RespectAbility— the nonprofit organization that seeks to combat stigmas for people with disabilities— has set a Sundance Film Festival conversation program with its Accessibility and Inclusion Lab.

The five conversations series, running Jan. 29 to Feb. 1, will focus on the intersection of filmmaking and disability-related subjects and will include Troy Kotsur, Cheryl Bedford, Ashley Eakin and CJ Jones as panelists, among others. Each of the events will include live captions, as well as ASL interpreters.

RespectAbility’s Lauren Appelbaum, who leads the nonprofit’s work in the entertainment industry, said, “We know that most filmmakers do not intentionally exclude people with disabilities — whether we are talking about directors, producers, actors or audience members. Our conversations, therefore, aim to create a bridge, showcasing how easy it can be to welcome disabled writers and crew, which then leads to more inclusive storylines.”

USC’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative found that only 1.6 percent of all speaking characters in the top 100 grossing films of 2018 had a disability, with disabled persons making up 25 percent of the U.S. population. This year’s festival lineup includes several titles that feature disability in the plot, including day one screening CODA, as well as Amy Tan, 4 Feet High, Forever, and Wiggle Room.

See RespectAbility’s Sundance speaker series below and find more information here.

The Accessibility of Filmmaking  In collaboration with Film Independent, the panel will be moderated by RespectAbility’s Tatiana Lee, covering accessibility touch points throughout the entire filmmaking process, from hiring and casting disabled talent, making film sets accessible and ensuring that the film itself is accessible. Panelists include Shireen Alihaji (Blue Veil Films), Nasreen Alkhateeb (All Media Storytelling), Andrew Pilkington (Best Summer Ever), Leah Romond (Best Summer Ever), Joey Travolta (Inclusion Films) and Jevon Whetter (Flash Before the Bang).

Conversations Through the Lens: A 360 View of Disability on Set In collaboration with Film Independent, will feature award-winning directors Nasreen Alkhateeb and Andrew Reid, who both acquired disabilities as young adults and have first-hand experience in navigating on-set life with a disability, will share their experiences on- and off-set. Learn from Alice Austen, producer of Give Me Liberty, about what it takes to run a set that welcomes and ensures universal design for crew members with disabilities.

“Bridging the Gap” – Media Accessibility & Audio Description Michele Spitz (Woman of Her Word) will moderate the panel about the impact, creative power, and reach of audio description accessibility assets being included as part of the film deliverables. Panelists include Ashley Eakin (Writer/Director, Single), Alice Elliott (Academy Award Nominated Documentary Director), Liz Gutman (Head Writer, Audio Description at International Digital Center), Alexander Howard (Audio Description Advocate), Allyson Johnson (Professional Voice Actor) and Justin Smith (Manager, Post Production, IFC Films/AMC Networks).

The Nuts & Bolts of Producing Deaf Content & Working with Deaf Talent will be hosted by Delbert Whetter, who is deaf and the COO of Exodus Film Group, as well as a board member for RespectAbility.  Moderated by Jevon Whetter (Flash Before the Bang), panelists CJ Jones (Actor, Avatar 2, This Close, Baby Driver), Troy Kotsur (Actor, CODAFlash Before the Bang) and Anne Tomasetti (ASL Dialogue Coach, CODA) will discuss producing authentic deaf content and working with deaf talent.


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