Written on the Body: A Conversation About Disability

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

On April 18, 2006, a group of writers—and actors, directors, and filmmakers—gathered at HBO headquarters in New York City to discuss how to write about disability today. The conversation focused on how to create authentic portrayals of disability. The panel discussed what distinguished authentic portrayals from clichéd, symbolic, or token representations of disability. Panelists spoke of disability as a minority “whose stories had not been told,” and emphasized the natural connections between disability and other social issues (poverty, race, sexuality, family). In describing their experiences writing about disability, the panel stressed the importance of research and disabled/nondisabled dialogue and collaboration. Several panelists and speakers identified themselves as resources for writers seeking consultation and guidance in writing about disability.

The panel discussion was preceded by a tribute by Sharon Jensen and Victoria Lewis to the late playwright, John Belluso (1960–2006), who first articulated many of the goals of the conversation.

The Guest of Honor, Horton Foote, spoke about authentic portrayals of disability and the American literary tradition, and the state of affairs today, saying, “We are at an exciting time, when the stories of disabled people are increasingly becoming part of the social landscape.” Matthew Sapolin, Executive Director of the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities (NYC), spoke about the importance of recording contemporary stories of disability for posterity. Warren Leight discussed the genesis of this conversation and introduced the panel. After the panelists spoke, Warren Leight opened the floor to the audience. The opening remarks, panel discussion, and audience discussion can be found in the full transcript.

INTRODUCTION: A TRIBUTE TO JOHN BELLUSO

A Message from Sally Belluso

Tributes to John Belluso

Speeches from Deadwood and Pyretown

The John Belluso Writing Initiative

I. DISABILITY AND LITERARY TRADITION

Authenticity

The Misrepresentation of Disability

The Underrepresentation of Disability

II. OVERCOMING THE CLICHÉS

The Inspirational Narrative

The Outcast Narrative

The Romantic Narrative

The Blind Seer Narrative

The Cure Narrative

Writing about disability exploits the misfortunes of others

III.CONNECTING DISABILITY TO SOCIAL ISSUES

Disability as a Minority

Disability as a Minority Experience

Disability and Race

Disability and Poverty

Disability and Family

Disability and Sexuality

 

IV.WRITING DISABILITY

Experience

Research

Collaboration

The Question of Comedy

Getting the Message Out: Role Models

V. RESOURCES AND CONSULTANTS

INTRODUCTION:

A Tribute to John Belluso

Written on the Body: A Conversation about Disability is dedicated to the memory of playwright John Belluso (1969–2006). John Belluso was instrumental in planning this event and formulated several of the critical ideas on writing about disability discussed in the course of the evening.

A Message from Sally Belluso

“On behalf of John’s family, we wish we could be here tonight. I know that John’s spirit of advocacy for those who are disabled will continue forever through his plays and the work that this evening represents.” – Sally Belluso, message read by Sharon Jensen

Tributes to John Belluso

“I do feel that John is with us tonight. John was key in planning the event we did at the Public Theater last November. He was key to this event. We worked together closely for several years. And I believe that he is very much with us. All along I’ve said, ‘John, you’ve got to help us.’”- Sharon Jensen, Executive Director, the Non-Traditional Casting Project

“I think my presence here was John Belluso’s insightful idea.” – Diana Son, playwright/supervising producer, Law & Order: Criminal Intent

“At John’s memorial in New York, and then again in Los Angeles, there were an enormous number of people present who felt connected to John, who claimed John as dear to them. John had membership in many communities. He moved across boundaries of class and race, sophistication and deprivation, disabled, and nondisabled. He had a fabulous personality. He was able to challenge people with radical ideas about health care, foreign policy, sexuality, and human and civil rights; and still get an invitation to dinner and drinks. [Laughter] And his talent and intelligence kept those invitations, the grants, the fellowships, the staff-writing positions coming. He had great success as a writer, and surely more was to come when he died at the very young age of 36. It’s exciting to be in a group of storytellers, people whose goals are not that different from John’s. I would like to share with you, as storytellers, what John hoped to accomplish with his writing.”- Victoria Lewis, Ph.D., writer/director/Assoc. Prof. of Theatre Arts, Univ. of Redlands/Founding Director of the Mark Taper Forum’s Other Voices Project

Speeches from Deadwood and Pyretown

From Deadwood, by John Belluso

The following video clip was approved for use at this event by HBO.

“The Trial of Jack McCall

”Written by John BellusoAll rights reserved, Copyright 2004

Production #P105(Script #S106)

Ext. The Graveyard—Day The grave’s been dug. The coffin’s beside it. Smith preaches to the assembled …

Smith: Mr. Hickok will lie beside two brothers. One likely killed, the other he killed for certain, and he’s been killed now in turn. So much blood, and on the battlefield of the Brother’s War, I saw more blood than this, and asked then after the purpose and did not know, and don’t know the purpose now, but know now to testify that, not knowing, I believe. St. Paul tells us, “By one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, bond or free, and been all made to drink into one Spirit. For the body is not one member but many.” He tells us, “The eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee; nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you. Nay, much more those members of the body which seem to be more feeble, and those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, all are necessary.” He says that, “There should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care. One to another, and whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it.” I believe in God’s purpose, not knowing it. I ask Him, moving in me, to allow me to see His will. I ask Him, moving in others, to allow them to see it.

His eyes are fixed on Bullock. Then—

Smith (cont’d): Let us sing, “How Firm a Foundation” as Mr. Hickok is laid to rest.

From Pyretown, by John Belluso

There are slivers of something inside of our bodies, fragile strings inside of us. Slivers, thin, like the most delicate of veins. They are contained inside each body, but they also break outward, connecting themselves to other bodies. Tight, taut, radiant threads of interconnection. I realize that this is not the best time in the world to be a romantic. But I do believe in these connections. I truly believe these slivers exist, and I see them. They reveal themselves in small moments, small exchanges.


The John Belluso Writing Initiative

On behalf of all parties involved, Diana Son announced the John Belluso Writing Initiative, reading from a statement prepared for the evening’s program:

“Several organizations are working together to establish The John Belluso Writing Initiative, the purpose of which is to identify, encourage, and where possible, provide development opportunities for writers with disabilities. The Mission Statement comes from remarks John made in February [2006] regarding his plans for tonight’s event, but which might coincidentally have also described the writing initiative:

“The John Belluso Writing Initiative will provide an opportunity to represent disability in new models, with new ideas, and new representations, and to challenge stereotypes through a process of mutual learning and dialogue. The Initiative will provide the opportunity to tap into the imagination of writers who will be creating these models and representations.

“The Initiative is intended for those disabled women and men who have identified writing for theatre, film, and/or television as a serious pursuit. Through this program, we hope to identify and recognize talented individuals whose artistic development can be well-assisted by the range of resources we collectively have to offer and can bring to bear. For the first round, we will reach out to appropriate communities and resources and begin with an invited pool of writers. As part of the evaluation of each writer for participation, we will look for those who most ‘embody the spirit of John.’ We hope to formally announce and launch the John Belluso Writing Initiative in the fall of 2006.”

I. DISABILITY AND LITERARY TRADITION

Despite the endemic underrepresentation of disability and a long history of misrepresentations in theatre, film, and on television, authentic portrayals of people with disabilities can be found in every medium. Authentic portrayals often explore disability from within. Since the Disability Rights Movement of the 1970s there have been more self-explorations of disability and a focus on what people do with disability instead of despite disability.

Authenticity

“Fellow writers—playwrights, screenwriters, TV writers, writers of news, and nonfiction–welcome, and thank you for coming. My name is Horton Foote and tonight we’re going to be talking about disability. We hope to spark a dialogue, to raise questions, and leave us all thinking—and perhaps writing—a little differently.

“In fact, we writers have always written about disability. There’s a great tradition of tackling all kinds of disadvantage—social, physical, psychological, in order to explore the human condition. Boo Radley, in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, which I adapted for the screen, was one such outcast, as was Lenny, in John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, which I also adapted. Such characters deepen our understanding of ourselves and our humanity. And they make for extraordinary storytelling. There was another character in To Kill a Mockingbird, Tom Robinson, a black man who was on trial. His disability helped to turn around the case against him, to ensure his innocence of the crime.

“As writers, one thing we share is a desire for the truth. And so when we do give voice to those who are marginalized, we must take care that the stories we write are authentic; and that we are challenged to depict the inner reality—rather than merely the surface reality—of disability in America.

“We are at an exciting time, when the stories of disabled people are increasingly becoming part of the social landscape. They share a world of social and political challenges that might very well astonish you. And their stories are just begging to be told. With that in mind, I welcome you toWritten on the Body: A Conversation about Disability.” – Horton Foote, dramatist/screenwriter

“As Mr. Foote pointed out, some of the greatest stories in our history that will outlive these conversations are the root of this conversation. People with disabilities have always been at the center of conflict. Whether it be Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker—or some other depiction—your portrayals of us, whether accurate, inaccurate, absolutely inappropriate, or absolutely appropriate, are what the millions of people who watch what you do will take away from my life, from Daryl [Mitchell’s] life, and from any other person in this room with a disability. So, you have the opportunity to portray us and include us and our stories and people like us in your scenes.” – Matthew Sapolin, Executive Director of the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities

“Writers of all stripes have set about recording what drives us, what shapes our experience, what we like, and what moves us. A lot of that writing has been organized in the academic field of disability studies. Disability studies includes the vibrant self-explorations that are found in memoir, drama, and cultural expressions of various kinds. In this new brand of writing, and in theatre and film, we see a focus on what disabled people do with disability—how we use it, what it does to us and for us—not what we are able to do despite disability. What disability provides rather than what disability takes away. These new ways of thinking provide a point of entry for writers—a foundation for crafting characters and stories.”- Simi Linton, author/disability advocate

The Misrepresentation of Disability

“It was announced that Gary Sinise will serve as the national spokesman for the Disabled Veterans for Life Memorial Foundation. The actor played Vietnam vet “Lt. Dan” in the film, Forrest Gump. And the foundation is working to build a disabled veterans memorial in Washington, D.C. A spokesperson said, “His portrayal of a soldier who loses his legs in the Vietnam conflict brought home the terrible price that our men and women pay in the fight for our country’s freedom.” If you have ever wondered whether disabled people have a real say in the matters that affect our lives—here is evidence of how people in authority view our authority. This is an alarming triumph of fantasy over authenticity.”- Simi Linton, author/disability advocate

“Shari [Weiser ], a woman of short stature, told me that in her 10 years as a professional actor she had never played a human being. She had always been an animal. She said, ‘No one has asked me to play something remotely related to who I am.’”- Victoria Lewis, Ph.D., writer/director/Assoc. Prof. of Theatre Arts, Univ. of Redlands/Founding Director of the Mark Taper Forum’s Other Voices Project

“I grew up watching TV shows had a distinct sense of irony. Oh, there’s a guy in a wheelchair named ‘Ironside.’ Did he take that name because he was in the wheelchair? What was his name before he was in the wheelchair? And the blind insurance inspector, why was he named ‘Longstreet’?”- David Steven Cohen, writer

The Underrepresentation of Disability

“[In November] I listened in on, and participated in, a fascinating dialogue about how the disabled are depicted and are not depicted in the things we write and the things we see.” – Warren Leight, writer

“When you write scenes, you’re careful to include diverse background actors, diverse leading actors, and characters of all types, of all persuasions—rich, poor, ethnic varieties, and religious backgrounds. But, so often in the diversity conversation, the disability world is left out. The disabled form the largest minority [in America].” – Matthew Sapolin, Executive Director of the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities

“[My child] had just been born with Down syndrome. At that point, as a writer, when I watched television, I experienced a visceral feeling of total exclusion. I watched television as a new mother and never saw myself, and never saw my child, and never saw anybody in a commercial, or in a program who reflected my family or my experience. It was as if we had fallen off the end of the earth. We don’t wash our clothes, we don’t eat breakfast cereal, we don’t buy mayonnaise. We were totally, totally invisible. And I experienced this—literally—in the pit of my stomach. There were things on television that brought me to tears. Not because they were so terrible, but because everybody on TV was just so perfect. I had a sudden awareness—this must be what African Americans felt like years ago when they were never seen as fully entitled members of the community, participants, and consumers.”- Emily Perl Kingsley, writer, Sesame Street

“Journalism really could do something different. The AP Stylebooks have had the language down since 1982 about what is the correct way to refer to disabled people. It’s not rocket science! It’s ‘disabled,’ it’s ‘disability,’ it’s ‘wheelchair-using,’ it’s not ‘wheelchair-bound.’ Get on with it! So that’s discouraging. When these big disabled stories come up, Terri Schiavo and all of these right-to-die stories, which are deep at the heart of what disability advocates are thinking about these days, there are no disabled experts called upon to contextualize news events socially or culturally. All of these people out in the field, all sorts of different experts in the field, are never called upon. You would never not see at least one civil rights leader from the Latino community speaking in a major story on immigration. – Victoria Lewis, Ph.D., writer/director/Assoc. Prof. of Theatre Arts, Univ. of Redlands/Founding Director of the Mark Taper Forum’s Other Voices Project

“When I receive catalogues in the mail, I always do a disability check. If I get something from Bloomingdale’s, I flip through the pages to see if they’ve used any models with disabilities in the photographs. And then I write a letter. I’ve got a drawer full—literally. It’s a form letter in my computer. I write: ‘President, Bloomingdale’s: I am not buying anything from your catalog and here’s why: You’ve left out America’s largest minority in the photographs in your catalog: out of 75 models, there are no models who have physical or cognitive disabilities.’ And sometimes I get letters back where people say, ‘We don’t think it’s right to exploit the misfortunes of others in order to sell our product.’”- Emily Perl Kingsley, writer, Sesame Street

“It’s a struggle to find ways to show the deaf experience, yet glamorize it, so that it’s marketable, so that it’s appealing to producers. It’s a real struggle to mix this marketability and the authenticity of the product. Roles get cast here and there that may not be authentic. But because there’s a fear among actors that they might not get another role, another opportunity, even a deaf actor will play a non-authentic character; the roles are so few and far between that they’re grateful to get them. So that’s a struggle as well. I mean, you know, it’s work!”- David Kurs, writer

II. OVERCOMING THE CLICHÉS

In theatre, film, and on television, disabled characters have historically been portrayed as “heroes” or “extraordinary individuals” who have “overcome the odds.” They have also been used as metaphors for abstract concepts—from goodness and nobility of character, to meekness, weakness, and social disadvantage. The panelists explained why these clichéd plots misrepresent disability. In conversation with audience members, they identified specific clichéd plots: the inspirational narrative, the outcast narrative, the romantic narrative, the blind seer narrative, the cure narrative, and the misguided idea that “writing about disability exploits the misfortunes of others.” Below are their examples, and suggested methods of avoiding these clichés when writing about disability.

“When I went to [the Public Theater] seminar in November, I was struck by how often people said they were tired of writers using disabled characters as a metaphor. And I thought, ‘Oh, I’ve done that.’ And how tired they were of depicting disabled people as somehow always more noble and always inspiring, and I thought ‘Yeah, yeah, OK.’ So, it’s a more complicated picture. Because we’re all human, nothing is as simple as we might think, as writers.”- Warren Leight, writer

“The question is: How do we overcome the hundred years of film and theatre clichés that people are comfortable with in order to say, ‘This is what we’re gonna give you; it’s genuine, and…you may not like it?’”- Adam Linn, filmmaker

The Inspirational Narrative

It is a cliché to portray a disabled character as an exceptional individual who triumphs over personal tragedy, or “overcomes the odds.” A disabled character does not need to be a hero. A disabled character can be ordinary.

“The one story John was dead set against is: The triumph of the exceptional individual over a personal tragedy. This was not John’s story—because this story denies the economic, social, and historical conditions of disabled people across time.”

“That’s the big story that John was telling is that rugged individualism, The Lone Ranger way, is not the way to survive.”

“… I think the culture’s in a fix about machoism and cowboyism and about taking over the world. I find the whole atmosphere we’re living in right now, very, very disturbing. The message of disability is that the weakest, the weak, might have something to tell us; that it is dependency that really defines us as humans. It is by being dependent that we survive, not by being cowboys. That’s the great story I think disability has to tell.”- Victoria Lewis, Ph.D., writer/director/Assoc. Prof. of Theatre Arts, Univ. of Redlands/Founding Director of the Mark Taper Forum’s Other Voices Project

“We are interested in what is ordinary and also what is extraordinary about disabled people’s lives.”- Simi Linton, author/disability advocate

“Sometimes we want to just be in an environment with folks who are of like mind and body, and just ‘be’… and you never see that [onstage or in film].”- Lynn Manning, playwright/actor/poet

“[On Sesame Street, We aim to achieve] the natural, comfortable inclusion of people with disabilities in the community who just happen to be there, whose disability is not pointed to, is not flagged, is not made the central issue of any particular segment.”

“One thing that is obviously crucial: The message has to get out to casting people that people with disabilities can be ordinary. They can be the lawyers, they can be the judges, they can be the background people in the scenes, who are not involved with disability issues. They can be just plain members of the community.” – Emily Perl Kingsley, writer, Sesame Street

The Outcast Narrative

It is a cliché to portray a disabled character alone in a world of nondisabled people—as outcast, pariah, or lonely introvert. Disabled characters can be inscribed in communities of disabled and nondisabled peers, colleagues, friends, and family.

“When I see a deaf character in the movies or in whatever medium, it’s always the stereotype. They fall in love with a hearing person and the hearing person has to end up helping them. Or they’re alone in a world of hearing people. There’s the constant struggle with a hearing world that, in general, won’t accommodate them. This is not really how we live our lives on a daily basis; we are productive.” – David Kurs, writer

“Most of the time, a disabled person is presented as this sole person in a sea of healthy, normal, able-bodied people. A blind person alone in a sighted world is a typical representation, and it’s seldom like that. You may see a blind person alone, but who knows what’s at home, or the network of friends and people they’ve grown up with, or they socialize with? I think it’s as absurd to present blind people in that isolated way, as absurd as it would be to always see a black person as the only black person in a film, or in a screenplay, or in the world; that they don’t have a culture they draw from, a home base, or that they don’t seek out people of like experience and background to commiserate with at the end of their day.”- Lynn Manning, playwright/actor/poet

“In the work we’ve done with Sesame Street, we’ve tried to have at least one kid with a disability on the street, in each show. We have had some occasions to show a couple of kids walking down the street signing to each other, as an indication that there are people who communicate with each other in this way. And usually we’ll take the time to explain it, because we want the kids who are watching in the audience at home to understand. So if, for example, there are two kids signing to each other, somebody might approach this group and it would be explained to them that these two children are signing to each other because they’re both Deaf and this is the way they communicate.” – Emily Perl Kingsley, writer, Sesame Street

The Romantic Narrative

It is a cliché to portray a disabled character as emotionally dependent upon or enthralled by a nondisabled character simply because he/she is nondisabled. Disabled characters can have relationships—romantic or platonic—with nondisabled characters that are not based on assistance.

“…[T]hat’s a very normal scenario for TV: The nondisabled person is helping the disabled person to come to terms with this terrible thing, and to get the right attitude, to stop feeling sorry for himself; he gives them this slap in the face.”

“Not to scare you, but once upon a time, there was a television sitcom that wanted to do a show about disability, and they insisted they would not talk to any disability advocates. They didn’t want any of that, you know, ‘p.c. stuff’ coming in. They ended up with a plot that is the most clichéd of all disabled romance stories, in which the disabled girl, in order to ‘be OK,’ got up out of her wheelchair, put on her prosthetic legs, and danced with the star of the show.”

“People who are in the disability community talk about Passion Fish…you see that one? It’s one of those classic, whiny disabled person meets wonderful nondisabled person narratives.”- Victoria Lewis, Ph.D., writer/director/Assoc. Prof. of Theatre Arts, Univ. of Redlands/Founding Director of the Mark Taper Forum’s Other Voices Project

The Blind Seer Narrative

It is a cliché to portray a disabled character as someone endowed with special powers or supernatural abilities (e.g., the “wise old crone” or the “blind seer”). Disabled characters can have different points of view, including specialized knowledge of their disabilities, and perspectives on the human condition arising from their personal experiences.

“I’ve been an actor since I was maybe 14 and throughout that time, I’ve been legally blind. Recently, last fall, I became completely blind. I’ve acted in Oz, and at the end I touch [a character’s] face. That’s connected to what [someone] said about being ‘soulful.’ Sometimes we’re not all soulful! You know, we’re not all spiritual, and we can’t all tell the future.” – Christopher Roberts, actor/director/playwright

The Cure Narrative

It is a cliché to portray a disabled character being cured. Social and dramatic conventions often lead to a story in which the disabled character is cured, typically with the help of a nondisabled character. Curing social misconceptions about disability can be a way to reframe the cure narrative.

“As a society, we want to cure all our illsnot just our afflictionsbut the world’s afflictions. How do you balance that in your writing? It seems there are two cures: One is the question of curing the disability, and the other is for the general population to accept disability and to feel comfortable with it. I see a social push, since the first telethon, to focus so strongly on the cure for the disability, but this should never eclipse the need to live with what you have and to gain unqualified acceptance.”- David Steven Cohen, writer

“I’ve done some work myself on the topic of cures being more problematic than not. I think the way you balance it, since balance is really what you’re asking about, is that you have to depict the reality that for some of us, our lives are just fine, you know? Just fine. There’s nothing to cure! I was shot in the face when I was 23 years old. Totally blind, irreversible, it’s done. This is what I am, this is how I am, and my life is good. There’s nothing to cure. When I get asked about a cure, it confuses me, it flummoxes me. It’s like, ‘Why would I want to do that?’ I think for a lot of people, that’s how you balance it. You take the fact and the reality that life is good. Just get outta my way!” – Lynn Manning, playwright/actor/poet

“I just want to tell this to all of you who aren’t disabled writers, about the other side ‘being so good.’ I was with a group of disabled activists, people whose lives were devoted to changing the world, who worked everyday changing laws, changing the physical conditions for the disabled, and I was teaching them an acting workshop, and we were doing a storytelling exercise. You know that storytelling exercise where somebody starts a story and then you point at somebody and they have to tell the next part of the story, and then somebody else has to take up the next part of the story? In this story, I started out with somebody having a car accident and becoming disabled. And by the end, by the time we got to the end of the story, this person had been cured three times. [Laughter]. That just speaks to how deeply these narratives are entrenched in our collective storytelling, whether the storyteller is disabled or nondisabled, politically sophisticated or naïve. These narratives fulfill dramatic structure for us. They are to break. But artists can think of ways to break these narratives.” – Victoria Lewis, Ph.D., writer/director/Assoc. Prof. of Theatre Arts, Univ. of Redlands/Founding Director of the Mark Taper Forum’s Other Voices Project

Writing about disability exploits the misfortunes of others.

“Historically, writers and producers have been cautious about disability, maintaining that “writing about disability exploits the misfortunes of others.” Nontragic, well-researched portrayals of disability do not exploit the subjects or offend the disability community. “ … [E]very presentation that I’ve ever experienced about anybody disabled in any way, has been tragic. And so, how do I do this in a comedy without exploiting the character, without doing stupid jokes?” – Richard Willis, Jr., writer/producer

“There were some very positive comments [on the short I submitted to Project Greenlight]. But, the overwhelming majority of the negative comments were about the primary character, a blind guy who’s got a problem with cocaine. He doesn’t treat the blind girl in his life very well. And, my favorite was this scathing comment: ‘Sir, whoever you are, this is an offense to the disabled community, and I hope this project never goes forward, and whatever you do, next time do a little research.’ [Laughter] It’s very tough. People don’t necessarily realize I’m not some hipster trying to make blind people into metaphors, and that I’m blind, that my other characters, in my short, are blind. I have had to call festivals and talk to directors, ‘cause I know they don’t really know I’m blind.”- Adam Linn, filmmaker

“I’ve seen the same thing with stage. People will say this writer is denaturing disability, not knowing that is exactly what the person wants to do. The dramaturg or story editor is like the person who drags the blind person’s cane to tell them where they want them to go. We need people in power at all different levels. That knowledge needs to be spread around.”- Victoria Lewis, Ph.D., writer/director/Assoc. Prof. of Theatre Arts, Univ. of Redlands/Founding Director of the Mark Taper Forum’s Other Voices Project

III. CONNECTING DISABILITY TO SOCIAL ISSUES

People with disabilities comprise the largest minority in America. Scholars and writers have drawn comparisons between the experiences of the disability community and other minority groups, or historically marginalized populations. Writers can approach disability by thinking about it as “a minority whose stories have not been told” (Warren Leight). Writers can also approach disability in connection with other social issues/concerns: poverty, race, family, sexuality. Disability is naturally connected to these social issues—and others—because disability is a non-exclusive minority—the only minority that anyone can join at any time. For this reason, writing about disability can illuminate and dramatize a number of contingent social realities.

Disability as a Minority

“Twenty percent of the United States of America, nearly 56 million people, are people with disabilities. The Mayor believes that all our institutions, and all our activities, should mirror that.”“[Disabled Americans] are the only minority that any of us, unfortunately, are welcome to join at any point. You don’t need to be born into it. And so, when speaking with Warren [Leight], we talked about how to get writers to do more of this, to include more scenes that incorporate actors with disabilities.”- Matthew Sapolin, Executive Director of the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities

“This is a topic that comes up in our [Sesame Street]writers’ meetings over and over and over again. And I’ve had many frustrating discussions with filmmakers. We subcontract live-action film out to other producers and filmmakers on the outside, and you have to keep reminding them, ‘This is America’s largest minority, folks, and we’re almost twice as many as African Americans. You wouldn’t think of making a live-action film with a bunch of kids and not use any African-Americans.’ It’s crazy. They wouldn’t think of doing that. Well, leaving out people with disabilities is just as crazy, or perhaps more so, because we’re so numerous.”- Emily Perl Kingsley, writer, Sesame Street

“If fifty or sixty million Americans are disabled, that means every writer in this room knows one, or two, or three, or five. And you probably haven’t written about them as often as you have written about the high school bully, because that guy you wanted to get back at. [Laughter] The best writing we do, usually, is when we write about things that make us uncomfortable. Things that give us pause. And also, when we think about this as a story about a minority whose stories have not been told. That’s part of our job, to get that out there. To tell the stories. Know you’re going to screw up, and you’re going to make some awkward mistakes, but you’re doing that with your nondisabled characters as well.” – Warren Leight, writer

Disability as a Minority Experience

“I think analogies to other minorities are sometimes helpful. I recently worked with an Asian acting company and I had a kid come up to me who said, ‘Thank you for this part; it’s the first time in three years I wasn’t asked to play a delivery boy or a gang member.’ And that’s where that acting community is now. There is still this ghettoization in America.”- Warren Leight, writer

“Like women’s studies; African-American studies; or queer studies, disability studies examine how the category ‘disability’ and the group ‘disabled people’ have been constructed; how social institutions, books, films, and so forth cement into place shopworn ideas and reinforce rigid social stratification.”- Simi Linton, author/disability advocate

“As America’s largest minority, if we could speak with one voice; if we could get together and speak with one voice, we could make anything happen in this country. We could change legislation; we could change services. We could change everything. And so, you know, part of my personal advocacy is to try to bring us all together. I had a bumper sticker once that said, ‘Disabled Americans Unite’ (I hated to give away that car when it broke down, because I didn’t want to lose the bumper sticker.). That’s how I come to this subject and what I feel my mandate is.” – Emily Perl Kingsley, writer, Sesame Street

“Disabled people are everywhere these days. On supermarket checkout lines, on the bus, in the classroom, and on the stage. We are emerging from backward, segregated settings and sheltered workshops, upping the ante on the demands for a truly inclusive society. And we have come out, not with those brown, woolen, lap robes over our withered legs, nor dark glasses over our pale eyes, but in shorts and sandals, overalls and business suits, dressed for play and work—straightforward, unmasked, and unapologetic. We are, as Crosby, Stills and Nash told their Woodstock audience, letting our “freak flag fly.” That resonates with a certain demographic. [Laughter] The disability rights movement fostered our emergence, and the public has greeted us sometimes enthusiastically, but more often our bids for integration and equity are met with reluctance or outright hostility. Once out, we have found each other and formed a coalition, a constituency, a community.” – Simi Linton, author/disability advocate

Disability and Poverty

“John [Belluso’s] stories are filled with the texture of a life lived with a disability. John and I supposedly had something in common since I was disabled. And it’s true, we were both on telethons. But we had more profound things in common, namely an analysis of disability as connected to larger social issues, and the relationship of disability to poverty. In Pyretown, what John called his ‘HMO romance,’ there’s a couple. (There’s always a couple in John’s plays.) The disabled Harry is trying to coach his new friend, Lois, on how to negotiate a phone interview with her insurance company. She’s on welfare, she’s on the worst of HMOs. He’s pushing too hard, and Lois says: ‘I don’t need to be lectured, Harry. You’re not a expert on everything.’ And Harry responds, ‘No I’m not, but I’m crippled, I’m poor, and I live in America, so I am an expert on this.’”- Victoria Lewis, Ph.D., writer/director/Assoc. Prof. of Theatre Arts, Univ. of Redlands/Founding Director of the Mark Taper Forum’s Other Voices Project

Disability and Race

“As a person who has spent a great deal of time fighting for roles for blacks, and black characters, as a person who grew up in the South in a home with a grandmother who had amputated legs, it never occurred to me until tonight to write a disabled character. So, I really am sort of shocked at myself. It just never occurred to me. At all. Ever. I’m already on that fight about the race issue. They’re gonna say, ‘You’re gonna come in and be black and disabled? My God!’” – Richard Willis, Jr., writer/producer

“There was another character in To Kill a Mockingbird, Tom Robinson, a black man who was on trial. His disability helped to turn around the case against him, to ensure his innocence of the crime.”- Horton Foote, dramatist/screenwriter

“Here’s a story. August Wilson did an interview with Bill Moyers. He was talking to Bill Moyers about Fences one of the plays he won a Pulitzer for, and Wilson said, ‘I write in black and white. I write for a black community.’ And Bill Moyers said, ‘But Fences is about me and my son.” – Victoria Lewis, Ph.D., writer/director/Assoc. Prof. of Theatre Arts, Univ. of Redlands/Founding Director of the Mark Taper Forum’s Other Voices Project

Disability and Family

“In addition to my writing for Sesame Street, I also did a CBS Movie of the Week, years ago, about our family’s experience of raising a child with Down syndrome. I found it was important to me to tell the whole story, be totally honest, and acknowledge the pain. This is pretty much the mother’s story. I got to retain the essential honesty of the story, which included the mother’s journey of accepting the change in plans from what had been expected, you know, all of the plans she had made for this wonderful child she was going to have. I wrote a piece called, Welcome to Holland, which some people may be familiar with, which has become well-known. And it is basically about the plans you make, and then there’s some kind of change in plan that came out of the blue that you didn’t expect, and what you have to do is make the adjustment, find out about the new thing. You started out, you wanted to go to Italy, you landed in Holland. And it’s just a different place. It’s a little bit slower-paced; it’s a little bit less flashy than Italy. Everybody you know is going back and forth from Italy and bragging about what a great time they had there. And you’ve got to acknowledge the loss of that dream. You’ve got to say, ‘The loss of that dream is a very painful loss,’ but only when you can do that, and say, ‘OK, that’s part of my life, and now I’ve got to learn about this new place.’ And after you’ve been there for a while, you find out that Holland has tulips, and Holland has windmills; it’s just a different place. But if you’re stuck mourning the fact that you didn’t get to Italy, you’ll never be able to enjoy the really lovely things there are about Holland. On the other hand, if you’re so besotted with Holland as the best place you’re ever been, and you don’t acknowledge the fact that you really wanted to go to Italy all that time, that’s not going to be real and true either. And, so what you have to do is really grasp the totality of the experience. The plusses, the minuses, the challenges, the rewards, the joys, the pains. And that’s when you can be honest about telling your story.” – Emily Perl Kingsley, writer, Sesame Street

Disability and Sexuality

“…[W]hen it came to Ed, the writers would say, ‘What would happen in this situation?’ I had to describe my accident. They didn’t understand about a T-Level, or about a T-4, or about that stuff. They didn’t know about sexuality. And we talked about me and sex. So I learned they didn’t know how to write this stuff. You know what? It’s about being open. Just write it. It will take on a life of its own.”- Daryl Chill Mitchell, actor

“I think that disabled people are fucking sexy people, man! And you know, we have to bring that component to our work. Pardon my language, forgive me, but sincerely, I mean it. I had an experience a few years ago—and this may sound a little vainI really don’t mean it that way. But I was doing a play at the Actors Studio, and I was playing a photojournalist, a war correspondent, and I thought, ‘Well, here’s my chance.’ And so I played with that, my sexuality, you know, I really brought it out. I was really using that part of my humanity, and one of the other actors came to me, and said, ‘You know, a very strange thing is happening—a lot of women I know have seen this, and keep saying, ‘What’s going on, that guy is kind of sexy…’ ‘Cause I guess we’re not supposed to be! I really think the writers have to remember, we’re just as confused as everybody else, and, we’re normal, like Lynn said. Just explore, explore that. You guys are courageous. Do it. You’ve always done it before, and it’s a challenge I hope you take.”-Clark Middleton, actor

IV. WRITING DISABILITY

The best representations of disability are “real” representations based on personal or family experience of disability, research, and dialogue between the disabled and nondisabled. Writing about disability does not rule out comedy. Exposure to disability is a good way to find out what is acceptable and what is offensive.

“What is appropriate? A lot of you may not know how a person who uses a wheelchair, or a person who is blind or a person who is Deaf or hard of hearing gets through the normal routine of a day. Remember, we’re more like you than we’re different. And so, we modify a few things. But, if you don’t live with us, or watch us, or expose yourself to us and our stories, you won’t be able to include us…” – Matthew Sapolin, Executive Director of the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities

Experience

“I realize I think about [dramatic] time very much through the perspective of ‘before’ and ‘after’ my mother had a devastating stroke, which left her paralyzed on half of her body, and unable to speak more than 10 or 15 words, the last 20 years of her life. I did not grow up as a child with a disabled mother and become sensitized to those issues. I became aware of them as a teenager. And so, I think I ended up writing about disability without really realizing I was writing about disability.”- Diana Son, playwright/supervising producer, Law & Order: Criminal Intent

“I was an actor in stand up. I had a stroke, so I wrote a solo show about the stroke called, Brain Freeze. Some of it’s funny. It really hit me, the universality of what disabled people go through. I wrote a show about walking down the street in New York; a lot of people have a lot of problems walking down the streets of New York City. There’s universality in what we go through. Everybody has frustration, not just the disabledeverybody.” – John Kawie, actor

Research

“John’s stories are filled with the texture of a life lived with a disability. But John’s writing—and I want to say this to all of the writers in the room—did not come solely from his own personal experience. In fact, he did lots of research for every play. Believe it or not, not every disabled person knows every other disabled person [Laughter], nor are they comfortable or knowledgeable about the wide range of differences that constitute the so-called ‘disability community.’ So, he researched not just historical plays like The Body of Bourne about radical 19th-century thinker Randolph Bourne, but also Gretty Goodtime set in the 1950’s at the beginning of the independent movement and dealing with contemporary issues surrounding assisted suicide. InPyretown, he was working from his working class roots in Rhode Island, but he had to get the HMO stuff down because he was making a big attack on that industry. He had to be careful. John believed that there were many stories from the experience of disability that would be good to tell everybody. So, research and listening—if you don’t have the research and listening, you can end up with some pretty clichéd plots.” – Victoria Lewis, Ph.D., writer/director/Assoc. Prof. of Theatre Arts, Univ. of Redlands/Founding Director of the Mark Taper Forum’s Other Voices Project

“ I approach any character I don’t have real personal experience with—and even when I do—by doing some research. For example, I decided to write a love story about a blind couple for a play. I had never had a relationship with a blind female. But a couple of friends of mine who were blind had married blind women, and I pursued interviews with them. I found there are some real differences, and a lot of issues that come up, they differed from one relationship to the other.”

“I think even those of us who supposedly are supposed to ‘know’ what it’s about shouldn’t take it for granted that we do. We should get out there—everybody should get out there and with some degree of due diligence, research characters and their realities. I think part of what happens with writers, particularly when you’re dealing with disability, is you come up against questions of appropriateness and inappropriateness. ‘You shouldn’t ask that question’—even little children are told, ‘Shh! Don’t ask that.’ If you see a disabled person you shouldn’t approach and ask them, ‘What’s it like to be blind, what’s it look like?’ The parent will snatch the child and drag them off, and the child will think it’s something they should never broach. I think even as adults—even as professionals—rather than ask the question, you either don’t write the character, or you make some assumptions that might end up putting something asinine on the screen. The first thing is to drop any apprehension about asking questions. Spend time researching characters.”- Lynn Manning, playwright/actor/poet

“I feel like I would be disserving John, and what’s been going on in the last 30 years in our culture, if I didn’t say that the best writing comes with the deepest engagement with disability culture and history. If anyone asks me, ‘How do I make my acting class accessible? How do I write a story with a disabled character ’ I say, ‘Go read a book on disability rights. Then you’ll get a new way of thinking.’”

“People who are in the disability community talk about Passion Fish. You see that one? It’s one of those classic, whiny disabled person meets wonderful nondisabled person narratives, a tired and offensive scenario. But there’s this one tiny segment where the protagonist finally gets the inspiration to go on a boat ride. And we see her on the shore. Then the next time we see her, she’s in the boat. How did she get into the boat? That’s what I find interesting. And I think that is my answer. You really want to know how to do it? Then really do it. You want to write a really good series about life on the streets? You really get in there and really understand what’s going on. And then you’re an artist, but you’ve fed on experience; it adds huge amounts of texture.” – Victoria Lewis, Ph.D., writer/director/Assoc. Prof. of Theatre Arts, Univ. of Redlands/Founding Director of the Mark Taper Forum’s Other Voices Project

Collaboration

“Before I became disabled, I was a prominent actor. The thing I want to say about Hollywood is that when they want to do something, they can do something. A lot of my work when I got out of the hospital after a motorcycle accident was thanks to a lot of people who stood up for me, a lot of directors who knew my work from before, who knew that I could work now. And they made phone calls and they got me in the room. And the first experience I had was the TV show, Ed. John and Rob, after the first season, admitted to me that they didn’t know what to say to a person in a wheelchair. They were like, ‘What do we say to him?’ They were really nervous seeing me in the room. We talked and I made them feel comfortable, and they called me and said, ‘We want you on the show.’ And, you know, they knew the wheelchair was going to take on a life of its own. I told them that, ‘The wheelchair is going to take on a life of its own. There’s certain curves it’s not going to make. There’s certain doors we ain’t going to go through, and you’re just going to have to rewrite something else’. I say that to the writers all the time, ‘Just write it, it will take on a life of its own.’ When I was doing [The] John Larroquette [Show], they used to try to write me black. They would write, ‘…And then Chill says this, and then he slapped five.’ Slap five is not a thought, it’s a feeling. We don’t slap five because we thought about it, it’s a feeling. A lot of the time they wrote words, and I was trying to say the words, and I was trying to say them because I knew I was supposed to. But when it came to Ed, what happened was, the writers would say, ‘What would happen in this situation?’ I had to describe my accident. They didn’t understand about a T-Level, or about a T-4, or about that stuff. They didn’t know about sexuality. And we talked about me and sex. So I learned they didn’t know how to write this stuff. You know what? It’s about being open. Just write it.” – Daryl Chill Mitchell, actor

“We’ve talked about researching a disability you don’t have. I think it flows both ways. [To Christopher Roberts, a blind playwright:] You have to find a consultant—somebody to help you do that—but I wouldn’t hesitate to write the piece as best as you can the first time around without any assistance for the visual stuff, and see what comes of it. Write a basic description of what happens, and then see what you end up with. I think if you listen, or look at the lyrics of somebody like Stevie Wonder, who didn’t have sight for any significant period of his life, there’s a lot of visual reference going on in his stuff that’s absolutely and totally believable. I don’t know where he gets it, but he gets it. Don’t let someone say you can’t do that because it’s a visual medium. Just do it, and then you can get assistance filling in what’s missing.”- Lynn Manning, playwright/actor/poet

“I’m a blind filmmaker, and the nature of film is so collaborative, people are just amazed; they don’t think a blind person can direct a film. People don’t realize that you work with these teams. You work with editors, you get your hands in there, you block yourself, you use dolls for storyboards. If you can do geometry in high school, you can storyboard a script. So, it just takes some adaptive techniques, and it isn’t miraculous or anything even though people love to call it ‘inspirational.’”- Adam Linn, filmmaker

The Question of Comedy

“I have the privilege now of being in the process of creating a new series for FOX. That is happening as we speak. As a person who has spent a great deal of time fighting for roles for blacks, and black characters, as a person who grew up in the South in a home with a grandmother who had amputated legs, it never occurred to me until tonight to write a disabled character. So, I really am sort of shocked at myself. It just never occurred to me. At all. Ever. Somebody on the panel said, ‘Get the books.’ Yeah, I’m gonna do that. But it’s a comedy series and every presentation I’ve ever experienced about anybody disabled in any way, has been tragic. And so, how do I do this in a comedy without exploiting the character, without doing stupid jokes? I’m already on that fight about the race issue. They’re gonna say, ‘You’re gonna come in and be black and disabled? My God!’” – Richard Willis, Jr., writer/producer

“My suggestion would be, just write her in as one of the characters there. You know, just have her be there. You don’t have to point to it. You know, just give her the same comedy lines as someone who had both her legs.”- Emily Perl Kingsley, writer, Sesame Street

“Comedy is often about dealing with oppression, and making jokes about it. It doesn’t have to be making jokes that are centered on making fun of the disabled character but instead making fun of the situations, people and institutions that make life so difficult for those with disabilities.”- Victoria Lewis, Ph.D., writer/director/Assoc. Prof. of Theatre Arts, Univ. of Redlands/Founding Director of the Mark Taper Forum’s Other Voices Project

“The deal is that you’re sensitive to it as a black man, so just bring that sensitivity to it, and you’ll figure it out. And again, find yourself a consultant or somebody to talk to about it, to run some certain things past. I might reveal some bad stuff here, but I laugh like hell at some stuff Richard Pryor said about disabled folks, just because he was irreverent about it and you knew he was being outrageous and just straight up for that purpose saying, ‘How far can I go before somebody hits me with something?’ And that’s all right with me. Some people might find it problematicSouth Park tickles the hell out of me. They go too far, too often, but hey, I’m right there with them. I’m turning it on next week. I gotta see what’s coming next [Laughter], who they gonna offend tomorrow?” – Lynn Manning, playwright/actor/poet“

A rule of thumb is, ‘If it’s real, it’s OK.’ I mean what we’re laughing about now. If you’re watching, if you can see this: There’s this funny thing going on between the panelists and the interpreter and the microphone. Little things like that can get turned into material.”- David Kurs, writer

“I do think there is a built-in fear of doing something wrong, and it brings to mind an episode of the HBO series Extras. Ricky Gervais? In the pilot episode, there’s a character with MS, and the source of the humor is the nondisabled character, and in his fearfulness, his inappropriateness, his carefulness; he makes every mistake. And so he is the source of humor, not the disabled character.”-Diana Son, playwright/supervising producer, Law & Order: Criminal Intent

“I’ve been an actor since I was maybe 14 and throughout that time, I’ve been legally blind [and] in high school, I was a little bit irreverent. I would walk down the hall to touch girl’s butts and I would say, ‘Oh, I’m sorry I didn’t see you there.’ [Laughter] You know, stuff like that. The ability to laugh at oneself is human—not black, not white, not wheelchair-using—it’s human. So I think that’s one thing you might want to look at, the ability to laugh at oneself.” – Christopher Roberts, actor/writer/director

Getting the Message Out: Role Models

“I don’t think there’s any show in the history of television that has as comfortably, and as with as much frequency, included, in a nice, easy, comfortable way, individuals with disabilities as Sesame Street has over the last 37 years.”- Emily Perl Kingsley, writer, Sesame Street

“I grew up watching Linda Bove [on Sesame Street]. And it was so important to me. I remember thinking they put her on the show because it showed how disabled people function in the regular world.”- David Kurs, writer

“The biggest job we have is to make sure there is visibility, that there is a wide range of different kinds of disabilities. One of the problems is that on television, it seems as though ‘disability equals wheelchair.’ Sesame Street has tried to have kids who use arm braces, and kids who are reading Braille books. One of the beautiful things I can report to you, is that now, on every Elmo’s World script, there’s a montage in the beginning, and there’s a directive to the filmmaker: ‘Please make sure you include children with disabilities.’”

“…We’re not only giving out information, and showing kids included, we’re sending a message of entitlement and validation, to the kids in the audience themselves who have disabilities, and to their siblings. And then, to all the people who have never experienced this in their own personal lives, or still have some sense of discomfort about it. We tell the rest of that audience that this is OK, this is part of our community, part of our schools. Kids are not being institutionalized anymore. They’re in the community, they’re in the schools, they’re going to be your kids’ playmates and classmates, and they’re entitled to be there. This is the message we’re trying to send out all the time.”- Emily Perl Kingsley, writer, Sesame Street

“I watch disabled people wherever they appear. But I get a sense of tokenism. It needs to be there on a token level, as well as on a meaningful level, because sometimes it’s very evident that they don’t know what to do with these people once they’re on the show.”- David Kurs, writer

“…People have to feel free to include disability anywhere, at any time, and not necessarily feel as if you have to add a gang of blind folks. [Laughter] I think the Sesame Street example is exactly what has to be spread around, just so folks will know. And it doesn’t have to be about the character with the disability at all. As a performer with a disability, I’d really love for writers to create these parts, and to call for the part to be disabled in whichever way, form, or fashion; because if you don’t write it, they don’t think about it.”

“You just have to keep doing it. You have to keep producing stories off the beaten track.”- Lynn Manning, playwright/actor/poet

“I have had to call festivals and talk to directors, ‘cause I know, they don’t really know I’m blind, and although I’m not saying, ‘Let me in because I’m blind.’ Certainly some of them have not been afraid to say no, and that’s fine. But they have a different perspective if they know you’re coming from a genuine place and not just a psycho who thinks that blind people should be represented differently from their clichés.”- Adam Linn, filmmaker

“It’s writers in particular that have changed my whole experience and changed my professional experience. Two people in particular— well, three, John Belluso is another story altogether—but Sam Shepard and Quentin Tarantino, both of whom had written parts for me that really had nothing to do with being disabled. I have a long, long history with what’s called juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, and in all of these situations, there were many issues in relation to the casting, because I had the disability and it was the writers who really pushed the envelope on that. And, of course, John wrote this remarkable play, [The] Body of Bourne. I think the second half of that play is maybe the only experience I’ve ever had as an actor where I felt I was playing someone closest to how I live or that, captured the fullest part of my humanity.”- Clark Middleton, actor

“I’d like to say, thank god you’re having a conference like this because I think it’s invaluable.”- Christopher Roberts, actor/writer/director

“I really think the writers, I really think all of you have to remember, we’re just as confused as everybody else, and, we’re normal. Just explore, explore that. You guys are courageous. Do it. You’ve always done it before, and it’s a challenge I hope you take.”- Clark Middleton, actor

V. RESOURCES

There are several resources writers can turn to for guidance when writing or casting disabled characters—The Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities (New York City), The Non-Traditional Casting Project in New York, The Media Access office (Los Angeles), consultants Lynn Manning and Danny Murphy (Los Angeles), and Emily Perl Kingsley (New York City).

“I extend the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities to all of you as a resource—through dialogue and through real contacts in the community—to ask any disability-related question you may wish to and give you, the writer, a sense of comfort.” – Matthew Sapolin, Executive Director of the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities

“I’ve consulted on a couple of projects, most recently Blind Justice. I was the technical consultant on that. And I was technical consultant to the actor Rutger Hauer on Blind Fury, and I taught him how to shave eyebrows with his sword.[Laughter] A friend of mine, Dan Murphy, in Los Angeles, is working together with me, and some other performers and writers with disabilities, to provide free consultation to any writer who wants to write a disabled character, or who has a question about something that’s simple and easy enough to answer. The deal is, folks need to be able to ask questions and not feel like they have to hire on a full-on consultant just to get a couple basic ideas cleared up. This goal is to provide that, and hopefully, eventually, it will become kind of a nonprofit resource—like the Non-Traditional Casting [Project in New York City], and the Media Access Office in L.A. Just as they provide links to performers with disabilities, we’d like to provide links to consultants with disabilities.”- Lynn Manning, playwright/actor/poet

“The Non-Traditional Casting Project is also a resource to you, if you have questions. And we also have a disability advocate on staff, Christine Bruno, who is here with us tonight. That’s what we’re here for, to answer your questions. However, there are some times when hiring a consultant for larger projects is the appropriate response. And in those instances, there is Lynn, based in Los Angeles. The Non-Traditional Casting Project can also refer consultants to you, and in those cases, it would be on a paid basis. But that’s when you are working on a large or ongoing production.”- Sharon Jensen, Executive Director, The Non-Traditional Casting Project

“…All of the filmmakers have my phone number; I’m always on tap for them, if they’re looking for kids and I plug them into support groups and connect them with parent groups and families. I’ve sent all kinds of kids to them. So every year, we have casting sessions where they call me up and say, ‘Well, we need a new bunch of kids with Down syndrome,’ and so I work as a “part-time casting director,” on top of everything else! But this is so important that if it doesn’t get done, it doesn’t get done.”- Emily Perl Kingsley, writer, Sesame Street

WRITTEN ON THE BODY: A CONVERSATION ABOUT DISABILITY

SPEAKERS (IN ORDER OF APPEARANCE):

  • TARI STRATTON
  • HORTON FOOTE
  • MATTHEW SAPOLIN
  • WARREN LEIGHT
  • SHARON JENSEN
  • VICTORIA LEWISSIMI LINTON

PANELISTS (IN ORDER OF APPEARANCE)

  • LYNN MANNING
  • DAVID KURS
  • DIANA SONEMILY
  • PERL KINGSLEY
  • VICTORIA LEWIS

SPEAKERS IN THE AUDIENCE (IN ORDER OF APPEARANCE):

  • RICHARD WILLIS, JR.
  • CHRISTOPHER ROBERTS
  • DARYL CHILL MITCHELL
  • ADAM LINN
  • DAVID STEVEN COHEN
  • JOHN KAWIE
  • CLARK MIDDLETON
  • TOM FONTANA
  • JOANNE JACOBSON
  • WARREN LEIGHT
  • JACK JACK AND CAROL LEVIN
  • NATIONAL ENDOWMENT FOR THE ARTS
  • SCREEN ACTORS GUIILD—PRODUCERS INDUSTRY ADVANCEMENT AND COOPERATIVE FUND
  • TIME WARNER INC.

THIS EVENT WAS MADE POSSIBLE BY SUPPORT FROM THE FOLLOWING:

AND

SPECIAL THANKS TO HBO

ADDITIONAL THANKS TO:

AMERICAN MOVIE CLASSICS, NEWMARKET PRESS, TCG, CHRISTOPHER TITUS, VARIETY, KATE VAN DEVENDER

This report was written by Annie Correal and compiled from the full transcript of proceedings, transcribed on April 18, 2006, by Annie Correal, Allison Lucas, and Sara Wood

Go to: Written on the Body: A Full Transcript