According to the United States Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy the answer to the FAQ – What is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, is:
Congress designated each October as National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM). The Office of Disability Employment Policy has the lead in planning NDEAM activities and materials to increase the public’s awareness of the contributions and skills of American workers with disabilities. Various programs carried out throughout the month also highlight the specific employment barriers that still need to be addressed and removed.
This effort to educate the American public about issues related to disability and employment actually began in 1945, when Congress enacted alaw declaring the first week in October each year “National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week.” In 1962, the word “physically” was removed to acknowledge the employment needs and contributions of individuals with all types of disabilities. In 1988, Congress expanded the week to a month and changed the name to “National Disability Employment Awareness Month.” www.dol.gov/odep/faqs/ndeam.htm
Of course I have to look, more often search diligently and hope to find decent examples of this in my industry of entertainment which seems to find it okay to employ those with a disAbility only when absolutely necessary and if they have a concern about the ADA or the EEOC then they will employ those with a disAbility in backroom positions and rarely if ever in any of the creative positions that make this industry what it is – the very product that the public buys – and would be ideal to their own image if the diversity and inclusion actually included more of those with a disAbility being portrayed and if they would not fake the representation of the largest and fastest growing minority in America!
To run a recent time line, I have to mention, again, the Screen Actor’s Guild (SAG) industry report published in May 2005, “The EMPLOYMENT of PERFORMERS WITH DISABILITIES in the Entertainment Industry.” It really was a scathing report that detailed the discrimination of those with a disAbility in the entertainment industry and how if the actors with a disAbility could they would hide their disability as much as possible – and if hired the performers were so afraid to ask for even minimal accommodations fo fear of being seen as weak or being fired – from one of the wealthiest industries in the world – and on top of the details of this report the authors, Dr. Olivia Raynor and Dr. Katherine Hayward from UCLA and the National Arts and Disability Center gave several recommendations that were easy for the industry to implement and make the business more inclusive for those with a disAbility – very little has changed in Hollywood!
During this month in 2008 the actor’s guilds came together and announced a new campaign to raise awareness and encourage inclusion of the entertainment industry with the Inclusion in the Arts and Media for Performers With Disabilities (I.AM. PWD) I was excited about having the backing of 3 huge industry unions working and supporting the inclusion of actors with a disAbility to be more accepted in the movies and television productions. I am not an actor, but because one of the excuses Hollywood uses when confronted on why there isn’t more portrayals of those with disAbilities – is that there isn’t the material written that includes those with a disAbility. I have heard that from actors and even those who are members of the unions’ Performers with Disabilities Committees – so it seems logical that I would fit right in – as a provider of material – and even better than just a writer who includes a character with a disAbility – I am a person with a disAbility AND writing featured roles in authentic, non-stereotypical characters and stories and if that wasn’t enough I am the complete behind the camera package – I am also a director with a disAbility and therefore a filmmaker providing an authentic voice and vision of and for those with a disAbility! The exact material that the industry says it requires to hire performers with a disAbility so surely this new I.AM.PWD campaign would want to partner with someone like yours truly? Well, I was so excited when I found out about this new campaign during the month it was announced – October 2008, that even while I was in the hospital, I wrote a short film screenplay, “Un-Working Class” that dramatizes the struggles of actors with a disAbility and in a creative transition it ends with a plea to the industry to give us a chance and see what we can do and will provide. I thought this would be a great campaign commercial – so to speak – but it seems they were not interested as I never heard back. But they were a new organization at the time and not nearly as put together as they are now – and therefore back then the best I was able to do was to bring it up with an actor I knew was involved as a PWD who said he would bring it up with whoever was in charge – but I never heard back from either the actor or anyone from I AM PWD! So now that they are a lot more organized (check out IAMPWD.org ) maybe I should try again! Although they seem to be focused on talking about the issues and hoping Hollywood changes rather than taking some real action like making a film with me that shows everyone what it is like for those of us with a disAbility in the entertainment industry and how it could and should be in reality. To each their own – I will continue to do my work and when the time comes many of them will line up and ask me for a job!
In October 2009, SAG published a follow up about people with disAbilities being portrayed in Hollywood and despite their efforts the “Latest Casting Data Follows Historical Trends and Continues to Exclude People with Disabilities” The report stated:
Despite years of bargaining with producers to include the hiring of performers with a disability in Casting Data Reports, this protected category continues to be left out. Fifty-six million Americans — 20% of the U.S.population — have a disability. Despite being the largest minority group in the country, people with disabilities remain virtually invisible in entertainment media
So despite the huge union power of SAG and their years of bargaining with producers – the producers of the television hit show “Glee”, of the largest box office success “Avatar” and the upcoming prequel “X-Men:First Class” they discriminated against the largest minority in the country by hiring able bodied actors to fake being a paraplegic for characters specifically written as characters with paraplegia.
On July 26, 2010, celebrating the 20th Anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act – the most comprehensive civil rights law ever enacted to protect those with a disAbility, President Obama broadcasted a Public Service Announcement, issued a Proclamation that ” we renew our commitment to ensuring that everyone with disabilities can live free from the weight of discrimination and pursue the American dream”, and in keeping with a 2008 Presidential campaign promise also signed an Executive Order that would make the federal government a model for the private sector in the hiring of those with a disAbility. And now in October 2010, President Obama is reiterating the importance of real inclusion and his commitment to those with a disAbility during this “National Disability Employment Awareness Month”! Come on Hollywood – if you will not listen to me, won’t you listen to President Obama?
He spoke of those of us having the right to live free of discrimination and pursue the American dream regardless of our disAbility. Yet in Hollywood it is practically insane for anyone with a disAbility to dream of having a career – if I am not telling the truth, where are the Hollywood examples with disAbilities? Despite years of experiencing first hand the discrimination and stereotyping that is common practice in Hollywood, I still have an American dream of being a filmmaker and of breaking Hollywood stereotypes of paraplegics and provide authentic voices, visions, and performances of paraplegics and others with a disAbility that can also represent themselves in movies and television. Changing Hollywood for a better future that gives us the respect of being treated as being just as important as they treat other minorities – especially racial minorities considering that our disAbility is as much of a factor in our identity as our race, gender and age.
The entertainment industry is a part of the business community and should be held to the same standards and laws about having a fair and equal employment opportunities for all minorities, including those with a disAbility who make up 20% of the American population. So why do they continue to get away with discriminating against paraplegics and others with a disAbility?
Is all of the above not enough to get the entertainment industry to do the right thing for those with a disAbility? And I used to wonder if they even knew how wrong and offensive they were in their portraying and representing people with a disAbility by having able bodied actors, writers, directors faking that they know what it is like to live with a disAbility – which I found out last year in the very television program that is the only one currently portraying a paraplegic, “Glee” where they showed that their paraplegic character was offended that another classmate was faking her disAbility. So they clearly do know this is wrong and offensive – if not to them at least to paraplegics and people with a disAbility! Not that it matters that much to them because even though they are very correct in this portrayal – we are offended by anyone faking a disAbility – even in movies and television with a very few exceptions – yet they hire – EMPLOYED an able bodied actor to fake being a paraplegic. I guess it is like the old saying – do what I say not as I do!
So what is the next step? Get the above mentioned – the Department of Labor, the actors’ unions, the President of the United States and others to the Supreme Court and make it a law to include those with a disAbility in all departments of the entertainment industry and not just teh accounting department – make a new affirmative action law that will finally give us the fair and equal opportunities to finally be included in movies and television and to be able to represent ourselves?
Well this year’s “National Disability Employment Awareness Month” campaign has a poster that should speak to Hollywood. I can only hope because as a filmmaker, a screenwriter, director, producer, and paraplegic, I have been told that I do have talent! But unfortunately, Hollywood does have the boundaries – and plenty of them when it comes to those with a disAbility. If not then I wouldn’t still, after 15 years, be fighting and spending time telling you about the barriers of attitude that is all over Hollywood – and instead I would have already made “London Time”, “Forever Yours”, “Sunrise Surf” and other feature films but instead because of the Hollywood barriers they are still in the “project” phase! And other paraplegic filmmakers and others with different disAbilities would be filmmakers representing their disAbility and if there were none of these Hollywood boundaries that I speak of, the SAG speaks of, then paraplegics and others with a disAbility would be having the same human respect of being recognized as members of society as other minorities and our able bodied counterparts have in the entertainment industry. The talent is out there and so are the Hollywood boundaries!
Of course I have a few ideas on how to tear down those Hollywood boundaries – and they do not involve the above mentioned government agencies or officials, the Supreme Court, current laws of employment and discrimination, or Unions chastising anyone in the entertainment industry, and it will make those who join me in my filmmaking projects leaders in the genuine inclusion – a step ahead of the rest of the industry – making history, considering the past portrayals and representations since the birth of the entertainment industry and continue on today in the 21st century as I listed above and therefore will become participates in a significant “turning point” in American cinema – and potentially make a lot of money in the process! In fact, I challenge anyone in or out of Hollywood to bring me any valid objection or reason that anyone will lose in making a commercially viable film, like my “London Time ” feature film project, that is authentically represented with a paraplegic writer/director (yours truly) and an actor who is a paraplegic in a movie that breaks the stereotypical images, characters, and stories that are normally associated with a movie that features a paraplegic character in the starring role! Seriously, I will put “London Time” up against any independent film project out there looking for the same professional independent production budget ($8-15 Million) and distribution support and I can show how there are no comparisons – “London Time” is clearly the best film project available with the best potential to be a huge box office and non-theatrical revenue stream hit! Can anyone tell me one reason that I could not justly counter of why “London Time” is a bad idea? It is way past time for paraplegics and others with a disAbility to represent ourselves and so we can have our own heroes on the silver screen and then in our own homes through our home entertainment centers! Do you have any idea what a guy like “Dirty Harry” or John McLane of “Die Hard” who happens to also be a paraplegic using a wheelchair would mean to the entire disAbled community of 56+ million Americans? Well that is Detective London of “London Time”! Go meet him on the “London Time” page!