Here’s the Thing…
I love award shows. I always have. As an actor, I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t practice a speech in the bathroom mirror with a hair brush when I was little, or watch coverage of the Golden Globes, Tonys, Oscars, and even last night’s 70th Emmy Awards. I love the dresses, and the emotional speeches, and the hosts with their biting commentary on today’s world. There’s just one problem: Diversity. Sure, they sang a song about “fixing” it last night. But did they really? No. Diversity by definition means a “variety” but even in its actual definition, it misses including a specific group of people, those of us with disabilities: the inclusion of individuals representing more than one national origin, color, religion, socioeconomic stratum, sexual orientation, etc.” And, I’ve noticed more often than not, that those of us with any sort of disability are relegated to the “etcetera” portion of the definition.
As a kid, I wanted to see myself on screen. I wanted to feel represented as a person with cerebral palsy, even my mild case. As an adult, and as an actor myself now, I want to be able to help kids with cerebral palsy, or any other disability, feel like they have a voice in the world. I want them to see that they do exist, because, oftentimes, if you don’t see yourself on screen, it’s as if you are invisible.
Inclusion has been a hot topic these past few years in the entertainment industry, which in and of itself is a wonderful thing. Inclusion needs to be about not just race or gender but giving the differently-abled a platform as well. From the casting of those of us with disabilities in disabled roles, to our stories being told, it’s important to be seen in the industry. Heck, we can play your lawyer, mother, boyfriend, you name it; and it should have nothing to do with one’s disability. I’ve always felt like I was in two different worlds, the disabled world, and the non-disabled world. There are moments when I’ve been seen as “disabled” and “not disabled enough” by casting, or just the people I interact with. My case of cerebral palsy is either too noticeable for some, or not enough for others. It’s a weird conundrum, but it has fed my desire to bring a voice to our community. When I was 13, I had to learn how to walk again. As a coping mechanism, I named my wheelchair “Leonardo DiCaprio” so I could sit in his lap. I was going through puberty AND learning to walk again. Naturally, I would watch my favorite movies and television and dream of being on the screen. As a professional actor now, I have appeared on “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” (which won 8 Emmys last night) and have a recurring role on season 6 of “Orange is the New Black.” Having CP doesn’t define me, but it will always be a part of me. I remember talking with the writer and producer of my second episode of OITNB who said that she loved my work and had to have me back for a second time. At the end of the day, she came up to me and thanked me, and I did the same. Then, I stated how much it meant to me to work with her because I was an actor with a mild form of cerebral palsy. It was a joy to work with everyone, really. We were both teary-eyed and hugged, and she said it was a pleasure to work with me regardless. She still loved the work. That meant a lot. She didn’t notice anything “wrong” or different. It was, in her mind, just unique, and she even said that. My work is unique.
So, I am imploring you Hollywood, Broadway, and beyond to tell stories with disabled actors. Let us use our unique worldview to bring something to a character that’s our own. Our experiences are just as universal as an able-bodied person’s. We want to be able to walk, roll, and strut down the red carpet in a nice outfit, get up on that stage with the best of them, and thank our loved ones, and shout from the roof tops that we finally feel included. #IncludeUs
Written by: Stephanie Gould