Innovative Practice 2019 on Independent Living and Political Participation

Fighting Stigma through Hollywood and Jobs Creation

The US non-profit RespectAbility, based in the state of Maryland, fights stigma and advances opportunities for people with disabilities through the Hollywood entertainment industry and by promoting employment opportunities. The organization collaborates with Hollywood writers to promote positive, accurate, and diverse portrayals of disability. It has created the Hollywood Disability Inclusion Toolkit and the Emmy Award-winning TV show Born This Way, starring people with Down syndrome. At the political level, RespectAbility focuses on employment by publishing reports on best practices, providing testimony, and creating resources for policy makers.

“Since 2013, RespectAbility has been enabling people with disabilities to achieve economic independence by increasing positive representation in the media, encouraging best practices in employment and training young leaders with disabilities.”

About the practice at a glance
Name of Innovative Practice:Fighting stigma through Hollywood and jobs creation
of Implementation


  • Met one-on-one with 46 of America’s Governors to advocate for employment solutions for people with disability
  • RespectAbility has trained more than 1,000 workforce professionals, community leaders, employers, and others to expand employment for people with disabilities.
  • The organization works with 550 volunteers in 46 states and 120 graduates of their National Leadership Program, all with disabilities.


RespectAbility believes that culture precedes politics.  While up to one in five people have a disability, fewer than 2 per cent of scripted TV characters have a disability.


The cast of Born This Way on stage having won the 2016 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Unstructured Reality Program.


To improve cultural understanding of disability, RespectAbility has created the Hollywood Disability Inclusion Toolkit to help directors and writers accurately portray disability issues. The Toolkit provides facts, resources, and contacts related to disability to make programming authentic. The organization also provides information on disability etiquette as well as updates on the disability lexicon to ensure that scripts are culturally sensitive. For the TV show “Born This Way,” RespectAbility helped to create entertaining content and identify new talent. The show became a national hit, winning three Emmys, including best reality show.

RespectAbility simultaneously focuses on policy change. Working with local and state officials, the organization helps to align public policies with proven best practices; issues reports, such as its annual Best and Worst States Report; and testifies on employment and disability issues, such as its Illinois Employment First Plan Testimony. In addition, as co-chair of the Employment & Training Task Force of the Consortium of Citizens with Disabilities, RespectAbility helps set the agenda for over 100 disability groups, thus affecting the workforce planning in more than ten states.


Funded through civil society grants, RespectAbility’s successes are attracting new funders, permitting the organization to grow rapidly. In 2017, the organization had revenues of $1,538,530 – up from $554,684 in 2016.

The organization’s promotion of disability inclusion has led to more US funders adding disability issues to their portfolios, something that will help other disabled people’s organizations to raise funds for their own work. It also trains 25­ to 30 young professionals a year, with and without disabilities, to become future leaders of the disability movement. To date, graduates of its National Leadership Program have gone on to work in the World Bank, the US Government, and top universities, to name a few. In recognition of its expertise, RespectAbility has been sought out by the United States, United Kingdom, and several South American governments to advise on disability employment.

RespectAbility's Policy Director presents a Disability Job Creator award to Colorado Governor John C. Hickenlooper.



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