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Gallaudet University hosted the White House Lights! Camera! Access! 2.0: Disability & Media Summit at the Jordan Student Academic Center Multi-Purpose Room on December 12, 2016.

Due to a last-minute scheduling conflict, the location of the event was changed from the Old Executive Office Building, located next door to the White House, to Gallaudet University.

The summit, coordinated by the White House Office of Public Engagement and Tari Hartman Squire, CEO, EIN SOF Communications, served as a call to action for all aspiring media professionals with disabilities to respond to the 2016 Ruderman Family Foundation White Paper revealing that 95% of TV characters with disabilities are portrayed by non-disabled actors.

Gallaudet University has joined as partners in Lights! Camera! Access! 2.0 to increase employment of people with disabilities in front of and behind the camera, including improving disability portrayals across delivery platforms and enhancing accessible entertainment like captions and audio descriptions.

Our parters are:

• DisBeat
• Deaf Film Camp
• Inclusion Film Camp
• National Disability Mentoring Coalition
• National Technical Institute of the Deaf
• PolicyWorks
• SIGNmation
• NY Women in Film & Television
• City University of New York (CUNY)
• 48-Hour Disability Film Challenge
• Loreen Arbus Foundation
• EIN SOF Communication

“We are so pleased to be in this space today in part to show all of you what wonderful things can happen within inclusive higher education and for you all to be in this historic campus that has contributed so much to disability culture and disability rights since its founding,” said Maria Town, senior associate director, White House Office of Public Engagement. Town manages the Disability Community portfolio for the White House.

Gallaudet President Cordano welcomed the audience, sharing the story on how student leaders created two vlogs that updated the Gallaudet community during the infamous Snowzilla blizzard that struck the D.C. Metro area in January 2016. The storm caused a power outage to one-third of the campus, prompting Cordano to host 15 families at House One. She explained how with each vlog, the students completed what is normally a 2-3 day process in less than 24 hours, complete with captions.

“Bilingual communication ready to go,” said Cordano. “As I tell people, we need to really look at the young individuals who are going to be leading us in this age of digital communication and how communication can be enhanced here in this world.”

The summit featured two keynote speakers via internet video calling: RJ Mitte, the Breaking Bad actor recognized for his role as Flynn/Walter Jr., a character with cerebral palsy; and JD Michaels, executive vice president of Creative Engineering at BBDO, a worldwide advertising agency network.

Mitte, who has established a scholarship for young actors with disabilities, provided powerful perspective and support to the initiative to cast disabled actors to portray disabled roles, and encourage social acceptance of those with disabilities.

“People need to stop looking at disabilities as something to evolve from, instead of evolve with,” said Mitte.

Michaels echoed this sentiment, urging others to embrace their uniqueness, and to share themselves with the world, including on screen.

“Art is emotion that is rendered and communicated to others,” said Michaels. “Share your art — your experiences, perspectives, talents and passions — with the world.”

Before the keynotes, Anna Pakman (director of Digital Strategy, Empire State Development) moderated a panel of prominent speakers discussing “How to Make it in Media Industries”. Speakers included: Brad Jenkins, managing director and executive producer, Funny or Die DC; Scott Lewers, senior vice president, TLC Productions; Tyrone Giordano, community engagement strategist, Communication Service for the Deaf; and Roger Purcell, director of Customer and Competitive Intelligence, Conde Nast.

“This was a huge success attended by individuals from all over the country, from Florida to California, and New York City to Louisiana,” said Karen Cook, director, Gallaudet University Career Center.

Employers with various disabilities and representing different parts of the media industry were here to support over 30 students, including six students and alumni from Gallaudet, among others who benefited from the panel and networking sessions.

“We are thrilled to be a part of this team to help students launch their careers and in the process, help dispel myths about deaf people and those with other disabilities,” said Cook.

Networking opportunities and breakout sessions of resume review, speed interviews, and flash mentoring ensued, providing invaluable opportunities for the six Gallaudet students and alumni present: David “DT” Bruno, Franklin Jones, Bianca Mendoza, Tayla Newman, Harold Catron, Jr., ’05, and Wei Wang, ’07.

“Being disabled myself, I’ve always struggled to see representation not only in the media industry but behind the scenes,” said Bruno. “Coming to this summit proved to me that we are, indeed, pushing for change, and I was thrilled to meet aspiring professionals from other schools with similar goals to improve the quality of inclusive portrayals in media.”

After the summit, a screening of Deaf Film Camp, Inclusion Film Camp, 48-Hour Disability Film Challenge and ABC’s new comedy, Speechless, which follows a family of three kids, was held; the show features actor Micah Fowler, a teenager who in real life has cerebral palsy.

By Adham Talaat, ’14

Published December 14, 2016

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