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Building the Industry Pipeline for the Future

What does the ADA mean to you? In celebration of the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the disability advocacy nonprofit RespectAbility hosted a week-long summit including a day focused on working with the entertainment industry to advance authentic representation. To cap it off, the conversation focused on the importance of building a disabled industry pipeline for the future.

Hosted by the filmmaker and senior production advisor for RespectAbility Nasreen Alkhateeb, the panel spotlighted RespectAbility’s award-winning Hollywood Lab for Entertainment Professionals with Disabilities.

As Alkhateeb described it, “the RespectAbility Lab serves to reposition disabled filmmakers in front of executives, who they may never have the audience with otherwise.”

To help others have a fuller understanding of the Lab, Alkhateeb spoke with alumni Leah Romond (2019), April Caputi (2019), Kiah Amara (2020) and Natalie Trevonne (2019) about their experiences with the Lab and their subsequent careers.

The purpose of the lab is to help open the door for people with disabilities to get into the entertainment industry. Alumni are taking that mission to the next level. Each of the four women on the panel shared the importance of using their newfound positions of power to open the door for others with disabilities.

“Although I have a disability, I also recognize that I am a white hetero cis woman and I think about this a lot, and I think, oh well, I could tell my story, but I would rather have a story that is much more intersectional,” said Leah Romond, producer of the 2020 SXSW selection Best Summer Ever. “So, I see my place and my passion in this industry is to connect the creative, the talent behind the screen and in front of the screen to the studio executives, the show runners, the decision makers, and gate makers.”

“My favorite way to do it is to introduce people to people at studios,” added Romond. “So, if you are an intersectional disabled filmmaker, I want to know you, and I want to connect you to people. So, reach out to me.”

The importance of intersectionality was echoed by the other Lab alumni who spoke as well.

“I get to be the voice that says, what about people with disabilities? What about Black people with disabilities? What about people with disabilities who are part of the LGBTQ community,” noted April Caputi, a creative associate under Disney’s Executive Incubator Program. “As we have said, I am a white hetero cis woman, and I get to think more in the room about, you know, who’s not in the room? Who’s not being represented in the works that we have? And I get to collaborate with many of the creative executives that I’m working with and get to have a say in that.”

Natalie Trevonne, actress, model, and co-host of Fashionably Tardy, used her connection with RespectAbility to create an entire team to educate companies on working with people who are blind orr have low vision.

“I was able to bring a team in, some other blind people I was able to bring in with me, and to really show our assistive technology, and go over orientation of mobility, how we get around, and how to make things more accessible, on the job,” said Trevonne.

In addition to ensuring equal opportunity hiring and representation, the panelists also spoke to the importance of ensuring that workspaces be accessible. IndieVISIBLE Entertainment, founded by Lab alumna Kiah Amara, works to dissolve physical barriers to provide a more inclusive space.

“We believe in creating universally accessible sets, which is a huge passion of mine and a lot of what I do as a part of indieVISIBLE as well,” offered Amara. “It is not only worrying about is there a wheelchair ramp, but saying okay, is it sensory friendly? Do we have space for everybody to be there?”

Though only entering its third year, the RespectAbility Lab’s impact already is being felt through the work of its accomplished alumni and their commitment to fostering access and inclusion for those with disabilities who seek a place in the entertainment industry.

Meet the Author

Tyler Hoog

Tyler Hoog, an alumnus of both the RespectAbility Entertainment Lab and the National Leadership Program, earned a master’s degree in Screenwriting from USC. His comedic perspective is shaped by his nine years in a wheelchair with a spinal cord injury.

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