Los Angeles, California, July 24 – As the entertainment industry seeks to be more inclusive of talent with disabilities, RespectAbility, the nonprofit that produced The Hollywood Disability Inclusion Toolkit, highlights examples of best practice among studio executives, producers, writers and actors in both the television and film industry during a virtual event.
Taking place as part of a larger week-long celebration of the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), ADA30 Summit: Fighting Stigmas With Hollywood airs live on both Zoom and Facebook Live on Wednesday, July 29, from 1:00 – 3:30 p.m. ET / 10:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. PT.
Bunim-Murray’s Jonathan Murray opens the day with a panel conversation about ensuring authentic representation in the entertainment industry. With one-in-five people having a disability in the U.S. today, the lack of representation – just 3.1 percent on screen and even less in children’s television (less than one percent) – means that millions of people are unable to see themselves in media today. RespectAbility has been honored to play a part in changing this, including consulting on an array of films and TV shows for a variety of studios and networks. But change must be embraced from the top and have buy-in at every level.
Murray will talk with Grey’s Anatomy (ABC) writer and producer Elisabeth Finch, The Good Doctor (ABC) writer and producer David Renaud and This Close (Sundance TV) executive producer and writer Shoshannah Stern. Then, will bring on three studio executives – Walt Disney Television’s Carolyn Lertzman, NBC Entertainment’s Grace Moss and Sony Pictures Entertainment Jennifer Turner.
Everything’s Gonna Be Okay (Freeform)’s Kayla Cromer and Ramy (Hulu)’s Ramy Youssef and Steve Way will talk about disability representation in young adult entertainment media with actress, model and RespectAbility’s Hollywood Inclusion Associate Tatiana Lee.
In addition, New Amsterdam (NBC)’s casting director David Caparelliotis and Executive Producer David Schulner discuss the intentional inclusion of people with disabilities on screen.
In a conversation moderated by RespectAbility’s Vice President of Communications Lauren Appelbaum, who previously worked for NBC News, journalists Victoria Arlen (ESPN), Tim Gray (Variety), Kristen Lopez (IndieWire) and Dino-Ray Ramos (Deadline Hollywood) will discuss disability representation in news media.
A variety of actors with disabilities also will provide video greetings, including their hopes for the next 30 years of the ADA: Danny Gomez (NBC’s New Amsterdam), Zack Gottsagen (The Peanut Butter Falcon), Eileen Grubba (NBC’s New Amsterdam), Rachel Handler (NBC’s New Amsterdam), Sophie Kim (Netflix’s The Healing Powers of Dude), Shaylee Mansfield (A&E’s Deaf Out Loud, Netflix’s Feel the Beat), RJ Mitte (AMC’s Breaking Bad), Ryan O’Connell (Netflix’s Special), Natasha Ofili (Netflix’s The Politician and Amazon Prime’s Undone), Lauren “Lolo” Spencer (Give Me Liberty).
The two-and-a-half-hour event will end with a focus on behind the camera, taking a look at RespectAbility’s award-winning Lab for entertainment professionals working behind the camera, which was co-founded by Appelbaum and deaf film producer Delbert Whetter. Award-winning filmmaker Nasreen Alkhateeb, an alumna of the 2019 Lab who served as a Senior Production Advisor for the 2020 Lab, will unveil a new video edited by 2020 Lab alumnus Nebiyu Dingetuand have a conversation with Kiah Amara, a New York City based filmmaker, interdisciplinary artist, consultant and activist; Natalie Gross, a model, writer, actress and dancer; and Leah Romond, 2019 Lab alumna, 2020 Lab Senior Production Advisor, and a producer of the SWSW 2020 Official Selection, inclusive musical feature film Best Summer Ever.
“What we see on screen influences how we act in real life, but that is dependent on studio executives, showrunners and filmmakers choosing to include individuals with disabilities in the creative process behind the camera and in diverse and accurate portrayals, which then helps remove the stigmas that currently exist about interacting with individuals with disabilities,” said Appelbaum, who leads RespectAbility’s Hollywood Inclusion efforts as the organization’s vice president, communications. “This program highlights studios working toward equity in disability inclusion and examples of best practice others can follow.”
“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,” added Murray, who executive produced Emmy-winning series Born This Way and film Autism: The Musical. “According to Nielsen Research, Americans with disabilities represent the third largest market behind Baby Boomers and the mature market.”
Organized by a team of individuals with disabilities and their allies – including Alkhateeb, Appelbaum, Lee, Murray, Romond, Eric Ascher, Lily Coltoff, Kianna Dorsey, Benjamin Rosloff and Delbert Whetter – this event is open to the public and free. People can register for their unique Zoom link, which is a screen reader accessible platform. The event will include ASL interpreters and live captioning.
Each event will be recorded with shared with open captions, along with transcripts. This series is made possible through the generosity of Comcast NBCUniversal, the Murray/Reese Foundation, Sony Pictures Entertainment and The Walt Disney Company.