Story By Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi
Michael J. Fox's appearance at the Emmy Awards this week brought him a standing ovation from the celebrity audience. But was the applause recognition of Fox's extraordinary record as a five-time Emmy-winning actor? Or was it perhaps the equivalent of "pity-applause" because of Fox's public battle with Parkinson's disease?
Hard to tell. But with the premiere of the Michael J. Fox Show Thursday night, Fox's role as an actor could transition him into a major civil rights leader for people living with disabilities.
Television has the power to change lives. From our favorite sitcoms to the evening news, polls show that television is the lens through which Americans form opinions. Indeed, TV can have a stronger impact on both viewers and this country's laws than even education or our own families. Consider, for example, the media's central role in the progression of civil rights. The Cosby Show and Oprah charted new territory for race relations in our nation. For the first time, African Americans were welcomed like family members into the living rooms of white Americans. On another front, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Will and Grace and Married with Children helped advance LGBT issues. These TV programs shifted public opinion on marriage equality so quickly that elected officials and courts have been falling over each other to change their views -- and legislation -- on these issues.
In the Michael J. Fox Show, the popular actor will portray a reporter with Parkinson's who re-enters the workforce. Because Fox is already so well-liked and talented, the disability community harbors high hopes that viewers will not only root for him, but will also absorb and accept the fact that people with disabilities can succeed in the workplace. Why such big hopes and dreams? Consider this: 70% of working-age Americans with disabilities don't have jobs, even though most of them want to work. That compares to 28% of Americans without disabilities who don't have jobs. This disparity has resulted in extremely high levels of poverty, isolation and financial dependency for Americans with disabilities, costing taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars a year in government benefits.
Unfortunately, the American public has a negative misimpression of what it's like to have people with disabilities in the workplace, even though some of the nation's greatest presidents and thought leaders lived with such challenges. Presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, for example, were thought to have been dyslexic; President Franklin Roosevelt used a wheelchair; Albert Einstein is believed to have been on the autism spectrum; and, despite physical challenges, Stephen Hawkins is literally unlocking the secrets of the universe. But none of them had or have the power of television propelling them forward like the wind at their backs. The Michael J. Fox Show may be the catalyst for a welcome change and its star can be the Martin Luther King of our era. After all, according to the U.S. Census, almost one in five people -- approximately 57 million Americans -- identify as people with disabilities. With the advent of the Michael J. Fox Show, this population will now have a visible positive role model in the eyes of millions of America. Some major businesses have already made the effort to include people with disabilities in their workforces. They have found that it brings them an economic advantage. Walgreens, for example, is a proven model for hiring people with disabilities. The company, and others who have made similar decisions to hire people with disabilities, find that they are often exceptionally loyal workers, have fewer accidents in the workplace and can make a company more profitable. With any luck, Michael J. Fox and his new show will chart a new course, moving jobs for people with disabilities beyond the fantasy of TV screens and into our real lives.
Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, a person with a disability, is the president of www.RespectAbilityUSA.org, a non-profit organization working to empower people with disabilities to achieve the American dream.
The Michael J. Fox Foundation is dedicated to finding a cure for Parkinson's disease through an aggressively funded research agenda and to ensuring the development of improved therapies for those living with Parkinson's today.
Living and working with Parkinson's diseaseThough he would not share the news with the public for another seven years, Fox was diagnosed with young-onset Parkinson's disease in 1991. Upon disclosing his condition in 1998, he committed himself to the campaign for increased Parkinson's research. Fox announced his retirement from "Spin City" in January 2000, effective upon the completion of his fourth season and 100th episode. Expressing pride in the show, its talented cast, writers, and creative team, he explained that new priorities made this the right time to step away from the demands of a weekly series. Later that year he launched The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, which The New York Times calls “the most credible voice on Parkinson’s research in the world.” Today the largest non-profit funder of Parkinson’s drug development in the world, the Foundation has galvanized the search for a cure for Parkinson’s disease, and Michael is widely admired for his tireless work as a patient
advocate. In 2012 Fox announced his plans to return to full-time acting, speaking publicly about finding a drug cocktail that has helped him control the symptoms and side effects of his Parkinson’s disease well enough to play a character with PD. While the announcement may have upended public expectations, Michael has always remained in demand as an actor. In 2011 he took on a multi-episode guest arc in the CBS hit drama "The Good Wife" with Julianna Margulies and guest starred in Larry David's acclaimed HBO comedy "Curb Your Enthusiasm." In spring 2009 he portrayed embittered, drug-addicted Dwight in Denis Leary's hit FX Network drama "Rescue Me," a role that earned him his fifth Emmy Award. His 2006 recurring guest role in the ABC legal drama "Boston Legal" was nominated for an Emmy, and he appeared as Dr. Kevin Casey in the then-NBC series "Scrubs" in 2004. He is the recipient of several lifetime achievement awards for accomplishments in acting, including the 2011 Hoerzu Magazine Golden Camera Award and the 2010 National Association of Broadcasters Distinguished Service Award.
Our Core Values
We are 100% patient-focused.Our team works tirelessly every day with one urgent goal in mind: Accelerating breakthroughs patients can feel in their everyday lives. We strive to make progress in the following key areas by evaluating risk, opportunities, and challenges through a patient-focused lens:
- Speed treatments that can slow, stop or reverse the progression of Parkinson’s disease
- Speed better treatments for the currently unaddressed or under-addressed symptoms of Parkinson’s disease
- Speed treatments to address or avoid the debilitating side effects of current Parkinson’s disease drugs
We are obsessed with efficiency.We operate with a focused sense of optimistic urgency to find a cure for Parkinson's and to ensure the development of improved therapies for people living with Parkinson's today. We won't stop until a cure is found. We're on it.
We won’t stop until a cure is found.We take pride in all our accomplishments so far. But ultimately we have only one definition of success: Scientific solutions that produce tangible improvements in patients’ lives.
We are risk-takers and problem-solvers.From inception, MJFF has invested in high-risk, high-reward research targets; an approach that in 10 short years has transformed the broader approach in the PD research field.
Our model is different.It is accepted practice among private disease research funders that the most important decisions — how to allocate donor-raised dollars — are made by external scientific advisors and boards. We bucked this model from day one in favor of building an in-house team of formally trained PhDs and business-trained project managers.
Parkinson's Disease Symptoms
Life After Diagnosis
People are generally most familiar with the motor symptoms of Parkinson's disease, as they are the most evident signs of the disease from the outside. But there is also increasing recognition of the importance of other non-motor symptoms of the disease that can sometimes have a major impact on patients.
Motor Symptoms of Parkinson's DiseasePeople are generally most familiar with the motor symptoms of Parkinson's disease, as they are the most evident signs of the disease from the outside. These symptoms, which are called the "cardinal" symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, include:
- Slowness of movement, or bradykinesia
- Resting tremor
- Postural instability, or balance problems, can result in the advanced stages of the disease
- Other physical symptoms, such as gait problems and reduced facial expression, may also occur
- These are due to the same disruption of movement that causes the better-known tremor and slowness
Non-motor Symptoms of Parkinson's DiseaseThere is also increasing recognition of the importance of other symptoms of Parkinson’s disease that are sometimes called "non-motor symptoms" or "dopamine-non-responsive." While neither of these terms is ideal, these symptoms are common and can have a major impact on Parkinson’s patients. They include:
- Cognitive impairment, ranging from mild memory difficulties to dementia
- Mood disorders, such as depression and anxiety, also occur frequently
- Sleep difficulties, such as REM Sleep Disorder
- Loss of sense of smell, called hyposmia
- Constipation, speech and swallowing problems
- Unexplained pains, drooling and low blood pressure when standing may also result
What is TEAMFOX?Team Fox is the grassroots community fundraising program at The Michael J. Fox Foundation. Each year more than 1,600 Team Fox members worldwide turn their passions and interests into unique fundraising events and athletic feats.
To date, our members have raised nearly $20 million for Parkinson’s research. You too can make a difference. Sign up today!
Why should I join TEAMFOX?All Team Fox members are equipped with a wealth of tools and resources, including:
- An online fundraising page with a unique URL that can be customized with a personal story, event information and photo or video.
- A Participant Center that serves as your fundraising headquarters; from there you can email friends and family members, track donations, share your story, and more.
- The Team Fox Handbook, a 20+ page guide to help you maximize your fundraising and event planning efforts.
- Access to the Team Fox logo, banners, and other collateral items to give your event legitimacy.
- Assistance from the Team Fox staff and/or a Team Fox mentor.