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Press Releases

Unprecedented Opportunity for Entertainment Professionals with Disabilities in RespectAbility’s New Summer Lab Program

Sponsors and Partners include Bunim/Murray Productions, Comcast NBCUniversal, The Walt Disney Company, Sundance Institute and more

five diverse women and one man standing and seated smiling for the camera

Top Row (L-R): Stephanie Thomas, Delbert Whetter. Melissa Yingst and Lauren Appelbaum
Bottom Row: Angela Rockwood and Andrea Jennings

Los Angeles, California, May 20 – Great entertainment requires authentic stories and genuine representation of all people. This includes diverse people with physical, cognitive, sensory, mental health and other disabilities. Hence, RespectAbility, the nonprofit that produced The Hollywood Disability Inclusion Toolkit, is thrilled to offer an innovative lab series for emerging entertainment talent, as well as a track for mid-level career professionals. This 5-week, nine-session summer lab program is for people with disabilities and/or strong disability connections interested in development, production and post-production, including careers as writers, directors, producers, cinematographers, animators and other production roles.

“What we see on screen influences how we act in real life, but that is dependent on filmmakers choosing to include individuals with disabilities in diverse and accurate portrayals, which then helps remove the stigmas that currently exist about interacting with individuals with disabilities,” said Program Director Lauren Appelbaum, who leads RespectAbility’s Hollywood Inclusion efforts as the organization’s vice president, communications. “One purpose of this program is to continue building the talent pipeline of young professionals with disabilities looking to work behind the scenes. We do not want anyone to have an excuse that they could not find a writer, editor or any other position with a disability.”

Several sessions will meet at various studios where program participants will have the opportunity to learn about possible career paths and have networking opportunities. Furthermore, entertainment professionals in positions of power to hire will meet a group of qualified individuals and potentially shift their mindsets in equity goals for hiring. After all, opening the inclusion umbrella is the right thing to do as well as economically smart given that the disability market is valued at more than $1 trillion. According to Nielsen Research, Americans with disabilities represent the third largest market behind Baby Boomers and the mature market. [continue reading…]

The Village Showcases Physical and Mental Health Disabilities

Watch The Village on NBC, Tuesdays at 8:00 p.m. ET.

View Resources for Veterans with Disabilities

New York, NY, May 14 – NBC’s new breakout show The Village explores relationships between family members and friends who become family in separate but interconnected stories. The ensemble drama also does not shy away from tackling important social issues, including immigration, teenage pregnancy and veterans returning from war with both physical and mental disabilities.

A major storyline focuses on Nick Porter (Warren Christie), a former 9/11 firefighter and Army veteran who returned home with PTSD and an amputated leg. One common criticism regarding the representation of veterans in television and film is the portrayal often is of broken veterans. Viewers will quickly learn that while Nick has several issues to work through, he certainly is not broken. In addition, too many characters with disabilities are portrayed through the pity framework; The Village does not fall into that trap and showcases what Nick can do. [continue reading…]

RespectAbility Submits Public Comments on LA City Workforce Development Board’s 2020 Plan

Los Angeles skyscrapers and skyLos Angeles, CA, May 7 – RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities for people with disabilities, submitted the following public comments last week to the City of Los Angeles Workforce Development Board. The Board is in the process of finalizing their new Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) Year 20/2019-2020 Annual Plan. This plan will guide how the City of Los Angeles invests critical federal resources, builds new collaborations and works to empower people with barriers to employment in the year ahead.

RespectAbility’s public comments, which were jointly written by the organization’s D.C. and L.A. based staff, focused on several critical issues. First, the comments outline key data points about the size and scope of the disability community in Los Angeles. Second, the comments outlined in extensive detail about critical best practices and proven models of empowering job seekers with disabilities to successfully enter the workforce. Third, the comments cover a range of other issues including adopting disability best practices into existing programs to support the reentry population, expanding entrepreneurship opportunities, and supporting the local community through parent engagement as well as community resource fairs. Lastly, the public comments go into detail about how to leverage the incredible power of media and Hollywood to empower people with disabilities by fighting stigmas.

The working draft of the City of Los Angeles Workforce Development Board’s 2020 plan can be found on their website here. Read RespectAbility’s comments in full below. [continue reading…]

The Employables Shines a Spotlight on the Amazing Skills of People with Disabilities

People with disabilities want to work, they have skills that they can bring to the table, and if given the chance at a position that fits their skills, they can excel. On A&E’s groundbreaking new series The Employables, premiering on May 15th, viewers will see these three facts come to life.

Each episode of The Employables will feature two people with disabilities who are trying to find jobs. The first episode features Jeff, an autistic man with a stutter, and James, a man with Tourettes. Their families are supportive of them, but they both want to be more independent. They have valuable skills but they just haven’t gotten the right opportunity.

One of the most important things that the show highlights is that both men have abilities that make them stand out from the crowd. Jeff and James meet with job coaches in the episode, and take comprehension tests with them. It turns out that Jeff would score better on a test on language comprehension than 91 out of 100 people. And according to his coach, James’ verbal comprehension is “off the charts.” Jeff and James are both given the advice to disclose their disabilities, because with the right accommodations, they could both be major assets to an employer.

The Employables showcases some of the challenges that people with disabilities face in trying to find jobs and be independent,” said Lauren Appelbaum, RespectAbility’s VP of Communications. “Highly skilled candidates who could be major assets to the right employer are not being given a chance.” [continue reading…]

Ali Stroker becomes the First Tony-Nominated Performer Who Uses a Wheelchair

Ali Stroker singing into a microphone on stage for Oklahoma!New York City, May 3, 2019 – This year’s nominations for the Tony Awards – a major award ceremony honoring Broadway shows and performers – broke new ground for the disability community when Ali Stroker became the first performer with a wheelchair to be nominated for a Tony Award. She is nominated for Best Featured Actress in a musical for her sexy take on Ado Annie in the groundbreaking revival of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! 

Stroker also has been nominated for the same category in the Drama Desk and Outer Circle Critic awards. She shares the nomination for Drama League’s highly competitive Distinguished Performance Award with Gregg Mozgala – from the Off Broadway hit Teenage Dick – who is the first performer with cerebral palsy to be nominated.

Stroker told the New York Times minutes after her Tony nomination, “This show exists for people to see things different. And to be able to do this role — and to be an actress in a wheelchair — it feels like I have arrived.” [continue reading…]

As Nearly 500,000 Women and Girls with Disabilities Live in New York City, Unprecedented Empowerment Training Is Created for Latinas with Disabilities

New York City, May 1 – Nearly 500,000 women and girls with disabilities live in New York City, with a stunning 44 percent of New York women with disabilities living below the poverty line. Furthermore, in the city itself, only 24 percent of Latina women with disabilities have jobs. Hence, ensuring the inclusion of diverse women with disabilities in civic engagement, nonprofits, foundations and government sectors is vital. After all, people who have struggled with challenges and know the solutions are best able to create progress.

Women with disabilities are underrepresented significantly when it comes to civic engagement in the nonprofit, foundation and government sectors. In the name of inclusion and equity, it is imperative that women – including women with disabilities – take a place and secure a space as active participants and leaders in these civic-centered sectors: as employees, volunteers and board members.

Carol Robles-Román sitting at a table holding an iPad, smiling looking to her left

Carol Robles-Román

With this backdrop, Carol Robles-Román, Esq., Hunter College’s General Counsel and Dean of Faculty and former NYC Deputy Mayor, will address critical issues impacting Latina women with disabilities in New York City on May 18, 2019 in a first of its kind program, Empowerment Training for Latinas with Disabilities. The session is part of a monthly six-part series created by RespectAbility, a national disability advocacy organization. However, it is unprecedented in its unique focus on Latinas with disabilities. Robles-Román and additional Latina speakers will talk about disability disclosure, mental health advocacy, self-advocacy empowerment tools and opportunities for civic engagement. [continue reading…]

New Study: Philanthropists and Nonprofits Exclude People with Disabilities

Report Released at the National Press Club, Available to view online at

Disability in Philanthropy & Nonprofits: A study on inclusion and exclusion of the 1-in-5 people who live with a disability and what you can do to make things better. RespectAbility logo. Three images of diverse groups of people with disabilitiesWashington, D.C., April 25 – Nonprofits and foundations are full of good work and good will. Nearly three-quarters (72%) of people who work in the social sector say their organizations have made a public commitment to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) and have policies that prohibit their groups from denying people with disabilities equal opportunity to participate in services and activities. Yet a new study out today shows that even among this very well-intentioned group, most foundations and nonprofits aren’t doing enough – if anything – to enable people with disabilities to have the access and accommodations they need to fully participate in the good these groups are doing. 

The study, “Disability in Philanthropy & Nonprofits: A Study on the Inclusion and Exclusion of the 1-in-5 People Who Live with a Disability and What You Can Do to Make Things Better” by RespectAbility, a nonpartisan group working on inclusion efforts for people with disabilities, surveyed 969 people who work at nonprofits and foundations, conducted five focus groups and spoke one-on-one with 14 executives at philanthropy-serving organizations. The study was released at an event this morning at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. Anyone can read the study at [continue reading…]

Physical Disabilities Take the Rare Spotlight on Broadway

Individual photos of Ali Stroker on the red carpet, John McGinty in character on stage in HUNCHBACK, and Russell Harvard signing something in front of a curtainNew York City, April 19 – To quote the Broadway phenomenon Hamilton: “History is happening in New York!” This season, Broadway has expanded its diversity to not just race or sexual orientation, but also disability.

After making their Broadway debuts in the 2015 revival of Spring Awakening (alongside Academy Award winner Marlee Matilin – who is deaf), Ali Stroker (Glee) and Russell Harvard (Fargo, Switched at Birth) return to Broadway this spring in Oklahoma and King Lear. Joining Harvard is John McGinty (The First Purge, Wonderstruck), who made his Broadway debut in 2017 in Children of a Lesser God. [continue reading…]

“Little Chef Ivy” Continues to Break Barriers as MasterChef Franchise Gives Chefs with Disabilities Opportunities to Showcase Their Skills

Ivy wearing her MasterChef Junior Jacket, smiling in front of a plain purple wallLos Angeles, California, April 18 – Halfway through the seventh season of MasterChef Junior, some of the contestants are proving they are worthy contenders. One such young chef is 11-year-old Ivy, a Little Person who has achondroplasia, which causes an average sized torso with short limbs due to the lack of cartilage formation.

The season began with 24 children between the ages of eight and 13 who are competing for the title of Masterchef Junior and $100,000 in prize money. With just 12 contestants remaining, “Little Chef Ivy” continues to show the judges her exceptional cooking skills. Armed with her signature style – long braids topped with a fedora hat – Ivy is treated just like the other contestants, as she should be.

“You can do it!” Ivy has said. “If you put your mind to it, anything can happen, but also know your limits and that’s ok.” [continue reading…]

SXSW Highlights Different Disabilities on Screen

Austin, Texas, April 17 – This year’s 26th annual SXSW (South By Southwest) included films that contain stories and themes about disabilities in documentary and in fiction.

“Including characters with a visible disability in a film does not happen by accident and neither does a film festival like SXSW ensuring that films with disability themes are given this important platform to launch,” said Lauren Appelbaum, who leads RespectAbility’s Hollywood Inclusion efforts as the organization’s vice president, communications. “What we see on screen influences how we act in real life. Thus, when filmmakers make the decision to include individuals with visible disabilities in positive and accurate portrayals, they can help to remove the stigmas that currently exist about interacting with individuals with disabilities.” [continue reading…]

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