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Online toolkit aims to shake up Hollywood’s diversity issues

A free online resource has been launched to help the film and entertainment industries hire more people with disabilities.

Created by non-profit organisation RespectAbility, the Hollywood Disability Inclusion Toolkit features information on specific disabilities, details about apps that can benefit users different conditions, a documentary on ‘the evolution of disability in entertainment’, best practice examples of disability represented in TV and film, and links to organisations that can help with hiring people with disabilities.

Lauren Appelbaum, one of the toolkit’s authors and RespectAbility’s Communications Director, told e-Access Bulletin that people with disabilities had “consistently been overlooked” in Hollywood, despite consumers with disabilities representing a $1 billion segment of the market.

Appelbaum explained that, as well as helping to shape a more diverse entertainment industry, the toolkit aims to improve how people with disabilities are portrayed in film: “Storytellers often make glaring, yet easy to avoid, errors when covering our community,” she said. “A judge can be in a wheelchair, a barista can have Down’s syndrome and a teacher can have one arm – all without the focus being on the fact they have a disability. TV and film will be much more authentic when every crowd shot includes people with visible disabilities.”

The hope is that the toolkit will create wider hiring of people with disabilities throughout the entertainment industry, both on-screen and behind the scenes. “People with disabilities need to be in the writers’ room, behind the cameras and on set as actors in the same proportions that exist in life,” Appelbaum said.

The guide also features advice on using appropriate terminology and ‘etiquette’ when working with people with disabilities, as well as links to advocacy organisations (such as the National Arts & Disability Center) and specialist performance groups, such as the National Theatre of the Deaf, Actors for Autism and a Facebook page building a database of trained actors with disabilities looking for work.

Feedback on the toolkit so far has been “really positive,” Appelbaum said, with many people from the entertainment industry sharing the resource over social media: “I have received calls and emails from production companies asking for more information and opportunities to collaborate. The most common request is to review a script to ensure they are using the correct lexicon.”

Additional resources will continue to be added to the toolkit in future.

Read the Hollywood Disability Inclusion Toolkit in full at the RespectAbility website.


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