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Hollywood Inclusion

Disney Channel’s Big City Greens Showcases Authentic ASL Representation

Los Angeles, California, Sept. 18 – A new episode of Disney Channel’s Emmy Award-nominated series Big City Greens is breaking barriers when it comes to ensuring authentic deaf representation. In the “Quiet Please” episode, the Green family visits the city library hoping to find a book that will spark Cricket’s interest in reading, but they quickly run afoul of a strict, eerie librarian. Determined to keep the library a quiet place, she threatens to throw them out if they make any sound. Cricket’s sister Tilly notices two deaf library patrons communicating via ASL, giving her the idea that her family can communicate in the same way. While Tilly is the only family member to know ASL, they use that as inspiration to communicate through charades-like hand gestures. [continue reading…]

Netflix’s All Together Now Features Authentic Multi-Dimensional Disabled Characters

Los Angeles, California, Sept. 17 – A new film recently premiered on Netflix that is very intentional about meaningful representation and authentic casting. All Together Now features Anthony Jacques, who is on the Autism spectrum and Gerald Isaac Waters, who uses a wheelchair. Both Jacques and Waters’ characters are multi-dimensional and not defined by their disabilities.

“As an actor with a disability, we get a lot of roles where the role itself is involved with the disability,” said Waters, who plays Chad, and uses a wheelchair on screen and in real life for mobility. “To have one come by where he just so happened to be in the chair, I thought that was really great. It’s really important to see we can do any role and it doesn’t have to be completely circled around our disability.”

Waters’ character Chad is part of the lead character Amber Appleton (Auli’i Cravalho)’s group of friends. Cravalho herself has publicly talked about seeing mental health professionals. The film also portrays the topics of mental health, alcoholism and experiencing homelessness, as Amber and her mother find themselves living in a school bus. Nearly 4.2 million youths and young adults experience homelessness each year but it is not often portrayed in family and teen content. [continue reading…]

The Academy’s New Initiative Elevates Disability Inclusion

Initiative Highlights Importance of Behind the Camera and Development of Talent Pipeline

RespectAbility congratulates The Academy for their diversity and inclusion initiative. This has the potential to bring about some real change in the entertainment industry. We are especially pleased to see people with disabilities included, as too often disability is not included in diversity conversations.

It is important, however, to ensure that the narrative is good. It’s not enough to just be included – we have to be included in an authentic way. And by having one its categories focus on behind the camera roles, this initiative has an opportunity to prevent this – by truly hiring people with disabilities behind the camera in an inclusive way. This presents a huge opportunity to tell diverse, complex stories of the disability experience, and avoid falling into the trap of inspiration porn, which assumes that anyone with a disability must have it so much worse, and uses people with disabilities to make nondisabled people feel good about themselves or to make them do something, like exercise.
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“Madagascar: A Little Wild” Takes Deaf Representation to the Next Level

Authentic Portrayal of Deaf Chimpanzee Sibling Throughout Entire Series

Los Angeles, California, Sept. 8 – The lovable foursome Alex the Lion, Marty the Zebra, Melman the Giraffe and Gloria the Hippo return to our screens once again in Madagascar: A Little Wild, this time as kids residing in their rescue habitat at the Central Park Zoo. Two additional characters in this series, Dave and Pickles, however, deserve attention. Chimpanzee siblings Dave and Pickles are breaking barriers and are part of a movement changing the landscape of disability representation in children’s television and streaming content. [continue reading…]

DreamWorks’ “Spirit Riding Free: Riding Academy” to Feature Character Who Uses a Wheelchair

animated female character seated in a wheelchair next to a horseLos Angeles, California, Sept. 3 – 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. DreamWorks Animation and voice actress Cassidy Huff, who has Conradi-Hunermann syndrome, is helping to change this statistic.

“The reality is, the disability community is facing extreme underrepresentation in this industry and it’s time to change that,” Huff said in an interview with RespectAbility. “In order for disability to be normalized in society, we have to start by introducing it to the youngest ones in this generation and letting them ask questions!”

Spirit Riding Free: Riding Academy’s Season 2 premiere introduces a new character who uses a wheelchair and voiced by Huff, a part-time wheelchair user. While Huff has a variety of disabilities, she does not want to be defined by them.

“I’d like to just be an actress without a label,” she said. “I want to be able to work in an industry where disability isn’t the only thing people see about me or the characters I portray.”

animated female characters racing on their horses - including one who has a strap keeping her inThis animated series features Lucky and her horse Spirit while she embarks on adventures with her friends while living and learning at the prestigious Palomino Bluffs Riding Academy. In the Season 2 premiere, Lucky gets a run for her money when she meets a new addition to the academy: Eleanor, a horseback rider who uses a wheelchair. I had the pleasure of talking with Huff, the actress behind the voice of Eleanor, about playing this role.

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“Love on the Spectrum:” What the Show Got Right & Where it Can Improve

cast of Love on the Spectrum dressed up in gowns and suits, posing for the picture

Cast of Love on the Spectrum

Rhode Island, Sept. 3 – I recently was asked to watch Love on the Spectrum on Netflix, and share my honest opinion of the series. I was nervous because I am on the spectrum. The show was described to me as a “reality show.” I worried it might sensationalize, inadvertently or even deliberately, poke fun at autistic behavioral quirks to get laughs from a neurotypical, (not autistic), audience. I was glad that wasn’t the case.

People on the autism spectrum struggle with non-verbal communication and social cues, which can make even finding friends hard. So, the added level of romantic love and dating can be extremely complex, challenging, and stressful. While there are many laughs in the show, the laughs are with, not at, the autistic young adults trying to find love.

The Australian show creators prefer the term “documentary,” and I agree. This show is far from the fights and cattiness of other dating or unscripted shows such as The Bachelor, Dance Moms, or Survivor. As multiple reviews in The Guardian, Boston Herald, and CNN mentioned, Love on the Spectrum is filled with empathy and love – both romantic, familial, friendly, and even supporting love from the director, Cian O’Cleary, and the crew.

During the five episodes, the show follows seven young autistic singles, most of whom are just beginning to navigate the dating landscape, in addition to meeting two already established relationships. Viewers are given a short intro to the match’s likes and dislikes before the date. The “daters,” as they are called, are set up on curated blind dates, in addition to sometimes attending dating events for disabled people. The show interviews the participants, asking them questions such as, “what’s your ideal relationship?” or “how do you think that date went?” [continue reading…]

Cast of Hollywood Changemakers Fight Stigmas During Americans with Disabilities Act Celebration

#ADA30 Summit 2020: Fighting Stigmas with Hollywood Headshots of 12 speakers grouped by panel - Respecting The Ability: Ensuring Authentic Disability Representation in the Entertainment Industry - Disability Representation in media And special appearances by 12 actors with disabilities and other change-makers in Hollywood Date and Time, Registration link, ASL interpretation symbol and RespectAbility logoLos 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. [continue reading…]

Deaf Actress Shaylee Mansfield Showcases Authenticity on Screen

Mansfield’s Character Zuzu Truly Feels the Beat in Netflix’s New Film

Shaylee Mansfield headshot

Shaylee Mansfield

Los Angeles, California, June 25 – At just 11 years of age, actress Shaylee Mansfield is quickly becoming a household name and role model for all children.

“I’m grateful to have a platform that will give not only Deaf children, but all children to freely speak up, to fight for what they want, and to be fully themselves even if it is not ‘popular,’” Mansfield said in an interview with RespectAbility.

Mansfield draws her inspiration from Daisy Ridley, Gal Gadot and Lauren Ridloff, noting that she is determined to be the next Deaf superhero after Ridloff, who will be appearing in the upcoming Marvel film The Eternals. [continue reading…]

Women of Color Unite’s Cheryl Bedford Pledges to Leave No Marginalized Groups Behind

Los Angeles, California, June 22, 2020 – Delivering a closing keynote during the first session of the RespectAbility Lab for Entertainment Professionals the 30 participants and five-member programmatic team, Cheryl Bedford shared her tips on how to turn fear into action.

“We fight together, and we fight all -isms, and at the very same moment in time,” Bedford said, sharing that while the nonprofit she founded, Women of Color Unite, focuses on the inclusion and advancement of women of color that they “leave no marginalized groups behind.” [continue reading…]

Delbert Whetter: “Get Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable”

Los Angeles, California, June 19, 2020 – “Your experience as a person with a disability adds value to your team,” deaf film executive Delbert Whetter told the 30 participants and five-member programmatic team of RespectAbility’s Summer Lab for Entertainment Professionals with Disabilities.

Whetter, a RespectAbility board member, has been the head of business affairs for digital, wireless and entertainment providers. He has been involved in projects such as MGM’s Igor (2008), Magnolia Picture’s Hero of Color City (2014), and Cinedigm’s Bunyan and Babe (2017). Currently, he is executive producing the upcoming animated feature film, Pierre the Pigeon-Hawk and producing the live-action narrative feature, Flash Before the Bang based on the true story of an all-deaf track team from a deaf school that won the state championship. Prior to his coming to work in the film industry, he earned a law degree from George Washington University Law School and an MBA from Pepperdine University’s Graziadio School of Business. [continue reading…]

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