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

2021 Lab 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

2022 Entertainment Lab Dates: June 6 – July 15, 2022
Location: Los Angeles (In-Person)
Fellows must provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination to participate or have a medical reason for why they cannot be vaccinated. 

Applications will open in January 2022. Stay tuned for an announcement of a virtual option later in the year as well.

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 fourth annual innovative Entertainment Lab series for emerging and mid-career level entertainment professionals is a 6-week, 12-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 Entertainment 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 2022 Entertainment Lab will return to being in-person, but some elements may become remote sessions via Zoom, 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  Lab Fellows will get to know each other, expand their network and workshop their own projects. 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 Entertainment Lab 2021, 2020 and 2019 pages. 

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

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 Lab program hours, and welcomes other accommodations requests. For questions pertaining to the Summer Lab, please contact Vanni Le at

Important Details for 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 12 sessions over six weeks (June 6 – July 15, 2022).
  • Each session will take place in the afternoon or early evening on weekdays for approximately 5 hours.
  • The value of this 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.
  • The application will be posted in January 2022. Your application materials will be evaluated by RespectAbility staff members as well as faculty advisors who are experts in each field. View the 2021 Faculty Advisors:

The 2021 Lab was 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

Entertainment 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 (2022 Faculty Advisors To Be Announced)

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 2021 Faculty Advisors and Speakers:,

2020 Faculty Advisors and Speakers:, and 2019 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.