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Members of the RespectAbility and HH&S teams standing and smiling

Disability Group Inks Deal with Hollywood Heavyweight

RespectAbility and Norman Lear Center Unite to Help Hollywood Include People with Disabilities

HH&S' Director Kate Folb in between RespectAbility's President Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi and Communications Director Lauren Appelbaum, all standing and smiling, in front of a picture of Norman Lear

HH&S’ Director Kate Folb in between RespectAbility’s President Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi and Communications Director Lauren Appelbaum

Los Angeles, Calif., April 18 – RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities for people with disabilities, announces a new partnership with Hollywood, Health & Society (HH&S), a project of the USC Annenberg Norman Lear Center. The partnership will help educate, inform and support the success of the movie/TV industry in its work to ensure that people with disabilities are included on both sides of the camera in the stories that Hollywood tells. HH&S provides entertainment industry professionals with accurate and timely information for storylines on health, safety and national security. Like RespectAbility, HH&S recognizes the profound impact that entertainment media have on individual knowledge and behavior – ultimately impacting society and lives at large.

“We’re delighted to be working with RespectAbility to help inform and inspire the frequency and accuracy of portrayals of people with disabilities in TV and film,” said Kate Folb, the director of HH&S.

HH&S offers several resources, including quick facts, briefings and consultations with experts, case examples, panel discussions about timely health issues, a quarterly newsletter with health updates called Real to Reel and an expanding list of tip sheets written specifically for writers and producers. The broad range of topics includes disability-specific topics autism and mental health. Some of the TV shows they have assisted include The Fosters, The Good Doctor, Grey’s Anatomy, Orange Is the New Black, Speechless, Switched at Birth and many more.

The creation of this partnership would not have been possible without the financial support of The California Endowment. “Visibility and representation matters,” said Jose L. Plaza, who manages the grant for The California Endowment. “We know that accurate and positive portrayals of diverse people with disabilities will not only empower and educate viewers and program creators but will ultimately lead to a more inclusive, responsive and healthier society.”

Norman Lear, from Facts of Life to the Norman Lear Center

RespectAbility's Lauren Appelbaum with Norman Lear smiling and posing for picture

RespectAbility’s Lauren Appelbaum with Norman Lear

In 1980 Norman Lear broke a glass ceiling when he and Fern Field cast Geri Jewell as “cousin Geri” in the hit TV series Facts of Life, making Jewell the first person with a visible disability to land a regular role on a prime time TV series sitcom. Lear, who received a standing ovation while speaking recently at the Media Access Awards, said 2017 was the “most successful year for actors with disabilities on TV.” With the new partnership, RespectAbility and the Norman Lear Center will work for an even better future.

Lear made his career during the 1970s by making situation comedies that featured characters who made statements that examined issues of civil rights. For example, All in the Family included a bigoted character, Archie Bunker, which spun off into The Jeffersons, a show that starred a black family that had a sharp political ideology, which reflected Lear’s political ideas.

In 1981, Lear left the world of television sitcoms for political activism. He founded People for the American Way, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting First Amendment rights, strengthening public education and promoting electoral and immigration reform. In 2000, Lear founded the Norman Lear Center at the University of Southern California to support research investigating the intersection of entertainment and society. Four years later, he founded Declare Yourself, a nonpartisan youth voter registration initiative. In 1999, President Bill Clinton presented Lear with the National Medal of Arts. Last year, he received the Kennedy Centers Honors award. At 95, Norman Lear remains a creative force, and is still hard at work as a TV producer.

Watch RespectAbility’s Webinar on The Hollywood Disability Inclusion Toolkit

The Hollywood Disability Toolkit: The RespectAbility Guide to Inclusion in the Entertainment Industry

The Hollywood Disability Inclusion Toolkit

In the era of #MeToo and the Inclusion Rider, the entertainment industry is working to increase its diversity and inclusion efforts – with a focus on gender, race and sexual orientation. However, people with disabilities, the largest minority group in the United States that also cuts across every demographic, often are left out of these discussions. Without including the 56 million Americans with disabilities, the industry cannot be authentic. In addition to partnering with HH&S, RespectAbility recently launched The Hollywood Disability Toolkit: The RespectAbility Guide to Inclusion in the Entertainment Industry to help entertainment professionals who wish to ensure they are as inclusive of people with disabilities as possible.

With Hollywood striving to boost diversity and inclusion, opening the inclusion umbrella for America’s largest minority – the one-in-five Americans with a disability – is the right thing to do as well as economically smart given that the disability market is valued at more than $1 trillion. The success of films like Black PantherWonder Woman and Coco prove that diversity wins. According to Nielsen Research, consumers with disabilities represent a $1 billion market segment. When you include their families, friends and associates, that total expands to more than $1 trillion. Americans with disabilities represent the third largest market behind Baby Boomers and the mature market. 1.2 billion people on earth have a disability.

The toolkit, which is available online for free, offers Hollywood professionals the facts and sources they need to get disability inclusion right. Learn how the toolkit can assist you in your work or how you can become more involved in our efforts. The creation of this toolkit would not have been possible without the financial support of The California Endowment. View the toolkit online:

Watch the Webinar, which Features:

  • Lauren Appelbaum, Author of Hollywood Disability Inclusion Toolkit and Communications Director, RespectAbility
  • Kate Folb, Director, Hollywood, Health & Society
  • Jose Plaza, Manager at The California Endowment
  • Donna R. Walton, Founder of the Divas with Disabilities Project
  • Gail Williamson, Talent Agent and Head of the Diversity Department at Kazarian/Measures/Ruskin & Associates

“When it comes to diversity and inclusion, it is much more about skill than will,” RespectAbility President Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi said. “We are ready to support any entertainment professional who wants to advance disability inclusion, equity and equality in the work. When it comes to disability inclusion, people often simply don’t know what they don’t know. As a result, they are afraid they will make a mistake. However, many don’t know who to contact. We hope to take away the fear factor from disability inclusion. We want to make it easy.”

Press Contact: 

Lauren Appelbaum

Meet the Author

Lauren Appelbaum

Lauren Appelbaum is the VP, Communications and Entertainment & News Media, of RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities so all people with disabilities can fully participate in every aspect of community. As an individual with an acquired nonvisible disability – Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy – she works at the intersection of disability, employment, Hollywood and politics. She regularly conducts trainings on the why and how to be more inclusive and accessible for entertainment executives throughout the industry. Appelbaum partners with studios, production companies and writers’ rooms to create equitable and accessible opportunities to increase the number of people with lived disability experience throughout the overall story-telling process. These initiatives increase diverse and authentic representation of disabled people on screen, leading to systemic change in how society views and values people with disabilities. She has consulted on more than 100 TV episodes and films with A&E, Bunim-Murray Productions, NBCUniversal, Netflix, ViacomCBS, and The Walt Disney Company, among others. She represents RespectAbility on the CAA Full Story Initiative Advisory Council, Disney+ Content Advisory Council, MTV Entertainment Group Culture Code and Sundance Institute’s Allied Organization Initiative. She is the author of The Hollywood Disability Inclusion Toolkit and the creator of an innovative Lab Program for entertainment professionals with disabilities working in development, production and post-production. She is a recipient of the 2020 Roddenberry Foundation Impact Award for this Lab. To reach her, email

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