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Delbert Whetter and an ASL Interpreter on Zoom

Delbert Whetter: “Get Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable”

Los Angeles, California, June 19, 2020 – “Your experience as a person with a disability adds value to your team,” deaf film executive Delbert Whetter told the 30 participants and five-member programmatic team of RespectAbility’s Summer Lab for Entertainment Professionals with Disabilities.

Whetter, a RespectAbility board member, has been the head of business affairs for digital, wireless and entertainment providers. He has been involved in projects such as MGM’s Igor (2008), Magnolia Picture’s Hero of Color City (2014), and Cinedigm’s Bunyan and Babe (2017). Currently, he is executive producing the upcoming animated feature film, Pierre the Pigeon-Hawk and producing the live-action narrative feature, Flash Before the Bang based on the true story of an all-deaf track team from a deaf school that won the state championship. Prior to his coming to work in the film industry, he earned a law degree from George Washington University Law School and an MBA from Pepperdine University’s Graziadio School of Business.

Whetter is credited by RespectAbility’s Vice President of Communication, Lauren Appelbaum, as being a fundamental part of RespectAbility’s award-winning Summer Lab for Entertainment Professionals with Disabilities, of which he is returning Faculty Advisor. His own experiences in the film industry as a deaf individual shed light on the lack of representation in a field notorious for the scarcity of opportunities for people with disabilities.

His start in Hollywood was the culmination of a years-long journey. He began his career with a focus on the business and legal aspects of filmmaking and continued fostering relationships and opportunities. It was developing a noticeable presence, and understanding people through empathy and observation that truly allowed for Whetter’s tremendous success. 

“It’s very important that people see you—how you work, interact with people, and develop relationships with others,” he said. “And to be heard and get involved with communication. Contribute when you can. And as a deaf person, sometimes it was very hard to overcome the temptation to just sit at my desk, focus on my work, and observe. And I really had to learn to overcome that and assert myself.”

A concept that Whetter urged Lab participants to master is the art of communication. He said it is not always necessary to be an excellent speaker, but it is critical to understand the art of effective verbal and non-verbal communication.

“An expert communicator is someone who can communicate complex ideas,” he said. “So, if you’re working on an extremely complex concept, the ability to express and communicate that in a clear and concise way is incredibly valuable and not easily found elsewhere.” 

It is through understanding people that allowed for Whetter to perpetuate healthy and professional relationships. Whatever field anybody is in, Whetter’s advice on succeeding is to work on developing one’s emotional intelligence. That will lead to deeper connections with industry peers, therefore enabling one to grow into higher positions.

While Whetter created a successful career for himself, it wasn’t until after he had been in the film industry for 15 years that he made an unsettling realization: he was the only one like himself in his business. It was through that realization that he found the next chapter of his career: advocacy for disability inclusion and representation.

He is continuing to use his position to create opportunities for others with disabilities. He urges people to understand that their disability is not an inability. Instead, one’s disability should be looked at as an advantage, he said.

Whetter left the 2020 Lab participants with an invaluable piece of advice:

“Learn to get comfortable with being uncomfortable for most of your careers, or maybe even for most of your lives. Nearly all of success that can be found in Hollywood, or in this industry, will reside outside of your comfort zone, so the more comfortable you are with being uncomfortable, the greater the likelihood you will find success.”

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Lizzy Francis
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