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30 Talented Entertainment Professionals with Disabilities Accepted into RespectAbility’s Second Annual Summer Lab

Sponsors include Cast & Crew, Comcast NBCUniversal, Final Draft, Fox Corporation, Murray/Reese Foundation, Sony Pictures Entertainment, ViacomCBS 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, June 11 – After unprecedented competition from around the world, 30 individuals have been accepted into RespectAbility’s second annual Lab for Entertainment Professionals. This 5-week, 15-session virtual summer Lab series for talented 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, will take place June 16 – July 16, 2020. Participants include diverse people with physical, cognitive, sensory, mental health and other disabilities.

“This program continues building the talent pipeline of young and mid-career professionals with disabilities working behind the scenes while also enabling hundreds of studio executives to learn about the talents and benefits of hiring people with disabilities,” said Program Director Lauren Appelbaum, RespectAbility’s Vice President, Communications who leads RespectAbility’s Hollywood Inclusion efforts and authored the nonprofit’s Hollywood Disability Inclusion Toolkit. “While we will not be on location at studios this year like in 2019, we are thankful for all the studios that will be virtually hosting us beginning on June 16.”

Due to COVID-19, the Lab was restructured to a virtual format. Sessions will be held on platforms such as Zoom and BlueJeans. This year’s 30 participants include 18 individuals in an emerging track and 12 in a mid-career track. Some individuals recently lost jobs due to COVID-19. Others will be balancing their jobs with Lab sessions, many of which are hosted by studios including Bunim/Murray Productions, FOX Corporation, NBCUniversal, Sony Pictures Studios and The Walt Disney Studios. Additional speakers include individuals from Film Fatales, Film Independent, the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, GLAAD, the Muslim Public Affairs Council Hollywood Bureau, the Writers Guild of America West and Women of Color Unite. Lab participants also will have the opportunity to share materials they have produced or directed, as well as to participate in table reads of scripts, for feedback from peers and industry professionals.

Summer Lab participants seated around a table listening to a lecture

2019 Summer Lab participants learning from Jonathan Murray

Applications opened at a kickoff event at the home of Jonathan Murray and Harvey Reese in March 2020 shortly before the industry shutdown due to the coronavirus. “Welcome to the last social gathering of 2020,” Murray said to the several dozen industry reps in attendance. As a board member for RespectAbility, one of his goals is get Hollywood to let people with disabilities tell their own stories.

The Lab also was the Fan Favorite chosen by the Arc Tank audience for the Northeast Arc’s “The Arc Tank 3.0,” which was created to positively disrupt conventional methods of providing services to people with disabilities. 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.

“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 Inclusion Associate. “According to Nielsen Research, Americans with disabilities represent the third largest market behind Baby Boomers and the mature market.”

Faculty Advisors, who helped develop the curriculum as well as by recruiting and evaluating participants, include: Cheryl Bedford (Founder, Women of Color Unite), Deborah Calla (Chair, Diversity Committee, Producers Guild of America; Media Access Awards), Fanshen Cox (Head of Strategic Outreach, Pearl Street Films), Sue Obeidi (Director, Hollywood Bureau, Muslim Public Affairs Council), Jonathan Murray (Founder and Executive Consultant, Bunim-Murray), David Renaud (Writer, The Good Doctor), Shoshannah Stern(Writer and Creator, This Close), Delbert Whetter (Chief Operating Officer & Head of Business Affairs, Exodus Film Group), and Alex Yellen (cinematographer). In addition, two alumni Nasreen Alkhateeb and Leah Romond, will be assisting with this program as Senior Production Advisors.

Participants in the program include:

Mid-Career Track:

Emerging Track:

RespectAbility will provide ASL interpreters and live captioning for all educational and related networking events during lab program hours.

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 accurate, diverse and inclusive media portrayals on TV and in film.”

This program is made possible with support by:

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

Headshots of 30 RespectAbility lab participants in black and white.

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 and

For More Information

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

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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