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Unprecedented Opportunity for Entertainment Professionals with Disabilities in RespectAbility Lab

Sponsors include Cast & Crew, Comcast NBCUniversal, Final Draft, Fox Corporation, Murray/Reese Foundation, Sony Pictures Entertainment and The Walt Disney Company

Summer Lab 2019 participants smile together around a statue of Mickey Mouse at The Walt Disney animation studios

Summer Lab 2019 participants at The Walt Disney Studios. Credit: Jeff Maynard

Los Angeles, California, March 12 – 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 the second annual innovative Lab series for emerging entertainment talent, as well as a track for mid-level career professionals. This 5-week, 10-session summer Lab is for people with disabilities interested in – and with experience 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.”

RespectAbility’s 2019 pilot Lab led to five of the 16 emerging track participants finding employment at several studios including Paramount Pictures and the Walt Disney Company.

From June 15 through July 17, sessions will be held on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons and evenings at locations around the Los Angeles area, including Bunim/Murray Productions, Film Independent, NBCUniversal, Sony Pictures Studios and The Walt Disney Studios. 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 with disabilities and potentially shift their mindsets in equity goals for hiring.

2019 Summer Lab participants seated at tables listening to Jonathan Murray at Bunim Murray Productions

2019 Summer Lab participants listening to Jonathan Murray at Bunim Murray Productions. Credit: Lauren Appelbaum

“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,” said Tatiana Lee, an actress, model and social influencer with Spina bifida, who will be assisting with this program as RespectAbility’s Hollywood Inclusionist. “According to Nielsen Research, Americans with disabilities represent the third largest market behind Baby Boomers and the mature market.”

Each Lab session will include guest speakers and leaders in the industry. In addition to studio executives, 2019 speakers included individuals from Creative Artists Agency, Film Fatales, GLAAD, Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, Muslim Public Affairs Council Hollywood Bureau, the Sundance Institute, Writers Guild of America West, and more. Additional optional luncheons and dinners will be offered for smaller groups within Lab participants. For example, during Summer 2019, animators had lunch with a producer at DreamWorks. Toward the end of the Lab, participants will be invited to showcase their materials with each other, including script readings and showing clips of materials produced.

Applications open March 12, 2020 and will be considered on a rolling basis through April 3, 2020. Late entries accepted after April 3, 2020 only as space allows. Interviews will be conducted with second-round applicants via phone and Skype. Participants will be notified of their acceptance in early May.

RespectAbility’s President Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi added, “Entertainment contributes to our values and ideals. With just 3.1 percent of scripted primetime television characters having disabilities, compared to 25 percent of adults in America 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 (as of March 11, 2020):

Platinum Sponsors: Murray/Reese Foundation and The Walt Disney Company
Gold Sponsors: Cast & Crew, Comcast NBCUniversal and Final Draft
Silver Sponsors: Fox Corporation and Sony Pictures Entertainment

Jonathan Murray, Lauren Appelbaum and Christine Cadena smile together

L-R: Jonathan Murray (RespectAbility Board of Directors and Murray/Reese Foundation), Lauren Appelbaum (RespectAbility Vice President, Communications and Lab Program Director), Christine Cadena (The Walt Disney Company)

More Details of the Program

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 connecting them to jobs 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. Up to 30 participants will be accepted into the Lab. Learn more and apply: www.respectability.org/respectability-la-lab.

About RespectAbility

RespectAbility is a nonprofit nonpartisan organization that fights stigmas and advances opportunities so people with disabilities can fully participate in all aspects of community. RespectAbility provides tools, trainings and contacts to support creative and business executives at major production companies and studios to improve the number and quality of authentic, diverse and inclusive representation of people with disabilities on screen. RespectAbility increases hiring initiatives of people with disabilities behind the camera and enriches the pool of disabled talent in Hollywood by connecting them to those who can assist with their careers, supporting both the disabled employees and their employers. Join us at www.respectability.org and www.respectability.org/hollywood-inclusion.

For More Information

Lauren Appelbaum, Vice President, Communications, RespectAbility
[email protected]

A group of diverse people with and without disabilities smiling together outside

L-R Back Row: Sharon Pierre-Louis (ASL interpreter), Lauren Appelbaum (RespectAbility Vice President, Communications and Lab Program Director), Delbert Whetter (RespectAbility Board of Directors), Jonathan Murray (RespectAbility Board of Directors and Murray/Reese Foundation), Stephen Simon (City of Los Angeles Department on Disability), Diana Elizabeth Jordan (Actress and RespectAbility Volunteer), Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi (RespectAbility President), Harvey Reese (Murray/Reese Foundation) / Front Row: Matan Koch (RespectAbility Director of California Office), Tatiana Lee (RespectAbility Hollywood Inclusionist and Lab Program Associate), Josh Steinberg (RespectAbility Program Associate). Credit: Nasreen Alkhateeb, 2019 Lab Alumna

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 [email protected]

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