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Developing and Elevating the Disabled Talent Pipeline in Entertainment Media: by Delbert Whetter

To Read More, Go Back To 2021 Annual Report Homepage

“During the RespectAbility Lab, I found a community of likeminded people and allies all working towards the same goal – Inclusion and Representation for Disabled People. Through the program, I’ve been put up for staffing positions in Writers’ Rooms and been put into contact with Equity and Inclusion offices on the studio level. I’ve even been asked to speak on panels alongside other creatives.” – Shea Mirzai, Writer, 2020 Lab Alumnus


Based on our learnings in the field, in 2019, VP of Communications and Entertainment & News Media Lauren Appelbaum and I founded a Lab for Disabled Entertainment Professionals to help develop and elevate the talent pipeline of diverse professionals with disabilities working behind-the-scenes in television and film, while introducing them to studio executives and other decision makers who will advise Lab Fellows on various aspects of the industry and their craft, and in turn, enabling studios and production companies to learn about the talents and benefits of hiring people with disabilities.

This is a unique program that merges our work in the entertainment industry while pulling in the reason RespectAbility was founded – to create more opportunities for people with disabilities who desire to be employed.

“Hollywood is a tough industry to break into – even more so if you have a disability. I got my start ten years ago as an assistant, but RespectAbility gave me the opportunity to interview for my first Staff Writer job because they had direct connections, and I ended up landing the job. RespectAbility’s Entertainment Lab gave us access to highly esteemed executives and creatives in many facets of the industry and is truly an invaluable resource, ran by a diverse and supportive team who have disabilities themselves. Having a disability can be an isolating journey – but having a community like RespectAbility behind us, always supporting us is of the utmost importance. We need programs like RespectAbility to bring more disabled voices to the table.” – Ashley Eakin, Writer/Director, 2020 RespectAbility Lab Alumna


2021 participants included people with physical, cognitive, sensory, mental health, and other disabilities ranging in age from people in their 20’s through their 50’s. Lab alumni worked for a variety of studio partners in 2021 including Nickelodeon, Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures Entertainment, and The Walt Disney Company, as well as in writers’ rooms for Netflix’s Mech Cadet, CW’s 4400, and Showtime’s Dexter, among others. Others have had films featured at festivals such as SXSW and participated in additional career track programs including with Film Independent and Sundance Institute.  For example, this coming January, Slamdance 2022 will feature Noche del Infierno (Hell Night) directed by 2020 alumnus Andrew Reid; Oreo: The Trilogy written and directed by 2021 alumna Cashmere Jasmine; Roommates directed by 2020 alumna Ashley Eakin; and Selahy (My Weapon) written and directed by 2021 alumna Alaa Zabara.

Currently there are 82 alumni of the RespectAbility Lab. Some include:

  • Laura Alsum – Writer and Editor, One Child Matters
  • Kiah Amara – Production Accessibility Coordinator for upcoming show on a major streamer
  • Nikki Bailey – Administrator and Executive Assistant, Women of Color Unite
  • Marissa Erickson – On-Set Production Assistant for upcoming show on a major streamer
  • Alexandra Grossi – User Experience (UX) Lead designer, IBM Accessibility
  • Tyler Hoog – Office Production Assistant for upcoming show on a major streamer
  • Sana Hussein – Trainee, Sony Pictures Television
  • Shea Mirzai – Staff Writer, HBO Max
  • Marc Muzynski – Staff Writer, Dexter: New Blood (Showtime)
  • Ru Kazi – DGA Trainee, Good Trouble (Freeform)
  • Ava Rigelhaupt – Nickelodeon Live Action Casting Intern
  • Diana Romero – CBS Writers Assistant, 4400 (CW)
  • Hilary Van Hoose – Writer, Nickelodeon
  • Courtney Wold – Post-Production Manager on an undisclosed feature

Learn from more Lab alumni about the impact of the Lab on their careers:

“RespectAbility honestly was the probably the first to take a look and say that you’re worthy, you’re important. And it’s changed the course of my career.” – Cashmere Jasmine, Director and 2021 Lab Alumna

“RespectAbility’s Entertainment Lab breathed new life into my career and outlook. I am now one of a growing number of talented, driven filmmakers who continue to excel at our craft, who work to bring our stories out of the shadows, and who demand our seats at the table. RespectAbility creates an atmosphere of inclusivity and opens the doors for us to do that together.” – Diane J, Wright, Development Consultant, 2021 Lab Alumna

“I finally feel comfortable saying that my experience is valid, which is a huge step for me. I could not have said that to myself, much less out loud before the RespectAbility Lab.” – Carmen Vincent, 2021 Lab Alumna“One of my biggest takeaways from the RespectAbility Lab is just feeling proud, and I just feel grateful to have that gift. And to just be rooted in my truth. I am who I am, and I have pride in who I am.” – Gabby {G} Momah, 2021 Lab Alum “The Entertainment team at RespectAbility has an attention to detail, flexibility, and care in a way that is rarely seen anywhere else. The Entertainment Lab expands to reach more diverse creatives each year, just as RespectAbility itself shifts to be inclusive in ways that recognize the unique and completely intersectional space that the Disability community occupies. RespectAbility encourages its team members to continue to listen, discover more voices, and make space for conversation as we remind all that Disability is not a monolith and our story is only told when we can share how diverse we truly are.” – Kiah Amara, Production Accessibility Coordinator, 2020 RespectAbility Lab alum and 2021 RespectAbility Entertainment Media Apprentice

In January 2022, applications will open for the 2022 Lab – including a hopeful return to an in-person Lab in Los Angeles in June/July, as well as a virtual option in August/September.

Delbert Whetter smiling wearing a suit jacket and glassesDelbert Whetter is the Chief Operating Officer and Head of Business Affairs for Exodus Film Group, and a film producer of animated and live-action narrative and documentary features. Delbert served as a lead Business Affairs executive for over two decades, including on animated features, IGORThe Hero of Color City, and Bunyan & Babe, receiving Co-Executive Producer credit on his two recent films. Delbert earned his law degree from the George Washington University Law School, and his MBA from Pepperdine University’s Graziadio School of Business and Management. Delbert serves on the Board of Directors of non-profit RespectAbility which works with Hollywood to promote inclusion, representation, and authentic portrayals of people with disabilities, and on the Disability Advisory Board of SFFILM. He was appointed in 2018 by the City of Santa Monica to serve a four-year term on its Disabilities Commission and currently serves as its Vice Chair. He is frequently engaged to consult, speak, and conduct trainings at numerous entertainment studios, companies, and organizations throughout Hollywood.

To Read More, Go Back To 2021 Annual Report Homepage

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