A chat with our Accessibility Working Group

Supporting employees with disabilities or who have family members with disabilities

ReDefine and DNEG are committed to create a safe environment for their employees with disabilities, to network, share their experiences, ideas, and advocate for change. 

The Accessibility Working Group (AWG), one of our many Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), plays a big part in building a supportive and inclusive workplace culture and a strong sense of community. 

As this week marks National Inclusion Week in the UK – celebrating inclusion and taking action to create inclusive workplaces – we sat down with the group to find out more about their vision, mission and what inclusion means to them. 

From left to right: Denis-Jose Francois – DFX Supervisor, DNEG Animation; Sedelle Wagner – Operations Manager, ReDefine; Reshmi Balachandran – Resource Schedule Manager, DNEG Animation; Andrew Zeller – VFX Trainer, ReDefine; Samantha Levy – Head of Immigration, North America DNEG & ReDefine; Alan Woo – Head of User Experience, DNEG

Hi everyone, thank you for joining us today! As active members of the Accessibility Working Group, could you tell us what made you want to start or join the group?

We all had very unique reasons for joining the group. One of our members was very immobile at the time and had difficulties moving around our old office in Montreal. He wanted to contribute towards improving accessibility in the building, heard about the group and we set about change. Other members had personal connections with disability through either loved ones or history in disability advocacy. All of us are united by the idea of exploring how we become more proactive as employers in this industry towards accommodating and considering all physical and invisible disabilities. We also recognized the opportunity we have through making films that reach global audiences, and how we can educate our teams to promote more diversity and inclusion in the content we create.

Can you talk about the group’s mission/purpose, and your vision for it?

The Accessibility Working Group (AWG) strives to build a supportive and inclusive workplace culture at ReDefine and DNEG that is responsive to the needs of people with disability. Alongside the Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) group, we commit to advocating for structural changes in areas such as education and awareness, accessibility, and recruitment. The group also aims to foster a community for employees with disabilities or staff who have family members with disabilities by creating a safe, supportive environment for people to network, share their experiences, resources and ideas, and engage in activities and initiatives together.

Why is it important to have a group like the Accessibility Working Group within our studio?

In such a collaborative industry, it is essential that every employee is able to access the physical, technical, training, and human resources needed to do their best work. Studios that do not invest in getting to know the abilities of each employee, as well as the individual, will face a greater number of delays and obstacles. We want to attract, support, and retain top talent, and a large part of that involves prioritising accessibility to our communities because more heads at the table with diverse perspectives encourage community and innovation.

One of the group’s commitments is to advocate for structural changes in areas such as education and awareness, accessibility, and recruitment – since its inception, what kind of impact has the group had on our studio?

We work quite closely with our studio facility teams to put forward suggestions on improvements for our building, such as exploring hearing aid technology in our cinema rooms or layout changes to our floors. One of our members, Alan Woo, is the Head of User Experience at DNEG – he is passionate about working closely with the group and with his team to launch a new design system that meets AWCG accessibility standards/compliance. Another one of our members, Andrew Zeller, is a VFX Trainer and has been investigating more inclusive training methods that are accessible to all employees.

Do you feel that people with disabilities are supported by the industry as a whole?

There have been improvements, particularly increased awareness, but there is a lot more that can be done. It needs to be an ongoing dialogue with initiatives that can be measured and evaluated in various areas of the industry. On top of this, people without disabilities also aren’t always supported, so there is a lot of room for improvement.

In your opinion, are there any steps the VFX industry could take to be more inclusive to people with disability?

The best place to start is to look within your own studio and listen to what is being asked. The talent acquisition team should communicate with the rest of the studio to ensure appropriate resources are available for new starters. Another area to focus on is to review the education we provide to managers, leaders and team members – how we can all play our part in forming a better understanding of disabilities and how our workflows, tools and collaboration skills can be improved to be more inclusive.

While greater representation is helpful, not everyone feels comfortable sharing out their disability or invisible illness in their workplace or on social media. We should respect that desire for privacy, and focus on meeting requests as they arise. There is a danger in focusing too much on quantity since it is easy to measure, e.g. “Look, we have x number of employees who have disabilities and it has increased every year”. We can instead focus on the quality of support, the environment, and the experience of each individual and how it meets their needs. No one wants to be used as a token representative of a very large and diverse group because of something they can’t control when they’re striving just as hard or harder than their peers to be recognized for their work. This is why we continue to hear the powerful phrase: “I am not my disability. I am me.” Let’s continue to avoid judging books by their covers, and get to know the person as a whole instead.

Interested in joining our team and building your career at ReDefine? Check out our open positions.

ReDefine is definitely a great place to be. I have enjoyed every single day here, the work is truly rewarding. The teams share a great bond and that’s what makes it a great place to work.

Shilpa Bhanushali Head of Production (Animation)

We have top-of-line professionals who are not only creative, but also fun to work with. It has created a lot of possibilities for reinventing workflows.

François Schneider Global Creative Supervisor, North America

The people who form ReDefine have come from varied experiences and all have the potential to develop and deliver world-class projects.

Viral Thakkar Creative Director and VFX Supervisor India