Marlee Matlin, Paul Feig, Ramy Youssef & 34 More Sign Open Letter Advocating for Disabled Writers in Hollywood

L-R: Paul Feig, Lauren Ridloff, Marlee Matlin, Ramy Youssef
Gareth Cattermole/Arturo Holmes/Emma McIntyre/Theo Wargo/Getty Images

Disabled workers and disability activists in Hollywood are speaking out in support of expanded employment opportunities in the industry.

The Thursday, March 23 open letter, signed by stars such as Ali Stroker, Chris Cooper and Marianne Leone, Daniel Durant, Jason Katims, Krista Vernoff, Lauren Ridloff, Marlee Matlin, Paul Feig, Ramy Youssef, and Siân Heder, was created with the Inevitable Foundation to encourage the TV and film industry to hire disabled creatives in writing, producing, directing, and more positions, not just disability consultants.

The Inevitable Foundation is a non-profit “working to close the disability representation gap in film and television. Currently, disabled people make up over 20 percent of the U.S. population but represent only two percent of characters on screen and less than one percent of film and TV writers,” the org said in the Thursday press release. “By funding and mentoring mid-career disabled screenwriters, Inevitable Foundation is creating a world where disabled people are valued off-screen and accurately represented on-screen.”

The foundation’s flagship initiative is its Screenwriting Fellowship program, which “provides disabled screenwriters with a $40,000 grant and 12 months of bespoke mentorship to advance their careers and projects.” The Fellowship is open to anyone who identifies as disabled and there is no application fee.

The foundation also recently published a “Cost” of Accommodations Report, which “examines the real consequences for disabled talent when their accommodation needs go unmet and demystifies the true financial cost of accommodations by creating the first set of budget templates and accommodation benchmarks for the industry.”

The letter to the entertainment industry is part of the organization’s “multi-pronged initiative advocating for the prioritization of the hiring of disabled writers.” The co-signees are members of the industry who have a personal connection to, or who have been vocal about, disability representation, and accessibility.

Read the letter in its entirety below.

Hey Hollywood: Hire Disabled Writers, Not Just A Disability Consultant

In this open letter to the entertainment industry, Inevitable Foundation, which helps disabled screenwriters reach their full commercial and creative potential, releases a groundbreaking campaign to encourage the hiring of disabled creatives.

Hey Hollywood,

The growing number of disability-inclusive film and television projects in the past few years might lead one to think that the largest minority group in America is finally seeing itself represented on-screen.

But these on-screen gains have unfortunately not increased disability representation off-screen: The vast majority of films and television shows with disabled characters are still created, written, directed, and produced by people who do not identify as disabled. Authentic casting, a well-intended focus of the industry in recent years, is still not a replacement for having disabled talent in positions of power on a project. Despite making up more than 20% of the U.S. population, disabled writers represent only 0.15% of first-look and overall deals, 3% of upper-level television writers, and less than 1% of the Writers Guild of America. There are so few disabled directors in the Directors Guild of America that they don’t track the data.

One of the biggest reasons for the imbalance between on-screen and off-screen disability representation is that the industry has turned to disability consultants to advise on a range of disability related issues, characters and themes on projects. The goal of this solution is often well-intentioned: To bring people with expertise and lived experience to the table.

But the hiring of disability consultants is often done instead of—not in addition to—hiring disabled writers, directors and producers to lead these projects, which has significantly impeded the career advancement and earnings of disabled creatives. For example, a disability consultant who is offered $500 on a project to provide notes on multiple drafts of a script and to advise on various representation issues—an above-average rate for a disability consultant—would earn just 1% of the salary of a staff writer who is working in a 16-week writers room, according to the rates in the soon-to-expire WGA minimum basic agreement.

This situation has created a paradox: Disabled writers, directors, and actors are rarely hired to work on projects that feature disabled characters because studios and production companies have prioritized hiring disability consultants. At the same time, the industry often sees disabled creatives as only worth considering for projects that have disabled characters, and they’re rarely considered for projects that leverage their unique perspectives and life experience beyond their disability. This perpetual employment limbo leaves disabled creatives without agency over their own stories or careers.

But we can all be part of the solution by working together to unlock the vast creative potential of disabled writers, directors, actors and producers.

Today Inevitable Foundation is launching the Hire Disabled Writers, Not Just A Disability Consultant initiative, which offers disabled creatives and the industry at large equitable and innovative solutions to work together towards building creative power for disabled artists.

Solution: Hire Disabled Writers To support the hiring of disabled writers and directors, Inevitable’s Concierge service is a free, widely-used resource for creative executives, showrunners, and producers, which connects them with wonderful mid- and upper-level disabled writers for development and staffing.

In the last year, the Concierge has fielded close to 500 requests from more than 140 different executives and showrunners, helped writers staff on top-notch shows and set up projects at major studios, generated hundreds of thousands of dollars in earnings for disabled writers, and set up over 125 general meetings at leading studios, networks, streamers and production companies.

Solution: Transform Disability Consulting

In order to advance the careers and artistic visions of disabled creatives, Inevitable Foundation’s Disabled Consultant Futures Fund radically increases the leverage of disabled creatives who are asked to consult by providing them a back-up offer to confidently negotiate to be hired as writers, directors and actors—their actual desired roles. If they aren’t able to achieve their desired role, the Fund will buy back their time by paying them 150% of the first offer to fund their own creative pursuits.

Resources for disabled consultants include a Schedule of Minimums, Bill of Rights, Contract Template, and Negotiating Points to give these creatives more leverage over the type and quality of work they take on. For creative executives, showrunners, producers and inclusive content teams, additional resources include the Disability Consulting Factsheet, Disability Consulting Briefings and Concierge Briefings to support this much-needed reform while balancing business and creative demands.

Going Forward

As an organization and a group of leading disabled and allied writers, actors, showrunners and producers in Hollywood, we are committed to putting disabled creatives in positions of power by hiring disabled writers, directors and producers, not just disability consultants.

Will you join us?

Richie Siegel Marisa Torelli-Pedevska Co-Founders, Inevitable Foundation

With the support of:

Ali Stroker

Brandon Sonnier

Carol Barbee

Chris Cooper & Marianne Leone

Cooper Raif

Craig Thomas

Daniel Durant

David Renaud

David Shore

Debra J. Fisher

Edward Kitsis & Adam Horowitz

Jack Thorne

Jaclyn Moore

Jason Katims

Jason Orley

John Zinman

Jorge Gutierrez

Josh Feldman

Kay Oyegun

Krista Vernoff

Lake Bell

Lauren Ridloff

Liz Tigelaar

Marlee Matlin

Mickey Sumner

Millicent Simmonds

Paul Feig

Ramy Youssef

Robia Rashid

Ryan O’Connell

Scott Silveri

Shoshannah Stern

Siân Heder

Tanya Saracho

Timothy Omundson