RespectAbility — the non-profit that seeks to combat stigmas for people with disabilities — has announced the participants for its fourth annual Lab for Entertainment Professionals with Disabilities.
The lab, now in its fourth year, aims to develop young people with disabilities, connecting them with executives and creatives working across film, television and streaming. Lab alumni currently are working at Disney, Netflix, Nickelodeon, Paramount Pictures, Showtime and more.
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After two years of virtual labs, the six-week program is returning with both in-person and virtual editions, the latter for those who find the in-person option inaccessible. Participants include people with physical, cognitive, sensory, mental health and other disabilities.
This year’s fellows, who will be participating in the in-person lab, are: Abigail Bruley, Ayla Harrison, Crystal Garcia, David Bornstein, Eden Hadad, Emily Timmerman, Erika Ellis, Jackie Todd, Jacqueline Gerdne, Jeremy Hsing, John McDonough, Lonzo Bentley, Monique Moreau, Morani Kornberg, Peter Lee, Roma Murphy, Scott Jones, Sheridan O’Donnell, Sofie Lebow and Vanessa Pegram. (Participants in the virtual lab will be run at a later date.)
“The entertainment lab is a unique program that merges our work in the entertainment industry with RespectAbility’s founding mission to create more opportunities for people with disabilities who desire to be employed,” said RespectAbility lab founder and director Lauren Appelbaum. “One purpose for this program is to continue building the talent pipeline of young professionals with disabilities looking to work behind the scenes. We do not want anyone to have an excuse that they could not find a disabled writer, animator, director or any other position.”
“All of these studios hosting lab fellows on their lots provides a level of comfort and familiarity for when our alumni return for job interviews,” said Delbert Whetter, who co-founded the Lab with Appelbaum. “Moreover, the importance of the interaction and information-sharing between influential Hollywood executives and decision-makers and these incredibly talented professionals with disabilities in an accessible setting cannot be overstated.”
Host companies include Bunim-Murray Productions, DreamWorks Animation, Endeavor, Lionsgate, Sony Pictures Entertainment and The Walt Disney Company, with additional speakers coming from Netflix, Nielsen, Warner Bros. Discovery and the WGA West.
“I got my start 10 years ago as an assistant, but RespectAbility gave me the opportunity to interview for my first staff writer job because they had direct connections, and I ended up landing the job,” said lab alumn Ashley Eakin. Fellow alum Shea Mirzai, added: “During the RespectAbility Lab, I found a community of likeminded people and allies all working toward the same goal – inclusion and representation for disabled people.”