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The 2021 Oscars featured audio description for the blind (spoken narration that describes onscreen visual elements) for the first time in the telecast’s history, while the in-person ceremony experience included a ramp to the stage and an ASL interpreter in the media room. Meanwhile, the Academy has received $1 million from the Ruderman Family Foundation to ensure accessibility at its upcoming museum as well as to support disability inclusion in its programming and educational initiatives. The year began with Sundance partnering with Easterseals to make the snowy film festival more accessible to attendees, including closed-captioning on every film, ASL interpreters at events and shuttle drivers trained to assist with wheelchairs.
RespectAbility’s annual summer lab, which recently added Final Draft as a multiyear sponsor, provides workshops, mentorship and networking opportunities for emerging and mid-career entertainment professionals who have gone on to work at such companies as Disney, Netflix, Paramount and Showtime. The Center for Cultural Power’s Disruptors Fellowship is a three-month program — that pays a $6,000 stipend — for rising TV writers of color who belong to one of three cohorts: transgender/nonbinary, undocumented (or formerly undocumented) and disabled. And the Ford and Mellon foundations’ $6 million Disability Futures initiative provides unrestricted $50,000 grants to artists, filmmakers and journalists with disabilities. (Crip Camp co-director Jim LeBrecht was named to the first cohort in October.)
Screenwriters Deborah Calla and Allen Rucker, who are co-CEOs of the Media Access Awards (now presented by Easterseals), have penned a best practices manual for staffing writers with disabilities, while RespectAbility’s Hollywood Disability Inclusion Toolkit addresses frequently asked questions about accessibility, etiquette, terminology and the law. The nonprofit also boasts a team of 20-plus entertainment media experts who have consulted on more than 200 movies and TV shows (including more than 160 projects so far in 2021) and conducted training for such companies as CAA, Disney, DreamWorks, Netflix and Sony.
Since 2019, The Black List has partnered with the WGA West’s Writers With Disabilities Committee, Easterseals and the Media Access Awards to curate The Disability List of the top unproduced screenplays that feature at least one lead character with a disability. Easterseals’ own Disability Film Challenge is a weekend-long short filmmaking sprint whose winners receive $1,500 grants from NBCUniversal, Oscar-qualifying festival screenings and industry meetings. And studios who sign Ruderman’s pledge to audition actors with disabilities (CBS, NBCU and Paramount so far have committed) can look to the diversity department at bicoastal agency KMR Talent, whose clients include Tony winner Ali Stroker, American Horror Story‘s Jamie Brewer and Atypical‘s Tal Anderson.
This story first appeared in the Aug. 4 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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