RespectAbility Unveils Virtual Entertainment Lab Fellows

RespectAbility, the non-profit that seeks to combat stigmas for people with disabilities through advocacy, has announced the participants for the virtual edition of its Lab for Entertainment Professionals with Disabilities.

RespectAbility hosted virtual labs during the COVID-19 pandemic and has continued the effort, along with an in-person lab, as a digital format may be better suited for some fellows.

“As the entertainment industry returns much of its programming to in-person, it is important to remember how being virtual can be inclusive of so many more individuals,” said lab co-founder and director Lauren Appelbaum, svp of communications and entertainment & news media at RespectAbility. “That is why it is so important that so many of our studio sponsors are excited to support the disabled creatives taking part in both our in-person and virtual cohorts, ensuring equal access for folks who cannot return to an in-person environment but are able to fully participate in a virtual way.”

The 2022 Lab Fellows are Aisha Almada, Alys Murray, Angel Williams, Ariel Baska, Cameron Mitchell, Charo Mato, Chris & Charlie Frazier, Cypher, Graham Kent, Heather Taylor, Isabella Vargas, Kimberly Manky, Matt Opatrny, Maureen McEly, Nina Mahesh, Ophira Calof, Samuel Krauss, Sarah Fischer and Stephanie Dower.

Entertainment companies participating in the lab include Film Independent, Final Draft, NBCUniversal, Sony Pictures Entertainment, The Walt Disney Company, Warner Bros. Discovery and the Writers Guild of America West.

“One of the goals of the Lab is to ensure that no one can ever say they could not find a disabled writer, director, producer, or creative professional. With robust alumni involvement, we can ensure that there is an endless supply of skilled and talented disabled professionals entering the talent pipeline in Hollywood who will then turn around to work with us to help others achieve the same success,” said Delbert Whetter, who co-founded the lab with Appelbaum.

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Lab alumni work across the industry at companies that include DreamWorks Animation, Netflix, Nickelodeon, Paramount Sony, and Disney, as well as in a variety of writers’ rooms. “I think the most amazing thing about the lab has been finally having the network to recommend disabled writers when I get the chance,” said Roma Murphy, a 2022 lab participant who is currently working as script coordinator at DreamWorks Animation. “If I’m in a meeting and a producer says, ‘We really want to work with more disabled people,’ I have a group of 20 talented people I can throw at them.”

Added fellow lab alumni Jacqueline Gerdne: “I have RespectAbility to thank for giving me a seat at the table and making me feel seen, heard, and understood in ways that I have never experienced before.”