Note: the terms ‘people with disabilities’ and ‘disabled people’ have been used interchangeably due to the panel participants’ not having a preference for either being used. Start the Wave acknowledges the individual’s preferences during this conversation, but also acknowledges the STW community members’ own relationship with the phrases. Start the Wave is an organisation that always strives for growth and learning. If you have any information or resources about the language around referring to people and disabilities and conditions, please email us at ‘insert email address’ and we will be grateful to receive them. Please note that no offence is intentional, so please open a dialogue with us if you have any thoughts about the terms used.
Christin told us of a very recent experience of making sure an aspect of the disabled community has been included in her films. In the script of her LGBT holiday romcom ‘Season of Love’ there was a character who was deaf, played by Sandra Mae Frank. Instead of following from other television shows and films that have hired non-disabled actors to play the role, Christin made sure that her actress was deaf – an actress that could better provide authenticity in the role. Including the deaf community in her project was a powerful move, because of this inclusion and making a point about hiring those who know best because of their true lived experience.
Hiring extra people, like interpreters and consultants, can put disabled actors at ease and feel more comfortable, because it immediately shows that the production is not using their disability simply as a niche plot point. It demonstrates that they have thought about the individual and what they need to do their work to their best ability. This allows them to show their talent and their “whole person”, as Jordan comments, and ensures they can continue to thrive in the industry.
Inclusivity is an important message for Linda as well: “Checking in is really crucial.” She makes sure to be inclusive by opening a dialogue with the people she’s with, and not just at work. “Whether it’s an interpersonal relationship or a personal relationship, and a professional relationship as well. Just getting a sense of where someone is, where their capacity is, and being more understanding of each other.”
This is something we do at Start the Wave, and we encourage this philosophy to be shared with STW community members. Another way of being inclusive at a very easy and effortless level, Linda said was, “Just being kind to each other, giving space to each other and being patient is a practice of access.”
Representation of all kinds is important.
Jordan asked what the experience is like when working with disabled actors, and how it differs from working with actors without disabilities?
“It’s a very sticky belief that people are uncomfortable with challenging,” Linda immediately said but explained that the best way to overcome it is by communicating.
By asking the person directly what they need, just like asking how they are in terms of their emotions, is very important because it gives them control and allows them to get exactly what they need. The worst thing someone could do in any situation is to assume something on someone else’s behalf: ask them, talk to them and give them authority and autonomy. “Everyone has access needs; everyone could benefit from an environment that takes into account what works for you.” Which is a sentiment that goes for all areas of work as well as life, and Linda continued to say that “there’s a lot of room to figure out what works” which demonstrates respect and kindness.
Alexane is a budding actor and is disabled. In relation to talking about what it is (or could be) like to work with them, they said “I think the hardest difficulty we have to face is the unknown,” which is such a grounding statement.
When talking about supporting disabled folx, Alexane made a very important statement: “Never assume the disabled person can or won’t do something.”
This is something that we can all take into our daily lives. If you think there is a barrier, talk to the person about it but don’t assume they won’t be able to overcome that barrier on their own. But also, if they need help, offer it and do everything you can to break it down and help. Be kind, be respectful and be helpful.
Christin’s advice was simple but powerful too: “Think about adding [disabled people] into your stories […] there’s a bigger world out there that we need to think about to be inclusive.” Stories are showing more BIPOC and LGBTQ2IA people and telling their stories, and disabled people need their stories told as well. Characters are disabled too, just as much as they are queer and BIPOC.