Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Report uncovers 'systemic discrimination' faced by people with disabilities in Australian screen industry

from ABC News in Australia. Photo of Ade Djajamihardja and his wife Kate. 

As an Asian-born Australian, Ade Djajamihardja is no stranger to discrimination. But when he had his first stroke, he was not ready for the disability that followed.

Mr Djajamihardja had a successful media career, including as an assistant director for  ABC TV, and a happy family life with his wife Kate.

When he woke from his stroke in a hospital bed, he had mobility and vision impairment.

Fear of being a burden

"When I was in rehab hospital, I was being taught how to use my wheelchair for the first time, and quickly became overwhelmed by how that would make me a massive burden to Kate's life," he said.

"And that caused me to realise that I couldn't do that to her."

He felt suicidal until a nurse helped him reframe his perspective.

Now Mr Djajamihardja has his own production company, A2K Media, supporting people with disabilities working in the media and entertainment industry across Australia and Asia.

His company recently collaborated with researchers at the University of Melbourne on a reportlooking at the treatment of people with disabilities in the media industry, which uncovered a range of unique challenges, from poor physical access to discrimination and unequal pay.

Stigma behind pay gap

Melbourne University creative writing lecturer and lead report author Radha O'Meara said the pay gap for people with disabilities was the result of stigma.

"The screen industry has a lot more people employed in precarious contracts than other industries [and] a lot of people talked about how ... they don't even know who to go to, to ask about their pay," she said.

"Most screen companies don't have HR departments."

The report reviewed more than 500 people with disabilities who have worked in the screen industry and found they routinely experienced low payment and precarious job roles — all within a culture of “systemic discrimination” and prejudice.

“These experiences suggest structural problems across the screen industry and its culture,” the report found.

“They reflect a lack of understanding of disability and a reliance on negative stereotypes of disabled workers."

Forced to direct through a monitor

One Melbourne-based film and television director who uses a wheelchair said the biggest problem he had encountered in the industry was physically accessing sets.

"I'm required to kind of direct through a radio looking at a monitor because I can't actually get to the second floor or the third floor… and that's something that nobody seems to know how to fix," he said.

The director, who wished to remain anonymous, said the lack of wheelchair accessible buildings used by Melbourne production companies often prevented him from winning contracts.

"It's less that it's difficult to get a job as a director but it's more difficult to get a job in production," he said.

"Almost none of the post-production facilities are accessible, almost none of the production facilities are accessible … for a TV show, you might need a two or three story production office, and that'll be upstairs and then you're just kind of stuck down downstairs."

'Hesitancy' to hire people with disabilities

Sam Riesel is a young production assistant with an intellectual disability and has worked on both accessible and mainstream sets.

Mr Riesel said his experience in mainstream productions had generally been good, but there was a reluctance in the film industry to hire people with disabilities.

"I do think there is a tiny bit of hesitancy to hire someone with a disability in the industry, but I do also think that the industry has opened up a lot more to all that within the past few years," he said.

Sometimes there is a concern in the industry that a disabled employee will need extra supervision on set.

"And it's like, well, maybe at first a tiny bit, but eventually, once they've been in the industry for long enough, they know how all that stuff works, or at least they should," Mr Riesel said.

'Soft bigotry of low expectation'

Mr Djajamihardja said people with disabilities were often not consulted about what they needed to enable them to work successfully.

He said the industry had a problem with "soft bigotry of low expectation" for people with disabilities, which affected how inclusive it was towards employees.

"I faced [that] while trying to re-emerge back into the industry I love, and the only one I have known my entire adult life," he said.

Dr O'Meara said people often conflated disability with weakness, which created a work culture of discrimination.

And with no-one to ask about making adjustments, no-one is taking responsibility for the issue, according to Dr O'Meara.

"Legally, someone's got to take responsibility," she said.

"But actually, in practice, when you're asking around the place you work, who do I talk to, then everybody goes 'ah, not my problem'."

Hopes report will lead to change

Mr Djajamihardja said he hoped the report would lead to change in the industry, in the same way that he had to change his perspective on disability after his stroke.

"What resonates most about living my life since acquiring my disability and their associated barriers is that while it was the most unwanted and unexpected of life's adversity barriers, it has also proven to be the most undeniable and unstoppable of personal growth opportunities," he said.

Dr O'Meara said non-disabled people had contacted her after reading the report expressing surprise that they had worked with disabled people and not realised it.

"It's just opened their eyes up to the kind of variety of disabled people's experiences," Dr O'Meara said.

Thursday, April 6, 2023

‘Dark Disabled Stories’ review: When the world isn’t built for you

From The New York Times:

Near the start of “Dark Disabled Stories,” the playwright-performer Ryan J. Haddad’s richly provocative new show at the Public Theater, he tells a funny, sexy anecdote about a hookup at a gay bar that didn’t go the way he’d hoped.

Haddad has cerebral palsy and uses a walker. In the story, he finds himself stranded without it — a plot twist that caused his audience, the other night, to breathe a soft sound of sympathy. Haddad must have been expecting this, because his reaction is right there in the script. He invites anyone who regards him as “sad or pitiable” to leave.

“I am not here to be pitied and I am not a victim,” he says. “Is that clear?” Then, with startling sternness, an unscripted repetition: “Is that clear?”

Quite. But one other thing needs to be made clear immediately, which is that Haddad is an actor and writer of extraordinary charm. Disarmingly witty, immensely likable, he is not about to spend his show lecturing you.

He will make you laugh, though. And with his director, Jordan Fein, and fellow actors, Dickie Hearts and Alejandra Ospina, he will change the way you think about disability — and prompt you to think of accessibility as something that can deepen a dramatic experience when it’s built into the architecture of the piece.

The autobiographical stories here — set on buses, or on Grindr dates, or on the pitted streets of New York — are calibrated to blast away condescension and replace it with something closer to comprehension. Partly, they’re about how arduous it can be to navigate a world that’s oblivious to your comfort and safety, because it wasn’t built with your kind of body in mind. But these stories are also about the body as an instrument of pleasure, a vessel of longing, a means of communication.

Presented by the Public and the Bushwick Starr, “Dark Disabled Stories” is a highly theatrical, gracefully layered model of inventive inclusivity. Haddad and Hearts, a Deaf actor who radiates charisma, play parallel versions of a character called Ryan. Haddad speaks the lines; Hearts signs them. (The director of artistic sign language is Andrew Morrill.) The written dialogue is projected, attractively, on the upstage wall.

Ospina spends most of the show just offstage, periodically speaking audio description that is anything but intrusive. When she says that the set is not merely “very, very pink” but in fact “Benjamin Moore’s Island Sunset pink,” this is valuable intel for us all. (Set and costume design are by dots, lighting by Oona Curley, sound by Kathy Ruvuna, video by Kameron Neal.)

Ospina also briefly takes the stage in her wheelchair to tell her own dark story, about what it’s like to be trapped in a subway station with the elevators out. It’s not the only tale that might make you wish, urgently, that the M.T.A. would send a delegation to see this play.

“Dark Disabled Stories” is in the Public’s most accessible theater, the Shiva on the first floor. Yet masks are required at only a few performances each week — the Public’s default policy.

So on your seat before mask-optional performances, alongside your playbill, you’ll find a complimentary mask and a kindly worded note. “‘Dark Disabled Stories’ is a show grounded in disability cultural values. In disability culture, the community practices collective care to protect each other,” it says, asking that you mask up. The night I went, most people did.

The note is signed, “Thanks from the company of ‘Dark Disabled Stories.’” But should the company have had to make that request? Among the takeaways from the play is how enervating it can be to have to plead constantly for access and understanding. A blanket mask requirement for this show would have been a reasonable accommodation.

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

'An Irish Goodbye' star James Martin tells aspiring actors with Down syndrome 'don’t let people say you can’t'

From ITV

Note: An Irish Goodbye won the Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film on March 12, 2023.

A Belfast actor receiving glowing praise for his starring role in new award-winning short film says people with Down's Syndrome with acting dreams should 'go for it'.

James Martin (pictured) stars in black comedy An Irish Goodbye, which has already won the European Audience Award at Leuven International Film Festival in Belgium.

It’s hoped that more awards could follow, after the movie also launched at the Oscar and BAFTA qualifying Leeds Film Festival in November to critical acclaim. 

The new movie is set against the backdrop of a working farm in rural Northern Ireland, and follows the reunion of estranged brothers Lorcan (Martin) and Turlough (Seamus O’Hara) following the untimely death of their mother (Michelle Fairley).

Under the watchful eye of odd-ball parish priest Father O’Shea (Paddy Jenkins), the brothers’ pained reunion takes an altogether different course when they discover their late mother’s unfulfilled bucket list.

James told UTV News he loved working alongside the cast. 

He said: “We had such fun, the atmosphere on set was fantastic.”

James hopes the film will entertain people following a tough couple of years.

”It’s the kind of film, that when you’ve been in lockdown for so long you just want to make people laugh.  That’s why the film is very good and it’s a brilliant story.”

James has already scooped a Best Actor award for his role in the drama Ups and Downs in 2017 and was also praised by fans for his starring role in Season 3 of ITV’s Marcella. 

He keeps in touch with co-star Anna Friel, and said it is great to have her support.

“I don’t see her as an actor, I see her as a person.  I would call her my work colleague. It’s good to have a work colleague like Anna Friel.“

James, who is a Mencap NI Ambassador, is hoping to inspire other young people into acting.

He said “I would say to people who have autism,  Down’s Syndrome or some physical disability, I would say go for it, act your heart out”

"It’s just one of those things, don’t let people say ‘you can’t act’, because you can act. It’s just one of those things in life.”

An Irish Goodbye is the second short film from duo Tom Berkeley and Ross White and is produced by Floodlight Pictures with support from Northern Ireland Screen and BFI.