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Hollywood Inclusion

New Documentary Deaf Out Loud to Showcase Three Deaf Families

Interview Opportunity Available with Deaf Out Loud Executive Producer Jonathan Murray

Washington, D.C., July 29 – Following on the heels of the critically acclaimed award-winning original docuseries Born This Way, A&E Network will be debuting Deaf Out Loud in September. A documentary special, Deaf Out Loud follows the lives of three predominantly deaf families who utilize different communication modalities in everyday life.

headshot of Jonathan Murray wearing a gray striped shirt and facing the camera color photo

Jonathan Murray

Executive Producer Jonathan Murray will be showing a sneak preview of the trailer at a summit on Capitol Hill on Monday, July 30 while moderating the panel “Fighting Implicit Bias Through TV and Film.” Panelists include Jeanette Betancourt, SVP, U.S. Social Impact of Sesame Workshop; Crystal R. Emery, who directed Black Women in Medicine; and Rachel Dretzin and Andrew Solomon, director and author of Far From The Tree. The summit, “From Washington to Hollywood and Beyond: The Future of Americans with Disabilities,” is being presented by RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities for people with all disabilities. Murray serves on RespectAbility’s Board of Directors. Interview opportunities with Murray, who created MTV’s The Real World, and produces A&E’s Born This Way, are available during the conference.

Misconceptions exist about deaf individuals – from schooling, to employment and raising a family. Shows like Deaf Out Loud aim to change these misperceptions and has the potential to bring awareness and better understanding about people who are deaf. This show delves into the various ways Deaf culture is expressed and embraced in the United States. The three families will show viewers the diversity of Deaf culture today, and how it differs from hearing cultures.

“People with disabilities need to see positive representations of themselves, both as people with satisfying personal lives and as people who can perform successfully in the workplace,” Murray said. “Those positive images will change for the better the way the greater society sees people with disabilities, opening up more opportunities for them.”

headshot of Marlee Matlin wearing a pink top

Marlee Matlin

As with representation of people with all types of disabilities, Deaf individuals are underrepresented in television and film. There are some good examples, however. Among them are Quantico, featuring Marlee Matlin, who is also an executive producer on Deaf Out Loud; The Silent Child, showcasing the talents of six-year-old Maisie Sly, who uses British sign language; Baby Driver, with a moving performance by the African-American deaf actor C.J. Jones; and Wonderstruck in which deaf newcomer Millicent Simmonds astonished critics and audiences with a magnificent, visually expressive performance.

Deaf film producer Delbert Whetter explained the importance of using authentic deaf actors in a piece for The Hollywood Reporter. “Sign language has tremendous cinematic properties, with unique and complex forms of inflection, intonation and pitch that can take years to master but can amplify and deepen performances in ways accessible to all audiences,” he wrote. Whetter also is available for in-person interviews at the summit.

Headshot of Kaity in professional dress in front of the Respectability banner

Kaity Hagen

RespectAbility’s conference also features Deaf advocate Kaity Hagen, who will be speaking as part of the “Importance of Intersectionality: Enabling People of Color and Immigrants with Disabilities to Succeed” panel. She will be speaking alongside Stepahnie Farfan, an alumna of RespectAbility’s National Leadership Program and Clarence Page, Pulitzer-Prize winning columnist for The Chicago Tribune. Donna Walton, founder and president of The Divas With Disabilities Project, will moderate this panel.

The event will be taking place in the Rayburn House Office Building, Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C. Breakfast starts at 8:00 a.m. with formal remarks beginning at 9:00 a.m. The full conference agenda (all open to the press) is available on RespectAbility’s website here: Space is extremely limited and RSVPs are required.

Deaf Out Loud is produced by Bunim/Murray Productions, with Murray, Gil Goldschein, Laura Korkoian, Matlin and Jack Jason as the executive producers. Executive producers for A&E Network are Elaine Frontain Bryant, Shelly Tatro and Jeana Dill.

Born This Way’s Emmy Nominations Prove Disability is a Winning Theme

Born This Way cast and producers celebrating their Emmy win on stage at the Emmy Awards. Executive Producer Jonathan Murray holds the Emmy Award.

Born This Way cast and producers celebrating their Emmy win in 2016.

Los Angeles, July 16 – A&E Network’s critically acclaimed award-winning original docuseries Born This Way keeps adding up honors, with four more Emmy nominations this year, bringing the total to 13 nominations and three wins including the Emmy for Outstanding Unstructured Reality Series in 2016, and for Casting for a Reality Program and Cinematography for a Reality Program in 2017.

Produced by Bunim/Murray Productions, Born This Way, an unscripted reality show, follows a group of seven young adults with Down syndrome along with their family and friends in Southern California. Because its focus is on showing their everyday lives, including employment, efforts for independent housing, loves and more, Born this Way breaks down stigmas surrounding disability.

This year, Born This Way is nominated once again for Outstanding Unstructured Reality Program, Outstanding Casting for a Reality Program and Outstanding Cinematography for a Reality Program, as well as Outstanding Picture Editing for an Unstructured Reality Program. [click to continue…]

Producers Guild Recognizes Importance of Disability Inclusion

Los Angeles, California – At a panel on inclusion at the Producers Guild of America (PGA)’s Produced By Conference last week, disability was excluded from the conversation until a question was asked by RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities for people with disabilities, about disability inclusion.

Rachel Shane, Chief Creative Officer, MWM Studios, talked about bringing writers with disabilities into the writers’ room and that it had not been a focus before.

Nancy Solomon, Attorney at Law, Solomon Law, APC, said there must be more discussions about mental health issues and not be ashamed to bring them into the discussion.

When Nicole Brown, the SVP at TriStar Pictures with Sony, spoke, she brought a real-life case study to the room. When working on Baby Driver, the director said it was important that a deaf actor must play the deaf character to be authentic and “bring more depth to the film.” They put their trust in the director although they were not sure what to expect.

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Variety, Easterseals Challenge Entertainment Industry to Include People with Disabilities in Writers’ Room and More

Los Angeles, California – “When we talk about diversity, we need to include disability.”

This was the message last week at the beginning of Variety’s A Night in the Writers Room, an event aimed at educating and providing writers resources and information from seasoned writers and showrunners.

Before two panels featuring writers of drama and comedy television shows, Easterseals and Variety announced a new partnership and challenge to the entertainment community to be more inclusive of people with disabilities both in front of and behind the camera.

Nic Novicki standing at a podium with the sign Media Access Awards

Nic Novicki receiving award at the Media Access Awards

Easterseals and Variety challenged all writers to include at least one writer with a disability in the writers’ room and to write at least one character with a disability by the end of the 2018-2019 screenwriting season, even if their disability is not the defining factor of their disability. Learn more at

“True inclusion will not happen until disability has a prominent place at the table,” said Nic Novicki, founder of the Easterseals Disability Film Challenge. [click to continue…]

More Than One-Third of LGBTQ Adults Identify as Having a Disability

Throughout LGBTQ Pride Month (June), the LGBTQ community will be reflecting on the past and looking forward to the future. Among lesbian, gay and bisexual adults, 30 percent of men and 36 percent of women also identify as having a disability. The disability community intersects with every other minority group, and the LGBTQ community is no exception. The LGBTQ rights movement has made tremendous progress over the past five years, but there is a lot of work left to be done to ensure that LGBTQ people are truly equal.

Both people who identify as LGBTQ and people who have invisible disabilities such as learning disabilities like dyslexia, mental health or ADHD have to decide whether or not to “come out of the closet.” This is not an easy decision for most people because of the uncertainty of whether or not acceptance will follow. LGBTQ youth who come out sometimes are rejected by their families and friends. Some are even kicked out of their homes and forced to live on the streets. According to a University of Chicago report, LGBTQ young adults had a 120 percent higher risk of reporting homelessness compared to youth who identified as heterosexual and cisgender.

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Josh Feldman, Deaf Gay Trailblazer in Hollywood, Discusses the Importance of Representation

Josh Feldman in This CloseJosh Feldman did not see himself on TV growing up. “As a young kid, I wondered who my deaf gay role models were, so that I could have an idea of what deaf gay adults could do, or what kind of people they were in society,” he told RespectAbility.

That Feldman did not see representation growing up does not mean that LGBTQ people with disabilities do not exist. Among lesbian, gay and bisexual adults, 30 percent of men and 36 percent of women have a disability. Yet the number of LGBTQ characters with disabilities on TV today is still in the single digits.

Feldman decided to change that for future generations. He wrote and starred in This Close, a comedy-drama that premiered on Sundance Now in February. This Close was the first TV show created by and also starring people who are deaf.

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Jonathan Murray: Openly Gay Reality Television Pioneer Advocates for Underrepresented Communities

headshot of Jonathan Murray wearing a gray striped shirt and facing the camera color photo

Jonathan Murray is one of the best allies that the one-in-five people with disabilities has on earth. While Murray does not have a disability himself, he knows what it is like to be stigmatized as someone who is openly gay. He told RespectAbility that he’s “always felt like a bit of an outsider,” continuing:

“Growing up gay, you learn how to adjust your behavior to fit in with the predominately straight population. I think this gave me an appreciation for the challenges of people with disabilities, as well as other communities that have been marginalized.”

Murray is widely credited with helping to usher in the modern reality television genre. He has created and executive produced some of the industry’s most innovative, unscripted entertainment television programs.

But Murray’s programming does more than just entertain. It has played a major role in fighting stigmas that underrepresented communities face.

Murray’s shows have featured positive, accurate portrayals of people from the LGBTQ community and people from the disability community. He was featured in Variety’s 2017 Inclusion Impact Report for his work on the issue of representation. Murray also serves as a board member for RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities for people with disabilities. He has hosted many of RespectAbility’s gatherings of disability and Hollywood leaders, including the launch of RespectAbility’s Hollywood Disability Inclusion Toolkit.

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Britain’s Got Talent Leads Way in Disability Inclusion

Lee Ridley wearing shirt saying "I'm only in it for the parking" against white background

Lee Ridley

Rockville, Maryland, June 4 – The story of Britain’s Got Talent 2018 is a story of two hilarious comedians who happen to have disabilities finishing in the top 2: Lee Ridley and Robert White.

Lee Ridley, Lost Voice Guy

After receiving more than two and a half million votes, Lee Ridley, who goes by Lost Voice Guy, won this season of Britain’s Got Talent. His prize is £250,000 and a spot on the bill at the Royal Variety Performance in front of the Queen. According to The Sun, Ridley also will be appearing as a guest on America’s Got Talent this summer on NBC.

Ridley is a comedian with cerebral palsy who uses an iPad and a speech-to-text application to communicate. He wrote out his jokes ahead of time and, as one of the judges pointed out, hit the play button with perfect comedic timing, and won the nation over. He wore a different blue shirt in each round, with jokes such as “I’m only in it for the parking” and “I’m a friend with benefits” written on them. His first audition included the joke “when I realized I couldn’t talk, I was speechless” and the punch lines only got funnier from there.

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Individuals with Autism Overcome Challenges in the Workplace

Rockville, Maryland, May 9 – I watched Lauren struggle at work. She had poor social skills. She talked obsessively about roller coasters and her siblings’ engagements and subsequent weddings. She had trouble understanding other people’s emotions. She didn’t look at you when you spoke to her. She was very sensitive to loud noises; she had to be warned of fire drills and left the area ahead of everyone else. She had trouble expressing what she needed. She flapped her hands when she struggled to articulate what she was trying to say. Her sense of touch was poor; she couldn’t tell when clothes were damp or dry. Most distressing, she rarely received credit for her hard work; only her mistakes were recognized and never forgotten. She was treated unfairly. She was too smart for her own good. She had been a laundry aide for nine years. Lauren has Asperger’s syndrome, which is an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). She overcame adversity by trying her best and being herself.

Freddie Highmore as Dr. Shaun Murphy in a labcoat

Freddie Highmore as Dr. Shaun Murphy on ABC’s “The Good Doctor”

I thought that because I have a disability and had family members who have disabilities, that I understood all disabilities. That is not true. I did not understand why Lauren was making inappropriate comments, not listening to understand what I was trying to say and making my day harder than it needed to be sometimes. I did not know why she was behaving the way she did. I would not understand any of her behaviors until I watched ABC’s “The Good Doctor” and I saw Freddie Highmore’s Dr. Shaun Murphy behave in the same manner. [click to continue…]

Disability Group Inks Deal with Hollywood Heavyweight

RespectAbility and Norman Lear Center Unite to Help Hollywood Include People with Disabilities

HH&S' Director Kate Folb in between RespectAbility's President Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi and Communications Director Lauren Appelbaum, all standing and smiling, in front of a picture of Norman Lear

HH&S’ Director Kate Folb in between RespectAbility’s President Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi and Communications Director Lauren Appelbaum

Los Angeles, Calif., April 18 – RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities for people with disabilities, announces a new partnership with Hollywood, Health & Society (HH&S), a project of the USC Annenberg Norman Lear Center. The partnership will help educate, inform and support the success of the movie/TV industry in its work to ensure that people with disabilities are included on both sides of the camera in the stories that Hollywood tells. HH&S provides entertainment industry professionals with accurate and timely information for storylines on health, safety and national security. Like RespectAbility, HH&S recognizes the profound impact that entertainment media have on individual knowledge and behavior – ultimately impacting society and lives at large.

“We’re delighted to be working with RespectAbility to help inform and inspire the frequency and accuracy of portrayals of people with disabilities in TV and film,” said Kate Folb, the director of HH&S.

HH&S offers several resources, including quick facts, briefings and consultations with experts, case examples, panel discussions about timely health issues, a quarterly newsletter with health updates called Real to Reel and an expanding list of tip sheets written specifically for writers and producers. The broad range of topics includes disability-specific topics autism and mental health. Some of the TV shows they have assisted include The Fosters, The Good Doctor, Grey’s Anatomy, Orange Is the New Black, Speechless, Switched at Birth and many more.

The creation of this partnership would not have been possible without the financial support of The California Endowment. “Visibility and representation matters,” said Jose L. Plaza, who manages the grant for The California Endowment. “We know that accurate and positive portrayals of diverse people with disabilities will not only empower and educate viewers and program creators but will ultimately lead to a more inclusive, responsive and healthier society.”

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