Dominican model and actress Jillian Mercado has been a long-time advocate for the disabled community. Now, she’s using her platform to give back. On July 15, the 33-year-old launched Black Disabled Creatives—a non-profit community database.
Mercado—who was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy as a child—is one of the few models challenging the long-standing standards of beauty with appearances in campaigns for Nordstrom and Target among others, occasionally posing in her wheelchair. Now she’s giving other disabled creatives a chance to connect with potential opportunities as well. The non-profit community database features roughly 140 creatives from industries like design, entertainment, publishing and more.
When discussing what inspired her to launch BDC she tells Remezcla: “It was honestly just knowing the reality of how amazing my community is. We are a bunch of people who no matter what limitations we may have, no matter how much society has made us invisible in a visible place we continue to thrive and work with passion on what we want to do as far as career goes.”
The L Word: Generation Q actress says the response has been overwhelmingly positive and that some people have already been hired through connections made on the platform. In order to be featured, creatives simply need to fill out an application.
“BDC is an invaluable resource. Oftentimes, in the BIPOC community (more than in other communities), the idea of disability is often seen as a death sentence. Growing up I never saw people with disabilities doing cool and creative things. On those very rare occasions that I did see someone with a disability on my TV or in a creative setting, they most certainly didn’t look like me,” SafeBae Partner Outreach Director and Dominican Daphne Frias tells Remezcla.
“I know that the creation of a platform like BDC will serve to make sure that the lack of representation I experienced is no longer the case for younger generations. It also is a great place to create a community for those of us with disabilities, so that we can hire [or] recommend each other for jobs that we are working on.”
If everyone with a disability were formally recognized as a minority group, they’d make up 19% of the population. That would make them the largest minority group in the U.S., according to a 2011 report from the University of New Hampshire’s Institute on Disability. Disabled people of color struggle even more, according to Mercado, which was all the reason to create BDC.
“Black people, in general, are systematically oppressed; now, add a disability to it and it gets much worse,” Mercado says.“The change that I want to see? That people understand that our voices are valid. And if we are not able to move to a location but able to work from home, that should be an option to be considered highly.”
As the Black Lives Matter movement continues and more people become aware of social/racial injustice, Mercado says the best way to be an ally is to truly listen. “But to listen to listen, not to answer back. We are extremely tired of talking to people but having them not listen to what we’re saying,” she says. “Understanding that we all have ableist tendencies but if we’re willing to actually learn, grow, and make actual long-lasting changes, then it would absolutely help our community.”
With nearly 4k followers in the short time since launch, it’s clear the BDC community is growing and carving a space for itself in an environment that’s been historically indifferent.
“My hope is that in the future, brands and companies understand that we are here and ready to work and create our careers in the field that we choose. [That] if they want to talk about inclusivity, that also means disability as well. I want people to feel comfortable and know that there is a community of people who appreciate who they are and understand them. That together we can be extremely powerful.”