It’s National Disability Employment Awareness Month!

Blog: National Disability Employment Month

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, a time to recognize the contributions that disabled Americans make to the United States’ labor force. It is also a time to take stock of the current employment outlook for those with disabilities and to re-dedicate ourselves to increasing inclusion and opportunities for disabled workers.

“A strong workforce is the sum of many parts, and disability has always been a key part of the equation,” said Assistant Secretary for Disability Employment Policy Taryn M. Williams in a press release. “People with disabilities make up a wonderfully multifaceted group. By recognizing the full complexion of our community, we can ensure our efforts to achieve disability inclusion are, in fact, truly inclusive.”

This year’s NDEAM theme is “Disability: Part of the Equity Equation.” But how equitable is the American workforce and what is the current status of disabled workers in our country? The answer is complicated.

This week’s blog looks at disability employment – the advances worth celebrating and the path forward.

Worth celebrating:

1. Record-breaking employment numbers
During the pandemic, employment of disabled workers rose dramatically. After vaccines became available and COVID deaths plummeted, many in the disability community feared the upward trajectory would end. Happily, the reverse was true. In fact, the latest employment numbers for people with disabilities are stronger than ever. According to a new report from the Kessler Foundation and the University of New Hampshire’s Institute on Disability (UNH-IOD), in September 2023 the employment-population ratio for disability employment stood at 37.9 %.To provide some context, in 2019, it was just 19.3%.

2. Remote work is here to stay.
A major reason employment rates among disabled workers rose during the pandemic, was because remote work became widely available. Since mobility and travel are difficult for many people with disabilities, the ability to work from home made it possible for a large number of disabled individuals to enter the workforce.

Disability activists feared that once the pandemic slowed, employers would insist that workers return to the office. Though some have, they’ve encountered resistance from employees with and without disabilities and many have continued to allow remote work.

3. Diversity in the workplace is viewed more positively
In recent years, study after study has proven that diversity is good for business. As employers have become more aware of this fact, they are making greater efforts to accommodate disabled workers. In some cases, employers are even creating programs specifically geared toward training intellectually and developmentally disabled workers.

4. Assistive technology boom
Video conferencing services such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams as well as improvements in assistive technology have made it easier for employers to accommodate the needs of all their employees.

5. Adoption of telehealth programs
During the pandemic, medical and healthcare businesses accelerated their use of telehealth services. Most have continued to utilize telehealth, opening up new positions for disabled individuals with skills in health and mental health care.

 6. Online training opportunities
In recent years, remote training and higher education opportunities have increased dramatically, making it convenient and more affordable for individuals with disabilities to gain career skills and certifications that made them more attractive to employers.

 The path forward:

While all of the developments we’ve mentioned are good news, it’s important to recognize that disability employment rates are still dismal when compared to non-disabled employment numbers. Likewise, disabled individuals who are employed are approximately twice as likely to work part-time than their non-disabled counterparts. Additionally, employees with disabilities are often paid less than non-disabled employees for the same jobs.

Though employers are becoming more cognizant of the value that disabled employees offer, some remain uninformed about the simple and inexpensive steps they can take to make their workplaces more accommodating and inclusive. They may also be unaware of their implicit biases against disabled people. That’s where celebrating National Disability Employment Awareness Month can help. NDEAM helps to educate employers and other non-disabled people about the strengths and talents of people with disabilities, breaking down stereotypes, challenging assumptions and encouraging prospective employers and colleagues to welcome disabled employees and co-workers.

For more information about how you can help raise awareness about both the obstacles facing disabled workers and ways to overcome those obstacles, visit the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy.

October is National Bullying Prevention Month

Blog: October is National Bullying

October is National Bullying Prevention Month, a time to unite against the dangerous specter of bullying and to promote kindness, inclusivity and acceptance.

While any child can be a target for bullies, “children with disabilities are two to three times more likely to be bullied than their non-disabled peers,” according to the Pacer Center. Bullying takes a tremendous toll on victims, who may experience a variety of adverse reactions including:

  • School avoidance
  • Falling grades
  • Low self-esteem
  • Fear
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Substance use
  • Suicidal ideation

What’s more, research finds that the impacts of childhood bullying can be felt long after bullying has subsided. Adults who were bullied during childhood and adolescence experience higher rates of mental and physical health problems; have more difficulty maintaining personal relationships; are less successful in their professional lives; and even make less money than individuals who weren’t victimized as children. Additionally, when bullying takes place, it doesn’t just harm victims. Bystanders and the bullies themselves may also face negative consequences.

So, how can you help to prevent bullying? Experts recommend the following actions which can be taken during the month of October and any time of year.

1. Recognize the signs of bullying
According to, bullying is defined as “unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time.” There are several different types of bullying – verbal, physical and social aka relational bullying. In recent years, cyberbullying has become a pervasive and extremely damaging form of bullying.

2. Help your child to recognize the signs of bullying
Some children, especially those with developmental disabilities, may not recognize when they are being bullied and may not know that they don’t have to put up with hurtful behavior from peers. Let your child know what bullying entails and assure them that they do not deserve to be treated badly by classmates.

3. Let your child know you’re available to listen without judgment
Some children may be afraid that telling an adult about bullying will cause the bully to retaliate. Children may also feel ashamed, confused or helpless to stop bullying. If your child comes to you with concerns about bullying, listen calmly, let your child know that you believe them, but don’t rush in to fix the situation for them. Instead, ask open-ended questions to learn more about what’s going on, and find out how your child wants to handle it. Then, work with your child to come up with a plan of action. Avoid telling a child to stand up to a bully; suggesting the child just ignore a bully’s behavior; or minimizing the impact of bullying with adages like “Sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me…,” “Boys will be boys,” or “Girls are catty.” These will only discourage your child from sharing their struggles. Arrange for your child to meet with a counselor or mental health provider to ensure that they have the support they need to handle the repercussions that come with bullying.

4. Know your child’s rights
Bullying isn’t a new phenomenon. Indeed, it’s existed throughout human history. It was not until the late 1990s, however, that Americans began to take notice of its serious consequences. The first law against bullying was enacted by the Georgia General Assembly in 1999. Today, all 50 states have laws prohibiting bullying. While there is no federal law against bullying, according to Pacer’s National Bullying Prevention Center, “in some cases, bullying overlaps with discriminatory harassment which is covered under federal civil rights laws enforced by the U.S. Department of Education (ED) and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).”

5. Work with your child’s school
If you determine that bullying needs to be reported to your child’s school, be prepared to express your concerns and priorities clearly and calmly and do your best to listen to feedback from school personnel without becoming defensive or overly emotional. Make sure you understand how the school plans to respond to your concerns and follow up to make sure that the plan is enforced. Keep notes on any meetings you attend. Be prepared to move up the chain of command in your school district if you don’t feel the situation is being handled appropriately.

Disability Activist Judy Heumann Dies at 75

Blog: Disability Activist Judy Heumann Dies at 75

On Saturday, March 4, the world lost one of its most celebrated disability rights activists. Judy Heumann passed away at the age of 75 in Washington D.C. The cause of her death has not been made public.

Heumann was born in Philadelphia to Ilse and Werner Heumann in 1947. She was raised in Brooklyn, N.Y. When she was 2 years old, Heumann was stricken with polio and spent three months in an iron lung (a negative pressure ventilator that stimulates breathing). Though doctors advised her parents to institutionalize young Heumann, they refused to do so. Instead, they became strong advocates for their daughter.

When Heumann was ready for kindergarten, her public school principal refused to let her enroll, telling her parents that she was “a fire hazard” because Heumann used a wheelchair. It was not until Heumann was 9 that she was finally permitted to attend public school, but she and other disabled class members were relegated to a basement classroom and segregated from other students.

Despite these setbacks, Heumann completed high school, college and earned a master’s degree in public health.

In 1970, Heumann applied for a teaching job but was not employed due to her mobility challenges. Heumann sued the city and alerted the media to her plight. Within months, Heumann was hired, becoming the first teacher in the New York City Public Schools to use a wheelchair.

After this victory, Heumann continued to fight for the rights of people with disabilities. She led a Manhattan protest against President Richard Nixon’s veto of the 1972 Rehabilitation Act as well as a 26-day sit-in in a federal building in San Francisco that succeeded in getting Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act enforced.

Heumann was one of the founders of the Berkley Center for Independent Living, the Independent Living Movement, and the World Institute on Disability. She served on the boards of many disability organizations and in 1993, she became the Assistant Secretary of the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services in the Clinton Administration. In 2010, Heumann served as the first Special Advisor for International Disability Rights in President Barak Obama’s State Department. Later, she was named Washington, D.C.’s first Director for the Department on Disability Services.

Heumann became well-known outside of the disability community in 2020 after the release of “Crip Camp” an award-winning documentary about Camp Jened, a summer camp for teens with disabilities that operated from the 1950s through the 1970s. Heumann was a camper at Camp Jened, and the film traces her path from outspoken camper to disability rights leader.

Also in 2020, Heumann published her memoir “Being Heumann: An Unrepentent Memoir of a Disability Activist.” “Rolling Warrior,” a version of the memoir geared toward young adults, was published the following year. Heumann hosted a podcast called “The Heumann Perspective” until the time of her death.

Heumann is survived by her husband Jorge Pineda, her brothers, Ricky (Julie) and Joseph (Mary), her niece Kristin, grandnephew Orion and many other family members and friends.

10 Disability Organizations That Need Your Donations This Holiday Season

Reputable Disability Charities

‘Tis the season to give generously – and not just to family and friends. End of year giving isn’t complete without donating to worthy causes.

But how do you choose which nonprofits to support? No worries! Enabling Devices has narrowed the field by doing some of the scrolling for you.

Here are some of the most reputable disability charities that need your support during the holidays and all year round.

Best Buddies International

Best Buddies creates friendships by matching individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities with typically developing peers. The nonprofit also trains people with and without ID and DD to take on leadership roles in their communities.  Additionally, Best Buddies helps place ID and DD individuals in jobs and provides housing opportunities. Donate here.

United Cerebral Palsy

When you choose to donate to UCP, you can give to the national organization, an affiliate, or earmark your donation for CP research. Founded in 1949, UCP has grown from a small parent-run organization to one of the largest health nonprofits in the United States. UCP offers a broad array of services and resources for individuals with disabilities and their families. Donate here.

Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation

Founded by actor and activist Christopher Reeve and his wife Dana in 1982, this organization is dedicated to “curing spinal cord injury by advancing innovative research and improving quality of life for individuals and families impacted by paralysis.” Donations go toward research and support for people with spinal cord injuries. Donate here.

National Down Syndrome Society

A donation to NDSS helps to provide information and resources; health and wellness services; access to education and jobs; and funds legislative advocacy for people with Down syndrome and their families. Donate here.

Foundation Fighting Blindness

FFB funds research to find treatments and cures for retinal degenerative diseases, such as retinitis pigmentosa, macular degeneration, Usher syndrome and Stargardt disease. So far, donor support has made it possible for FFB to “identify 270+ retinal disease-causing genes; launch more than 40 clinical trials for potential treatments; and fund more than 90 research grants annually.” Donate here.

Spina Bifida Association

SBA helps individuals with SB to live better and longer lives. It does so by offering health education, support, networking opportunities, advocating for people with SB on Capital Hill and identifying research priorities. Donate here.

The Arc

A national organization with more than 600 chapters across the country, The Arc is committed to promoting and protecting the rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and creating a more inclusive world. The Arc’s work is wide ranging and includes programs that help individuals involved in the criminal justice system; and those seeking employment and educational opportunities. The organization also provides disabled people with extensive resources on topics such as health, travel and technology. Donate here.

Friendship Circle International

Friendship Circle helps disabled individuals and their families “by providing recreational, social, educational and vocational programming.” The organization aims to build an inclusive society where everyone is valued equally regardless of their challenges. Volunteer opportunities are available for teens, college students and adults. Donate here.


This disability-led organization “works to create systemic change in how society views and values people with disabilities, and that advances policies and practices that empower people with disabilities to have a better future.” RespectAbility’s Disability Training and Speakers Bureau offers consultation to businesses and other nonprofits seeking to become more inclusive. Its entertainment and media consulting team helps to ensure that TV, film and theatrical productions are equitable, accessible and present the disability experience authentically. Donate here.

Autism Society

This organization supports individuals with autism and their families by advocating for federal policies that increase access to employment, education, health care, housing and other critical services. The Autism Society provides training for families, caregivers and professionals seeking to deepen their knowledge about autism and also focuses on keeping people with autism safe. Donate here.

Macedonian President Takes Action Against Bullying of Child with Down Syndrome

Blog: Bullying

Once considered just a rite of passage, bullying is now recognized as the serious problem that it is. According to Stop, “bullying affects all youth, including those who are bullied, those who bully others, and those who witness bullying.”

Bullying is a widespread phenomenon that affects young people around the globe. A recent survey found that approximately 20% of youngsters 12 to 18 report being bullied. For children and teens with disabilities though, the percentages are much higher. According to Pacer’s National Bullying Prevention Center, “children with disabilities are 2 to 3 times more likely to be bullied than their nondisabled peers.”

Bullying can have devastating ramifications for children with and without disabilities. Studies show that bullying causes emotional problems such as anxiety, depression, poor self-esteem, and even suicidal ideation. Bullying also takes a toll on victims’ learning since children who are victimized may avoid going to school and participating in class. Bullied students may also suffer from poor concentration or lose interest in learning. Bullying can even result in a student’ s decision to drop out of school.

In fact, bullying can have long-term effects that persist throughout adulthood. These include poor self-esteem, mental health and substance abuse problems, academic and occupational failure, financial instability, and difficulty maintaining relationships.

Typically, when we see media coverage about bullying, it is painful and alarming. That’s why we were so pleased to come upon a recent CNN story about bullying that ended happily. The article, on, told the poignant story of 11-year-old Embla Adem who lives in North Macedonia, a country in southern Europe that was once part of Yugoslavia. Embla has Down syndrome, the most common chromosomal condition diagnosed in the United States. The syndrome causes learning differences, distinctive facial characteristics, short stature and certain medical problems.

As a result of her disability, Embla was being bullied by some of her classmates. When the situation came to the attention of the president of North Macedonia—Stevo Pendarovski—he took decisive action.

According to CNN, Pres. Pendarovski made a bold statement when he was filmed walking Embla to school; meeting with the child and her parents; and giving her gifts. The president used the photo op to let the world know that bullying “is unacceptable, especially when it comes to children with atypical development.”

Pres. Pendarovski went on to say that children with disabilities “should not only enjoy the rights they deserve, but also feel equal and welcome in the school desks and schoolyard.”

Added the president: “It is our obligation, as a state, but also as individuals, and the key element in this common mission is empathy. … We are all equal in this society.”

We can only wish *every* child experiencing bullying would have such a great advocate on their side. Kudos to Pres. Pendarovski for doing his part to help

Ed Asner, Actor and Disability Activist Dies at 91

Blog.Ed Asner

You may have known him as the gruff yet warm-hearted newsman Lou Grant on the “Mary Tyler Moore Show” and its spinoff “Lou Grant”; for his Emmy Award-winning performances in the miniseries “Roots” and “Rich Man Poor Man”; or for his role as Carl Fredricksen in Pixar’s animated film “Up.”

He was also known for his progressive politics and as a former president of the Screen Actors Guild.

But were you aware that seven-time Emmy Award winner Ed Asner was also a huge advocate for disability rights?

Asner died last week at the age of 91. But his advocacy on behalf of people with autism and other disabilities won’t soon be forgotten.

Asner first became active in disability causes after his son Charlie was diagnosed with high functioning autism at age 9. Like many parents, Asner admitted he did not see the signs – poor social skills; trouble fitting in with his classmates; and what others perceived as a lack of empathy. Until Charlie was diagnosed, Asner attributed his son’s behavior to being “high-spirited,” and “being a rule breaker,” he told the Tennessean in 2017.

Some years after Charlie’s diagnosis, Asner’s grandson Will — his son Matt’s child — was also diagnosed with autism. Matt’s stepsons from his marriage to Navah Paskowitz-Asner have autism as well. Autism became a family affair for the Asners, who began volunteering and fundraising for organizations such as Autism Speaks and the Autism Society. Prior to his death, Asner also sat on the board of Exceptional Minds, a nonprofit computer animation studio and digital arts school for young adults on the autism spectrum based in Sherman Oaks, California.

In 2018, Pascowitz-Asner and Matt Asner established the Ed Asner Family Center. Located in Reseda, California, the center is “a one-stop shop for neurodivergent individuals and their families seeking wholeness in all attitudes of life,” says the organization’ s website.

The center offers mental health services including individual counseling, family therapy, support groups for parents and siblings and life skills groups for teens. Additionally, the center provides arts and “career advancement classes” such as cooking, fine arts, drama, movement, music therapy and yoga. Center clients will also find programs about dating, and support groups specifically geared toward the LGBTQ community and a summer camp program.

Clinicians at the center are extremely concerned about the high unemployment rates of people on the autism spectrum so they focus on helping clients to find meaningful work and volunteer opportunities.

Though the center was designed with autism in mind, services are also open to individuals with other disabilities including cerebral palsy and Down syndrome.

For more information, visit

7 Ways to Prepare a Child with Autism for School

7 Ways to Prepare a Child

You know the old saying: “If you’ve seen one person with autism, you’ve seen one person with autism.”   In other words, everyone — including those on the autism spectrum — is an individual with their own unique qualities.

That said, many children with autism have difficulty with transitions. That’s why it’s helpful to plan for transitions well in advance. With most schools reopening in person this fall— some for the first time since March 2020 — it’s wise to start helping your child adjust to the reality of in-person education as early as you can.

Here’s a list of helpful hints that we hope will make the transition back to school as smooth as possible.

1. Start back-to-school routines in July
Though July is still summertime, it’s not too early to enforce consistent sleep schedules and mealtimes. If your family has fallen into habits like sleeping in and staying up late, now’s a good time to re-institute a schedule similar to the one you will follow during the school year.

2. Provide visual cues
Many children with autism respond well to visual aids that help prepare for transitions.  One way to help your child get ready for school is to use a wall calendar. Have your child cross off the days until school starts. This will help him or her develop a sense of when school starts.

3. Read back-to-school stories
There are many good children’s books about going to school.  Reading these to your child will help him or her prepare and encourage excitement about returning to school. Here are some titles that may work well for younger children:

    • “Autism Goes to School,” by Dr. Sharon Mitchell (ASD Publishing)
    • “Cameron Goes to School,” by Sheletta Brundidge and Lily Coyle (Beevers Pond Press)
    • “Starting School,” by Roderick Junt and Alex Brychta (OUP Oxford)

You can also create or download social stories about going back to school. Here’s an example.

4. Visit school before the first day
Seeing the place where he or she will be going can go a long way toward helping your child feel comfortable when the first day of school arrives. If possible, arrange a tour of the school over the summer. Even better, arrange for the child to meet his or her teacher and see the classroom. Take photos and create a photo album that your child can look at in the days leading up to the start of the school year.

5. Research your child’s school’s COVID-19 protocols
If your child is too young to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, make sure you and your child are familiar with the health and safety protocols in your school district. Discuss these protocols and include them in social stories about returning to school.

6. Have a playdate
During the summers, children don’t always keep in touch with their classmates. If your child has a special friend or several friends from school, schedule a summer visit with them. Your child may be more comfortable returning to school if he or she knows there will be friends there.

7. Calm down
Back-to-school season can be just as stressful for parents as it is for children. If you’re feeling anxious, take time to manage your anxiety in whatever way helps you. Do your best to hide your anxiety from your child.  Kids are great at picking up on their parent’s emotions and if you’re anxious, it’s more likely that he or she will be anxious too.

Sesame Street’s Autism Initiative Yields Tangible Results

Sesame Street's Julia with her Family

Here at Enabling Devices, we’re big fans of “Sesame Street” and its creators at Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit behind the beloved television show. We were especially pleased that in 2015, “Sesame Street” created a new website that focused on autism. “Sesame Street and Autism: Seeing Amazing in All Children,” and its related products, were designed to address the needs of children with autism and their families and to educate typically developing children and their parents about the disorder. The creators also hoped to increase empathy and inclusion with the online materials.

Including videos and stories starring Julia, a new pre-school aged character with autism spectrum disorder, as well as tips, information and videos for parents, the website also spurred the development of print story-books and an app. In 2017, Julia became a cast member of “Sesame Street” and the first new character to join the show in a decade!

Based on the results of a new study published Aug. 25, 2020 in the journal Autism, the Seeing Amazing in All Children initiative has achieved its objectives and more.

The study, conducted by Cheryl L. Dickter, Associate Professor of Psychology at William & Mary, and her colleagues, suggests that the Seeing Amazing in All Children website materials “can reduce implicit bias against children with autism and help mitigate some of the psychological issues associated with parenting children with autism.”

According to Disability Scoop, researchers arrived at their conclusions by assessing “levels of implicit bias toward children with autism in 473 parents of kids on the spectrum and 707 parents of those without the developmental disorder.” The assessments, which looked at “attitudes and knowledge about autism, parenting confidence, strain and stigma, were conducted before and after the parents reviewed the ‘See Amazing’ website.”

Before looking at the website, parents with typically developing children had more bias toward children with autism than parents with autistic children. Yet, after viewing the website materials, parents with typically developing children showed levels of bias that were comparable to those of the parents with children with autism.

In addition, parents with children on the autism spectrum felt “empowered” by reading the website materials.  According to Disability Scoop, many of these parents “showed better attitudes and more knowledge about the developmental disorder after spending time on the website…”

We always knew we loved Sesame Street! If you love the show and website too, check out Enabling Devices’ ABC Elmo #2135 and Giggle and Bubble Elmo #2257.

Great Films for the Disability Community

Crip Camp

This summer, a trip to the movies just isn’t an option. Fortunately, there’s a whole lot of streaming going on! Viewing possibilities are seemingly endless, and they include quite a few excellent films and TV shows about living with disabilities. “Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution,” discussed in some detail below, is one of the best, but we’ve also included a list of newish films and programs you may not have heard of that address disability-related themes and/or feature actors with disabilities.

Check ratings to make sure these films and programs are appropriate for viewers of all ages.

Crip Camp:
Though most camps are closed this summer, you can still get that summer camp feeling by watching the newly released documentary, “Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution.” Available on Netflix, the film tells the amazing but little known story of Camp Jened, a groundbreaking camp for teens with disabilities that opened in 1951 and closed in 1977. Directed by former camper Jim LeBrecht and Nicole Newnham, the documentary, is both moving and inspiring.

Nowadays, it’s relatively easy to find camps that can accommodate children with disabilities. But when Camp Jened opened, there were few camps like it. As explained on the Crip Camp website, “In the early 1970s, teenagers with disabilities faced a future shaped by isolation, discrimination and institutionalization. Camp Jened, a ramshackle camp ‘for the handicapped’ (a term no longer used) in the Catskills [Mountains in New York], exploded those confines. Jened was their freewheeling Utopia, a place with summertime sports, smoking and make-out sessions awaiting everyone, and campers experienced liberation and full inclusion as  human beings.”

Camp Jened also became a training ground for future disabilities activists.  In the late 1970s, many of Camp Jened’s former attendees moved to Berkeley, California, a “hotbed” of civil rights activism, where they joined the civil rights movement. Judy Heumann, a Camp Jened alumna who later became an appointee of presidents Clinton and Obama, was at the disabilities movement forefront.

“Crip Camp” follows former campers as they led the “504 Sit-in” which took place in the San Francisco Federal Building for 25 days in 1977. The civil rights protest was the longest sit-in in a federal building in history! The 150 protesters, who pushed on even without life-saving medical apparatus such as ventilators and catheters, demanded that regulations set out in Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973,  which prohibited discrimination against individuals with disabilities, be signed and enforced. On April 28, 1977, the protesters succeeded in forcing former United States Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare Joseph Califano to sign the regulations. Section 504 “helped pave the way” for the Americans with Disability Act of 1990.

“Crip Camp” won the Audience Award: U.S. Documentary at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. Watch “Crip Camp” here.

“Able: A Series”  
“Able” addresses the need for inclusion in the entertainment industry. (Amazon Prime) Here’s a link to the trailer:

“The Society”
This science fiction show geared toward young adults features a deaf character played by deaf actor Sean Berdy. (Netflix) Watch it here.

“The Politician”
Produced by Ryan Murphy, this show about a teenager obsessed with becoming class president features a cast that includes a deaf actress and an actor with cerebral palsy. (Netflix) Watch it here.

“The Healing Power of Dude”
This series is about an 11-year-old boy with social anxiety disorder who takes his emotional support animal to school. His best friend has muscular dystrophy and uses a wheelchair. (Netflix) Watch it here.

“Music Within”
This film tells the true story of Richard Pimentel, a soldier who lost much of his hearing while fighting in Vietnam. Pimentel went on to become a disabilities activist who helped other disabled veterans. (Amazon Prime) Watch it here.

Protecting Civil Rights of Hospitalized Patients with Disabilities

Civil Rights

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in mid-March, disabilities advocacy groups have worked to ensure that hospitalized patients with disabilities receive the care they need and deserve.

Among advocates’ concerns were the strict visitation policies in hospitals that left intellectually and developmentally disabled patients hospitalized with COVID-19 or other conditions without the support of family members, interpreters or staff to advocate for them.  The policies were instituted to protect visitors from contracting the highly contagious COVID-19 virus, and to prevent its further spread. However, disabilities advocates contend that in some cases, the policies had negative health impacts on patients with disabilities and even hastened their deaths.

To remedy the situation, organizations including the The Arc, Connecticut, Disability Rights Connecticut, Communication FIRST, and the Center for Public Representation filed a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in May.

On June 9, they were handed a victory in their fight for the civil liberties of people with disabilities when, according to the CPR, “the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services announced a resolution [or order] making clear that federal law requires hospitals and the state agencies overseeing them to modify policies to ensure patients with disabilities can safely access the in-person supports needed to benefit from medical care during the COVID-19 pandemic.” The order went into effect on June 15.

According to a report in the Hartford Courant, “under the order, all support people must not have COVID-19 symptoms and must follow hospital rules on social distancing and protective gear.”

While the order specifically pertained to patients in Connecticut, other states are taking similar steps to protect patients with disabilities.

In North Carolina, The Arc, North Carolina, and representatives from seven other organizations recently signed a letter to hospital and medical personnel that emphasized the need for patients with intellectual/developmental disabilities to be accompanied by “direct support professionals.” The letter cited Section 4111 of the federal CARES Act (S. 3548).

“It authorizes I/DD direct support professionals to accompany clients on acute care hospital visits,” and claims that “shutting out caregivers potentially violates federal laws.”

And in Maryland, disabilities advocates successfully petitioned Gov. Larry Hogan to allow hospitalized patients with disabilities to be accompanied by caregivers. As David Greenberg, president of the League for People with Disabilities, told the Baltimore Sun, “Cutting off this support during a stressful time of a hospitalization … is outright cruel.”

Likewise, the New York State Department of Health made an exception to its strict visitation regulations for “patients for whom a support person has been determined to be essential to the care of the patient (medically necessary) including patients with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities and patients with cognitive impairments, including dementia.”

To date, states including New Jersey, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Rhode Island, California, Massachusetts, Ohio and Oregon have similar policies. Disabilities advocates are working diligently to overturn them across the country.

Another Honor for Matlin

Marlee Matlin

It’s hard not to feel like an underachiever when you read about people like Marlee Matlin. Perhaps best known for her Oscar-winning performance in the 1986 film, “Children of a Lesser God,” Matlin was just 21 in 1987, when she became the youngest actress in history to receive the award for Best Actress in a debut film performance. In addition, Matlin was and still is, the only deaf actor ever to receive the award. Thirty years later, Matlin will receive another award—this time for her activism on behalf of people with disabilities.

After her Oscar win, Matlin went on to perform in many films and held major roles in television shows such as “The West Wing,” “Picket Fences,” “The L Word,” “Switched at Birth,” and “Dancing with the Stars.” Matlin is also an author, having published three children’s novels and a New York Times best-selling autobiography, “I’ll Scream Later,” in 2009. Matlin even has an app in which she teaches American Sign Language!

Though widely admired for her work in the arts, many fans are less knowledgeable about Matlin’s philanthropic work. That may have changed last week when multiple news outlets announced that Matlin, a spokeswoman for the National Association for the Deaf, will be honored in June with the Morton E. Ruderman Award in Inclusion for her activism on behalf of people with disabilities.

In a press release from the foundation, its president, Jay Ruderman said “Marlee Matlin is the embodiment of a force that has broken down barriers and changed perceptions of people with disabilities worldwide. Her long and celebrated career in Hollywood serves as a shining example of the value of including people with disabilities in our society.”

Matlin’s philanthropic work doesn’t end there. She also supports nonprofit organizations including the Red Cross, the American Humane Society, Feeding America, the Children Affected by AIDS Foundation and the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation. During Bill Clinton’s presidency, she also supported and helped to pass congressional legislation that required all televisions made in America to be outfitted with closed-caption technology.

An inspiration for all of us, Matlin says she has “always resisted putting limitations on herself both professionally and personally.” Fortunately for all of the people she has fought for and continues to fight for, the actress also says, “Silence is the last thing the world will ever hear from me.”