A new report from The Inevitable Foundation reveals the financial costs of disability-based accommodations for Hollywood productions alongside the personal toll workplace inaccessibility can have on talent with disabilities.
The largest known compilation of qualitative and quantitative data about the state of accommodations in film and TV, the “‘Cost’ of Accommodations Report features line budget research outlining the actual (not presumed) financial impact accommodations can have on TV and film budgets of various sizes as well as a survey of disabled talent on their experiences requesting accommodations across more than 600 different TV and film projects.
That work, which was funded through a Nielsen Foundation grant, is included alongside a series of ready-to-use tools like an accommodations calculator, Excel-based budget templates, a regularly updated database of existing accommodations, and a list of steps productions can take to create more equitable work environments.
This first attempt by the foundation to offer a comprehensive look at disability accommodations is aimed at helping executive and creative industry leaders understand the current state of accommodations support, identify the resources necessary to make their productions more equitable, and relieve their anxieties around the budgetary impact of accommodations on television and film productions.
“The report — including the calls to action — encourages people to listen to disabled people,” Inevitable Foundation president and co-founder Richie Siegel tells The Hollywood Reporter. “They will tell you what they need. They’re not trying to spend a bunch of money, either. They just want to be able to do their job and be successful.”
Created with the assistance of film and television accountants, the report’s budget research offers an unprecedented look at the financial impact accommodations are likely to have on writers rooms, on sets and across the total cost of a given television series. It also explores how the percentage of disabled people working on a project can impact its budget.
“There’s so much compromising happening with disabled talent, and I think one thing we saw was a lot of minimizing of one’s needs in the research. But in some way, you have the right to say, ‘I need this thing that costs a little bit of money,'” Siegel says. “And so a lot of what we try to do from the financial side of this is show, on a relative basis, how little this really is in the grand scheme.”
Based on hypothetical schedules for writers rooms and on-set productions working out of L.A. for 24 and 20 weeks, respectively, the study finds that, against the budgets of most professional film and television productions, disability accommodation “costs little to nothing” — generally, a less than 3 percent increase in the project budget across bigger and smaller productions. According to the foundation’s research, it’s a cost that can be lower than what is currently spent on COVID protocols, which can add anywhere from 5 percent to 20 percent to a project’s budget.
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Writers Room Budgets With Accommodations Increases
Production / Crew Budgets With Accommodations Increases
Total Series Budgets With Accommodations Increases
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The research determined that, on average, accommodating a single disabled writer on a project increased the writers room budget by only 0.43 percent for a mid-budget series with an operating budget of $2.9 million. And providing accommodations to a disabled crewmember increased the production budget on a fully union, 10-episode television series with a $47 million production budget by just 0.033 percent.
Using the benchmark of 25 percent representation of disability talent (reflective of a production that mirrors the more than 20 percent of Americans living with disabilities), the Inevitable Foundation's calculations determined that a show's budget only increased by 1.61 percent for a $5 million writers room and by 3.23 percent for a $5 million production budget. And while a writers room with a $500,000 budget would see one of the most significant increases, at 14.03 percent, a $125 million production with a 25 percent disabled crew would still only see an increase in the production budget of 0.13 percent. (The production budget often accounts for more than 75 percent of the overall cost of the series, according to the study.)
Overall, accommodating a 25 percent disabled writing staff and production crew increases the total series budget by only 0.5 percent.
Meanwhile, the survey of low-, mid-, and upper-level talent found that required supports are different, dynamic and can depend on the project, with 29 non-exhaustive accommodations accounted for. (For the purpose of the survey, low-level talent included story editors, writers employed on films without credit, TV extras and featured actors. Mid-level roles included producers, WGA "screenplay by" or "story by "credits" on lower- and mid-budget projects, recurring TV and supporting film actors; upper-level talent spanned executive producers, showrunners, "written by" credits on mid- to large-budget projects, series regulars and film leads.)
Among those accommodations were dedicated office space and a personal assistant for neurodiverse crewmembers; custom lunch options or a dedicated van for crewmembers with chronic illnesses; a dedicated monitor and keyboard and gaffer tape floor markings for blind or low-vision crew; a stool for the restroom or apple boxes for a crewmember who has dwarfism; ASL interpreters and additional lights for a well-lit area to enable easy lipreading for Deaf and hard-of-hearing crewmembers; and transportation, facility and related services for physically disabled talent.
With these various accommodations, productions would still only see budget increases from as small as 0.006 percent to as large as 0.082 percent, on average — and depending on the individual's needs and disability — for a high-budget, one-hour, 10-episode series running for 20 weeks in Los Angeles, assuming both 100 crewmembers and a fully union show.
"I think a lot of what we try to encourage in the report is that different people have different needs, and we need to accept that. If we talk about other talent that is non-disabled, they also have different needs, and you're not going to treat one like the other," Siegel says about the decision to address specific accommodations' costs based on disability. "It's an important moment to zoom out and say, with the absolute breadth of the disability community — the experiences and the needs — that accommodations are vast."
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Production Budget Costs by Accommodation and Disability
Writers Room Costs by Accommodation and Disability
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While costs have a relatively low impact on room and production budgets, the reported survey reveals an array of existing barriers beyond budgets that can hold back the careers of disabled talent.
Thirty-five industry members currently "working or seeking work" in TV and film across various levels within the industry hierarchy — 1.46 percent of the estimated market for disabled talent (2,400) and 5 percent of disabled people active in TV and film (690) — were polled for the survey, a small respondent pool, Siegel tells THR, due to several challenges around tracking disabled talent.
That includes a limited number of currently working talent due to disability-related employment barriers; gaps in publicly available data to identify candidates, including a lack of disability diversity tracking from unions, which the report says have "access to the largest data sets of hiring and employment information"; and a pool of respondents who did not always feel safe being included in the report over the fear of losing work, even with anonymization.
But of those 35 who declared they requested accommodations across 398 projects (out of 617 worked on), only 70 percent of those asks were met, on average. Some industry members even reported having 0 percent of their accommodations addressed — but with anything less than 100 percent of a request fulfilled, a disabled talent's ability to work successfully and maintain complete workplace safety can be impacted.
Among the requests that were met, upper-level talent had their accommodations addressed around 78 percent of the time, versus low-level talent, who only saw a 68 percent fulfillment average.
58% of the time lower-level talent requests accommodations, compared to mid-level talent and upper-level talent doing so 86% and 89% of the time, on average, respectively. - The Inevitable Foundation's "Cost" of Accommodations Report 2022
Ultimately, disabled talent with more direct lines to those in positions of power are much more likely to have their needs met. "We're talking about a fully freelance workforce that every new job, they go back, they have to reset. Every new job, they have to find the point of contact — the champion, the advocate — that has to get them the thing they need," Siegel says.
This, he adds, feeds into an existing chicken-or-egg dynamic for productions and rooms, which haven't standardized the support of accommodations yet because those that might aren't yet in positions to do so. "There are a lot more people at the lower level than the upper level, but at the same time, if you look at the data, that's where people are most afraid to ask for what they need," Inevitable Foundation co-founder Marisa Torelli-Pedevska says. "So there's a massive clog in the pipeline of disabled talent if everyone who's at the bottom is the people who are not able to get what they need to get to the next level."
The survey results also uncovered complications in the request pipeline as it currently exists. Respondents reported that asking for accommodations with “soft” costs could be harder than asking for accommodations with "hard" costs requiring financial resources. "It's easier maybe to ask for more money or a ramp than, 'Can I be on Zoom?' or 'Can I have more time off of work?'" Torelli-Pedevska tells THR. "That's more change to someone else's overall process than it is a tangible thing that I could give you."
But those "hard" costs can also be passed along to the talent themselves, with deaf and hard-of-hearing respondents sharing they have often been forced to foot the bill for their interpreters or had the cost of their interpreters taken out of their quote. Other respondents said they faced discrimination, bullying or had their accommodations met either "begrudgingly" or inadequately.
30% of disabled talent have had to pay out-of-pocket for their accommodations. These post-tax, post-representation-commission expenses are a double hit to disabled talents' income. - The Inevitable Foundation's "Cost of Accommodations Report" 2022
As a result, some talent have been hesitant to raise accommodations issues before securing their jobs, "fearing earlier disclosure might jeopardize their candidacy." Others said they'd decline to ask for accommodations during contract negotiations or even after starting the position to hold on to their work.
And when accommodations are agreed to, it can be tricky to acquire some of them due to limited resources. In the case of ADA-accessible Star Wagons, only three are available in the entire country at any given time, Siegel told THR. Those responsible for obtaining the requested accommodations may also fail to vet those hired to provide the service properly.
"There is a story in the report about a deaf writer who said she needed an interpreter, and someone in the production office said, 'Great, we'll find someone for you,'" Siegel recalls. "They found these ASL people who learned it on YouTube who wanted to be in the project and showed up wanting to act, not to interpret. So technically, it was available, but available is very different than sufficient."
"I think a lot of this comes down to, logistically, they don't even know what to do," he adds.
The hope, Inevitable's co-founders say, is that even with the limited survey response, both the documented experiences and the budgeting tools can encourage the industry to rethink how it views accommodations, with a clearer understanding of their necessity.
"One could say that the private jet for the A-list actor is an accommodation like a wheelchair user needing a ramp on set. There's tons of built-in bias and precedent that would tell many people that those are totally different things — that an A-list actor has earned the right to that accommodation and the lower-level talent has not earned the right to their thing because they're not driving the box office," Siegel says. "But I think it's beneficial over time for the industry to start to look at things people need as not necessarily defined by your level, how 'needy' you are or whether you have earned this thing, but what do you need to be successful."
Adds Siegel, "I think you can say an A-list actor can get the private jet, and this person could get a ramp on set. Both of those things can coexist, and one of them is way cheaper than the other."