March Means Developmental Disability Awareness Month!

Blog: March Means Developmental Disability Awareness Month!

March means that it’s Developmental Disability Awareness Month (DDAM) and that means it’s time to raise awareness about the need for greater inclusion in American society. The theme for this year’s DDAM is “a world of opportunities.” As we know, opportunities for the developmentally disabled will only increase if people with disabilities and their allies work together to raise awareness about the contributions that people with DD make and can make in their communities.

Developmental disabilities affect a large segment of Americans. The category includes anyone with a disability that “occur[s] from birth to the first few years of development, may impact day-to-day functioning, and are typically lifelong diagnoses,” according to Easterseals and University of Washington. That could be individuals with cerebral palsy, spina bifida, Down syndrome, autism, visual or hearing loss, ADHD or learning disabilities. Easterseals reports that “more than five million Americans reportedly have developmental disabilities.”

While much has changed for the better since former President Ronald Reagan designated March as DDAM in 1987, people with DD still face many obstacles. These include the lack of accessibility online and in physical spaces; high rates of unemployment and poverty; social isolation; barriers to quality healthcare; and perhaps most significantly – stigma.

How can you help raise awareness this DDAM?

1. Learn more about developmental disabilities.
As was mentioned above, there is tremendous diversity among individuals with DD. Becoming educated about the many types of developmental disabilities is a great way to increase understanding and reduce the biases that many of us have toward our developmentally disabled neighbors.

2. Speak Up About Disability Rights
Become an advocate for people with developmental disabilities by educating others about the issues that affect them; and by supporting their civil rights.  Check out the CDC’s website to learn more about allyship.

3. Hire people with developmental disabilities.
Individuals with DD frequently make excellent employees. If you are in a hiring position, consider hiring a person with a DD. If not, support businesses that do so.

4. Watch your language.
The way you talk to or about people with DD matters. Take the time to learn respectful ways of referring to individuals with DD and call out others who use disrespectful language such as the “r word.”

5. Donate to a reputable organization that helps people with DD.
Consider contributing to Easterseals, The Arc, United Cerebral Palsy or the Autism Society of America.

6. Help spread the word.
Use your social media accounts to raise awareness about DDAM by posting this year’s DDAM artwork and banner.

7. Download the National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities 2024 Resource Guide.
The guide will provide comprehensive information including: “videos, toolkits, news articles, photos, personal stories, promising practices” pertaining to people with DD.

Strategies for Safety During the Winter Months

Blog: Winter Safety 2024

Who among us hasn’t suffered the winter doldrums at one time or another? Darkness, freezing temperatures, icy roads—plus the flu, colds and COVID-19 infections that are rampant this time of year—can make you want to crawl into bed and stay there until spring arrives. For disabled people, winter can present multiple health and safety risks. Here are some tips to get you through the rest of the long winter season.

1. Avoid crowded indoor environments
Some individuals with disabilities have compromised immune systems that make it easy for them to catch viruses and other contagious diseases. Stay healthy by socializing in small groups, via Zoom or with people who agree to be masked. Speaking of masks, always wear one when in stores, on public transportation and especially in healthcare facilities.

2. Dress for the harsh weather
While this may seem obvious, it’s important to know what fabrics are most protective against the cold. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that adults and children wear hats, scarves, mittens and water-resistant coats and boots.  It’s also critical to dress in layers.

“Be sure the outer layer of your clothing is tightly woven, preferably wind resistant, to reduce body-heat loss caused by wind,” says the CDC. “Wool, silk, or polypropylene inner layers of clothing will hold more body heat than cotton. Stay dry—wet clothing chills the body rapidly. Excess perspiration will increase heat loss, so remove extra layers of clothing whenever you feel too warm.”

3. Be aware of the signs of hypothermia and frostbite
The CDC advises people to pay attention to symptoms like “shivering, exhaustion, confusion, fumbling hands, memory loss, slurred speech and drowsiness,” which are all signs of hypothermia. Symptoms such as “a white or grayish-yellow skin area; skin that feels unusually firm or waxy; and numbness” may signal a case of frostbite. If you suspect that you or a friend or family member is suffering from these conditions, seek medical care at once.

4. Winterize your wheelchair or other mobility aid
Cars aren’t the only vehicles that require winterizing. United Disability Services recommends replacing wheelchair tires with snow tires for the winter months. Snow tires “are softer and easily grip snow to avoid getting stuck.” UDS advises against using rollators (4-wheel walkers) in the snow and reminds cane and standard walker users to make sure their rubber tips are clean to avoid slips or falls. Cane users may also want to consider adding an “ice-pick-like attachment” to the bottom of their cane that provides a more secure grip when walking on snow or ice.

5. Have an emergency home kit
In the event that a severe winter storm keeps you homebound, UDS recommends that you have the following necessities on hand: bottled water, non-perishable food, first aid kit, snow shovel, salt or ice melt, flashlights, extra blankets, and enough medication to last for several days. If you rely on medical equipment that uses electricity, be prepared with a backup power source such as a portable generator. Similarly, if you use equipment that requires batteries take care that all batteries are fully charged.

 6. Fight isolation
While it can be challenging to socialize during the winter months, try to do so whenever possible. Many people become depressed and lonely during winter as they are frequently stuck at home by themselves. When weather permits, take part in social and recreational activities outside of the house, and when it’s dangerously cold or icy, find a Zoom group or online class where you can (virtually) meet other people.

Easterseals Campaigns for Accessible Air Travel

Easter Seals Airline 2024

If you’re a wheelchair user who’s planning to travel by air this holiday season, it’s unlikely that you’re looking forward to the transportation portion of your trip. There are many reasons for this.

According to Easterseals President and CEO Kendra Davenport, “air travel continues to be an unachievable dream for people with disabilities who cannot fly and a horrific nightmare for those who can.”

That’s why the 100-plus year-old nonprofit organization is “calling on the United States government, airports, the airline industry, airplane manufacturers, and disability advocates to come together and build an air travel system that is accessible to everyone by no later than 2026.”

That’s a lofty goal, but Easterseals believes it’s possible.

Here are some of the changes that need to be made in order to meet Easterseals’ goal.

1. Check-in needs to be streamlined for people with mobility challenges. Presently, disabled travelers frequently wait for long periods of time before receiving help with the check-in process.

2. Airport-issued wheelchairs need to be available when disabled passengers arrive at the terminal. They should not have to wait for long periods of time when they need to make their planes. The chairs should also be redesigned so that they are more comfortable, less prone to tipping over and can accommodate travelers of all sizes.

3. TSA screeners need training so they know how to meet the needs of disabled passengers. Screeners without such training may cause undue wait times, humiliation and even injury.

4. Airline personnel must be trained in the correct way to transfer wheelchair users to their seats without endangering their safety or peace of mind.

5. Airplanes should be outfitted with accessible restrooms. This change is already in the works though it may take some years before all planes include accessible restrooms.

6. Airplane “infotainment centers” should be modified so that individuals with motor limitations that inhibit the use of remotes or touchscreens can use them.

7. Perhaps most importantly, airlines need to take much better care of passengers’ wheelchairs. Statistics show that 31 wheelchairs are damaged by airline personnel every single day. According to Easterseals, 11,000 wheelchairs were damaged in 2022. Imagine! Arriving at your destination only to find that you have no way of getting around! This is truly a catastrophe.

Easterseals is publicizing its air travel campaign through the use of public service announcements that will run on United States cable television stations for two months during the busy holiday season.

The organization points out that “fully accessible air travel would benefit us all, not just the 61 million Americans with disabilities.  Consumers with disabilities and their families activate more than $22 billion in buying power and have $490 billion in disposable income.  More accessible leisure and business travel would mean more passengers for airlines, more planes sold by airplane manufacturers, as well as more jobs and opportunities for everyone.  Not to mention the benefits to society of having a more inclusive world in which people with disabilities can fully participate.”

New Clinic Offers Comprehensive Support for People with Down Syndrome

Blog: Clinic for Down Syndrome

In recent months, the media has been full of coverage about how the healthcare system fails individuals with disabilities. For example, an April 2023 article in Disability Scoop cites changes in training requirements for pediatricians that many fear will leave them poorly equipped to treat young patients with developmental disabilities. Likewise, a piece in New Mobility asserts that “not only are most doctors undereducated about patients’ disabilities, but they also know little about the Americans with Disabilities Act and how to accommodate patients with disabilities.”

Meanwhile, an Oct. 2022 article in the New York Times headlined “These Doctors Admit They Don’t Want Patients with Disabilities,” reveals shocking details about the ways in which doctors avoid treating patients with disabilities.

In light of all this, we were pleased to see a recent press release about the Orlando, Florida-based SMILE with Stella Tremonti Down Syndrome Clinic, aka SMILE, a brand new health center that’s part of AdventHealth for Children.

SMILE, which opened on Oct. 17, provides interdisciplinary treatment for individuals with Down syndrome from birth through adulthood. The clinic is named for 2-year-old Stella Tremonti, daughter of Mark Tremonti, former guitar player for the Grammy Award-winning band Creed, and his wife Victoria, who are founding donors for the project. Additional partners for SMILE include the National Down Syndrome Society and the Down Syndrome Association of Central Florida. It is the first such facility in the Southeast and one of 11 across the U.S. that specialize in holistic treatment for people with Down syndrome.

Every year, approximately 5,100 children in the United States are born with Down syndrome and about 200,000 people in the U.S. currently live with the chromosomal condition. Thanks to scientific advances, lifespans of individuals with Down syndrome have risen dramatically in the last six-plus decades. In 1960, the average person with Down syndrome lived to be only 10 years old. Today, the average lifespan of a person with Down is 60 years of age. While this is a wonderful development, it also means that many more individuals with Down syndrome will, as they age, experience a variety of medical conditions that are more common to people with Down syndrome. These conditions include heart defects, hearing and vision problems, leukemia, gastrointestinal ailments and dental problems. Unfortunately, identifying primary care doctors and specialists willing and able to treat individuals with Down syndrome can be extremely challenging, especially once patients reach adulthood.

In a press statement, Dr. Stacy McConkey, medical director of pediatrics at the
SMILE clinic, explained that “navigating life with a child who has Down syndrome can be overwhelming for parents to do on their own. Individuals with Down syndrome require yearly screenings and testing, bi-annual appointments with cardiologists, orthopedists and other specialists, regular check-ups to monitor hearing and vision, as well as speech, occupational and physical therapies. To be that central provider holding families’ hands along the way and making sure all of the specialists are on the same page, it’s incredible to see how our health care professionals come together to make a difference in a child’s future.”

Mark Tremonti said “After we found out our daughter would be born with Down syndrome, like most parents I was afraid, I didn’t know what to expect. But it immediately became my family’s mission to raise awareness and support for the Down syndrome community,” said Mark Tremonti. “My dream for this clinic is for people to come from around the country or even from around the world because it’s the best and most comprehensive place for individuals with Down syndrome.”

For more information about the SMILE program, visit

Just Because You Can’t See it, Doesn’t Mean it’s Not There

Blog: Hidden Disabilities Sunflower Program

You might be surprised to learn that 80% of disabled individuals live with a disability that isn’t immediately apparent to others. The Hidden Disabilities Sunflower Program, launched in the United Kingdom in 2016, was designed to help the more than 1 billion individuals around the world with non-visible disabilities such as autism, ADHD, dementia, cognitive impairment, mental illness, diabetes, low vision, and other conditions cope with the unique challenges they face on a daily basis.

The Sunflower Program was created because often when people can’t see disability, they don’t recognize that a person may need support, guidance or extra time to complete tasks or understand instructions. The Sunflower Program offers a discreet and entirely voluntary means of letting others know that you have a hidden disability and may need their help and understanding.

Becoming part of the Sunflower Program is simple. All you have to do is wear a lanyard, sticker or wristband with the sunflower symbol on it. When Sunflower Program-trained business owners and employees see the symbol, they’re alerted to the wearer’s hidden disability and know that they may need extra help. Individuals with hidden disabilities can add details about their disabilities and special needs by purchasing personalized Sunflower cards. While you can purchase these materials on the Sunflower Program website, you can also obtain them free from participating businesses.

Some examples of personalized Sunflower cards include those saying:

  • I may need more time
    Please be patient and keep calm—I may need more time to complete an action or to communicate with you.
  • Stairs/ramps are a barrier to me
    Is there an accessible route?
  • I may need urgent access to the closest toilet facility
    Please assist me without questioning.
  • I have sight loss
    I have limited vision and may find access to visual information or
    judging distance a barrier.

A comprehensive list of available sunflower card messages is available on the Sunflower Program website. The website also includes additional information about hidden disabilities, stories from individuals with hidden disabilities, an index of hidden disabilities and a blog with topics of interest for people with hidden disabilities and their allies.

The first business to participate in the Sunflower Program was Gatwick Airport in London. Nowadays, participating businesses include “retail, travel and tourism, transport including over 200 airports—as well as railway networks, coach and bus services and ferries, education (universities, schools and colleges), healthcare, central and local government agencies to football teams, theme parks, theatres and financial institutions.”

Check out the Sunflower Program website to make travel, shopping and recreational events more accessible for you or your loved one with a hidden disability.

8 Ways to Celebrate Disability Pride Month 2023

2023 Disability Pride Month

July is Disability Pride Month. It’s a time to honor the history, accomplishments, struggles and humanity of the more than 1 billion people with disabilities around the globe. As such, it’s the perfect time to review the history of the disability pride movement and consider meaningful ways to celebrate.

On July 26, 1990, President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). The historic law prohibited discrimination against disabled Americans in all areas of public life. Unfortunately, despite the landmark decision, discrimination still exists. Disability Pride Month helps bring attention to the misconceptions and obstacles that disabled people continue to face and encourages their complete inclusion in our societies.

In October 1990, the city of Boston held the first Disability Pride parade. It was a great success, but it took a while for the rest of the country to catch on. In 2004, Chicago held its first Disability Pride parade and other cities including Philadelphia, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Buffalo eventually followed its example. Nowadays Disability Pride Month is celebrated in cities and towns across the United States and in some places overseas.

In 2015, then New York Mayor Bill de Blasio proclaimed July Disability Pride Month in commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the ADA.

Whether you are a person with a disability or an ally of the disability community, you can participate in a variety of activities that highlight issues of concern to members of the disabled community. Here are some opportunities for Disability Pride Month observance:

1. Take part in a Disability Pride parade!
Disability Pride parades are held in many locations during the month of July. Some well-known parades are held in Missouri, Illinois and Pennsylvania but nowadays you can find parades and other disability pride events all over the U.S. Check your local news publications or websites to find out if one is being held near you.

2. Attend a virtual Disability Pride parade!
If you aren’t able to attend a parade in person, attend Easterseals’ virtual parade on Jan. 26. For more info, visit the Easterseals’ website.

3. Read about the history of disability rights
There are plenty of excellent books that teach about the fight for disability rights and inclusion. To find suggestions of books on disability, check out this list by USA Today or this one by the New York Public Library.

4. Watch a film about the disability experience
Some excellent choices are “Crip Camp,” “CODA,” “The Evolution of Disability in Film” and “The Miracle Worker.”

5. Check out a disability history website
UC Berkeley’s website on the Disability Rights and Independent Living Movement is a good place to start. Another informative website with ideas on celebrating Disability Pride Month is the Arc’s.

6. Tell your disability story on social media
Share your experiences and encourage others to observe Disability Pride Month on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or TikTok using hashtags #DisabilityPride and #DisabilityPrideMonth.

7. Reach out to elective officials
Write or call elected officials to demand policies that support the rights of disabled people. The Arc’s Action Circle provides alerts about the latest disability issues and policies.

8. Donate to disability rights organizations
Providing funding for organizations that support the rights of disabled individuals is one of the best ways to celebrate Disability Pride. Check out Stanford University’s Office for Accessible Education website for suggestions of organizations that need your donations.

 “Hop”—a New Kids’ TV Show—to Feature Disabled Characters

Blog: “Hop”—a New Kids’ TV Show

As we have frequently discussed here, disability representation in the media is a critical part of encouraging inclusion and changing the inaccurate and sometimes negative perceptions of people with disabilities. While 26% of Americans live with disabilities, just 3.1% of on-screen characters are disabled.

When children are exposed to disability early in life, either by getting to know their disabled peers, reading books or watching television programs with disabled characters, inclusion comes more naturally. That’s why we were particularly excited to learn about “Hop,” a new show for preschoolers recently greenlighted by Max (formerly HBO Max) and currently in development.

Created by Marc Brown, best known for the beloved PBS children’s television show “Arthur,” which concluded recently after 25 years on the air, “Hop” joins a growing number of animated shows for young children that present positive depictions of disabled characters and normalize inclusion.

“Hop” features a group of young friends that includes characters with disabilities. The show’s main protagonist—Hop—is a frog with a limb length discrepancy, played by actor David Connolly, the first amputee to perform in a Broadway production. Filipa the squirrel, another character on the show, is neurodivergent and dislikes loud noises and crowded environments. The young animal pals live in a fictional town called “Fair Village” where everyone is equal and valued for their unique qualities.

In a press release Brown said, “Even before Arthur ended, I was nurturing a new project about a little frog named Hop for a younger audience. As Hop’s world grew in my imagination, I drew inspiration from the great work my friend Fred Rogers (of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood) had done.

With Arthur, we occasionally introduced characters with disabilities but they never became part of the ensemble cast in any meaningful way,” added Brown. “But the characters in Hop reflect many kids who are underrepresented in the media. Some of our characters have disabilities but they never define who they are or what they can achieve. Kids are kids and each one is unique and filled with potential. And kids love to have fun, that’s what Hop is all about!”

To ensure realistic and unbiased media portrayals, the show’s producer Epic Media is consulting with RespectAbility, a nonprofit that fights stigma and advances opportunities for people with disabilities. As part of its mission “to create systemic change in how society views and values people with disabilities,” RespectAbility partners “with studios, production companies, writers’ rooms, and news organizations, to increase the number of people with lived disability experience throughout the entire media ecosystem.”

“Hop” is scheduled to make it debut in early 2024.

Disability Studies: Is it the Field for You?

Blog: Disability Studies: Is it the Field for You?

What’s your major? Increasingly, college students are answering that question with “disability studies.”

In recent years, four-year colleges and universities such as CUNY (City University of New York), Arizona State University, Toledo University and University of Illinois have added disability studies to the menu of undergraduate programs they offer. More commonly, countless institutions of higher learning offer associate degrees, minors, certificates, interdisciplinary programs and graduate degrees in disabilities studies. Meanwhile, colleges and universities that have not initiated such programs of study are forming committees to discuss how best to do so.

But what is disability studies?

University of California, Berkeley’s website explains the field of disability studies like this:

“Disability studies provides a space to explore questions like these: How has disability been defined in various historical moments, in various cultures and eras? While impairment has unquestionably been a frequent experience throughout human history, has disability –the construction of impairment as a generic social category — been a historical constant, or is it a modern invention? What social ideologies, cultural systems, and societal arrangements have shaped the meaning and experience of disability? How has disability been defined or represented in cultural and artistic productions, public laws and policies, modern professional practices and in everyday life?”

CUNY, the first university to offer a bachelor’s degree in disability studies, defines the field like this:

“Disability Studies is an emerging academic field that explores disability and society through the lens of overlapping perspectives, including social sciences, humanities, science, and the law.”

Note that both descriptions reflect a relatively new understanding that the implications of disability go way beyond health and medical considerations. Instead, schools that offer disability studies programs recognize that disability, which affects at least 25% of the population in one way or another, intersects every aspect of our lives. As our population ages, more of us will become disabled. That means professionals who understand the challenges that individuals with disabilities face, will play a more important role than ever before.

Still, students concerned about how they will find jobs after college may have questions about how a degree in disability studies will pay off. No worries there. Graduates of disability studies programs will be prepared for careers and/or graduate work in a range of professions including special education, social work, physical, speech, rehabilitation and occupational therapy, sociology, anthropology, law, public health, architecture, design, engineering and more.

Regardless of what graduate program or career disability studies students choose, they will enter their fields with a breadth of knowledge about issues such as inclusion, accessibility, human rights, education and health policy. They will also have the personal and professional satisfaction of knowing that their expertise will almost certainly improve the lives of disabled individuals, and their families.

John’s Crazy Socks Spreads Happiness!

Blog: John’s Crazy Socks

Looking for a unique way to celebrate Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month in March?

What about World Down Syndrome Day on March 21?

You might want to consider donning a pair of John’s Crazy Socks! Why? Because John’s Crazy Socks, founded by Long Islanders John Lee Cronin, a young man with Down syndrome, and his businessman father Mark X. Cronin, provides employment for people with disabilities and donates 5% of its profits to Special Olympics. Additionally, the company educates the public about why people with disabilities make great employees, and advocates for public policy changes on behalf of people with different abilities.

John and Mark decided to start their own business in 2016, soon after John graduated from high school. Finding few options for employment, John eventually approached his father about starting a business together. At first, John and Mark considered starting a food truck but they discarded the idea after realizing they had no talent for cooking. Then, John had a brainstorm. Why not sell socks?

As Mark Cronin remarks on the company’s website, “John had worn crazy socks his entire life, that was his thing. We would drive around looking for them. It seemed as if John loved fun socks so much, others would too.”

As it turned out, Mark was right. Customers were crazy for John’s Crazy Socks! By the end of their first month on the e-commerce site Shopify, John’s Crazy Socks had filled 452 orders and taken in more than $13,000!

Since then, the company has grown by leaps and bounds. Nowadays, John’s Crazy Socks sells 4,000 different pairs from socks for disability awareness, holidays and birthdays to car and biking enthusiasts to coffee lovers, cat people, and more. Socks are available in men, women and baby sizes and in styles including ankle, bamboo, compression, no-show, athletic and knee-high. Businesses can purchase logo socks. And the company even offers a sock of the month club!

If socks aren’t your thing (although who doesn’t need socks?), John’s Crazy Socks also sells pet sweaters, tote bags, blankets, kitchen mitts and dish towels.

According to its website, John’s Crazy Socks’ business model is built on “four pillars – inspiration and hope; giving back; socks you can love; and making it personal.”  All John’s products have the same mission – spreading happiness. In other words, “The more we can do for others, the more we can make people happy, the better off we are.”

For more information about John’s Crazy Socks, visit

Disabled Representation is Improving at Disney

Blog: Disabled Representation

Planning a trip to Disneyland in Anaheim, California, this holiday season? If so, don’t miss the classic “It’s a Small World” attraction’s newest additions – two dolls who use wheelchairs.

“It’s a Small World,” one of Disney’s longest running attractions, was first created for the 1964-1965 World’s Fair. It opened at Disneyland in 1966 and has been a favorite ever since.

Disney Imagineer Kim Irving says it’s important for Disney’s attractions to change with the times. She told Parade Magazine that her team has been surveying Disneyland “with a magnifying glass” to find spots where the organization can increase inclusivity.

“We are always looking to enhance our attractions with not just fun things, but meaningful things as well,” said Irving in a CNN interview.

Disney Resort manager of accessibility Erin Quintanilla, a wheelchair user, said the ride’s disability representation was “an historic moment.” As she told CNN, “I feel seen. I feel represented. It’s a monumental moment to have my community be in an attraction and represented. I teared up when I saw them in the attraction.”

Dolls in wheelchairs are expected to be added to “It’s a Small World” in Florida’s Walt Disney World and Disneyland Paris sometime next year.

Adding dolls who use wheelchairs is just one example of Disney’s efforts to become a more inclusive organization. In 2021, Disney updated rides such as Jungle Cruise and Splash Mountain after visitors complained that they contained racist imagery. Some Disney watchers expect that the park’s Peter Pan ride will also be updated soon, as the ride has been criticized for its negative portrayals of Indigenous people.

Disney has also made efforts to become a more inclusive workplace for its employees. In 2012, employees were [for the first time] permitted to wear beards. Nowadays, they are able to display body piercings and tattoos and can choose their own costumes.  Disney’s inclusion policy seems to be working. For the past five years, The Walt Disney Company has earned a top score on the 2022 Disability Equality Index (DEI), a tool that measures disability workplace inclusion.

Disney’s updated inclusion agenda can also be seen in films and television programs where the company has taken steps to diversify its characters. In addition to portrayals of ethnically diverse characters such as “Big Hero 6,” “Moana,” “The Frog Princess,” and “Pocahontas,” Disney has also increased disability representation with films such as “Finding Nemo,” “Finding Dory,” “Kim Possible” and “Luca.”

While disabled Disney fans are pleased with these changes, many are still waiting for Disney to create a film starring a disabled princess. According to, “Sydney-based writer and disability advocate Hannah Diviney even started a petition to urge Disney Pixar saying that a disabled Disney princess would give many people around the world ‘the chance to see themselves be the hero of their own story.’ She says, ‘If the magical seed of representation is planted at a young age, it will bloom into something precious and valuable. …It would also be providing a powerful reference point for non-disabled children to understand us and our lives.’”

“Extraordinary Attorney Woo” Sparks Controversy in South Korea and Beyond

Blog: Woo

A new Netflix show from South Korea has autism activists talking. When it debuted last summer, “Extraordinary Attorney Woo” quickly became the most popular non-English TV show on Netflix. A courtroom drama about a brilliant young attorney with Autism Spectrum Disorder portrayed by Korean actress Park Eun-bin, the show is drawing accolades, anger and ambivalence.

What to make of this? Let’s take a look.

In the United States, depictions of disabled characters in film and television are still uncommon. Yet, thanks to organizations such as RespectAbility, there is progress. According to a recent New York Times article, “Significant depictions of disability on film and television shows have nearly tripled over the past decade compared with the previous 10 years.” Disability awareness in South Korea is also increasing, though at a much slower pace than in the U.S.

South Koreans “typically associate autism and disabilities with shame,” Ms. Son Da-eun, the director of Autism Partnership Korea recently told The New York Times. “Several parents whose children attend [our] center conceal the diagnosis from friends and relatives, and some blame themselves for it.”

Son and other autism activists are pleased by the exposure to autism that Attorney Woo is providing for Korean viewers. Yet, they worry that the show’s portrayal of the disorder is unrealistic.

“In South Korea, some families of autistic people have described the show as ‘pure fantasy,’” says News 24. That’s because only 10% of people with autism have savant syndrome like Attorney Woo, whose character has an IQ of 164; a photographic memory; and the ability to solve legal cases that none of her colleagues can. Additionally, these families insist that someone with autism would never receive the educational or vocational opportunities that Woo receives in South Korea.

When actress Park Eun-bin was cast as Attorney Woo, she was concerned about offending the autism community. With only two weeks to prepare, Park said she read a lot about autism and its symptoms. Meanwhile, the show’s screenwriter Moon Ji-won spent a year working with a Korean special educator to help ensure that Attorney Woo’s behavior would accurately depict traits of autism.

Attorney Woo displays many of the characteristics often associated with autism – echolalia (repeating other people’s words); sensitivity to noise and touch; rigidity; poor eye contact; and awkward gait. She speaks in a monotone and has an obsessive interest in whales. Some viewers with autism identify with the portrayal. Some insist that Park’s depiction is inaccurate since not all people with autism experience all those symptoms. Others are unhappy that the role of Attorney Woo is being played by an actor who does not have autism.

Writing for, Geoffrey Bunting recommends “inviting disabled people into the production (which would also do something to combat the staggeringly low employment rates of autistic and disabled people in Korea) and to hire disabled actors to lend their experiences to their own characters.”

Despite its problems, most viewers agree that the show is worthy of a watch.

“We can’t expect a television show to really portray what it is like for autistic people and their families,” said drama and pop culture critic Gong Hee-jung in an article for Korea JoongAng Daily, “but a show like ‘Extraordinary Attorney Woo’ will help steer general understanding of autism towards improvement. It will be an opportunity for us as a society to reflect on the prejudices that we unknowingly had.”

Extraordinary Attorney Woo Season 1 is now streaming on Netflix.

It’s National Disability Employment Awareness Month!

Blog: National Disability Employment Month

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), 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.

The Good News

On the bright side, disability employment reached historically high levels in 2022. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Jobs Report released Oct. 7, 2022 reported the employment-to-population ratio (the percent of the population that is employed) for people with disabilities (ages 16-64) was nearly 35% in September 2022.

One major reason for the increase in employment of disabled individuals this year was due to changes that arose from the pandemic. Though many disabled workers lost jobs at the beginning of the pandemic, as it continued, changes in the employment landscape such as the increase in remote work opportunities made it possible for many disabled individuals to become gainfully employed. Likewise, workforce shortages encouraged employers to take a chance on hiring individuals with disabilities. As more people return to work and especially to office jobs, it is unclear whether such increases will hold.

In other good news, “federal officials are sending $177 million to states in a major push to shift people with disabilities away from subminimum wage work in favor of competitive integrated employment,” reported Sean Heasley for Disability Scoop on Oct. 3. The Subminimum Wage to Competitive Integrated Employment demonstration project will provide funding to 14 state vocational rehabilitation agencies and will be distributed over five years.

This encouraging trend follows the enactment of another rule meant to prohibit the practice of paying people with disabilities less than their non-disabled colleagues. In July, AbilityOne, a federal program that finds employment for disabled individuals through government contracts, ruled that its employees must be paid at least minimum wage. Prior to the ruling, employers were permitted (with certification from the U.S. DOL) to pay disabled employees less than minimum wage.

According to Disability Scoop, “about 40,000 individuals who are blind or who have significant disabilities are employed through AbilityOne at over 1,000 locations nationwide. The program directs federal contracts to a network of some 450 nonprofit agencies, which provided nearly $4 billion in products and services to the government in fiscal year 2021 alone.”

Hopefully, other employers will soon follow suit.

The Not-So-Good News

The high employment-to-population rate for people with disabilities is a bit deceptive though. According to the BLS, the unemployment rate among persons with a disability is more than twice that of persons without a disability—7.3 percent vs. 3.1 percent, respectively—in September 2022. The unemployment rate measures the share of workers in the labor force who do not currently have a job but are actively looking for work. That means that individuals with disabilities who are able and willing to work are not finding jobs to the same extent as individuals without disabilities.

And there are other reasons that the increase in disability employment isn’t as good as it could be. For one, disabled individuals who are employed are more likely to have only part-time employment than their non-disabled counterparts (29 percent vs. 16 percent). Others are under-employed, which means that they are employed in jobs that are not consistent with their skill level. Still others face barriers to higher education, which hinders access to jobs with growth potential.

Complicating matters further is the fact that individuals with different types of disabilities face different challenges when it comes to employment opportunities. For example, Breeze, a disability insurance vendor, reports that employment rates (employment-to-population ratio) of working age adults vary by disability:

  • Learning disabilities: 46 percent
  • Hearing disabilities: 52 percent
  • Vision disability: 44 percent of people
  • Cognitive disability: 26 percent
  • Intellectual and developmental disabilities: 14.7 percent

Although there is still work to do before people with disabilities find equity in the workforce, there is reason to celebrate this NDEAM. Employers are gaining awareness about the need for equity and responding by hiring more people with disabilities. To learn more about ways to commemorate NDEAM, visit