This past week (June 13-19, 2010) in the news we have seen a couple great examples of people with a disAbility not only be recognized but accepted and included as equals in their field. The first I want to highlight is that of Zach Anner who has auditioned for a television show on Oprah’s up coming network. He is a 25 year old man living in Austin, Texas and with cerebral palsy. I first saw his story on ABC News website at: http://abcnews.go.com/WN/Broadcast/conversation-zach-anner-oprahs-star/story?id=10929884
At the time of this story Zach had a commanding lead of a million more votes over the nearest competitor of the many other hopefuls who set up an audition video of their own on the website Oprah set up for this contest. BUT that is no longer the case and his nearest competitor is getting very close!
SO PLEASE VISIT OPRAH’S NEW SITE AND VOTE FOR ZACH!
Here is Zach’s submission on her site: http://myown.oprah.com/audition/index.html?request=video_details&response_id=5615&promo_id=1
I strongly recommend you visit the site and vote for Zach! But regardless if you vote or not – I also suggest you watch his video submission. It is hilarious! Some of it is him punching a little fun at some of things that are challenging for him due to his specific disAbility, and some is just general humor like his fashion show idea! In reality, he proposes to do a travel show in which it isn’t all a polished perfect vacation trip as most travel shows portray! Instead showing real people going on travel vacations where some troubles, if not a lot of troubles are bound to happen as they usually do. But also showing how they overcome them and still have a great vacation!
10 years ago I developed “Independent Travels” a television series that explores the accessible places and activities of travelers with disAbilities. A couple of times I nearly had it produced – the last time was back in 2004 when I had an established production company with their own small but professional studio in Phoenix, AZ, real interested in my presentation (a hard copy in a binder and an electronic on in a Power Point Presentation on a CD) and although we were still in discussions on a couple of show formats (have a host or two introduce segments of travelers on their travels – or – having the host(s) actually going on the travels) that I had not yet decided on, we were about to begin on a regional level when they backed out at the last minute in order to spend all their available funds on the purchase of the largest studio in Phoenix, complete with lots and sound stages! It was a bummer and I went back to focusing on my first passion – storytelling as screenwriter and director of feature films! But even since then I have gotten a lot of contact from other people with various disAbilities wanting and/or attempting to do the same, a travel show featuring travelers with a disAbility! A distant second in frequency to those with a disAbility wanting to their “life’s story” (do not get me started on this – not only is it so common but it is ALSO Hollywood’s excuse for being authentic because even though it isn’t written, directed, or performed by those with a disAbility – it is based on a real person! Look and see for yourself that over half of the limited movies that featured a person with a disAbility are based on a person’s real life story.)
But this is not about my experiences with this topic, but the fact that travel and entertainment are two of the main categories (according to Packaged Facts) the disAbled consumer market focuses their significant $220 billion of discretionary spending power (based on 2001 numbers) – and combining the two – travel with television – is a brilliant business model and one that needs to be given a fair chance to succeed! And Zach is the next one of us attempting it – so I ask all of you to VOTE FOR ZACH and encourage everyone you know to VOTE FOR ZACH!
The second great example in the news this past week is high school graduate, Eric Durquette, who was an honor student, a musician, was the class Salutatorian giving a speech at graduation, and also lives with autism.
Here is the ABC News report that showed a video of Eric’s speech which you can watch from their page on the following link:
It was great example of what can be done when you and those who love you believe in you as he accomplished a lot with the added challenges that he has to live with because of autism. He gave credit to his parents and also to his teachers and fellow classmates whom he said, “went out of their way to always make me feel wanted.” He made a very funny and yet also very serious commentary on the “experts” who told his parents when he was very young and diagnosed with autism, that he should spend his life in an institution, and here he was at 18 years of age, “humble and proud” to be the class Salutatorian and has been “accepted at every institution of higher learning” that he had I applied for!
The quotes that I loved the most where ones that all of us with a disAbility feel and I think is great universal advice as Eric said, “Do not allow yourself or others to be defined by your limitations but rather [by your] abilities.” I think it is very important that he included and in fact began with “do not allow yourself” as a key – too often we focus or define ourselves by our limitations and regardless of why we may do that – free yourself and focus on what you can do and what you do well, and what you love to do regardless of how well you do it! And do not allow others to define you by your challenges or limitations. Every human has some kind of limitations and those of us with a disAbility it is more dramatic and/or more noticeable. I have to completely agree with Eric who also said to “Never underestimate your self.”
It was also great to see his classmates at the graduation so supportive and accepting. Now if we can only get Hollywood to be the same in their acceptance and inclusion of those of us with a disAbility in the creative roles, the non-stereotypical images, and the fair and equal opportunity to prove we can and should have our own voice, vision, performance, and our own heroes, with this overall authentic representation in movies and television! We can do it – if only they would accept us as these high school students and the nearly 3 million voters for Zach on Oprah’s site! American society, our classmates and co-workers, family and friends all accept us and want to see us do and be all we can be – so the last frontier of acceptance and inclusion for those with a disAbility seems to be Hollywood!