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Leah Romond smiling headshot in front of yellow flowers and bushes

Leah Romond. Photo by Liz Bretz

Los Angeles, CA, April 15 – Since its premiere at SXSW 2021, the feature film Best Summer Ever has been making waves in the entertainment industry for its authentic representation and inclusion of people with disabilities both in front of and behind the camera, all wrapped up in an energetic and joy-filled musical. RespectAbility recently had the chance to interview one of the film’s producers, Leah Romond, who is also a current Senior Production Advisor at RespectAbility. Romond speaks openly about her experiences with traumatic brain injury, pivoting from law to producing in entertainment, and working at RespectAbility.

In 2012 Romond had mononucleosis, which turned into viral encephalitis that resulted in a brain injury due to brain inflammation. She explained her experience as living with one brain for part of her life and after the injury, being given a completely different brain. Before the injury, “my brain was like a super computer, very detail oriented. As an attorney, I had to keep a lot of facts in my brain and be able to recall them at a moment’s notice,” Romond said. [continue reading…]

Shannon DeVido smiling headshot

Shannon DeVido

Los Angeles, CA, April 14 – Shannon DeVido, a multi-hyphenated talent, is an actress, comedian and writer. Her body of work spans several mediums, but the connective tissue coalescing her diverse pursuits is her wicked, introspective sense of humor. Most recently, DeVido showcases her wide range of talents with a starring role in the new feature film, Best Summer Ever—a musical with a majority of talent with disabilities both in front of and behind the camera.

Hailing from Philadelphia, DeVido was born with spinal muscular atrophy. Disappointed by her prospects of becoming a famous athlete, DeVido found theatre at an early age, introducing her to the world of performance and entertainment. [continue reading…]

RespectAbility’s testimony suggests that the NEA can dramatically strengthen their work by including more people with disabilities and ensuring that all grantees’ work is fully accessible to people with disabilities

Los Angeles, CA, April 14 – As the conversations around diversity and inclusion continue to circulate throughout the entertainment industry, RespectAbility is urging the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) to make a bigger effort toward including more people with disabilities in their programs, as well as ensuring that all grantees’ work will be full accessible to people with disabilities.

“With a relatively small amount of additional work, the NEA could make a much larger difference in our nation on behalf of the 61 million people with disabilities,” said Lauren Appelbaum, Vice President of Communications at RespectAbility. “What we see and hear in the arts and entertainment media impacts our thoughts and feelings. Positive, accurate representation could remove stigmas that have long held people with disabilities back.” [continue reading…]

One year into COVID-19 and amidst a most dire mental health crisis, RespectAbility and nearly 200 organizations team up to plan inaugural ‘Mental Health Action Day’ on May 20

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5.20 Mental Health Action Day Founding partner. MentalHealthActionDay.orgWashington, D.C., April 13 – RespectAbility, in partnership with 193 leading brands, nonprofits and cultural leaders including MTV Entertainment Group, today announced the first-ever Mental Health Action Day, to be held on Thursday, May 20 during Mental Health Awareness Month.

Over the past two decades, suicide rates have risen, particularly among young adults. And the COVID pandemic has accelerated the already dire crisis, giving way to what many mental health professionals have called the “second pandemic.” [continue reading…]

Proposed Civil Rights Bill prohibits discrimination and advances equality for millions of Americans.

an LGBTQ+ Pride flag with black, brown, red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple stripesWashington, D.C., April 12– On February 25, the Equality Act was passed by the House of Representatives. The Act includes a major overhaul of civil rights protections for many Americans, including millions of people with disabilities. Now, it waits for further action by the United States Senate.

The Equality Act specifically identifies sex, gender and sexual orientation as prohibited categories of discrimination or segregation. As a result, discrimination in areas such as public accommodations and facilities, the criminal justice system, federal funding, employment, housing, credit and education would be prohibited on the basis of sex, gender, or sexual orientation. This would be a major change and significant expansion of civil rights. In 2020, the Supreme Court decision in Bostock v. Clayton County expanded employment protections against discrimination for gay and transgender people. [continue reading…]

Submitted testimony will help inform Congressional efforts to rebuild the economy and get workers with disabilities back to work.

Washington, D.C., April 7 – Recently, the United States Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee invited subject matter experts, self-advocates, community members and their constituents to virtually provide ideas and insights about rebuilding the economy in a post-COVID world.

In response, the national disability inclusion organization RespectAbiltiy weighed in with their perspective on how to advance new opportunities for workers with disabilities and close crucial gaps in outcomes for people from marginalized communities. [continue reading…]

Sixteen-part short video series explores the intersection of disability and prayer in the Jewish community

Ben Rosloff smiling headshot

Ben Rosloff

Los Angeles, CA, April 9 – Ben Rosloff, a talented emerging filmmaker on the Autism spectrum who serves as a Jewish Inclusion Fellow in RespectAbility’s National Leadership Program, has created an unprecedented mini-series of one-on-one interviews with Jews with disabilities. The series features deep insights and fabulous emotion as people answer the very personal question, “What do you pray for?”

“What Do You Pray For?” is a series of short interviews of Jews with disabilities who tell viewers in their own words what they pray for and what prayer means to them. The project features Jews with various disabilities from across the United States, with a myriad of different connections to their Jewish identity. [continue reading…]

Max’s character will offer an authentic representation of Autism for children and adult audiences alike

Washington, D.C., April 1 – 13-year-old Israel Thomas-Bruce has not had the opportunity to see himself represented on TV in the way that many other children may have. That is changing with the addition of a new neighbor in Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood – Max, Teacher Harriet’s autistic nephew.

The show authentically cast Thomas-Bruce, who was diagnosed with autism when he was four years old, as Max. Thomas-Bruce said this experience gave him “an extra boost of confidence.” [continue reading…]

Hottle’s character Jia is the emotional heart of this movie

Kaylee Hottle in a scene from Godzilla vs. KongLos Angeles, April 1 – A Warner Bros. blockbuster film starring CGI monsters of mayhem and destruction is now being streamed across the world in living rooms, dorms, and select doomsday bunkers that just so happen to have Wi-Fi, as Godzilla vs. Kong goes live on their streaming service, HBO Max.

Godzilla vs. Kong is exactly what you want from a giant monster movie. It has a fast-moving story, a couple of funny moments, and most importantly, epic monster fights that show just how tiny humans are by comparison to their skyscraper-like sizes. Overall, it’s a pretty by-the-books monster movie. One where you can just sit back and enjoy the destruction and be thankful you don’t live in a coastal city.

There aren’t a lot of surprises in this movie, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Not every film has to have twists and turns that keep you guessing throughout the duration of the movie. Sometimes two monsters just throwing hands in order to determine who the most powerful being on Earth is, is enough. However, there is one pleasant surprise in this film, and it is the performance given by Kaylee Hottle, who was just 9 years old when she filmed Godzilla vs. Kong. [continue reading…]

Los Angeles, April 1 – The theme of this year’s Easterseals Disability Film Challenge was “mockumentary,” and RespectAbility 2020 Summer Lab alumna Rachel Handler and Catriona Rubenis-Stevens’s comedic satire balanced with an inspired message truly champions their short film, So You Wanna Be an Actor, as a vehicle to promote authentic disability inclusion in entertainment. As director, writer, producer and lead actress of the film, Handler’s creative direction helped her filmmaking team highlight how limiting the casting process in Hollywood can often be for people with disabilities, all in under five minutes.

During one of the film’s opening scenes, the camera angle is focused only on a prosthetic leg of an aspiring young actress, to which this rising star responds, “Hey, my eyes are up here.” Not only is this a hilarious juxtaposition of dialogue because of the phrase’s more adult connotations, it also is a satirical metaphor that shows how cinematic objectification is truly intersectional and isn’t exclusive to sexualization. [continue reading…]

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