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Summer Lab Program for Entertainment Professionals with Disabilities

Unprecedented Opportunity for Entertainment Professionals with Disabilities

2020 Virtual Summer Lab Dates: June 16 – July 16, 2020
Meet the 2019 Participants:

diverse group of summer lab participants with disabilities posing for photo on Walt Disney lot

2019 Summer Lab Participants visiting The Walt Disney Company Lot in Burbank, California

Great entertainment requires authentic stories and genuine representation of all people. This includes diverse people with physical, cognitive, sensory, mental health and other disabilities. But when it comes to showing people with disabilities on TV, we are almost never seen. And when we are, we are shown in a negative light. There are several outstanding efforts to enable actors with disabilities to make it in Hollywood. However, somebody has to give them a chance first. And those are the people who are behind the camera – the writers, the producers, the casting directors, etc.

Hence, RespectAbility is thrilled to offer the second annual innovative Lab series for emerging entertainment talent, as well as a track for mid-level career professionals. This is not a program for actors. It is a 5-week, 10-session summer Lab for people interested in – and with experience in – development, production and post-production, including careers as writers, directors, producers, cinematographers, animators and other production roles.

Summer Lab Participants are assigned to one of two tracks:

  • Emerging: Young professionals with internship or first job experience under their belt aspiring to become writers, directors, producers, animators and other production positions, with the goal of connecting them to jobs at major studios, networks and production companies.
  • Mid-Career: A mentorship track for more established individuals with disabilities who wish to take part in the program for the networking opportunities and to serve as mentors for the younger professionals.
Summer Lab participants seated around a table listening to a lecture

2019 Summer Lab participants learning from Jonathan Murray

Virtual sessions will be held on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons and evenings with speakers from Bunim/Murray Productions, Film Independent, NBCUniversal, Sony Pictures Studios, The Walt Disney Studios and more. 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 with disabilities and potentially shift their mindsets in equity goals for hiring.

Each Lab session will include guest speakers and leaders in the industry. In addition to studio executives, 2019 speakers included individuals from Creative Artists Agency, Film Fatales, GLAAD, Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, Muslim Public Affairs Council Hollywood Bureau, the Sundance Institute, Writers Guild of America West, and more. Additional optional virtual sessions will be offered for smaller groups within Lab participants. For example, during Summer 2019, animators had lunch with a producer at DreamWorks. Toward the end of the Lab, participants will be invited to showcase their materials with each other, including script readings and showing clips of materials produced. Depending on the state of COVID-19, we may have an optional in-person gathering at the end of the Lab.

Applications opened March 12, 2020 and were considered on a rolling basis through April 17, 2020. Late entries were accepted after April 17, 2020 only as space allows. Interviews were conducted with second-round applicants via phone and Skype. Participants will be notified of their acceptance in mid-May.

This program is made possible with support by (as of March 11, 2020):

  • Platinum Sponsors: Murray/Reese Foundation and The Walt Disney Company
  • Gold Sponsors: Cast & Crew, Comcast NBCUniversal and Final Draft
  • Silver Sponsors: Fox Corporation and Sony Pictures Entertainment

Important Details for Summer Lab Applicants

  • Excellent communication and organizational skills are strongly preferred, and participants should exhibit leadership skills to complete their own projects.
  • A bachelor’s degree is not required as long as applicants have acquired the skills needed for their chosen career path in another way.
  • Commit for 10 sessions over five weeks (June 15 – July 17, 2020). People who will miss more than one session should not apply for the emerging track. If interested in the mid-career track and will miss more than one session, please note in your application.
  • Each session will take place in the afternoon or early evening on weekdays for approximately 5 hours.
  • The value of this summer Lab is thousands of dollars. However, there is no cost to participate in this competitive program.
  • While people at all income levels are encouraged to apply, extra consideration will be given to people on SSI, SNAP and TANF.
  • RespectAbility will provide ASL interpreters for all educational and related networking events during Lab program hours, and welcomes other accommodations requests.
  • Applications considered on a rolling basis. Spaces are limited to 30 individuals, split between the emerging track and the mid-career track.
  • To apply, please send your resume, cover letter and a sample of your work (i.e. a script you have written, a short you have edited, etc.) to Lauren Appelbaum at Your application materials will be evaluated by RespectAbility staff members as well as faculty advisors who are experts in each field. View the 2019 Faculty Advisors:

Summer Lab Programmatic Team

head shot of Lauren wearing an orange blazer, smiling and facing the camera color photo Tatiana Lee smiling outside in a parking lot.

Lauren Appelbaum
Vice President, Communications, RespectAbility
Program Director

Tatiana Lee
Hollywood Inclusionist, RespectAbility
Program Associate

View 2019 Faculty Advisors and Speakers:

More Background Information

Just 3.1 percent of primetime scripted television characters have disabilities, compared to 25 percent of American adults having a disability. Entertainment contributes to our values and ideals. What we see and feel impacts how we act. RespectAbility works with entertainment leaders to promote positive, accurate, diverse and inclusive media portrayals on TV and in film.

  • Almost all portrayals of people with disabilities are white, despite the fact that disability impacts all.
  • Furthermore, actors without disabilities play the majority of all characters with disabilities.

Opening the inclusion umbrella is the right thing to do as well as economically smart: The disability market is valued at more than $1 trillion.

Learn more:

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