Los Angeles (July 15, 2010) — On Saturday, U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis addressed members of Screen Actors Guild, AFTRA, the Tri-Union I AM PWD campaign and other entertainment industry leaders in an effort to explore strategies for increasing employment opportunities for people with disabilities.
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy and the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences co-hosted Lights! Camera! Access! at the TV Academy’s headquarters, an event that also served to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Secretary Solis was introduced by SAG President Ken Howard. Below are Secretary Solis' remarks in their entirety as well as her suggestions on how to improve the visibility of people with disabilities in media.
Thank you Ken [Howard] for that kind introduction.
I want to thank you for your work with the Screen Actors Guild and the important work that you do for your members.
I also want to thank the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences for hosting today's event.
It's great to be back in California.
Don't get me wrong, I like Washington, D.C., but like Dorothy said in The Wizard of Oz... there's no place like home.
Today, we are here to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and to shed a light on the enormous contributions that people with disabilities have made in our workplaces, including the entertainment industry.
Today is a call to action... a call that both the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences and the Department of Labor have answered.
According to June 2010 data, the percentage of people with disabilities in the labor force was 21.7%
By comparison, the percentage of persons with no disability in the labor force was nearly 71%.
We know that people with disabilities are making and can make valuable contributions to our workforce and to society.
When I was in Congress, I was a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet.
I strongly supported efforts to expand opportunities for persons with disabilities to have access to communications products and services.
I also worked to ensure that advancements in technology didn't leave behind people with disabilities who spoke another language other than English.
It is my hope that the Labor Department, Congress, and our partners in the private sector will help open doors for people with disabilities to join growing careers like those in the entertainment industry.
Last October I had the pleasure of hosting a roundtable discussion during National Disability Employment Awareness month.
We talked about a lot of issues related to the employment of people with disabilities at that Roundtable, but one of the things we talked about was the sparse representation of people with disabilities in Hollywood.
Robert David Hall, who we are so lucky enough to have here today, was at the Roundtable.
He gave us a statistic from a recent Screen Actors Guild study that really struck me -- that only one half of one percent of all the words uttered on television is spoken by somebody with a disability.
He also talked about his own experience starting out as an actor with a disability, and how few roles were available to him.
We still have a long way to go — both in terms of roles in front of and behind the camera.
The entertainment industry can't be expected to do it alone -- they can't be expected to have all of the best practices.
The government can be a culture carrier too.
The Department of Labor's Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) provides national leadership on disability employment policy by developing and influencing the use of evidence-based disability employment policies and practices, building collaborative partnerships, and delivering authoritative and credible data on employment of people with disabilities.
My Asst. Secretary for this office is Kathy Martinez, whom you will hear from later today.
Disability employment is an issue that is near and dear to her heart and under her leadership ODEP has brought together outside organizations that had previously not worked together before and shown that they can work together, and effectively.
And that is why this collaboration between the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences and the Department of Labor is such a great thing.
More and more of today's family's include people with disabilities — not only will a lot of people age into a disability, but the more we create inclusive environments, the more people of all ages will disclose that they have disabilities.
People with disabilities make up tens of millions of today's consumers.
They shop, they buy products, and they watch television and film.
Everyone likes to see themselves in the products they buy and in the programs they watch.
This, of course, includes consumers with disabilities.
This issue affects all of us.
So, you may be asking yourself — "What can I or my organization do to promote people with disabilities within the industry?"
I have a few suggestions and challenges:
In an effort to measure our effectiveness, is it possible to obtain a baseline of employees with disabilities in front of the camera and behind the scenes?
For those entities that have internships, scholarships and mentoring opportunities, is it possible to integrate disability into your diversity outreach?
Is it possible to cast performers with disabilities in non-descript roles (roles that anyone can play) and background scenes of employment, schools and community life?
Since 1947, October has been designated as National Disability Employment month. This year's theme is "Talent Has No Boundaries; Workforce Diversity includes workers with disabilities. Wouldn't this be a great time to bring more people with disabilities into the industry -- I am wondering for starters if there might be some companies that would like to participate in National Disability Mentoring Day?
My understanding is that there are a few shows that portray youth with disabilities. Breaking Bad and then the new Paul Reiser Show on NBC just hired a child actor with a disability — that is fantastic! I wonder if it is possible for other shows that focus on youth could expand their impact and begin to weave people with disabilities into their efforts?
At this time I would also like to introduce the Campaign for Disability Employment.
This campaign is a unique collaborative effort between:
The Office of Disability Employment Policy at the U.S. Department of Labor;
The Job Accommodation Network, the American Association of People with Disabilities;
Special Olympics, the U.S. Business Leadership Network;
The National Disabilities Business Council;
The National Council of La Raza;
The Society for Human Resource Management; and
The National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce.
Using positive images of people at work, the campaign shows that people with disabilities can and do contribute to the bottom line in the private and public sectors nationwide.
So as you say in Hollywood... roll camera.
These are challenges I pose to you today.
I hope that you will accept my challenge and make it possible for people with disabilities to more visible, both in front of and behind the camera!
Let's make it happen.