EEOC Dialogues: Disability

On Wednesday, June 2, Equity’s Equal Employment Opportunity Committee held its biannual dialogue on disability, featuring artist and inclusion expert Claudia Alick.

Alick began by asking participants to consider the virtual space they were in, and what each aspect of the webinar might mean in terms of accessibility, from sharing pronouns in an introduction to who has their microphone on and who is muted. 

Equity’s National Diversity and Inclusion Strategist Bliss Griffin spoke about the union’s role in accessibility, how Equity can hold producers to account to fulfill their obligations according to both the law and collective bargaining agreements. 

Alick started their presentation by talking about the vast diversity of disabled communities and the subsequent variance in how people with disabilities self-identify. They differentiated between medical and social models of disability: the former views the problem as residing with the body of an individual, who must seek to solve it through the medical system. The latter instead frames it as a societal issue, where the problem is systems and spaces not accounting for different bodies. 

Alick gave some history on disability rights, including how activism led to what would become the Americans with Disabilities Act, and a brief overview of the current movement, fighting against the likes of high costs of living with a disability to the necessary extra labor of navigating a world that is often not accommodating. Like other marginalized group, people with disabilities constantly face microaggressions, casual acts of discrimination that add up to a larger stress. Alick spoke about ways the theatre can be prone to microaggressions, such as casting an abled performer in the role of a disabled character, or “inspiration porn,” where people with disabilities are portrayed as inspirational because of their disability. 

“Instead of allowing people with disabilities to be full humans,” explained Alick, “A very shallow or narrow image of them will be reflected and it will be an image that's all about centering, making abled people feel good about that disabled person even being there.”

“I have found that I've never been served well, by trying to make myself fit something that was going to hurt or harm me. So it served me well to be really, really explicit. And to have my access rider that says, ‘These are my needs.’”

Alick also defined “identification demand,” that when disabled people appear in public spaces (such as onstage), others are invasive in asking questions about their disability.

Alick spoke about ways that artists can create more inclusive theatre environments both onstage and off, such as quiet spaces, increased signage, hiring an intimacy coordinator, content warnings before shows or utilizing digital technology that exists to facilitate accessibility. They urged people to consider that those with privilege may not realize what they’re neglecting when trying to include others. 

"Did you make your space accessible to those in wheelchairs?,” they offered. “Yeah, you put up a ramp. Can somebody go up the ramp and actually go through the hallway? Can people get into the dressing room?” 

Alick noted that an ableist society can make it hard for those with disabilities to advocate for themselves and their particular needs, so that we need to try to anticipate many of these needs and consider them before being asked. 

Alick fielded questions, such as what bystander training is, what resources Equity has to help theatres who seek to be more inclusive and how a member should navigate the workforce if their disability is not immediately apparent. To the latter, Alick suggested an access rider, and Griffin noted that members could contact their business rep to arrange one. 

“I have found that I've never been served well, by trying to make myself fit something that was going to hurt or harm me,” concluded Alick. “So it served me well to be really, really explicit. And to have my access rider that says, ‘These are my needs.’” 

“You don't need to tell everybody all of your business; you just need to tell people what you need. And if your needs are not exactly the same all the time— that's what being a human is. So that's utterly valid."

Members can access the full transcript and recording of the dialogue in the member portal.