14 November 2011

Redefining disAbility Event: What Was Said

Redefining disAbility Event: What Was Said
© Rhianon Elan Gutierrez

Originally written and published on the TRANSIENTS film blog
October 11, 2011

Photo © Rhianon Gutierrez, taken on the iPhone 3GS,
with some help from Instagram.
Last night, I attended an event at the Creative Artists Agency called "Redefining DisAbility". I interacted with familiar and new faces. I saw people that I hadn't seen since I was a student at Chapman and others that I hadn't seen or spoken to since I buried myself in post-production for Transients. I was glad to see my friends and make new connections and discoveries.

I sat in the front row so that I could lipread and listen to all the panelists. It was wonderful. When my friend tapped my shoulder and pointed to the large white screen behind the panelists, I saw that they also had real-time captioning (CART). I was stunned. This was an event where there was no deaf or hard of hearing panelist. I did not request the captions. Someone somewhere knew that they were important at an inclusion event. Whoever that person was, I like the way that you think. I always tell people that we need people in the disability advocacy field to recognize that discussions on inclusion should include CART and not just interpreters. People should have the freedom to choose which access option they want. Thank you for giving me that freedom to use CART when I missed something a panelist said.

My favorite part of the evening was when the panelists shared their personal stories. They were funny and heartbreaking. People with disabilities are often called "inspirational". Teal Sherer of The Guild and My Gimpy Life (and Sandrine in Transients) shared how she hated being called that because it wasn't earned. Robert David Hall (CSI) spoke of how there were only two types of roles for disabled people in the 1980s: the inspirational disabled person or the angry disabled person. Hall is a series regular on CSI, where he plays a character who is three-dimensional and interesting. He's been on the show for years.

Christopher Thornton (Sympathy for Delicious) was once told that he "wasn't convincing as a disabled person" because he had occasional spasms (from his spinal cord injury) during his audition. He remarked that he wasn't sure whether he should be offended or see it as a compliment. Actor's Studio-trained Eileen Grubba (Hung) told of how she had the door slammed in her face numerous times because she "walked funny". She shared how these experiences have enriched her drive as an actress and an advocate for more inclusion of people with disabilities in the media. Her most important advice was to parents and creators to remind them to continue to be encouraging to young people with disabilities because they deserve a chance in media. She wasn't the only one offering words of encouragement.

"I want to see that percentage of people with disabilities have a shot," said Robert David Hall. "Fight fear and ignorance."

"Bullying hurts and it kills dreams," said Glee's Lauren Potter to much applause.

Danny Woodburn, famous for being on Seinfeld, said "Each of us has to have the courage to speak up." Danny was one of the wittiest and most articulate panelists.

Eileen Grubba concluded, "We need to stand up, write roles for each other, no longer accepting that 20% of our world is shut out of entertainment."

Events like this reinforce my purpose as a writer, director, and producer. I wrote Transients to give a voice to people with disabilities behind and in front of the camera. It's not going to be the last one.

-Rhianon Gutierrez
Writer/Director, Transients

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