Summer Lab for Entertainment Professionals with Disabilities

Headshots of 30 participants in RespectAbility's 2021 Summer Lab

2021 RespectAbility Lab Participants

Unprecedented Opportunity for Entertainment Professionals with Disabilities

Made possible with support by: Final Draft, The Harnisch Foundation, Murray/Reese Foundation, NBCUniversal, Netflix, Pop Culture Collaborative, Sony Pictures Entertainment, ViacomCBS and The Walt Disney Company

Meet the 2021 Participants : https://www.respectability.org/respectability-la-lab/2021-team

View additional opportunity: WarnerMedia Access Early Career Bootcamp
Application Deadline: August 17

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’s third annual innovative Summer Lab series for emerging and mid-career level entertainment professionals is a 8-week, 24-session 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 consists 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 are 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 are invited to showcase their materials with each other, including script readings and showing clips of materials produced. 

View previous speakers by viewing past years’ programs on the Summer Lab 2020 and 2019 pages. 

Summer Lab Fellows are 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.

RespectAbility provides 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 Vanni Le at Lab@RespectAbility.org.

This program is made possible with support by:

  • Platinum Sponsors: Murray/Reese Foundation, The Harnisch Foundation, Netflix, 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

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
Writer/Director
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

Confirmed Speakers

  • *Shireen Alihaji, Documentary Filmmaker and The Muslim List Honoree (June 29)
  • *Nasreen Alkhateeb, Award-Winning Cinematographer (June 22 and July 10)
  • *Kiah Amara, Producer (July 20)
  • DMA Anderson, VP, Creative Talent Development & Inclusion, Disney General Entertainment Content (July 6)
  • Lauren Appelbaum, RespectAbility (June 22 and July 20)
  • Skylar Apter, Senior Writer / Producer and Supervisor, Nickelodeon Digital Studios (August 3)
  • Hannah Baalbaki, Coordinator, East Coast Page Program, NBCUniversal (August 10)
  • Daylee Baker, Manager, Social Impact, MTV Entertainment Group (August 3)
  • Robert Baltazar, Senior Director, Creative Talent and Content for Film TV and Streaming, NBCUniversal (August 10)
  • Katherine Beattie, NCIS: New Orleans (July 1)
  • Cheryl Bedford, Founder, Women of Color Unite (June 22)
  • Jens Bishop, Vice President of Multimedia, Remedy Health Media (July 10)
  • Carol Bonilla, Specialist, Global Talent Acquisition Programs, Sony Pictures Entertainment (July 8)
  • Love Boussiquot, Executive Assistant, Current Series, Disney Television Animation (August 5)
  • Krissy Cababa, Pixar Animations Studios (July 20)
  • Christine Cadena, VP, Enterprise Diversity & Inclusion , The Walt Disney Company (July 20)
  • Joel Camarena, Senior Manager, Global Talent Acquisition Programs, Sony Pictures Entertainment (July 8 and July 22)
  • Sam Campos, Manager, Drama Development, ABC Entertainment (August 5)
  • Marc Cantone, Executive Producer, Nickelodeon Digital Studios – Preschool (August 3)
  • Brenda Castillo, Director, Production, Disney Branded Television (August 5)
  • *April Caputi, Disney General Entertainment Content (June 22 and July 20)
  • Madeline Chais, Manager of Series, 20th Century Television Studios (August 5)
  • Fanshen Cox, Head of Strategic Outreach, Pearl Street Films (July 27)
  • Myiea Coy, Vice President of Development, Bunim/Murray Productions (July 29)
  • Whitney Davis, Founder, Anthony Hemingway Productions (June 24)
  • Manon De Reeper, Producer and Start With 8 Program Director (July 27)
  • Danielle Pretsfelder Demchick, Director, Talent and Casting, Nickelodeon (August 3)
  • Michael Dougherty, Screenwriter and The Disability List Honoree (June 29)
  • *Ashley Eakin, Writer/Director (June 22 and July 1)
  • *Marissa Erickson, PA on Disney Launchpad Shorts (June 22)
  • Amber Espinosa-Jones, Sundance Institute (June 29)
  • Holly Esposito, Coordinator, Production, Disney Branded Television (August 5)
  • Naomi Funabashi, Senior Vice President, Film and TV, Hillman Grad Productions (July 10)
  • Nicole Go, Senior Manager of Diversity & Inclusion, Staff Me Up (July 10)
  • Micaela Asercion Gomex, Manager, West Coast Page Program, NBCUniversal (August 10)
  • Eileen Grubba, Actress and Producer (July 6)
  • Eliza Hajek, SAG Indie (August 11)
  • Elaine Hall, Founder, The Miracle Project (June 23)
  • Megan Halpern, The Black List (June 29)
  • Elizabeth Hay, Casting Associate, Nickelodeon (August 3)
  • Meighan Harris, Director, Production, ABC Signature (August 5)
  • *Lesley Hennen, RespectAbility (July 1)
  • *Alex Howard, Producer and Audio Description Advocate (August 3)
  • AJ Jenkins, Coordinator, Drama Development, 20th Television (August 5)
  • Erin Jordan, Director, Corporate Social Responsibility, Paramount Pictures (August 3)
  • Janie Kahan, Story and Editorial Coordinator, DreamWorks Animation (August 10)
  • Julie Kirkwood, Director of Photography on Destroyer and Blackcoat’s Daughter (July 10)
  • Stacey Kleiger, Vice President of Production, The Documentary Group (July 10)
  • Matan Koch, General Counsel, RespectAbility (July 8)
  • Emerlynn Lampitoc, Vice President of Inclusion, Talent and Content for Film, TV and Streaming, NBCUniversal (August 10)
  • Jacob Lane, Vice President of Post Creative, Bunim/Murray Productions (July 29)
  • Vanni Le, RespectAbility (June 24 and July 8)
  • Tatiana Lee, RespectAbility (July 6)
  • Allison Leffingwell, Director of Inclusion, Talent and Content, NBCUniversal (August 10)
  • Stacie Lindenbaum, Training Intern, DreamWorks Animation (August 10)
  • Joyce Liu-Countryman, Independent Producer and DEI Facilitator (July 28 and August 4)
  • Dana Lundblad, Executive Assistant, Current Series, Disney Branded Television (August 5)
  • Andrew Machles, Vice President, Public Affairs, Nickelodeon (August 3)
  • Chelsea Martinez, HR Specialist, Disney Streaming Services (July 8)
  • Rebecca Martinez, Talent Acquisition Recruiter, ViacomCBS (July 8)
  • Jonna McLaughlin, Vice President of Production, The Documentary Group (July 10)
  • Leah Meyerhoff, Film Fatales (August 12)
  • Erica Milsom, Pixar Animation Studios (July 20)
  • *Shea Mirzai, Screenwriter and The Black List Honoree (June 29)
  • Jonathan Murray, Founder and Executive Consultant, Bunim/Murray Productions (July 29)
  • *Marc Muzynski, Writer, Showtime’s Dexter (August 12)
  • Frank Ochoa, Executive Director of Comedy Development, Sony Pictures Television (July 22)
  • Brian Pacheco, Manager, Creative Talent Development & Inclusion, Disney General Entertainment Content (July 6 and July 20)
  • Lisa Peters, Physical Production – Documentary Features, Shorts and Limited Series, Netflix (July 10)
  • *Andrew Pilkington, Best Summer Ever (June 29)
  • Victor Santiago Pineda, President, World Enabled and Film Producer (August 12)
  • Rishi Rajani, President of Film and TV, Hillman Grad Productions (July 10)
  • Elyse Regulinski, Manager, Current Series, Disney Television Animation (August 5)
  • *Andrew Reid, Writer/Director (June 22 and 29)
  • David Renaud, The Good Doctor (July 1)
  • Amanda Richards, Executive Director, Talent and Casting, Sony Pictures Television (July 22)
  • *Ava Rigelhaupt, Nickelodeon (June 22)
  • Adam Robinson, VP, Corporate Social Responsibility, ViacomCBS (August 3)
  • Diana Romero, CW’s 4400 (July 1)
  • *Leah Romond, Best Summer Ever (June 29 and July 8)
  • Breanna Ross, Page, NBCUniversal (August 10)
  • Alexandria Seidel, Director of People and Culture, Bunim/Murray Productions (July 29)
  • Matthew Sinsheimer, Director, Public Relations, Showtime (August 3)
  • Keleigh Slaight, Manager of Physical Production, Sony Pictures Television (July 22)
  • Megan Sleeper, Senior Vice President of Casting, Bunim/Murray Productions (July 29)
  • Michele Spitz, Professional Voiceover Artist and Media Accessibility Consultant, Woman of Her Word (August 3)
  • Zachary Stein, Attorney, Granderson Des Rochers LLP (July 15)
  • Anita Surendran, Partner, Granderson Des Rochers LLP (July 15)
  • Joey Travolta, Inclusion Films (June 24)
  • Nathan Varni, Executive Director of Current Programming, ABC Entertainment Group (August 5)
  • Domenic Vermeulen, Production HR Coordinator, Lionsgate/STARZ (July 8)
  • Steve Way, Writer, Comedian and Actor (July 1)
  • Delbert Whetter,  Chief Operating Officer & Head of Business Affairs, Exodus Film Group (June 24 and July 15)
  • Michelle Wolf, Founding Executive Director, Jewish Los Angeles Special Needs Trust (July 22)
  • Maddy Yan Ullman, WarnerMedia (July 1)

* RespectAbility Lab alum

View 2019 Faculty Advisors and Speakers: www.respectability.org/respectability-la-lab-2019 and 2020 Faculty Advisors and Speakers: www.respectability.org/respectability-la-lab-2020.

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.