bono earlier this year.

“I just was struck with how authentic she was, and straightforward,” Rousseau says. “So many people have layer upon layer in front of them and they can’t just speak their truth. She’s always speaking her truth.”

Click here to read the full article on CNBC.

Barbie releases first-ever doll with hearing aids. 5 other groundbreaking Barbies

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barbies now wearing a hearing aid

By Ishita Srivastava, Daily O

Barbie has been an icon and inspiration for women across the world. Since its creation in 1959, Barbie has evolved from being only a doll for young girls to a global symbol of ‘anything is possible’.

The doll, however, has a long history of lacking inclusivity, in terms of race and body shape. Celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Lizzo have made the non-Barbie body type ‘stylish’ and as social media is evolving to become a safe space for all body types and races, Barbie has begun making changes of its own.

Here are 5 groundbreaking Barbie dolls that promote body acceptance and racial diversity:

1. HEARING AID BARBIE

On May 11, Barbie’s latest Fashionistas line was announced and it was a reason for joy for many consumers with hearing disabilities. The new collection, for the first time, features a Barbie doll with behind-the-ear hearing aids.

The new line also features a doll with a prosthetic leg and a Ken doll with vitiligo.

Mattel’s Barbie team collaborated with expert and hearing loss advocate Dr Jen Richardson in order to accurately represent the doll.

“I’m honoured to have worked with Barbie to create an accurate reflection of a doll with behind-the-ear hearing aids. As an educational audiologist with over 18 years of experience working in hearing loss advocacy, it’s inspiring to see those who experience hearing loss reflected in a doll,” said Dr Richardson.

While in 2020, Mattel did release a Barbie doll with vitiligo, this is the first time a Ken doll has been released with the skin disease. (Read more about vitiligo Barbie here: 11 fancy Barbie dolls we wish we had in the 90s. Just like the Queen Elizabeth one)

2. DISABLED BARBIE

Barbie’s 2019 Fashionistas line marked the first time Mattel released Barbie dolls with physical disabilities. Available to buy since June 2019, the new line featured a Barbie doll with a prosthetic leg and another doll with a wheelchair.

Similar to Mattel’s collaboration with Dr Richardson to create a Barbie doll with hearing aids, Mattel joined hands with 13-year-old disability activist who was born without a left forearm, Jordan Reeves in 2019 to create the Barbie doll with a prosthetic leg.

Mattel also worked with the UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital and wheelchair experts to design the Barbie doll with a wheelchair.

Not only the physically disabled Barbie dolls, Mattel also introduced a Barbie DreamHouse compatible ramp to promote infrastructure accessibility for the physically disabled.

3. BODY POSITIVE BARBIE

Back in January 2016, Mattel announced that Barbie will now be available to buy in three new body shapes; tall, petite and curvy, marking the first time the popularly skinny doll was available in other body types.

At the time, spokeswoman Michelle Chidoni explained that the new Barbie dolls will allow “the product line to be a better reflection of what girls see in the world around them.”

4. ASIAN BARBIE

Named Oriental Barbie, Mattel’s first Asian Barbie doll was released in 1981. The collector doll was a part of Barbie’s Dolls of the World collection.

The Oriental Barbie was released in a long yellow dress with red trimmings and a red and golden-flowered jacket. Oriental Barbie described herself as from Hong Kong. Since Oriental Barbie was the first Barbie of its kind, the face sculpt came to be known as the Oriental / Miko / Kira Face Sculpt.

While Mattel did release an Asian Barbie in 1981, it was ultimately in March 2022 when the toymaker released its first Desi Barbie. To celebrate Women’s History Month, Mattel released a South Asian Barbie who was modelled after Deepica Mutyala, the founder and CEO of makeup brand Live Tinted.

Click here to read the full article on Daily O.

Building a Future for the Disabled, One Cup of Coffee at a Time

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Team members at a Bitty & Beau’s in Annapolis, Md.Source: Bitty & Beau cafe for a cup of coffee

By , Bloomberg.

While businesses across the U.S. struggle to find enough employees, Bitty & Beau’s coffee shops say their attrition rate is near zero and they’re inundated with applications every time a location opens. That’s because the chain primarily hires workers from a demographic advocates say has an unemployment rate above 80%: people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. “There’s an untapped labor force of people with disabilities in every community,” says Amy Wright, who co-founded the company with her husband, Ben, six years ago. “Most of our employees have never had a job before.”

Almost 90% of the 350-plus employees at Bitty & Beau’s 11 locations have a disability, doing everything from working as baristas to helping plan strategy in the corporate office. The Wrights decline to share specifics, but they say Bitty & Beau’s is both fast-growing and profitable—no small feat in an industry dominated by the likes of StarbucksDunkin’, and Peet’s. “We’re trying to shift the way society thinks about people with disabilities from charity to prosperity,” Ben Wright says. “You can run a profitable business that employs people with disabilities.”

The couple were inspired to get into the business after two of their four children (son Beau, 17, and daughter Bitty, 12) were born with Down syndrome. Although neither parent had experience running a coffee shop or any other type of hospitality or retail operation—they met as actors in New York before Ben switched to a career in finance and Amy shifted her focus to raising the family—they decided to open their first shop after relocating to Wilmington, N.C. Initiatives with a similar mission exist as nonprofits, but the Wrights wanted Bitty & Beau’s to be a profit-generating company to ensure that it remains sustainable. “If the nonprofit world had been able to solve this,” Amy says, “it would’ve already.”

Businesses such as Bitty & Beau’s can play an important leadership role, says Silvia Bonaccio, a professor of workplace psychology at the University of Ottawa’s Telfer School of Management. Some advocates for disability employment say it would be better if all types of companies were to hire employees with disabilities rather than “segregating” them at places such as coffee shops, but that’s not happening. So it’s important, Bonaccio says, for someone to demonstrate the contributions such people can make. “Employers continue to overlook a significant pool of talent,” she says. “One business can be a catalyst for change.”

In 2020, Bitty & Beau’s shifted to a franchise model. On their own the Wrights could open only about one location each year, and they were fielding requests from people across the U.S. who wanted a shop in their town. The company says it’s on track to expand to 27 locations in more than a dozen states in the next year or so, and within a decade the Wrights aim to have at least one shop in all 50 states.

a woman is seated in the Bitty & Beaus coffee house with decorative artwork on the walls
A Bitty & Beau’s in Athens, Ga.
Photographer: Kayla Renie/USAToday/IMAGN

The cost of opening a location ranges from $350,000 to more than $700,000, including a $40,000 franchise fee (roughly in line with what big fast-food chains charge). In exchange, franchisees are given the right to use the name, along with training and detailed guidelines for furnishing and operating the shop. The Wrights say that given the number of requests they get, a big part of their job now is vetting potential franchisees to ensure they’re going into the business with the right intentions and will abide by their rules for running a shop. “We say no to people more than we say yes,” Amy says.

At the recently opened outlet in Bethlehem, Pa., one wall is packed with clothing, beach towels, mugs, and other merchandise bearing awareness-raising messages like “radically inclusive” and “not broken.” Even the Wi-Fi password—“abletowork”—underscores the chain’s mission of providing jobs to people with disabilities. Every cup of coffee, pastry, and product sold comes with a handwritten note of gratitude.

Click here to read the full article on Bloomberg.

Meet 2022 Gerber Baby! Isa Slish, Born with Limb Difference, Is ‘Amazing Little Girl,’ Says Mom

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2022 Gerber Baby Isa Slish

By Shafiq Najib, People

Introducing the new Gerber Baby!

On Wednesday, Gerber revealed the winner for its 2022 photo search contest as Isa Slish of Edmond, Oklahoma. The bright-eyed baby girl will serve as 2022 Gerber Spokesbaby and take on the adorable and vital role of Chief Growing Officer (CGO) on Gerber’s Executive Committee.

Isa, whom her mother, Meredith Slish, describes as a “strong, amazing little girl” via a press release, will collaborate with Gerber to help the next generation of babies grow and thrive, which includes her serving as official Chief Taste Tester to review new baby food products as well as provide “advice” to the team.

Meredith says her daughter “loves to interact with the world around her and nothing will stop her.”

“Her smile lights up the room and her laughter is irresistible,” the proud mom notes before sharing her unique experience while pregnant with Isa, born in September 2021.

2022 Gerber Baby! Isa Slish of Oklahoma, Born with Limb Differences: 'Strong, Amazing Little Girl'
CREDIT: COURTESY GERBER

“We knew Isa was special, she has shown us that every day since she came into our lives,” Meredith explains. “We found out when I was 18 weeks pregnant that Isa would be born without a femur or a fibula in her right leg.”

“We hope Isa’s story can bring more awareness for limb differences and create greater inclusion for children like her. Because, just like Isa, they too can be or do anything they want!” she says.

Isa’s favorite foods are Gerber Sweet Potato Puffs and Gerber 1st Foods Butternut Squash. Aside from spending her days babbling to her 4-year-old sister Temperance, Isa also enjoys playing with her stuffed hippo and listening to soundtracks from her favorite movies.

The original Gerber baby in the brand’s iconic logo was Ann Turner Cook. In 2010, Photo Search was launched, inspired by the “countless photos sent by parents who see their little ones in” Gerber’s logo. Isa has now followed the tiny footsteps of baby Zane Kahin who scored the Gerber Baby title in 2021.

For the first time this year, Garber will match Isa’s cash prize with a $25,000 donation to the nonprofit March of Dimes’ maternal and infant health programs.

Click here to read the full article on People.

Unique business hoping to create brighter futures for people with special abilities

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The Catozzi family

By Andrea Albers, WTMJ

As graduation approaches, many teens are preparing for life beyond high school, but some with special needs are struggling to find options. One Elkhorn mother decided to create her own solution, and it could lead to a brighter future for her daughter. 16-year-old Stephanie Catozzi loves to draw smiley faces. And that smile jumps right off the page when she’s with her family. “She can’t write her name so she would sign cards, and everything, with smiley faces,” explained Becky Catozzi, her mother.

The Catozzis want to keep that smile shining big and bright but they worry about Stephanie’s future. “At this point, we assume she’s always going to be living with us,” continued Becky. “That’s the safest for her now.”

Stephanie has been diagnosed with autism, apraxia, and a learning disability. As her peers start exploring options after high school — like college or a job — Stephanie’s mom says Stephanie struggles with people crowding her space, and overstimulation, and it can come out as aggression. “Something could happen — and she gets upset and we don’t know how that would work in a regular job with other people, around strangers, around noises,” said Becky.

That’s why the family launched Stephanie’s Shirt Shop. They hope to build an online business big enough to create a stable future for Stephanie and eventually hire others with special abilities in the area.

Once Stephanie turns 18, she becomes eligible to receive support from the Walworth County Aging & Disability Resource Center. Every county in Wisconsin has an ADRC.

“The options that are available — you’d be surprised,” said Hazel Miller, an ADRC supervisor for Milwaukee County. “There are a lot of free resources in the community that are available for people with disabilities.” In Milwaukee County, Miller works with nearly three dozen counselors focused on meeting with families to set goals, find resources, and create action plans. “I’m always talking with families and parents and saying ‘Hey — you’re not doing this alone, we’re here. We have the resources, we have the services, we wanna walk this with you.'”

The Catozzis are open to exploring programs for adults with disabilities and as Autism Awareness Month comes to an end, they hope you carry forward the message of inclusion they’re working to spread. “Just learning that they (people living with Autism) are still people,” said Becky. “There’s nothing wrong with them. They don’t need to be fixed or cured. Accept them for who they are. Stephanie is just is a happy 16-year-old girl.”

Click here to read the full article on WTMJ.

As a financial planner, I see people forget a critically important type of insurance over and over

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Hanna Horvath is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER talking about disability insurance. photo shows her wearing a tan sweater against a white background.

By , Insider

Insurance is a great risk management tool to financially protect yourself against unexpected events. But when most people think about financial risk, they think about a house fire or car crash. Few people think about losing one of their most valuable assets — their income.

As a financial planner, I see many people go without disability insurance because they think they don’t need it. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.

One in four adults will be out of work for at least a year due to a disability. Very few people have enough savings to cover a year in lost income — in fact, three in 10 American adults are unable to cover a $400 emergency. Disability insurance can take the sting out of these situations.

Disability insurance is for everyone
Disability insurance is not just for workers in high-risk jobs; most injuries and illnesses happen outside of work. The most common disability insurance claims are for work-induced musculoskeletal disorders, like back pain or tendinitis, cancer, pregnancy, and mental-health issues.

If you’re the breadwinner, you need disability insurance to protect your income for not just you, but your loved ones who rely on you. The same goes for those paying off debt — if you find yourself out of work, you’ll still need to be making monthly debt payments.

There are two types of disability insurance: long-term and short-term. Like the names suggest, short-term disability covers you for a shorter amount of time, typically under three months, while long-term disability insurance can cover your lost income for years, depending on the policy you have.

Other types of coverage often aren’t enough
Many people have short-term disability insurance through their employer, but that only covers you for a short amount of time. What’s more, the benefits typically only cover a portion of your salary and are taxable because your employer is paying the premium.

Unless you get injured on the job or your injury was directly related to work, workers’ compensation will typically not cover your injury or illness.

Social Security does offer some disability insurance coverage, but the application process is often very time consuming and has a 70% denial rate, and likely won’t cover your entire income. You may not have the time and savings to wait for your claim to go through after you get injured or sick. What’s more, the average monthly Social Security disability income benefit was $1,279 a month, which may not be enough to cover your lost income.

Purchasing a long-term disability insurance policy can help cover some of these gaps, and provide tax-free income if the unexpected happens.

Disability insurance isn’t as expensive as you think
The average cost of a long-term disability insurance policy is 1% to 3% your annual salary, though costs will vary.

Your job, salary, and level of health are some of the factors that determine how much your policy premiums will cost. The type of policy also affects the cost — whether it’s an any-occupation or own-occupation policy.

Any-occupation disability insurance will cover you if you’re unable to generally work in your line of work, and own-occupation covers you if you’re unable to perform your specific job. Own-occupation policies cover your income better, but are often more expensive.

How to decide on a disability insurance plan
When considering how much disability insurance to get (or if you even need it), think about your job, how much you make, and who would cover your bills if you were to become sick or injured.

Short-term policies last a maximum 26 weeks and cover around 40-60% of your income. Long-term policies can last the rest of your life and typically replace 40%-60% of your income. You should take a closer look at your current financial situation to decide how much coverage you need.

Even if your employer offers disability insurance (and especially if they don’t) you should purchase an individual plan. It will travel with you if you leave your job, so you’ll always be covered.

One strategy I personally use and recommend is laddering your disability insurance policies, which basically involves holding both long-term and short-term disability insurance policies. Short-term disability policies have a short elimination period before paying out benefits, while long-term disability insurance policies have longer waiting periods, typically around 90 days. Laddering your policies ensures you start getting paid right after an illness or injury.

Click here to read the full article on Insider.

Jo Whiley: What my disabled sister taught me about love and loyalty

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jo whiley sitting with disabled sister frances

By JO WHILEY, Express

Finally, in February 2021, the Government agreed the vulnerable should be fast-tracked, but it was too late for Frances. Following an outbreak in her Northamptonshire care home, she contracted the disease and almost died. In a touching, honest tribute to mark National Siblings Day, which raises awareness of the valuable role they play in the lives of their disabled brothers and sisters, Jo celebrates everything that Frances has given back to her.

The biggest thing I have learned from being Frances’s sister is that sharing how you feel is important
THE PHONE’S ringing again. How many times today? I’m not sure, maybe ten, maybe twenty, it’s easy to lose count. My sister, Frances, is being a pain again, and I couldn’t be happier. Every day she FaceTimes me at 30-minute intervals asking the same questions about my kids, my husband and the dogs: “Where’s Coco? Where’s Steve? Where’s Django?” Frances is 53 and has a rare chromosomal disorder called Cri du Chat syndrome, which means she has physical vulnerabilities and learning disabilities. She is loving, loud and a real live wire. No one forgets meeting Frances.

In January 2021 Frances caught Covid in her care home and was rushed to A&E. She didn’t understand why she was there and wouldn’t tolerate an oxygen mask. Her breathing deteriorated dangerously. We spent a terrifying 72 hours uncertain if she would survive.

So, now, when my sister FaceTimes to find out where everyone is, it’s a joy.

Frances is back in relatively good health. She eats more than you’d think is humanly possible and if she’s staying at Mum and Dad’s house, she’ll wait for me to arrive before getting out of bed so that I can shower her, just like I would when we were kids.

There are over half a million young people and at least 1.7 million adults in the UK with a disabled brother or sister. National Siblings Day, on Sunday, recognises the impact of that on their lives. This year’s theme is What I’ve Learned From Being A Sibling.

So, what have I learnt? I wouldn’t be who I am now without Frances. She has taught me -e g understanding, resilience, a strong sense of justice, compassion and a necessary dark sense of humour.

Being a sister is special. Being a sister to Frances has been life-changing. In a funny way, she’s even guided my career path. My earliest memory is of the two of us getting up early on Saturdays when she was small and listening to Junior Choice on the radio; her favourite song was Puff the Magic Dragon, which she still plays from an old jukebox in her bedroom.

Back then, I had a little cassette recorder, so I used to make radio shows for her. I’d record her voice and play it back to her. It was lovely, she would be so attentive. These were my first radio shows.

For a long while, I wasn’t aware there was anything different about Frances, she was just my little sister. I spent a fair amount of time with my grandparents because Mum and Dad were in hospital with Frances, but I loved that.

Click here to read the full article on Express.

Michael Kutcher On Turning Obstacles Into Opportunities

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michael kutcher smiling at the camera in a black suit

By Karl Moore, Forbes

With a cerebral palsy diagnosis at the age of three, and a life-saving heart transplant after being told he had 48 hours to live at thirteen, Michael Kutcher’s life has been marked less by the obstacles he has faced, and more by the gumption he has displayed in overcoming them.

The leading motor disability today, cerebral palsy can have a wide range of effects. While dealing with limited mobility on his right side and some additional hurdles when it comes to speech, hearing, and eyesight, Kutcher was never treated differently by his family. They created a sense of unity and inclusion, challenging him to keep up with his twin brother, Chris (professionally known as Ashton), and his sister, Tausha.

“I think that’s really what gave me the driving power to overcome challenges and obstacles,” Kutcher said of his familial support system. “But I learned a lot outside of the family, interacting with different people, and unfortunately, in society, people with disabilities are looked at as being different. I dealt with those struggles, and I still deal with those struggles.”

Rather than allowing his disability to dominate the day-to-day, Kutcher made it his mission to view life as an opportunity. He began to seek out speaking engagements where he could share his story and started working with the Cerebral Palsy Foundation.

By educating as many people on the disability as he can and advocating for the importance of organ donations, he is opening people’s minds and encouraging others who suffer from cerebral palsy to share their stories as well.

“My goal isn’t to reach everyone,” Kutcher shared. “If I can touch one person, that’s my goal. If I touch many, that’s awesome. My goal is just to inspire and impact lives and invoke change by teaching people about the importance of organ donation. If you look at my life, I’ve done a lot in the last 30 years. I’ve been able to inspire people, I’ve been a productive member of my community, and I have children who wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for the generosity of someone else.”

Kutcher has developed the mindset that everyone has a disability of one type or another, but prefers to call them “diffabilities,” a term he has trademarked. Rather than holding onto a prefix with a negative connotation, he focuses on the fact that we all have positive abilities, despite the fact that they may differ.

Click here to read the full article on Forbes.

Mandy Harvey: A Voice for Change

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By Brady Rhoades

Mandy Harvey, who landed in the nation’s living rooms in 2017 with exquisite singing on America’s Got Talent, recently released her fifth album.

Paper Cuts is a collection of stories and lessons learned,” Harvey said in an interview with DIVERSEability Magazine. “The album took form after my song ‘Masterpiece’ was created. It is about embracing who you are and the entire journey that’s brought you to where you are now. Each part is worth celebrating, even the parts that have been the hardest.”

It’s vital to Harvey, who is deaf, that people who live in worlds with dimmed or no sound be able to experience Cuts, which was independently funded, as well as all of her music.

Paper Cuts is a labor of love that at the end of the day, I will never be able to hear,” said the 34-year-old. “I very much want to have an opportunity to experience this album along with the entire deaf and hard of hearing community. I teamed up with Voya Financial to make sure that we could increase accessibility by having an ASL video for each song performed on the album by deaf performers.

Mandy Harvey performing at NFL game with Color Guard behind her
Mandy Harvey performing at NFL game. Photo courtesy of Mandy Harvey.

There are several music videos that are visual representations of the songs that were captioned in multiple languages, too… This project has been an amazing continuation of our ongoing collaboration to increase awareness of the need for greater disability inclusion. We want to start conversations about inclusion, as well as spread the important messages of these songs, which include mental health awareness and celebrating being unique.” While many companies have pledged to be more inclusive and diversity-minded, it’s a work-in-progress.

“I dream of both venues and events that have interpreters and access to various means of communication,” Harvey said. “The opportunity to offer art in multiple forms to people and places that typically wouldn’t have access to it. There are so many ways to be more inclusive, but it has to be a thoughtful choice and not just wishing things were better.”
There are encouraging signs.

“I have noticed more ASL inclusion, like this past Super Bowl during the national anthem, for example, and there are a lot more businesses on all sides that are letting their employees know that it’s OK to be different or need different tools,” she said. “More people are feeling like they have the ability to share their barriers with less fear of discrimination, too. We still have a long way to go, but we live in a world where we benefit immensely from diverse communities.”
As for employers recruiting and retaining employees with disabilities, Harvey said it starts at the top.

Mandy Harvey playing guitar in a learn to play guitar store
Photo courtesy of Mandy Harvey.

“Having CEOs and executives who see the value of implementing a diverse hiring practice is important. There are a lot of incredible people who have so much to give, but there is a very real fear of discrimination.”

Harvey, who was born in Ohio before moving to St. Cloud, Fla., then Colorado, suffered hearing problems as a child and underwent several surgeries to try to correct them. She sang throughout her childhood, and her talent was recognized at Longmont High School, from which she graduated in 2006.

She gradually lost her hearing as a result of the connective tissues disorder Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. While majoring in vocal music education at Colorado State University, she became totally deaf and left the university.

It wasn’t looking good, and she was feeling low. But with the aid of visual tuners, she learned how to find the correct pitches when singing. In 2008, she met jazz pianist Mark Sloniker at Jay’s Bistro in Fort Collins, Colo., where she began performing regularly. She later performed at Dazzle Jazz Lounge in Denver and recorded three studio jazz albums: Smile, After You’ve Gone and All of Me. She also released Nice To Meet You before this year’s Paper Cuts. Jazz Times described her singing as “rich and captivating.”

Mandy Harvey hugging Marlee Matlin
Mandy Harvey with Marlee Matlin. Photo credit: Noam Galai.

In 2011, Harvey won VSA’s International Young Soloist Award, and she performed at the Kennedy Center.

In 2017, Harvey — who likes to bake bread, rollerblade and do CrossFit in her private time — appeared on season 12 of America’s Got Talent, where judge Simon Cowell was visibly blown away when she performed an original song using a ukulele. She finished fourth.

The same year as her America’s Got Talent appearance, she published a memoir with co-author Mark Atteberry titled, Sensing the Rhythm: Finding My Voice in a World Without Sound.

Harvey is an ambassador for the nonprofit organization No Barriers, which helps disabled people overcome obstacles.
Asked what’s in the works for the future, the star said, “My goodness! There are so many things I am working on. As far as music goes, I have a holiday EP that I would like to release this year. I have several albums worth of songs in my head that I need to get out, too.”

Yes, those songs are imprinted on her brain. She has said that most of what she sang and heard before going deaf is “locked and loaded” in her head, and so are current and future songs.

Harvey writes her own lyrics about all manner of things. Here are some lines from a song called “Masterpiece,” which is on the Cuts album:
When I feel like I’m all broken pieces
That I wish I could just throw away
Look for glue I can put in between them
Back in place, back in place

‘Cause my heart is way up on the ceiling
And my mind took a boat, sailed away
But I still got my angels and demons
Used up string, can of paint

And more from “Bought Myself Roses,” on the same album:
I’ve been flying on a feeling
Breaking through the ceiling
This could become
Heaven, I could let myself in
Look in all directions it’s already done

Mandy Harvey visiting young girl and showing her how to play a guitar
Lily (L), as part of Voya Financial’s Invest in Something Special campaign aimed to help Special Olympics athletes achieve their goals beyond sport, got a surprise visit from her hero, Mandy Harvey. Courtesy of ABC Denver 7 Noam Galai.

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, about 37 million Americans are deaf or hard of hearing. Millions of others live with hearing disorders such as tinnitus. There have been extraordinary medical and technical advances that are helping those with hearing issues. That includes about 800,000 cochlear implants worldwide and 60,000 in the U.S. However, the statistics are dubious barometers because of evolving criteria for who qualifies as deaf or hard of hearing.

There are thousands, maybe millions, who want to become allies to the deaf and hard of hearing community, which, of course, is good news. The tough news is that many, if not most, are hesitant for a number of reasons. Harvey has a keep-it-simple tip that can serve as a takeaway for those serious about doing their part.

“Every person’s journey is different. You can never assume you know best how to help someone. The only way to know how best to be an advocate is to start a conversation with that individual. As people, we need to understand that we judge quickly, and that is something we have the power to change.”

‘The Simpsons’ will feature a deaf actor and American Sign Language for the first time

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The episode features Lisa Simpson meeting the son of her idol, the late musician Bleeding Gums Murphy.

By Faith Karimi, CNN

“The Simpsons” will feature a deaf actor on Sunday for the first time in its 33-year history.

Even though the characters in the show have only four fingers, they’ll use American Sign Language in the groundbreaking episode. And no, the episode was not written after “CODA,” the movie about the hearing daughter of two deaf parents, won best picture at the Oscars last month. “It’s very hard to do a ‘first’ after 722 episodes. But I couldn’t be more excited about this one,” executive producer Al Jean said. The episode is titled “The Sound of Bleeding Gums.” It centers on Lisa Simpson, who finds out that her role model and favorite musician, the late saxophonist Bleeding Gums Murphy, has a son who’s deaf and needs a cochlear implant. Lisa gets a little too carried away trying to help the son, Monk Murphy. Bleeding Gums Murphy died in season 6. The episode’s storyline is loosely based on the life of Loni Steele Sosthand, its main writer.

“Loni pitched making the son of Bleeding Gums Murphy a man who was born deaf and could never hear his father’s music,” Jean told CNN.

Sosthand told CNN that the show’s producers consulted two ASL specialists regarding the signs that characters make in the episode. The sign language specialists reviewed animatics — rough versions of the show’s visuals — to make sure that despite the characters’ missing fingers, the meaning of the words was conveyed correctly.
Sosthand said the episode was personal for her and a labor of love. Her brother, Eli, is hearing impaired in a family that loves jazz music.

“Having a brother, who is just a year older, who was born deaf, really shaped who I am as a person. So it is a story not just close to my heart, but to my identity,” she said.
“There are many autobiographical themes in the episode regarding the tension between a love of music and loved ones who are deaf — themes also present in “CODA,” but very much from my own life,” she added.

Deaf actor John Autry II, whose credits include “Glee” and “No Ordinary Family,” plays Monk. In a statement, he called the role “life-changing” for him.
“It’s about hard of hearing and hearing characters coming together,” he said. “It’s a part of history.”

The episode will also feature three kids — Ian Mayorga, Kaylee Arellano and Hazel Lopez — from No Limits, a nonprofit devoted to deaf children. Watching them record “Happy Talk,” a song from the musical “South Pacific” and featured at the end of the episode, was emotional for Sosthand.

“The song says, ‘If you don’t have a dream, how you gonna have a dream come true.’ While watching them record, I just had tears in my eyes the whole time, realizing this is a dream come true for all of us,” she said.

Click here to read the full article on CNN.

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  1. City Career Fair
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