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Unprecedented Opportunity for Entertainment Professionals with Disabilities in RespectAbility’s New Summer Lab Program

Sponsors and Partners include Bunim/Murray Productions, Comcast NBCUniversal, The Walt Disney Company, Sundance Institute and more

five diverse women and one man standing and seated smiling for the camera

Top Row (L-R): Stephanie Thomas, Delbert Whetter. Melissa Yingst and Lauren Appelbaum
Bottom Row: Angela Rockwood and Andrea Jennings

Los Angeles, California, May 20 – Great entertainment requires authentic stories and genuine representation of all people. This includes diverse people with physical, cognitive, sensory, mental health and other disabilities. Hence, RespectAbility, the nonprofit that produced The Hollywood Disability Inclusion Toolkit, is thrilled to offer an innovative lab series for emerging entertainment talent, as well as a track for mid-level career professionals. This 5-week, nine-session summer lab program is for people with disabilities and/or strong disability connections interested in development, production and post-production, including careers as writers, directors, producers, cinematographers, animators and other production roles.

“What we see on screen influences how we act in real life, but that is dependent on filmmakers choosing to include individuals with disabilities in diverse and accurate portrayals, which then helps remove the stigmas that currently exist about interacting with individuals with disabilities,” said Program Director Lauren Appelbaum, who leads RespectAbility’s Hollywood Inclusion efforts as the organization’s vice president, communications. “One purpose of this program is to continue building the talent pipeline of young professionals with disabilities looking to work behind the scenes. We do not want anyone to have an excuse that they could not find a writer, editor or any other position with a disability.”

Several sessions will meet at various studios where program participants will have the opportunity to learn about possible career paths and have networking opportunities. Furthermore, entertainment professionals in positions of power to hire will meet a group of qualified individuals and potentially shift their mindsets in equity goals for hiring. After all, opening the inclusion umbrella is the right thing to do as well as economically smart given that the disability market is valued at more than $1 trillion. According to Nielsen Research, Americans with disabilities represent the third largest market behind Baby Boomers and the mature market.

The remaining sessions will meet at RespectAbility’s partner locations around the city. Each lab session will include guest speakers and leaders in the industry, including from Bunim/Murray Productions, GLAAD, LeVar Burton Media, Producers Guild of America, Sundance Institute, Writers Guild of America West and more.

Faculty Advisors, who have been helping to develop the curriculum as well as in recruiting and evaluating participants, include: Karim Ahmad (Director, Outreach & Inclusion, Sundance Institute), Deborah Calla (Chair, Diversity Committee, Producers Guild of America; Media Access Awards), Elaine Hall (Founder, The Miracle Project), Diana Elizabeth Jordan (Actor/Director/Producer, Performing Arts Studio West), Sue Obeidi (Director, Hollywood Bureau, Muslim Public Affairs Council), Jonathan Murray (Founder and Executive Consultant, Bunim-Murray), David Renaud (Writer, The Good Doctor), Donna Walton (Founder, The Divas With Disabilities Project), Delbert Whetter (Chief Operating Officer & Head of Business Affairs, Exodus Film Group), and Gail Williamson (Talent Agent, KMR Diversity Department). In addition, Tatiana Lee, an actress, model and social influencer who is a wheelchair user with Spina bifida, will be assisting with this program.

RespectAbility’s President Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi added, “Entertainment contributes to our values and ideals. With just 2.1 percent of scripted television characters having disabilities, compared to 25 percent of American adults having a disability, we will continue to work with entertainment leaders to promote positive, accurate, diverse and inclusive media portrayals on TV and in film.”

This program is made possible with support by: Comcast NBCUniversal, Jonathan Murray and The Walt Disney Company.

Details of the Program

The program will meet twice a week in the afternoons/evenings, Tuesday and Thursdays beginning June 18 and ending July 18, with no session on July 4. The locations vary, but they all are in the greater Los Angeles area. All summer lab sessions are 4-5 hours in the afternoon / early evening between the hours of 1:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m.

There are two tracks:

  • Emerging: Young professionals with internship or first job experience under their belt aspiring to become writers, directors, producers, animators and other production positions, with the goal of feeding them into diversity programs at major studios, networks and production companies.
  • Mid-Career: A mentorship track for more established individuals with disabilities who wish to take part in the program for the networking opportunities and to serve as mentors for the younger professionals.

As just seven percent of people born with disabilities graduate from college, a college degree is not a requirement for the program. However, participants must have acquired the skills necessary for their chosen career through internships or other professional development opportunities, including self-education.

The value of this summer lab program is thousands of dollars. However, there is no cost to participate in this competitive program. While people at all income levels are encouraged to apply, extra consideration will be given to people on SSI, SNAP and TANF.

RespectAbility will provide ASL interpreters for all educational and related networking events during lab program hours and welcomes other accommodations requests. Applications are being considered on a rolling basis. Spaces are limited to 10 individuals in each track. Learn more and apply: www.respectability.org/respectability-la-lab.

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ABOUT RESPECTABILITY

A nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, RespectAbility understands we are a stronger community when we live up to our values – when we are welcoming, diverse, moral and respect one another. We work with the entertainment industry, policy makers, educators, self-advocates, nonprofits, employers, faith-based organizations, philanthropists, journalists and online media to fight stigmas and advance opportunities for people with disabilities. Led by people with disabilities and those who love them, we know that people with disabilities and their families have the same hopes and dreams as everyone else, even if they face different challenges. We do not lobby; we educate. Our free tools and factual resources inform so people with disabilities can achieve the education, training, jobs, security and good health that everyone needs and deserves. Join us at www.respectability.org and www.respectability.org/hollywood-inclusion.

Audience members smiling and paying attention to the speakers

Meet the Author

Lauren Appelbaum
Lauren Appelbaum

Lauren Appelbaum is the communications director of RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities for and with people with disabilities, and managing editor of The RespectAbility Report, a publication at the intersection of disability and politics. Previously she was a digital researcher with the NBC News political unit. As an individual with an acquired invisible disability - Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy - she writes about the intersection of disability, employment, Hollywood and politics. Appelbaum currently oversees RespectAbility’s outreach to Hollywood to promote positive, accurate, diverse and inclusive media portrayals on TV and in film. To reach her, email LaurenA@RespectAbility.org.

1 comment… add one
  • Avatar David N Kenyon May 22, 2019, 7:14 am

    A powerful approach to getting individuals with disabilities an opportunity to learn and make their voices heard, bravo! -Dave Kenyon

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