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Bio – Entertainment Media Consulting Team

Alexandra Dean Grossi

RespectAbility’s Entertainment Media Consulting Team

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Alexandra Dean Grossi

Alexandra Dean Grossi is a writer, designer and disability activist. Her work incorporates a multi-dimensional approach to inclusivity and accessibility, which utilizes storytelling, emphasizes user empowerment and seeks real-world solutions through Inclusive Design. Grossi began her writing career under the tutelage of television NYPD Blue creator David Milch on HBO’s Deadwood and John From Cincinnati. [continue reading…]

Lachi

RespectAbility’s Entertainment Media Consulting Team

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Lachi
Photo courtesy of Rick Guidotti, Positive Exposure 109

Lachi is a award nominated recording artist, award winning independent film director, writer and actress who’s released numerous music productions with major artists and labels from SONY to Warner Music. Lachi has consulted and held talks and webinars on disability inclusion with several music/entertainment related projects, including the Recording Academy, Folk Alliance, Women In Music and others.

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Shireen Alihaji

RespectAbility’s Entertainment Media Consulting Team

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Shireen Alihaji

“In a society that has systematically demolished concepts of home including; people, land and their histories, it is radical to tell stories. The tradition of storytelling has become a tool of resistance, as our histories have survived through memory. We transcend our displacement and restore our truths, when we choose to remember.” Shireen is a Latinx, Iranian, Muslim, Disabled filmmaker born and raised in LA. Her revolving identities inspire her to create space through film technologies.

After supporting inclusion initiatives for major film studios, she transitioned into community scale media organizing and co-founded an LA-based media cooperative that supports the restoration of voices.  She serve as Artist Support for the Islamic Scholarship Fund where she co-created Muslim-Centered film programming; an evolving framework that supports Muslim filmmakers to restore, center and define their narratives. Today, she is a student of UCLA Arts Healing and is prototyping a creative lab for caregivers.

Her film screenplay Blue Veil was placed on the inaugural Black List X Muslim List,  Cannes Screenplay List, awarded the Sundance Institute Latine Scholarship  and was published in The Blue Print for Muslim Inclusion (Pillars Fund, Riz Ahmed / Left Handed Films, USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative).

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Vanni Le

RespectAbility’s Entertainment Media Consulting Team

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Vanni Le

Vanni Le is the first-ever Entertainment Outreach Program Manager at RespectAbility. Le brings brand strategy and program management experience from both the entertainment and nonprofit fields, having previously worked at the Walt Disney Studios, Sony Pictures Entertainment, the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, March of Dimes, and most recently A+E Networks.

Le strives to effect social change and champion diversity and inclusion in industries with underrepresented communities. Her passion for diverse representation in media (and lack thereof) is her drive for pursuing a career in entertainment. As someone with low vision and a recent diagnosis of ADHD that was previously misdiagnosed as mild anxiety disorders, she also recognizes the importance of authentic portrayals of disabilities and general mental health in media. At RespectAbility, Le oversees the day-to-day operations of the Entertainment and News Media team and consults on projects for major studios and networks such as Disney, Sony, and Netflix.

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Lauren Appelbaum

RespectAbility’s Entertainment Media Consulting Team

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Lauren Appelbaum

Lauren Appelbaum (she/her) is the Senior Vice President, Communications and Entertainment & News Media, of RespectAbility, a diverse, disability-led nonprofit that works to create systemic change in how society views and values people with disabilities, and that advances policies and practices that empower disabled people to have a better future. 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, writers’ rooms, and news organizations 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 9Story Media Group, A&E, Bunim-Murray Productions, DreamWorks Animation, NBCUniversal, Netflix, Nickelodeon, ViacomCBS, The Walt Disney Company, and Warner Bros. Discovery, 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.

Appelbaum also 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, both on the creative and business sides of the industry. 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.

Appelbaum is a sought-after expert and has been quoted by many national publications including Associated PressDeadlineThe Hollywood Reporter, IndieWire, The Los Angeles Jewish Journal, The New York Times, RealScreenReuters, TabletUSA Today, Variety, and The Washington Post. She has spoken on panels at the Association of Health Care Journalists Conference, ComNet, RealScreen Summit, Sundance Film Festival and SXSW, among others.

Born and raised in the Philadelphia area, Appelbaum has a master’s degree in Broadcast Journalism from Syracuse University; she also has undergraduate degrees from Columbia University and the Jewish Theological Seminary. She serves on several national and local nonprofit boards. Appelbaum currently lives in Maryland with her husband, daughter and dog. She travels nationally, often to the Los Angeles area.

Examples of Lauren’s Work

  • SCRIPTED EPISODIC CONTENT: NBC’s New Amsterdam overwhelmingly has been an example of best practices through the hiring of actors with disabilities, working with consultants to ensure accurate storylines and including conversations about diverse topics within the disability community. An important episode in season 2 featured Gigi Cunningham, a young Black actress with Down syndrome. RespectAbility’s Lauren Appelbaum and Tatiana Lee consulted on the episode’s script, which touched on so many hot-button topics, from abortion to conservatorship, conservative Christianity to inadequate health care in rural areas, and so much more.
  • CHILDREN’S CONTENT: In April 2021, PBS KIDS added a new character to Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood: Max, who offered an authentic representation of Autism for children and adult audiences alike. Rachel Kalban, Vice President of Research and Curriculum at 9 Story Media Group, credited a conversation with RespectAbility’s Lauren Appelbaum leading to the team focusing on the intersection of race and disability, ultimately making Max a Black autistic child instead of a white child, noting the systemic barriers and prejudice that lead to children of color being less likely to be diagnosed than their white peers. Since the launch of this character, 9 Story Media Group has engaged RespectAbility in several additional upcoming shows.
  • VIDEO GAMES: In May 2021, PlayStation launched the video game Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart. RespectAbility’s Lauren Appelbaum and Tatiana Lee served as accessibility consultants. This game not only included a central character with a prosthetic but also is an industry leader in terms of its accessibility for consumers. “The RespectAbility consultants helped us identify areas of the story where the characters’ disabilities could be perceived negatively and they suggested opportunities to show them as being resourceful, multi-faceted, and heroic,” said Insomniac Games’ Director of Experience Brian Allgeier. “It’s been amazing to see the outpouring of love for these characters, especially from the disabled community. We’re excited about continuing to create worlds that represent characters from a wide range of backgrounds, and we hope it continues to resonate with our fans.”
  • FAMILY CONTENT: RespectAbility’s Lauren Appelbaum and Tatiana Lee consulted on Netflix’s family show The Healing Powers of Dude (premiered January 2020) on the role of Amara (Sophie Kim), a middle schooler succeeding in both her academic and theatrical career. Kim is an actress with muscular dystrophy who uses a power wheelchair, authentically portraying a character who uses a wheelchair. We became partners with the writers’ room, providing consultants with muscular dystrophy and other disabilities, sharing our own experiences and anecdotes that ended up being included in the scripts. In one episode, the lead character’s parents build a ramp so Amara can get in, becoming a good “teaching moment” for audience viewers since most houses would not be accessible for wheelchair users. We worked closely with the production team as they found accessible housing for the actress, built sets with universal design in mind and ensured the character of Sophie was fully included. We also worked with the marketing team, being fully involved from the development stage through promotion.
  • UNSCRIPTED: In September 2021, Born For Business launched on Peacock. Created by our board member Jonathan Murray, RespectAbility’s Lauren Appelbaum worked with the casting team and others to ensure authentic representation and accessibility for the four disabled cast members who have lupus, Down syndrome, spinal muscular atrophy, and anxiety. This powerful new docuseries shined the spotlight on the untold stories of four entrepreneurs with disabilities. Born For Business gives viewers an insider’s look at what it takes to launch and run a thriving small business. Prior, from 2015-2019, A&E’s Born This Way (Bunim-Murray Productions), an internationally syndicated TV series, chronicled the lives of seven men and women with Down syndrome who are defying society’s expectations by striking out on their own and pursuing dreams including jobs, housing, health and marriage. The widely popular show has earned 3 Emmy Awards and a Critics’ Choice Award. In addition to providing consulting advice, RespectAbility’s Lauren Appelbaum also organized a Hollywood-style premiere on Capitol Hill, showing the pilot episode with members of Congress, cast members and an A&E executive speaking. We galvanized national disability organizations and created social media campaigns to motivate their members to watch and share. Most impressively, the show’s audience grew to one-million viewers in the first season, with 40 percent of those viewers being new to the A&E Network, showing that including disability is profitable. 

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Harold Foxx

RespectAbility’s Entertainment Media Consulting Team

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Harold Foxx

Harold Foxx is an American theatre, film, television actor, comedian, and writer who happens to be Deaf. He launched “The Harold Foxx Show”, an online entertainment brand featuring comedy skits, which has gained over 80,000 followers on various social media platforms.

He is known for his stand-up comedy, which he has performed across the nation in D.C., Maryland, St. Louis, Los Angeles, Jamaica, the National Association of the Deaf, Laugh Factory, Flappers Comedy Club and most notably at Busboys & Poets. Harold has been involved in numerous film, television and stage productions, including “The Actor Whisperer,” “For my Woman,” “Audism Unveiled,” Deaf West Theatre and Pasadena Playhouse’s “Our Town,” Playwrights Horizons’ “I Was Most Alive With You” (NYC Off Broadway Production), and National Theatre of the Deaf 2020 Online Playwrights Convening. Foxx also wrote, produced, and directed “Smell The Nature,” a mockumentary comedy for the 2021 Easterseals Disability Film Challenge. Currently, Harold is training with the Groundlings, an improvisation and sketch comedy theatre & school based in Los Angeles.

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Andrea Jennings

RespectAbility’s Entertainment Media Consulting Team

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Andrea Jennings

Andrea Jennings, actress, model, public speaker, commissioner and founder of Shifting Creative Paradigms Entertainment and Productions – Leveling the Playing Field®, envisions a world where underrepresented individuals in media such as people with disabilities, will be depicted as strong leaders. She believes that the design, fashion, arts and entertainment fields are powerful arenas that can be used to influence social change by using multiple media platforms. Creating and producing inclusive and diverse content for television, film, theatre and music productions is the vision and goal of her production company.

Andrea has a Master of Music specializing in Music Business and Entertainment Industries/Law and a BA in Integrated Marketing Communications and hopes to facilitate better opportunities through developing adaptive curriculum involving music and the arts and educational events. Andrea serves as a panelist for numerous diversity and inclusion panels and is a sought-after keynote speaker for graduations and conferences. Currently, she is a guest client lecturer for a neuro-rehabilitation class at Cal State Los Angeles, serves on various advisory committees and is a commissioner advocating for accessibility and disability rights. She also trains individuals and industry professionals to “level the playing field” by teaching them creative solutions to influence social change in the arts, fashion, entertainment, medical and design arenas.

Andrea Jennings experienced a major car accident at the top of her career working for a worldwide top 5 advertising conglomerate. The accident left her with multiple and life changing injuries, affecting her ability to walk and work; however, her mother always taught her that “Adversity builds character.” After the accident, Andrea learned how to reestablish herself in a world that was not so accessible, inclusive and accommodating with grace. She realized her purpose was to create equitable solutions for social change through her experience so that she could help others.

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Roque Gregorio Renteria

RespectAbility’s Entertainment Media Consulting Team

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Roque Gregorio Renteria

Roque Gregorio Renteria is an Entertainment Media Fellow in RespectAbility’s National Leadership Program for Winter 2020-2021. RespectAbility is a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities so that people with disabilities can fully participate in all aspects of community. He has consulted on several scripts for media conglomerates such as Netflix, Sony, and Disney.

Renteria was born in Los Angeles, California. Growing up he was glued to the television screen and quickly developed a love for storytelling. Since both his parents are originally from Mexico, he was able to enjoy stories in both English and Spanish, which helped him appreciate foreign films early on.

At the age of 14, he had a spinal cord injury, which left him partially paralyzed, but on the bright side he got a brand-new wheelchair. Seeing the world from a new perspective Renteria started to write jokes about his predicament. This led him to pursue a career in stand-up comedy. He has been featured on Comedy Central, Jeff Ross Presents Roast Battle II, and Amazon Prime. And, if he can find a pit crew to accompany him, he travels and performs comedy both locally and internationally.

Renteria graduated from California State University, Long Beach where he majored in English. During that time, he was involved with student activism involving better accessibility and guest lectured on the subject of representation of disability in mass media. He later graduated from UCLA’s School of Theater, Film and Television with an MFA in Screenwriting. He has used his training as a screenwriter to write for Comedy Central, SoulPancake, and co-wrote short films for the Easterseals Disability Film Challenge. Renteria enjoys telling jokes and deconstructing institutions on stage. When he’s not performing across the country, you can find him pushing around the streets of Los Angeles. And when he is not pushing, he is locked in his room trying to write his next page. He believes that laughter is great medicine, but you should consult with your doctor to see if his comedy is right for you. [continue reading…]

Kiah Amara

RespectAbility’s Entertainment Media Consulting Team

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Kiah Amara

Based in NYC, Kiah (they/she) is a filmmaker, consultant, educator, producer, Production Accessibility Coordinator, and media industry activist Their work focuses on identity, fluidity, commonality, misconception, and all things “deviant from normal” – stories from the Disability, LGBTQ+, and Underrepresented Gender Communities as well as Accessibility as a production need for all. As a person with Peripheral Neuropathic UCTD, they have a unique ability to connect to Disability intersections from Spoonie/Chronic Illness and Neurodiversity to Mobility, Vision, and Non-Verbal Communication.

Kiah’s background in disability art and education working with nonprofits like Penguin Project, Chicago Children’s Theatre, New York City Children’s Theatre, Co/Lab, Actionplay, and others, impacts the scope of their work ensuring inclusive learning is an integral part of every space they create or step into. Her education and outreach work presents research backed data that prioritizes intersectionality and flexibility as a tool to promote initiatives that uplift community wellness while creating a higher quality and more inclusive product. Their consulting experience includes indie features, shorts, web series, and commercial projects, accessible deliverables like captions and audio description, production access, websites, and social media via RespectAbility and their production company IndieVISIBLE Entertainment. Kiah has spoken at The Met, MoMA, S&P Global, ReelAbilities NY, and many more.

They continue to push for Production Access Coordinators to be included on all productions irrespective of Disability involvement and advocate the need for authenticity and diversity in the media industry. Kiah is a member of RespectAbility’s National Speaker’s Bureau, a 2021 RespectAbility Entertainment Media Fellow, and a 2020 Dance/NYC Disability and Social Justice Fellow. www.indievisibleentertainment.com

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Andrew Reid

RespectAbility’s Entertainment Media Consulting Team

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Andrew Reid

Andrew Reid was born and raised in Kingston, Jamaica. He is a DGA Award winning director and recent graduate from the USC School of Cinematic Arts. His award-winning projects have screened at Slamdance, CAA Moebius, Paramount Pictures, LA Shorts, HollyShorts and over 40 other film festivals worldwide.

Reid is developing both narrative feature and episodic projects that have received support from the Tribeca Film Institute, Film Independent, The Gotham and Sloan Foundation. He was a director in the 2020 class of Film Independent’s Project Involve and RespectAbility Summer Lab program. He is a recipient of the Easterseals Disability Services Fellowship and is represented at APA.
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