Rep. Brad Sherman, the Jewish 10-term Congressman, is known as a serious legislator with deep credibility on Israel and stopping the threat of Iran. So what is he doing in a reality show made by the same company that created Keeping up with the Kardashians, Rob & Chyna and Total Divas?
The reason is simple: he cohosted a major event in his district with Emmy-winning reality-TV innovator Jonathan Murray (executive producer of the shows listed above, in addition to Real World, Born This Way, Autism the Musical and others) and former President George W. Bush appointee on disability issues, Steve Tingus.
The event, entitled “Ending Stigmas & Bigotry: Expanding Employment for People with Disabilities,” was presented by Rep. Sherman working in partnership with RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities for people with disabilities. RespectAbility was founded by three Jewish philanthropists: Donn Weinberg, Shelley Cohen and myself. The organization is on the front lines in battle to ensure that Jewish institutions are fully welcoming of, and accessible to, Jews with disabilities and their loved ones. But it also includes a diverse range of people and issues, with a focus on narrative change in Hollywood and jobs for people with disabilities. Both Murray and Tingus are now also on the board of RespectAbility. Both our communications director, Lauren Appelbaum, and I are featured in the episode.
Participants in the event which will be shown on TV included stars from the cast of Emmy-winning reality show Born This Way, which features seven diverse young adults with Down syndrome, as well as other individuals with Autism, multiple sclerosis, spina bifida, physical disabilities, amputations and non-visible disabilities. Local experts, including Jewish leaders Cathy Gott, Senior Government Relations Advisor for ETTA, a proud affiliate of Ohel, Elaine Hall who leads the Miracle Project, Miriam Maya, Director of Caring for Jews in Need and LAJAC at The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, Julie Platt, Chair of the Board of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, and others also participated. Together, participants brainstormed new ideas to move the needle forward on the employment of people with disabilities in a shared agenda. The congressman facilitated these discussions.
“Today in California, 115,600 youths with disabilities, between the ages of 16 and 20, are preparing to enter the labor market,” Sherman said. “They have high expectations and deserve the opportunity to achieve the American Dream. Young people with disabilities may simply need some thoughtful help to transition into the workforce. People who are blind, deaf or non-verbal frequently use assistive technology. Similarly, people with developmental disabilities can benefit greatly from internship opportunities and job coaches. Comcast, Ernst & Young LLC, Lockheed Martin, Sprint and other companies have seen that people with disabilities can be extremely capable and loyal workers.”
Born This Way is a breakthrough show on diversity and changing the disability lens from a “hand out” to a “hand up.” Megan Bomgaars runs her own successful company, Megology, and Sean McElwee just started his own company as well called Seanese. John Tucker is a rapper, and his YouTube video has been watched more than 150,000 times. All of the stars have Down syndrome. When the show was recognized with an Emmy for outstanding unstructured reality program, three of its stars became the first people of color with disabilities to win an Emmy.
Promoting success stories of people with disabilities in shows like Speechless and Born This Way helps to change negative perceptions of people with disabilities.
Each year 300,000 young people with disabilities reach the age to enter the workforce. However, despite polls showing that most of these young people want to work, they often hit a roadblock because of negative stigmas. So it is wonderful that viewers of Born This Way will see young adults collaborating with a member of Congress to expand opportunities for employment and starting their own businesses.
The episode will air on Tuesday, June 6 at 10 PM ET/9c on A&E Network.
In coordination with this Tuesday’s episode of Born This Way, RespectAbility has released the Born This Way Fan Guide with free resources for a variety of individuals with disabilities. The guide includes free tools, contacts, information and services around:
- Job Seekers with Disabilities
- Employers Embracing Employees with Disabilities
- Education Resources on Disability Issues
- Policy Makers
- Entertainment Professionals
- Ending the School-to-Prison Pipeline
- Inclusive Philanthropy
- Some of the most recognized and talented Jews in America have disabilities. 16-time Grammy, 4-time Emmy, Presidential Medal of Freedom winner Itzhak Perlman and philanthropist Sheldon Adelson use a mobility devices. Real-estate magnet and RNC Finance Chair Steve Wynn is legally blind, and Academy-Award Winner for Best Actress Marlee Matlin is Deaf.
- The Israeli military recruits people with Autism for their elite unit 9900 because they find them exceptionally good at computer and pattern recognition skills.
- Only one-in-three working-age people with disabilities have a job and people with disabilities are the poorest of the poor. Most major Jewish Federations support efforts to help Jews with disabilities get jobs and live as independently as possible.
- Some of the most talented people – from scientist Stephen Hawking to finance wizard Arthur Young – are, or were, people with disabilities. Hawking uses an electronic mobility device. Young, the co-founder of Ernst and Young (EY) was deaf and was a wiz at both math and finance. Today EY employs more than 150,000 people globally, and is known to be a leading expert in engaging talent with disabilities.
- Today COMCAST has a service where you can talk to your TV remote control to find the shows and channels you want to watch. It was invented by Tom Wlodkowski, Comcast’s vice president of accessibility, an engineer who is blind.
- In recent years Apple, Microsoft, Google and others have created breakthroughs in technology that use innovations to enable people with a wide range of disabilities to succeed in school and the workplace. This includes the fact that computers can now read out loud to people who are blind and YouTube can automatically add captions to videos for free so that people who are hearing-impaired can follow them.
- Studies show that most people with disabilities want to work. The Harvard Business Review, Fast Company, Wired and other publications have extolled the “disability-advantage” to companies that hire talent that includes people with disabilities.
- People with disabilities are the largest minority in America, with almost one-in-five Americans having a disability. However, according to GLAAD, fewer than two percent of scripted television characters (15) have disabilities in 2016. Stars of Born This Way are the first-ever people with disabilities of color to ever be recognized with an Emmy.