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Hollywood Inclusion

Spreading Awareness of CRPS Through CRPS Awareness Month

head shot of Lauren wearing an orange blazer, smiling and facing the camera color photo

Lauren Appelbaum

Los Angeles, Nov. 24 – In March 2018 I was diagnosed with Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD), now classified as Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS), which is a form of chronic pain that usually affects an arm or a leg. With just 200,000 people in the U.S. diagnosed with CRPS in the U.S., most people have not heard of CRPS, which is classified as a “rare disease” with no cure. Therefore, the month of November is CRPS Awareness month.

Since acquiring this disability, I have had the privilege of creating pipeline programming for nearly 100 other disabled individuals. During the 2021 RespectAbility Entertainment Lab for Disabled Entertainment Professionals, we were pleased to have award-winning independent film director and editor Jennifer Valdes as one of 30 Lab Fellows. Like me, Valdes is living with CRPS.

“I used to feel that living life with complex regional pain syndrome wasn’t a life worth living,” she said. “I devalued myself as a human. I felt ashamed of my disability. Disclosing it felt like I was revealing a big secret. I felt isolated and alone. Living with a disability is not the life I planned for, but It’s the only one that I have.” [continue reading…]

Celebrating Native American Heritage Month by Embracing Your Intersectional Identities

Los Angeles, Nov. 24 – November is Native American Heritage Month, or as it is commonly referred to, American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month. It is important to celebrate rich and diverse cultures, traditions, and histories and to acknowledge the important contributions of Native people, including those who also are members of the disability community.

Alaqua Cox smiling in a photo studio. Alaqua has a prosthetic leg.

Alaqua Cox

Actress Alaqua Cox exemplifies this intersection. Marvel Studios’ latest episodic series Hawkeye premiered November 24 on Disney+, featuring Cox as Maya Lopez, who is the second deaf character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In addition to being deaf and an amputee, Cox is Native American (Menominee and Mohican Nation).

“I believe kids deserve to see inclusivity and accurate representation,” Cox said in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter. “It will make kids with all types of cultures and disabilities feel like our dreams can break free from limitations.”

RespectAbility’s Senior Entertainment Media Associate Tatiana Lee, who is a disabled woman of color with Native American heritage who also is an actress, international model and activist, pursued a career in the entertainment industry because she did not see herself reflected on screen. At RespectAbility, Lee is the lead consultant on various TV and film projects and conducts training for studios and production companies including NBCUniversal, Netflix, and The Walt Disney Company, and assists with RespectAbility’s Lab for Entertainment Professionals with Disabilities.

“I went through many struggles of sense of self and identity because I didn’t see myself represented,” Lee said. “You feel like an outcast, a unicorn, but sometimes not always in a good way. I try to embrace the unicorn thing, but other times it feels isolating.” [continue reading…]

Actor, Director, Professional Athlete, and RespectAbility Lab Alumnus Kurt Yaeger Uses His Platform on Netflix Series “Another Life” to Advocate for Authentic Disability Representation On-Screen

Kurt Yaeger and Tongayi Chirisa speak with each other in a hallway

Kurt Yaeger and Tongayi Chirisa in a scene from Another Life on Netflix

November 11, Los Angeles, CA – American actor, director and professional athlete Kurt Yaeger, who also happens to be a below-the-knee amputee, understands the importance of authentic casting and hiring disabled people within film & TV so we can continue the path of diversity and inclusion on the big screen.

Yaeger is known for his recurring role as ‘Greg the Peg’ on the FX crime drama series, Sons of Anarchy, as well as numerous other roles in popular TV shows such as NCIS: New Orleans, The Good Doctor, L.A.’s Finest, The Village and more. Currently, Yaeger portrays Dillon Conner in the futuristic sci-fi series Another Life, which recently launched its second season on Netflix.

Yaeger’s character, Dillon Conner, is not defined by his disability. Yet he is a very realistic depiction of a disabled individual – “portrayed as sexually attractive, fully capable and not hindered by his disability in any way.” [continue reading…]

New Documentary Film This is Not About Me Demonstrates Clear Need For Better Support of Non-Speaking Students in Today’s Educational Systems

Subject of Film Jordyn Zimmerman, Also Serves on RespectAbility’s National Disability Speakers and Training Bureau

Jordyn Zimmerman smilingNew York City, Oct. 26 – Communication is an essential part of daily life. It’s how we express our needs, wants, feelings, and so much more. Unfortunately, many school systems currently lack the resources, knowledge, and awareness of how to fully support disabled students in their education journey when the students’ methods of communication do not align with society’s traditional views of how to communicate. A new documentary film titled This is Not About Me hopes to change this by sharing the story of Jordyn Zimmerman, a nonverbal autistic woman whose own education journey is filled with years of misunderstanding and a lack of support from her teachers. However, once Zimmerman finally received communication tools from her educators, she excelled at education and has since gone on to receive her bachelor’s degree in education Policy, and hopes to continue being a catalyst for change in today’s education system.

This Is Not About Me starts off by following Zimmerman as she wanders around her campus at Ohio University. Throughout the documentary, we gain insight into the obstacles that she faced in order to get there. Those who don’t know her story might assume her journey was easy. But that’s far from the truth. [continue reading…]

AMC Theaters to Offer Weekly Open Caption Showtimes

Exciting news from AMC Theatres, who will now permanently offer some Open Caption showtimes each week. According to its CEO Adam Aron, the showtimes with open captions will be well marked on AMC Theatres’ website and mobile app. These open captions will not only ensure that individuals who are Deaf/Hard of Hearing, but also those for whom English is a second language, to fully enjoy films in the theater.

“This comes from many conversations behind the scenes, and phenomenal advocacy from the Deaf and hard-of-hearing community and disability organizations like RespectAbility,” said deaf film executive Delbert Whetter, who also serves on RespectAbility’s board. “This never would have happened without the public’s tireless and relentless support for open captions screenings. Hopefully this sets a new standard for future theatrical exhibitions that paves the way for a superior, more inclusive and accessible moviegoing experience for everyone.”

More information with details on how this will work will be forthcoming soon, but this is taking place in time for the release of Eternals, in which Lauren Ridloff plays Marvel’s first Deaf superhero.

RespectAbility’s Lab for Entertainment Professionals with Disabilities Wraps Up Its Final Week in Conversation on Advocacy

RespectAbility Summer Lab participants recently had the opportunity to speak to experts in the field with lifetimes of experience interfacing their art and advocacyLos Angeles, Sept. 23 – Disability is deeply underrepresented in many industries including entertainment and media, where numbers dwindle far below the 20% participation that would truly reflect the world as it is. Regardless, TV and film have a power to incite social change, drawing in underrepresented creatives as they work to craft a better world. For many, this leaves them with two jobs – to excel at their art and to fight for access for themselves and their communities.

RespectAbility Summer Lab participants recently had the opportunity to speak to experts in the field with lifetimes of experience interfacing their art and advocacy: Leah Meyerhoff, a screenwriter, director, and Founder of Film Fatales; Marci Phillips, VP of Casting at ABC Entertainment; Megan Townsend, Director of Entertainment Research and Analysis at GLAAD; Noriko Louison, Senior Manager of Research and Curriculum at 9Story Media Group; and Victor Pineda, filmmaker and President of World Enabled, and one of RespectAbility’s own Board Members. [continue reading…]

Inclusive Casting and Production with Nickelodeon Digital Studios

Five speakers plus ASL interpreter on zoom at Nickelodeon's RespectAbility Lab session.Los Angeles, Sept. 17 – As a part of RespectAbility’s 2021 Summer Lab, participants spoke with several members of the Nickelodeon Digital Studios team to learn about the inner workings of the company’s video production and casting processes. Nickelodeon prides itself in creating content for children that is diverse and inclusive. The team spoke excitedly about their projects and videos that include children who have both visible and nonvisible disabilities.

Marc Cantone, Sr. Director, Preschool Digital Content, and Skylar Apter, Supervising Producer, Editorial & Development, at Nickelodeon Digital Studios, outlined how their department works. Much of their work is in coordination with shows found on Nick Jr, including Blue’s Clues & You! and Blaze and the Monster Machines. For example, this YouTube video featuring Blaze also features young disabled athletes. Released after this conversation with Lab participants, RespectAbility team members consulted on this video. [continue reading…]

ViacomCBS Goes Beyond Representation in Hollywood

Headshots of four of the five speakers at RespectAbility's session with ViacomCBS.Los Angeles, Sept. 16 – Several members of the ViacomCBS family, including representatives from MTV, Paramount Pictures and Showtime, recently joined the RespectAbility Summer Lab to speak on community impact within an entertainment studio setting. Matthew Sinsheimer, Director of Corporate and Digital Communications at Showtime (a subsidiary network operating under the ViacomCBS umbrella); Adam Robinson, VP of Corporate Social Responsibility at ViacomCBS; Daylee Baker, Manager of Social Impact at MTV Entertainment Group; Erin Jordan, Director of Corporate Social Responsibility at Paramount Pictures; and Andrew Machles, VP of Public Affairs & Viewer Services at Nickelodeon took part in this important conversation. [continue reading…]

What’s Next After Lab? With Marc Muszynski, Writer, Comedian, and 2019 RespectAbility Summer Lab Alumnus

Marc Musynzski smiling headshot

Marc Musynzski

Los Angeles, September 14 – As the 2021 cohort of RespectAbility’s Summer Lab for Entertainment Professionals with Disabilities approached the conclusion of eight weeks together, the group was joined by Lab alumnus Marc Muszynski to chat about what comes next after the program. He offered plenty of insight and tips for leveraging the connections made within the Lab to help further your career, and also shared some of his own experiences after completing the Lab in 2019, including writing for the upcoming Showtime revival of Dexter.

“Sometimes, you’ve just got to ask to be a part of stuff,” Muszynski started off the conversation by urging the cohort members not to be afraid to ask for the opportunities they want. He went on to explain how before the Lab, he had trouble finding an assistant job since he does not drive due to being legally blind, and many entry-level jobs in the industry require employees to drive and run errands throughout the day. But he kept asking around for work and applying to jobs, and eventually found a part-time student internship (which he qualified for by enrolling in LA City College), which helped kickstart his career, eventually leading to more work on desks at other studios and networks, all while Muszynski also was writing and refining his own scripts, and continuing to build his network of industry connections. [continue reading…]

Entertainment Lab Participants Get an Inside Look at How DreamWorks Animation Takes Ideas to the Screen and the Accessibility of Animation

Los Angeles, September 9 – In the final week of RespectAbility’s Summer Lab for Entertainment Professionals with Disabilities, participants were welcomed into the magical world of DreamWorks Animation to discover what it takes to turn a concept into a great film. Many know DreamWorks is recognized for creating some of the best disability representation in animation with features like How to Train Your Dragon but were excited to learn how the process of animation works to be accessible as well.

Headshots of Janie Kahan and Stacy Lindenbaum smilingJanie Kahan, currently a Story and Editorial Coordinator for an unannounced feature film at DreamWorks Animation with previous credits including Trolls World Tour and Croods: A New Age, led the discussion with the help of Stacy Lindenbaum, an intern at DreamWorks’ Training Department with a background in music and animation. Kahan’s engaging presentation full of behind-the-scenes looks, included information on every role in the animation process from production assistants to story editors and the difference between CFX and VFX artists. “If you want to work in animation, really find what department interests you,” Kahan encouraged. “Learn everything you can about that department.” [continue reading…]

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