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Summer Lab Program for Entertainment Professionals with Disabilities

Unprecedented Opportunity for Entertainment Professionals with Disabilities

Made possible with support by: Final Draft, The Harnisch Foundation, Murray/Reese Foundation, Pop Culture Collaborative, Sony Pictures Entertainment, The Walt Disney Company and more to be announced

2021 Virtual Summer Lab Dates: Tuesday, June 22 – Thursday, August 12, 2021
Summer Lab sessions will take place on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons (PT). Optional networking and workshopping opportunities will take place on Wednesday afternoons / evenings.

Meet the 2020 Alumni:

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

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

Great entertainment requires authentic stories and genuine representation of all people. Authentic stories require the creativity and talent of people with a variety of lived experiences. 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 directors, the casting executives, etc.

RespectAbility is thrilled to offer the third annual innovative Summer Lab series for emerging and mid-career level entertainment professionals. It is a 8-week, 24-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. This is not a program for actors.

The Summer Lab aims to help develop and elevate the talent pipeline of professionals with disabilities working behind-the-scenes in television and film, while introducing them to studio executives and other decision makers who will advise Lab Fellows on various aspects of the industry and their craft, and in turn, enabling studios and production companies to learn about the talents and benefits of hiring people with disabilities.

The Summer Lab will consist of multiple remote sessions via Zoom per week, including presentations, roundtables, and other workshops with high-level executives and talent from major studios, networks, and production companies. There also will be more informal sessions, during which time Summer Lab Fellows will get to know each other, expand their network and workshop their own projects. Summer Lab Fellows 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, as the Lab originated as in-person program in Los Angeles.

Specific dates and programming currently are being finalized, but you can view previous speakers by viewing past years’ programs on the Summer Lab 2020 and 2019 pages. Speakers from Bunim/Murray Productions, Sony Pictures Entertainment and The Walt Disney Company are confirmed for 2021. 

Summer Lab Fellows will be assigned to one of two tracks:

  • Emerging: Professionals with a minimum of internship or first job experience, aspiring to become writers, directors, cinematographers, editors, producers, animators and other production positions, with the goal of expanding their network and connecting them to opportunities at major studios, networks, organizations and production companies.
  • Mid-Career: Established Professionals with multiple years of experience and projects, with the goal of further expanding their network connecting them to additional opportunities.
Summer Lab participants seated around a table listening to a lecture

2019 Summer Lab alumni learning from Jonathan Murray

Our Summer Lab alumni currently are working at Netflix, Paramount Pictures, Showtime, in various divisions within The Walt Disney Company and more.

Priority Deadline is February 26, 2021 but applications will be accepted through March 26, 2021 as space allows. Interviews will be conducted with second-round applicants via phone and Zoom. Summer Lab Fellows will be notified of their acceptance by late-April.

RespectAbility will provide ASL interpreters and captioning for all educational and related networking events during Summer Lab program hours, and welcomes other accommodations requests. For questions pertaining to the Summer Lab, please contact Tatiana Lee at

This program is made possible with support by:

  • Platinum Sponsors: Murray/Reese Foundation, The Harnisch Foundation, Pop Culture Collaborative, Sony Pictures Entertainment and The Walt Disney Company
  • Gold Sponsors: A+E Networks and Final Draft
  • Silver Sponsors: NBCUniversal and ViacomCBS

Recipient of The Roddenberry Foundation Impact Award

Important Details for Summer Lab Applicants

  • Excellent communication and organizational skills are strongly preferred, and applicants 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 16 virtual sessions over eight weeks (June 22 – August 12, 2021), with an option to attend an additional 8 virtual networking and workshopping sessions.
  • Each session will take place in the afternoon or early evening on Tuesdays and Thursdays (PT) for approximately 2-4 hours. Optional networking and workshopping opportunities will take place on Wednesday afternoons/evenings.
  • Because of the virtual nature of the 2021 Summer Lab, applicants do not need to be based in the U.S. Timing of sessions will be optimized for late afternoon PT and evening ET.
  • 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.
  • Application materials will be evaluated by RespectAbility staff members as well as faculty advisors who are experts in each field. View the 2020 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. Vanni Le smiling headshot in front of a staircase
Lauren Appelbaum
Vice President, Communications
Lab Founder & Program Director
Tatiana Lee
Senior Associate, Entertainment Media
Vanni Le
Entertainment Outreach Program Manager
Lesley Hennen smiling headshot Nasreen Alkhateeb smiling headshot Leah Romond smiling headshot
Lesley Hennen
Entertainment and News Media Associate
Nasreen Alkhateeb
Senior Production Advisor
Cinematographer & Director
Leah Romond
Senior Production Advisor
Producer, Best Summer Ever

2021 Faculty Advisors 

April Caputi smiling headshot Ashley Eakin smiling headshot Danielle Pretsfelder Demchick smiling
April Caputi
Creative Associate, Freeform
Ashley Eakin
Danielle Pretsfelder Demchick
Director of Casting, Nickelodeon
black and white headshot of David Renaud Delbert Whetter smiling headshot Cheryl Bedford smiling headshot
David Renaud
Producer, The Good Doctor
Delbert Whetter
COO & Head of Business Affairs, Exodus Film Group
Lab Co-Founder & RespectAbility Board Member
Cheryl Bedford
Founder, Women of Color Unite
Fashen Cox smiling headshot Joey Travolta wearing a suit smiling in front of a banner with the Variety logo on it headshot of Jonathan Murray wearing a gray striped shirt and facing the camera color photo
Fanshen Cox
Head of Strategic Outreach, Pearl Street Films
Joey Travolta
Founder, Inclusion Films
Jonathan Murray
Founder and Executive Consultant, Bunim-Murray
RespectAbility Board Member
Marci Phillips smiling headshot Ruhi Bhalla smiling headshot Shoshannah Stern smiling in front of a sign for the College Television Awards
Marci Phillips
VP, Casting, ABC Entertainment

Ruhi Bhalla
Sr. Coordinator of Social Impact, MTV Entertainment Group

Shoshannah Stern
Writer and Creator, This Close
Sue Obeidi smiling wearing a black shirt in front of a white background Dr. Victor Santiago Pineda seated in wheelchair for headshot
Sue Obeidi
Director, Hollywood Bureau, Muslim Public Affairs Council
Victor Santiago Pineda
President, World Enabled and Film Producer
RespectAbility Board Member

View 2019 Faculty Advisors and Speakers: and 2020 Faculty Advisors and Speakers:

More Background Information

Just 3.5 percent of primetime scripted television characters have disabilities, compared to 25 percent of adults in the U.S. having a disability. 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.

Entertainment contributes to our values and ideals. What we see and feel impacts how we act. RespectAbility works with entertainment leaders to promote authentic, accurate, diverse and inclusive media portrayals on TV and in film.

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.

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