This coming Black History Month, we want to recognize some of the individuals who have been making momentous strides to fight for the inclusion of individuals with disabilities and differences.
Here are some of the changemakers:
Aaron Philip Rose
(Pictured top right) At just 21 years old, model and author, Aaron Rose Philip is the first Black, transgender and physically disabled model to ever be represented by a major modeling agency. She has not only worked with some of the biggest fashion brands in the world, working with Marc Jacobs, Moschino and Vogue on a regular basis, but she also authors several articles in notable publications to advocate for inclusion in her industry. Philip, who has cerebral palsy and identifies as a transgender woman, has additionally worked with the likes of Miley Cyrus, Samantha Bee, Naomi Campbell and Beyoncé to provide representation for an even larger audience. This year, she made history by becoming the first model to use a wheelchair to walk the runway at New York Fashion Week.
“People can no longer say it’s just a small moment in time,” Philip told Vogue of her modeling work, “It’s done and look at how normal it looks now that it has happened. Look at how good and popular and cool it is. My vision isn’t complicated; I’m just a 20-something-year-old, and I’m a model who’s ready to work.”
Photo Credit: Melodie Jeng/Getty Images
Sources: Vogue, Wikipedia
(Pictured bottom left) Gaining millions of streams across platforms and in the media, Lachi’s music can be heard in numerous television, film, radio and other media spots of various sorts. But Lachi is more than just a talented musician, she is an advocate for inclusion in the music industry, using her own experiences with vision loss to break barriers. In 2017, Lachi began using her platform to speak and perform regularly at Disability Pride events and festivals — working to promote disability representation and inclusion in media and advocating for disability visibility on national diversity and inclusion panels. In 2021, she took her advocacy a step further by founding the Recording Artists and Music Professionals with Disabilities (RAMPD) coalition, a group of creators and professionals with disabilities working to make musical events more inclusive and accessible to people of disabilities. They have since worked with numerous organizations and events to not only promote disability inclusion, but to actively make events more accessible.
Their most well-known partnership was with the 64th Grammy Awards, which ensured that the show has a visible ramp to the stage, ASL interpretation on the red carpet and live caption and audio description for viewers at home. “I’m walking full force into advocacy for the disabled,” Lachi said in an interview with Respectability, “with music and entertainment as my vehicle.”
Photo Credit: Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images The Meteor
Sources: Respectability, Wikipedia
(Pictured bottom right) Haben Girma has been advocating for herself since she attended elementary school in Oakland, California. After advocating for her right to choose her own meals at her undergraduate university, after being denied the privilege for being a deafblind person, Girma decided that she wanted to become an advocate for people with disabilities. In 2013, Girma graduated from Harvard Law School, becoming the first deafblind person to ever do so. She used her knowledge and experiences to become a civil rights advocate for disability rights and a public speaker who travels the country changing people’s perceptions of the disability community in the media. Besides speaking on behalf of the importance of representation, Girma is a passionate advocate for educational equality for people with disabilities.
Her work to foster equity and inclusion has earned her partnerships with several organizations, such as the National Federation of the Blind, and many prestigious honors from Forbes 30 under 30 and the Obama Administration.
Photo Credit: Gilbert Carrasquillo/FilmMagic
Sources: Wikipedia, Respectability
(Pictured bottom middle) You may know Montel Williams from one of his numerous television or film appearances, but when he isn’t on camera, Williams is dedicated to giving back to his various communities, one of which is for multiple sclerosis (MS). In 1999, Williams was diagnosed with MS, within that same year he founded the Montel Williams MS Foundation, a nonprofit organization that finances organizations and institutions working to research, raise awareness and educate the public about multiple sclerosis. Since his diagnoses, Williams decided to turn his focus and outreach to health and wellness related issues. He began writing a series of books where he openly spoke on his experiences, used his interview opportunities to bring awareness to MS and eventually co-created the Partnership For Prescription Assistance, a program connecting uninsured and underinsured people with programs that provide lower-cost medicines.
Today, Williams dedicates much of his work towards spreading awareness and providing assistance, finding new opportunities to create conversations and form further partnerships into MS research.
Photo Credit: Lars Niki/Getty Images for Athena Film Festival
Sources: Wikipedia, Montel Williams MS Foundation, MM+M
(Pictured top left) Page is a highly accomplished journalist, Pulitzer-winning syndicated columnist for the Tribune network. His work has been showcased in some of the biggest news outlets in the country such as the Chicago Tribune, NBC, ABC and BET’s Lead Story. He is also an African American who identifies as having Attention Deficient Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD), which can affect basic functioning due to hyperactivity and a pattern of inattention. As one of the 28 percent of African and Black Americans with disabilities to be employed in the United States, Page uses his platform to not only normalize having ADHD in the workplace, but to break down misconceptions around the condition. In fact, Page thinks that having ADHD helped him become a successful journalist. “I have a tireless curiosity about people in general, and I love to find interesting stories,” he stated in an interview with Respectability. “I’m no expert, but those characteristics seem to go productively well with the symptoms of ADHD.” Page has also spoken openly about the intersectionality of being Black and having ADHD in his book, Positively ADD, where he discusses about ADHD isn’t “wrong” or “bad,” but a different way of the brain working.
“Think of your diagnosis not as a ceiling on your abilities but as a floor beneath your opportunities,” Page says to others with ADHD, “Never use your condition as an excuse to avoid trying new tasks and pursuing new goals. Face reality: You always will face different challenges from most other people. But you also have more opportunities than any previous generation.”
Photo Credit:Kris Connor/Getty Images