Statements & Press Releases

Statements & Press Releases

Statements Press Release

Our Partnership with Yale School of Drama to Advance Disability Inclusion in Entertainment

January 18, 2019

The new partnership is the first collaboration with a drama school to enable actors with a disability to pursue their dreams

Boston, MA — The Ruderman Family Foundation — international leaders in advocating for the full inclusion of people with disabilities into society — today announced a partnership with Yale School of Drama to support training for actors with disabilities. Jessy Yates, who began her first of three years of training at Yale this fall, is the first recipient of the annual $50,000 tuition scholarship and a living stipend. Yates is an actor, performance artist, and comedian with Cerebral Palsy, who got her start in community theaters and the classical music scene of her hometown, Cleveland, Ohio, before training at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. The partnership is the first collaboration with a drama school to enable actors with a disability to pursue their dreams.

The Ruderman Family Foundation has been at the forefront in advocating for greater representation and inclusion of people with disabilities in the TV & Film industry. Last year, the Foundation launched its TV Challenge, a call to pilot season creators to audition and cast more people with disabilities. The challenge was built upon the widely-covered Ruderman White Paper on the Employment of Actors with Disabilities, a study that found an astonishing 95% of top show characters with disabilities on TV are played by non-disabled actors. As a result of this work, the Foundation was honored with the Disability Awareness Awards from the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. This new partnership is the first collaboration with a drama school to enable actors with a disability to pursue their dreams.

“Yale School of Drama’s demonstrated commitment to creating an inclusive culture enhances its established place at the forefront of graduate theater training in the United States,” said Jay Ruderman, President of the Ruderman Family Foundation. “We look forward to working with our new colleagues at Yale to bring greater national attention to the topics of accessibility and inclusion in film, television, and theater.”

Last Wednesday, January 9, the Ruderman Family Foundation and the Yale School of Drama hosted the Accessing Artistry Convening in New York to advance the inclusion of students with disabilities in the leading theater schools.  Participants represented the Yale School of Drama, Brown University, The Juilliard School, The New School, New York University, University of California San Diego, City College of New York, and Columbia University.

In addition, the Foundation and Yale will co-host a convening in Los Angeles in May 2019 to advance disability inclusion in the entertainment sector. Over the past year, the Foundation teamed up with Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson to advocate for more inclusive practices in the industry, and have previously spoken out against a number of misrepresented castings.

“We are enormously grateful to the Ruderman Family Foundation for their generous gift to support actor training at Yale School of Drama,” said James Bundy, Dean of the School and Artistic Director of Yale Repertory Theatre. “This investment­­ is only the latest example of the Foundation’s tireless dedication to increasing representation of artists with disabilities on stage and on screen, and we are delighted to partner with them to raise the national standards of inclusive practice in the field.”


Yates most recently appeared on the hit ABC sitcom Speechless and has performed at such notable venues as BAM, The Public Theater, Queens Theatre, Ensemble Studio Theatre, NJPAC, Florida Studio Theatre, Williamstown Theatre Festival, and The Kennedy Center. Her work, often using the medium of burlesque, is a satirical take on society’s view of disability. Her devised original work, You’re Going to Hell If You Laugh, combines clown and burlesque to shed light on infantilizing stigmas that accompany moving through the world in a visibly disabled body. In addition, she has also served on the NYC Mayor’s Office of People with Disabilities Youth Council and is an original member of Disability/Arts NYC Taskforce, a group that advocates for the right of disabled artists to have access to cultural resources throughout the city.

“For years, I did not think there was a place for people with visibly disabled bodies as performers and creators, and I discounted myself from the profession,” said Yates. “The training necessary for sustained careers in the arts is often not accessible to the disabled community. I am deeply thankful for the Ruderman Family Foundation support of my own training as an artist as well as for their unwavering dedication to disability representation throughout media.”

About Yale School of Drama

Founded in 1924, Yale School of Drama is the only graduate-level professional conservatory in the English-speaking world to offer training in every theatrical discipline: acting, design (sets, costumes, lights, projection, and sound), directing, dramaturgy and dramatic criticism, playwriting, stage management, technical design and production, and theater management. The School is associated with Yale Repertory Theatre in a relationship analogous to that of a medical school and a teaching hospital. Together, Yale School of Drama and Yale Repertory Theatre train and advance leaders to raise the standards of global professional practice, pursuing excellence in art to promote wonder, empathy, and understanding in the world.


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