Disability in the Media and Entertainment Industries
Disability History Month is upon us, with this year’s theme being access. What better time than the present to share my answers to some of the common questions asked by candidates with disabilities, as well as employers, within the media and entertainment industry.
Should I disclose my disability at a casting event or interview?
This is a dilemma which many people with disabilities face, although they really shouldn’t have to. Often, there is a fear that disclosing your disability upfront may mean that you are discriminated against in the casting or recruitment process and, sadly, this does happen occasionally. If you feel like an employer has discarded you purely because you have a disability, you need to question whether this is a company you really want to work for.
I know from experience that choosing not to disclose a disability, particularly in an audition, can lead to awkward and uncomfortable situation. For instance, I was once at a casting call where we played a game of ‘wink murder’ to test our improvisation skills before the audition officially began (yes, this absolutely does sound like a GCSE drama lesson). Due to my sight loss, I struggle to read facial expressions, unless a person is stood directly in front of me. I spent the whole game praying that I wouldn’t be winked at but, sure enough, my time came and I had no idea until the awkward silence around me signalled that it was my turn to improv. I had to act out the most embarrassing, prolonged fake death, all while knowing the other auditionees were thinking ‘what is she waiting for?’
The moral of the story is that, if you feel able to, you should always be upfront about your disability and ask for any adaptations to be made that will allow you to perform your best, and give you an equal chance of success. If you don’t, you may one day too have to fake an uncomfortably slow and painful death in a room of 300 other auditionees!
Is it okay to change a setup so that it works for me?
I touched on the topic of reasonable adjustments above, and it is one hundred percent okay to ask for a technical setup, studio space or any other working environment to be adapted to suit your needs.
I know that, in the media industry especially, people can become very frustrated when the intricacies of their tech setup or their studio design is changed after they have put so much time and thought into it. But, in most cases, people are understanding and if you explain why you need something to change, they are often happy to accommodate you.
As with any workplace, if you are in a position the working environment inhibits your ability to do your job, you are within your rights to request adaptations. In all of my previous jobs, I have installed screen magnification software onto the PCs to allow me to tech shows independently, or I’ve found alternative solutions like setting up a dual monitor with my personal laptop. Likewise, I have had to completely rearrange studio and stage layouts when I’ve been unable to read autocues, or when lights have shone directly into my eyes. I’ve asked for reflective tape to be placed around the edge of a stage to stop me falling off it. At first it can feel like you’re being an inconvenience, but in the long run, you are helping yourself do your job independently, and that is absolutely necessary.
How will you manage to do your job?
This is one of the top questions disabled candidates are asked in a sceptical, but often well-intentioned, tone by employers. While sometimes they may be doubting your abilities, this is often asked purely out of curiosity; they want to know how you’ve overcome the barriers you’ve faced.
I often take this opportunity to show off a bit and prove that my disability has never stopped me working in media or entertainment before. If you have experience of overcoming terrible accessibility issues in a previous job, share those stories with them – they’ll likely be impressed. Similarly, if you use any assistive technology, show them how it works. I sometimes use my handheld video magnifier to help me read labels on pieces of technical equipment, identify wires that look very alike and distinguish between different buttons. Also share with them any skills you may have, for instance I can touch type, which means that I don’t need an adapted keyboard, and am very quick with input. Sharing your skills and methods with employers allows you to depict yourself as a resilient, adaptable candidate, and increases their awareness and understanding of your disability.
Disabled workers amass 5.2% of the off-screen and 7.8% of the on-screen workforce. It is vital that we continue to increase our visibility in the media and entertainment industry, promote accessible workplaces and ensure that our rights are being met along the way.
Words by Rachel Clough.