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Hollywood Inclusion

Grey’s Anatomy Shatters Stigma Through Accurate Representation of African Americans with Disabilities

As we celebrate Black History Month, it is important that the medical drama Grey’s Anatomy not only shatters stigma against mental health but also portrays African American characters with a variety of disabilities.

Representation of characters with disabilities – including mental health – who are successful in their careers, such as prominent doctors, is important. According to GLAAD, the amount of regular primetime broadcast characters counted who have a disability has slightly increased to 2.1 percent, but that number still vastly underrepresents the actualities of Americans with disabilities. Yet even when representation is done well, it often lacks accurate representation of underrepresented racial/ethnic groups.

In the past few episodes, Grey’s Anatomy has bucked this trend. Drs. Miranda Bailey (Chandra Wilson)’s Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Richard Webber (James Pickens, Jr.)’s battles with alcoholism and Catherine Fox (Debbie Allen)’s cancer lead the storylines. All of these characters are African American, which is important to note as often when disability representation is done right, it shows a character that is white (and usually male and cisgender as well). [continue reading…]

Super Bowl Commercials Improving But Still Lacking in Disability Representation Overall

Microsoft, Coca-Cola Make Intentional Decision to Be Inclusive

Rockville, Md., Feb. 4 – Mass media plays a huge part of what society believes and America’s favorite pastime besides football is watching their favorite commercials especially during the biggest primetime event of the year: The Super Bowl.

The Super Bowl preshow showcased inclusion as while Chloe X Halle and Gladys Knight sang America the Beautiful and the national anthem respectively, Deaf talent Aarron Loggins interpreted in ASL. Yet, CBS only showed him for a few seconds. To ensure true inclusion, the network could have shown him in picture-in-picture throughout the entire song. Furthermore, when a large American flag was spread out over the field, people with visible disabilities were absent. [continue reading…]

Sundance Films Feature Disability In Authentic Way

From Intellectual Disabilities and ALS to Mental Health and Deafness, Sundance Films Showcase Variety Important Disability Topics

Park City, Utah, Jan. 24 – As Hollywood takes over Park City, Utah, many conversations are taking place about the importance of diversity and inclusion.

While stats exist, for example, for the number of films directed by one or more women (40% – 45 of the 112 feature films), directed by one or more filmmaker of color (36% – 40) and directed by one or more people who identify as LGBTQIA (13% – 15), no such statistics yet exist for people with disabilities.

However, the festival is taking steps to ensure that disability is fully included in all diversity initiatives, expanding beyond previous focuses on gender, race and sexual orientation.

Karim Ahmad, Director of Outreach & Inclusion at Sundance, has worked with several partners and organizations to further the inclusion of people with disabilities at both the festival and at events throughout the year.

“As we’ve grown our Outreach & Inclusion program over the last year, it’s been deeply important for us to include artists with disabilities in our planning,” he said. “At the Festival, we’ve made considerable advances to bring more accessibility to screening and panel venues, including an elevator at the Filmmaker Lodge and closed captioning and audio description capabilities at all screenings. In our the artist programs, we’ve included artists with disabilities as one of our core priorities for support in targeted fellowships for both emerging and mid-career creators from underrepresented communities, and we are seeing the beginnings of great impact.”

People with disabilities working both in front of and behind the camera have taken notice.

“Hollywood is beginning to wake up to the fact that people with disabilities represent a major slice of American life, and that there is tremendous creative potential, talent and market power just waiting to be tapped,” said Delbert Whetter, who is deaf and the Chief Operating Officer & Head of Business Affairs of Exodus Film Group, as well as a board member for RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities for people with disabilities. “Nowhere are the pioneers of this movement better demonstrated today than at Sundance and in independent film.”

Tatiana Lee, an actress who is a wheelchair user, added: “Sundance is a big deal in the film industry. So to be making big strides this year to include disability, in the films, talent, and panel discussions is an amazing step forward in Hollywood’s inclusion of people with disabilities. As a actor and creative in this industry it gives me great hope toward more opportunities for our community in Hollywood.”

The festival, which prides itself in showcasing the most diverse voices in independent film, will take place from January 24 – February 3 in Park City, Salt Lake City and at Sundance Mountain resort in Utah. In addition to many films promoting inclusion, a panel on disability inclusion will be held on Saturday.

Below please find a guide to films featuring disability in the plot or talent with disabilities. [continue reading…]

Critics’ Choice Awards Highlight Increased Diversity with One Glaring Exception

Los Angeles, Jan. 16 – At the Critics’ Choice Awards Sunday night, Taye Diggs praised how this year has been great for inclusivity for “all under-represented people,” specifically calling out successes when it comes to gender, sexual orientation and race. While this is extremely important, it is upsetting that once again the largest minority in the U.S. – people with disabilities – was not mentioned as well. This also was the case at the Golden Globes. With several more awards show coming up this season, there is a chance for this to change.

“It has been another great year for movies and for TV shows,” Diggs said. “Not only was it an amazing year for creativity but a great year for inclusivity. All under-represented people of all genders and orientations played prominent roles in front of and behind the big camera in many of this year’s biggest films, television and streaming series.”

When disability is excluded from diversity conversations, and not visible in film and television shows, Hollywood is disenfranchising the one-in-five Americans who have a disability. There is reason to celebrate, however, as several winners have visible and invisible disabilities. Yet little attention is paid attention to this fact – unlike when organizations tout the increase of winners who are women, people of color or LGBTQ. For example, Henry Winkler (Barry), who won Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series, has dyslexia. Millicent Simmonds (A Quiet Place), who was nominated for Best Young Actor Actress, is deaf. Several individuals with mental illness took home awards, including Elsie Fisher (Eighth Grade) and Lady Gaga (A Star is Born). [continue reading…]

Hearts of Glass Shatters Exclusion of Workers with Disabilities

Rockville, Maryland, Jan. 16 – In the United States, there are more than 20-million working-age people with disabilities. However, only a third of them have opportunities for employment. Around the country, there are state-wide employment programs for people with disabilities. But, it takes a special company to create its own employment program. Vertical Harvest, one of the world’s only multi-story hydroponic greenhouses, provides year-round produce in a rural mountain town and meaningful employment to community members with disabilities. The staff members and its inclusive atmosphere are highlighted in Hearts of Glass, a documentary that is premiering this month at the Wild & Scenic Festival.

Hearts of Glass documents the early beginnings of Vertical Harvest and its employees with disabilities. Some of the featured workers include Kyle Burson who loves to use his brain, Zac Knudsen who rides horses, Ty Warner who loves to go to the carnival, Johnny Fifles who is a self-made My Little Pony fanatic or “brony” and Mycah Miller, a hometown artist. The cameras roll at their first days of work, training, promotions and even during their daily lives.

Director Jennifer Tennican was looking forward to making stories about Jackson, Wyoming since moving there in 2002. She had one goal in mind for her stories: Community – and the story of Vertical Harvest captured her interest.

“I was drawn to documenting a once-in-a-lifetime story about innovation and possibility unfolding in my backyard,” said Tennican. “That story includes community members with disabilities.” [continue reading…]

Young Wrestler Born Without Legs Finds Sense of Family in the Sport


Los Angeles, California, Jan. 8 – Netflix’s “Zion” has won the International Documentary Association’s award for best short of 2018.

Directed by Floyd Russ, “Zion” debuted at Sundance in 2018. Its subject, Zion Clark, was born with caudal regression syndrome, leaving him without legs. He was put up for adoption as an infant and grew up in the foster care system. The documentary short shows how he found a way to fit in by wrestling, something he began as a young child, competing against peers without disabilities.

“Wrestling has changed my life to the point where when I come to an obstacle in my life,” Clark previously told ESPN in 2016, “I instantly figure out a way to get past it and move on.”

The 11-minute short includes interviews with both Clark and his coach Gilbert Donahue. Russ’ approach to telling Clark’s story is important. Many filmmakers do not include many, if any, soundbites from the person with the disability and instead interview other people in his life. Furthermore, many films about an individual with a disability verge on “inspiration porn,” which occurs when people with disabilities are called inspiration or brave for doing something as simple as playing a sport. Falling into this trap leads to stigmatizing disabilities.

Russ, instead, lets Clark tell his own story and does not let the short become a film that exists just to inspire people.

“‘Zion’ by Floyd Russ is a beautiful and touching work that does what documentaries can do better than any other form — give audiences intimate access into the experience of others, in a way that makes us better for it,” said Simon Kilmurry, executive director of IDA.

“Zion” received the award during the 34thAnnual IDA Documentary Awards at the Paramount Theatre in Los Angeles. Floyd Russ served as Director and Producer. Carter Collins served as a Producer.

Short Film about Playground Inclusion wins International Acclaim

Rockville, Maryland, Dec. 6 – All kids want to play. Kids with disabilities are no different. “Ian” is a short, animated film inspired by the real-life Ian, a boy with a disability determined to get to the playground despite his playmates bullying him. This film sets out to show that children with disabilities can and should be included.

“Ian” premiered for audiences around the world on YouTube and was broadcast in Latin America simultaneously on Disney Junior, Cartoon Network, Discovery Kids, Nickelodeon, PakaPaka and YouTube Kids Nov. 30, 2018.

“Ian” started as a mother’s mission to educate her son’s bullies on the playground—one to one. When she realized that the need for inclusion was bigger than one playground, she wrote a book and founded Fundación ian to change thousands of minds and attitudes about people with disabilities. She approached MundoLoco, a top digital animation studio in Latin America, about creating “Ian,” an animated film to deliver the message of inclusion to audiences all over the world. [continue reading…]

Bunim/Murray Casting Directors Honored at Media Access Awards

2018 Recipients of the Casting Society of America Award

Jonathan Murray and the Born This Way cast present an award to Sasha Alpert and Megan Sleeper at the Media Access Awards 2018

Jonathan Murray and the Born This Way cast present an award to Sasha Alpert and Megan Sleeper at the 2018 Media Access Awards

Beverly Hills, California, Nov. 8 — Sasha Alpert (They Call Us Monsters, Autism: The Musical, Born This Way) and Megan Sleeper (UndressedBorn This Way) were honored at the Media Access Awards, which recently has formed a partnership with Easterseals Southern California, for their work to create inclusive entertainment that features the stories of people with disabilities. The ceremony honors media and entertainment trailblazers advancing disability awareness and inclusion.

Alpert, Executive Vice President of Programming and Development, and Sleeper, Senior Vice President of Casting, promote the culture of telling authentic stories of people with disabilities at Bunim/Murray Productions (BMP) through their casting, including for Born This Way.

Born This Way, an unscripted reality show on A&E that follows a group of seven young adults with Down syndrome in Southern California, demonstrates that inclusive casting means not only including people with disabilities, but people with disabilities from many different demographics. [continue reading…]

Born This Way Cast Honors Their Casting Directors

Present 2018 Casting Society of America Award to Sasha Alpert and Megan Sleeper

Jonathan Murray and the Born This Way cast at the Media Access Awards 2018

Jonathan Murray and the Born This Way cast at the 2018 Media Access Awards

Beverly Hills, California, Nov. 8— The cast of Born This Way and executive producer Jonathan Murray made an appearance at the Media Access Awards to present casting directors Sasha Alpert and Megan Sleeper with the Casting Society of America Award. The Media Access Awards, which recently has formed a partnership with Easterseals Southern California, honors accurate inclusions of disability in film, television and new media.

Alpert and Sleeper cast Born This Way, for which they won the 2017 Outstanding Casting for a Realty Program Emmy Award. Born This Way is an unscripted series on A&E that follows the lives of seven young adults with Down syndrome as they navigate friendships, romantic relationships and work. The Casting Society of America Award, which Alpert and Sleeper were awarded, honors casting directors who actively participated in the mission of Media Access, according to the Casting Society of America.

Murray and the cast of Born This Way presented Alpert and Sleeper with the award. Steven Clark, Cristina Sanz and Rachel Osterbach delivered lines before presenting the award. [continue reading…]

Speechless Highlights Importance of Self Advocacy and Independence

Watch Speechless on ABC, Fridays at 8:30 p.m. ET.

View Education Resources on Disability Issues and Tools in Spanish

Micah Fowler on the Red Carpet at the Creative Arts Emmys

Micah Fowler

Los Angeles, California, Nov. 5 — In the U.S., schools were not required to provide special education until 1975. Today, the fight for inclusive education remains a constant battle for parents and students. Speechless, a comedy starring Micah Fowler, a young adult with cerebral palsy, as J.J., a high school senior with cerebral palsy, shines the spotlight on the importance of young adults taking over the Individualized Education Program (IEP) process as they grow older.

Creating an IEP, an individual education plan that outlines what a student with a disability needs to be successful in school, can be a daunting challenge for parents and often stressful as there is much to consider when determining the education of a child. The implementation of an IEP is integral for children with disabilities. An IEP is a formal plan for students who have been identified to need accommodations specific to their individual disability in the public-school system. In addition to accommodations, the classroom can be tailored within a general classroom, a smaller group or one-on-one instruction. [continue reading…]

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