New Yale partnership supports training of theater artists with disabilities

Jessy Yates, an actor and performance artist with cerebral palsy, is the first recipient of a scholarship offered by the Ruderman Family Foundation and Yale.

The Yale School of Drama has partnered with the Ruderman Family Foundation — an internationally recognized organization that advocates for the full inclusion of people with disabilities in our society — to support training for actors with disabilities. The foundation will provide an annual scholarship to fund the training of a student at the Yale School of Drama.

The first recipient of this scholarship is Jessy Yates, who began her first of three years of training at Yale this fall. Yates, an actor, performance artist, and comedian with cerebral palsy, was awarded $50,000 plus a living stipend from the foundation.

Actor Jessy Yates
Jessy Yates YSD ’21, actor, performance artist, and comedian with cerebral palsy, is the inaugural recipient of a scholarship through a new partnership between the Yale School of Drama and the Ruderman Family Foundation to support training for actors with disabilities.

For years, I did not think there was 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.”

This new partnership will also include collaborations between the school and the foundation to advance inclusion of students with disabilities in leading theater schools. Earlier this year, the Ruderman Family Foundation and Yale School of Drama hosted the Accessing Artistry Convening in New York to advance inclusion of students with disabilities in the leading theater schools. Participants represented 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 May, Yale and the foundation will co-host a gathering in Los Angeles in 2019 to advance disability inclusion in other facets of the entertainment sector.

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.”

This is the first time that the foundation has partnered with a drama school.

The Ruderman Family Foundation has been at the forefront in advocating for greater representation and inclusion of people with disabilities in the television and 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 on the 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 Award from the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.

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 Yale School of Drama 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.”

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