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Reality TV Producer Jonathan Murray Pledges $1.1 Million for Workers With Disabilities

Jonathan Murray, Megan Bomgaars, Terra Jole
Michael Buckner/Variety/Shutters

Reality TV producer Jonathan Murray pledged $1.1 million to the organization RespectAbility, a group that offers behind-the-camera training to people with disabilities. A portion of his donation will help fund the org’s summer lab program.

Murry and his partner Harvey Reese made the announcement at an event held in their home on Wednesday. RespectAbility president Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi praised the two men and their Murray-Reese Foundation as “the glue for our Hollywood operation.”

She also outlined RespectAbility’s three goals: To fight the stigma of disability by promoting authentic and accurate portrayals in the media; to influence public policy, especially in the areas of education, jobs civic engagement and access; and to promote authentic talent, while creating a pipeline for people with disabilities to get more opportunities.

Lauren Appelbaum, VP of communications for RespectAbility, said the upcoming summer lab will help people with disabilities gain access to studios, networks and production companies. Last year’s work saw five participants land jobs.

Murray, a RespectAbility board member, established himself as a TV powerhouse at Bunim Murray Productions, which created long-running shows like “The Real World” and “Road Rules.” The company added people with disabilities in some series, while others, including “Born This Way” and “Deaf Out Loud,” focused entirely on the community.

A few dozen industry reps were invited to the Wednesday gathering, which Murray opened cheekily by saying, “Welcome to the last social gathering of 2020,” a reference to the slew of industry events canceled due to coronavirus. Murray said his commitment to people with disabilities is not because he’s a goody-two-shoes, “I realized that there were great stories out there that weren’t being told, and a goal is to get people to talk about disabilities when they’re talking about inclusion.”

He said often characters with disabilities are written by able-bodied people, and their work is commendable, but “What are we missing?” One of his goals is to get Hollywood to let people with disabilities tell their own stories.

Mizrahi emphasized that Murray’s contribution is a multi-year commitment, meaning the donations from him and matching donors are guaranteed for five years. The commitment is especially important now when all non-profits are going to feel a financial pinch from the economic effect of the coronavirus.

Hollywood is an important part of the org’s work, but not its only focus. The organization’s motto is “Fighting stigmas; advancing opportunities.” The org also has a national leadership program, a philanthropic-nonprofit initiative, women’s leadership program; and the new Project Moses, training Jewish people with disabilities to serve the Jewish community.

Among the supporters of RespectAbility are Comcast, NBCUniversal, CAA, Fox Corp., Sony Pictures, the Walt Disney Co. and Film Independent.

The upcoming summer lab will accept up to 30 participants. The deadline for applying is April 3, and applications can be submitted at respectability.org.