Creating a Guide to Hollywood Inclusivity: A Conversation with RespectAbility Pres. Jennifer Mizrahi
What brought you to forming RespectAbility?
Jennifer: There are a lot of amazing disability organizations including the independent living movement, and RespectAbility has really been built on the shoulders of giants who have accomplished so much. We felt there were some gaps we wanted to fill -- we wanted to be across all disabilities whether physical, sensory, mental health, learning, and so forth, and we wanted to focus on opportunity and how we maximize human potential for people with disabilities (PWD) in employment.
What role do you see that RespectAbility has taken in the national conversation surrounding disability activism, inclusion, and employment?
PWD should be seen by what we can do and not by what we can’t. There are many people with different pots of money who care about PWD having a better future, and we need to blend and braid our resources and talents and dreams so that we can achieve on behalf of the community and enable PWD to live their full and most independent lives.
RespectAbility released the Hollywood Disability Inclusion Toolkit, which seems to be the most comprehensive guide of its kind that exists. Have you seen conversations and structures surrounding disability within the entertainment industry shift since this release? What kind of feedback has there been?
If you give people a guide, it’s just not enough. The guide is the handbook that goes with our in-person trainings. There is still a long way to go, but this year there was a 50% improvement with the number of characters with a disability with regular roles in series television. A 50% increase is still terrible and we have a long way to go. Disability on screen has typically shown what we can’t do, and has typically been white straight men as if women and people of color don’t have disabilities just like anyone else. We’re very delighted to see the very positive reaction that Hollywood has given us to this work. Our organization is in its sixth year and the guide is a year old. We’ve been reaching out to Hollywood and opened an office in Los Angeles very recently where we have three professionals working with us.
What kind of opportunities does Respectability have in the Bay Area, or that people in the Bay Area could pursue?
Respectability is looking to find four young adults with disabilities who want to be the Ed Roberts and Judy Heuemanns of the future. They need to be college-educated - not necessarily with a degree - who want to go into advocacy, non-profit management, or communications. We will pay for them to fly to Washington DC, we will pay for lodging, and we will pay $15/hour for a nine week intensive training program with us at our national headquarters with a goal of getting them a job back in the Bay Area where they will be able to take the skills they got and the context they got in Washington to help lift up the entire disability community there from within.
This opportunity is ongoing. We do three cohorts a year of young leaders, and we have 169 graduates from the program so far who have gone on to great jobs - working with President Obama at the White House, working with Senator Schumer doing disability inclusion for the US Senate, people working at disability organizations across the country. They come from all over but the difference is we have a place-based funder who is willing to pay for travel, housing, and the hourly stipend. We don’t want it to be limited to people with financial means to go to Washington and train for free, we think it’s important for people with challenging finances to be in leadership because those are people who know our community best because so much of our community frankly live in poverty. The majority of children with disabilities in our country are people of color, and we need more POC with disabilities, and more members of the LGBTQ community with disabilities, to be front and center in leadership in the disability movement.