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“I am visible. I have worth. I can succeed.”

–Ketrina Hazell

Ketrina Hazell seated in her wheelchair, smiling

Ketrina Hazell
Photo courtesy of Rick Guidotti, Positive Exposure 109

My name is Ketrina Hazell. I am 26 years old and the daughter of immigrant parents. I am made of what I consider my three magic powers: I am a woman; I am Black; and I am uniquely made. I was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at nine months old and use a wheelchair for mobility. My parents had no idea what cerebral palsy was at that time. My parents were born in the Caribbean, St. Vincent and the Grenadines. In the West Indies disabilities are not visible and they are viewed with a sense of shame. It is also not accessible for people with disabilities, so let’s be real! [continue reading…]

Laka Negassa smiling in front of the RespectAbility bannerAs a Black, immigrant woman with a disability (more on this below), I hold a personal and special interest in Black History Month, which originated in 1915 — half a century after the 13th Amendment abolished slavery in the United States. It was founded by historian and author Dr. Carter G. Woodson when he established an organization now known as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. In 1986 Congress passed Public Law 99-244 designating February as “National Black (Afro-American) History Month.” As highlighted by History’s webpage, the purpose of the Black History Month is to celebrate the achievements of African Americans while also recognizing their central role in U.S. history. [continue reading…]

Poster for How Much Am I Worth featuring photos of the four women with disabilities profiled in the short filmLos Angeles, Feb. 11 – Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, UnitedHealth has taken in $9.2 billion in profit, forcing filmmaker Rachel Handler to ask herself the question, “how much am I worth?” The answer, $1,165.62.

Starting Friday, Feb. 12, Handler’s short film, aptly titled “How Much Am I Worth?” directed by Handler and Catriona Rubenis-Stevens, is screening at the 2021 Slamdance Film Festival. “How Much Am I Worth?” follows the story of four women with disabilities and their experience with the American healthcare system that is failing them. [continue reading…]

Rhode Island, Feb. 10 – Attending the famous Sundance Film Festival, and on top of that, as a panelist on a livestreamed event with the festival, was an amazing experience! I was part of RespectAbility’s virtual panel “Mentorships Matter,” which discussed a new mentorship program by Women of Color Unite (WOCU) called #StartWith8Hollywood. The program matches women of color with mentors in the entertainment industry, enabling them to break down the systemic barriers and enter the industry. The panel featured disabled women of color who have been or are currently part of the mentorship program, an industry mentor, and the founders of WOCU. The conversation centered on why mentorships are key for individuals with multiple-underrepresented backgrounds to network and succeed. [continue reading…]

Los Angeles, Feb. 10 – During this year’s 2021 Sundance Film Festival, many panels were hosted that detailed the ongoing changes surrounding disability and the industry. Of the many panels hosted, “The Nuts & Bolts of Producing Deaf Content & Working with Deaf Performers” directly emphasized the successes and work of deaf and hard of hearing individuals. [continue reading…]

Rhode Island, Feb. 9 – Picture walking on a film set… before COVID. There are tons of people walking around: Production Assistants on headsets, the director under the tent with assistant directors and camera operators, and actors eating crafty. As you continue walking, you will not only have to dodge all of these people but dodge the just as animated technical elements of cameras, tape, wires, and lights that are often moved and carried. It’s hard. You have to be on your toes, looking before you move. But what if you use a wheelchair, if you have low vision, if you’re Deaf, if you’re easily overwhelmed by all this activity, or if you have any type of disability at all? Being on a film set and making films now can seem nearly impossible. The filmmaking world doesn’t always think about anyone who might need accommodations or anyone with disabilities being on set, let alone making a film. Let’s change that. [continue reading…]

Los Angeles, Feb. 9 – Anyone who has worked in Hollywood knows that tenacity and the ability to adapt are critical to success. These are qualities that everyone with a disability implicitly understands and embodies daily. The importance of these traits came through during a panel conversation moderated by David Radcliff, an alumnus of the ABC-Disney Writers Program, held during the 2021 Sundance Film Festival in partnership with RespectAbility and Film Independent. A diverse group of panelists working on both sides of the camera, some with disabilities, others without, shared their experiences working on set with a disability or with people with disabilities and described how they all came together to get the job done. [continue reading…]

Los Angeles, Feb. 9 – During the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, I was honored to be a part of a panel called “Bridging the Gap: Media Accessibility and Audio Description.” It always has been my dream to attend or be a part of the Sundance festivities. This opportunity was perfect for me, mostly since the panel was about audio description, which is a topic I am incredibly passionate about. For those unaware, audio description is a secondary audio track recorded for media that describes the action on screen between lines of dialogue for low vision and blind consumers. [continue reading…]

Los Angeles, CA, Feb. 9 – Much of the conversation about disability during the 2021 Sundance Film Festival centers around a few films of importance – including CODA, 4 Feet High and Wiggle Room. But, it also is important to note that several other films included casual inclusion of disability, which also help to normalize having a disability in society.

For example, a montage of people getting dressed in “Life in a Day 2020” included a close up of a person pulling on clothing over an amputated leg. A high school student talks about having a learning disability in “Homeroom,” noting that she was not diagnosed until high school due to lack of school resources. “Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street” briefly touches on Jon Stone’s depression. Nearly 90 minutes in, viewers learn that Amy Tan in “Amy Tan: Unintended Memoir” has lyme disease and epilepsy, in addition to depression. And in “Jockey,” there is a short discussion on living on disability, especially when you have a family.

With one-in-five people having a disability in the U.S. today, the lack of representation – just 2.3 percent of characters in the 100 top-grossing films of 2019 and 8 percent in family films – means that millions of people are unable to see themselves reflected in media. While none of the films mentioned above are about disability, the casual inclusion of disability in them is important. [continue reading…]

A still from CODA with actors in the movie standing and applauding

Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

Los Angeles, Feb. 9 – A week after premiering on opening night of the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, CODA, a remake of the French film La Famille Bélier, still is causing conversations among the film festival circuit. CODA’s premiere was met with high praise and an immediate bidding war. Before the festival was even halfway through, Apple had announced they had acquired the distribution rights to CODA for a whopping $25 million, breaking the festival record that was held by Palm Springs, which was purchased by Hulu and Neon Films for $22 million at the 2020 film festival.

CODA tells the story of a high school senior (Emilia Jones) named Ruby who is the only hearing member of her family, the Rossis. They live in the fishing town of Gloucester, MA. As the only Deaf family in the town, Ruby helps her family fishing business and communicates on behalf of them with the town, while reconciling her dreams of pursuing music. Rounding out the authentically-casted Deaf family is the Academy-Award winning Marlee Matlin and The Mandalorian’s Troy Kotsur as Ruby’s parents Jackie and Frank respectively, and Switched at Birth’s Daniel Durant as Ruby’s brother Leo. [continue reading…]

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