Influential Changemakers: Disability Awareness Edition

A showcase of Changemakers with disabilities in the Film, Arts, Media and Entertainment industries.

For this instalment of the Influential Changemaker series, FAME LSA has partnered with the MULSS Disability Portfolio to give a platform to creatives with a disability.

The social exclusion of creative people with disabilities has meant that they are under-represented across the F(ilm), A(rts), M(edia), E(ntertainment) industries. We hope this series elevates some of the incredible creatives out there, and that you take it upon yourselves to engage with content by people living with a disability. Celebrate with us the contributions and achievements of people with a disability and promote further inclusion in the creative industries.

Disability in Film & Television

TERRIBLE PAULY: Streaming on ABC iView

A comedy series following “Terrible Pauly”, who has Cerebral Palsy, as he reviews common household products to see how accessible they are. Created by Regional Storyteller Scholarship recipient Angus Thompson.

CODA: Streaming on Apple+

Adapted from the 2014 French crowd-pleaser La Famille Bélier, CODA is an American coming-of-age comedy-drama film that follows a hearing teenage girl who is a child of deaf adults. Written and directed by Sian Heder, the film stars Emilia Jones as the hearing girl, Marlee Matlin and Troy Kotsur as her culturally deaf parents and Daniel Durant as her deaf brother.

As a CODA (Child of Deaf Adults), Ruby is the only hearing person in her deaf family. When the family’s fishing business is threatened, Ruby finds herself torn between pursuing her love of music and her fear of abandoning her parents.

THE LAST LEG: Streaming on Stan

It originally started as a show that launched alongside the 2012 Paralympics that showcased and revolved around discussions of disability and disabled sportspeople. Since then, it has evolved into a space where disability is acknowledged and obvious but is not necessarily always the topic of discussion or centre of attention, which is refreshing.

Often there can be pressure on people with disabilities to always speak on the topic of disability or “stay in their lane”; however, The Last Leg allows the presenters to “be themselves” whilst also just happening to have disabilities.

UNREST: Streaming on Netflix

Jennifer Brea studied as a PhD student at Harvard University when she caught a fever that left her bedridden. Despite her worsening condition, she was continually dismissed by doctors and turned to the online world for answers. Here, she found millions of others living with chronic fatigue syndrome, also known as M.E.

In this heart-wrenching documentary, Jennifer turns the camera on herself to capture her struggles, exploring how we treat people with illnesses we do not yet understand — how confronting the fragility of life teaches us its value and, ultimately, how we all need to find community and connection.

SPECIAL: Streaming on Netflix

Special is a comedy series that tells the story of Ryan, a 28-year-old gay man with cerebral palsy. He goes in search of independence by moving out of his mum’s house and getting an internship at an online publication.

When Ryan starts his internship, his colleagues think his dexterity issues and the way he walks were caused by a car accident and not cerebral palsy.

Ryan continues to keep quiet about his cerebral palsy and tries to embark on a normal life, creating content at work, making friends, going to parties and dating.

CRIP CAMP: Streaming on Netflix

Woodstock meets disability activism; Camp Jened New York was a hippie in a wheelchair’s dream and the place where the young spirits that drove America’s biggest disability rights movement, leading to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, was ignited.

The movie’s first half collates archival footage of the camp, shot by the journalism collective People’s Video Theater between 1970 and 1972. The second half shows a teen campers’ journey to adulthood, particularly highlighting the camper and incredible force of nature – Judy Heumann.

Activist and founder of Disabled in Action, we follow Judy and the entire disability community watching the unbelievable events that transpired during the Nixon and Carter administration, which led to government federally funded spaces (schools, libraries and hospitals) to be made accessible to people of all abilities for the first time.

If this passionate, fist-pumping, feel good tear jerker doesn’t make your compassion cells tingle, then probably nothing will.

MARGARITA WITH A STRAW: Streaming on Netflix

Margarita with a Straw is a 2014 Indian Hindi-language drama film directed by Shonali Bose. It stars Kalki Koechlin as an Indian teenager with cerebral palsy who relocates to America for her undergraduate education and comes of age following her complex relationship with a blind girl, played by Sayani Gupta.

Bose conceived the idea for the film in January 2011, during a conversation with Malini Chib—her cousin and a disability rights activist—about the latter’s desire to have a normal sex life.

Inspired by Chib’s story, Bose wrote the first draft of the film’s script. After winning a Sundance Mahindra Global Filmmaker Award for the draft, she modified the script to reflect her own perspective, incorporating several personal experiences into the narrative.

ARTISTS & ARTWORK

NIKKI HIND: Fashion Designer & Entrepreneur

Nikki is the founder of Blind Grit & is Australia’s first blind fashion designer. After being left permanently legally blind by a stroke and determined to be a positive presence and role model for her children, Hind began pursuing her lifelong dream of fashion design. Her talent and perseverance lead to the creation of her first collection, which was featured at Melbourne Fashion Week twice.

AARON MCPEAKE: Sculptor

In 2002, McPeake had to abandon a long career in stage lighting design due to losing most of his eyesight and returned to arts education and practice full-time. Although he is registered blind, the emphasis on touch and sound in his work is not intended to replace or compensate for the visual sense. It is more about enhancing the experience of those who encounter it; his work provides novel opportunities for haptic exploration.

He has been awarded a first-class Honours Degree in Arts, Design and Environment from Central Saint Martins (2005), Post-Graduate Certificate Learning and Teaching (2011) and a PhD from Chelsea (2012).

CAROLINE BOWDITCH: Artist & Choreographer

Glasgow based but Australian born performance artist and choreographer Caroline Bowditch describes herself as a performer, maker, teacher, speaker and mosquito buzzing in the ears of the arts industry in the UK and further afield.

Her consultancy work in accessibility and inclusivity includes ongoing work with Skånes Dansteater, Sweden and recently with Australian organisations Access2Arts, Arts Access and the Australia Council for the Arts.

ZION LEVY STEWART: Artist

Born in London, Zion spent his teenage years in Sydney, but his arrival in Mullumbimby coincided with his artistic flowering. He started sketching aged 20, with most of his subjects being the visitors of his family home in the small NSW town.

Twenty years later, he was an entrant in this year’s Archibald Portrait Prize. Zion has Down Syndrome and experiences difficulty communicating through the spoken word. His sketches, painted canvases and ceramics are now admired around the world, and hung in private collections in Australia, the UK and the US.

STUDIO ARTES

Studio ARTES is a not-for-profit that provides tailor-made creative activities and life skill programs for adults with disabilities. It offers a variety of programs based on life skills, performing arts and the visual arts that are facilitated by professional facilitators in visual arts, performing arts and creative life skills.

Established in 2000 and based in Sydney, it empowers men and women living with disabilities through creative development and expression. Through their work, Studio ARTES hopes to create opportunities for people living with intellectual disabilities, autism spectrum disorders, physical disabilities and down syndrome.

DISABILITY IN MEDIA

NAS CAMPANELLA: Journalist and Reporter

Having recently left her post as ABC Triple J’s resident newsreader, 26-year-old Nas Campanella is a lover of music, radio and writing, which led her to decide on a career in journalism at a young age.

In addition to not being able to see, Nas has Charcot-Marie-Tooth. As a result, she has a near-total lack of sensitivity in her fingertips and hands, meaning she can’t read braille. Instead, she used audiobooks and had HSC books translated into electronic text.

ALICE WONG: Activist, Writer & Podcast Host

Alice Wong is the founder and director of the Disability Visibility Project, a project dedicated to amplifying disability culture through collecting the oral histories of people with disabilities in the US.

She is also the editor of Disability Visibility: First-Person Stories from the Twenty-First Century, an anthology of essays by disabled people that inspired her widely popular podcast of the same name.

She strives to create a world reflective of its people, working not only to amplify disabled voices but to create discussion around American politics, health care, anti-Asian American sentiments and action in the wake of the COVID-19 Pandemic.

ADY BARKAN: Writer, Speaker, Lawyer and Political Activist

At age 35, with a 2-year-old son, Ady has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, a disease with no cure. But this hasn’t stopped him from protesting, getting arrested and using his body as a campaign tool, laying it in front of members of Congress, news cameras and activists to inspire action for progressive agendas in healthcare and human rights.

You can find his written interviews and podcast interviews on all major platforms. As one of our generation’s most significant minds and voices, his words are guaranteed to inspire you.

Though Barkan’s diagnosis and activism have taken a physical toll, he is only determined to amplify his voice further. He is currently fighting against large-scale funding cuts in-home and community-based services and continues to be a leading voice for ethical, accessible healthcare in the US.

CARLY FINDLAY: Writer, Speaker and Appearance Activist

Author of Say Hello and Growing Up Disabled in Australia, Carly Findlay, is a woman born with Ichthyosis, a rare genetic skin disorder. Through her publications, she spreads the message that disability doesn’t look one certain way but comes in diverse appearances, experiences and forms. In doing so she also seeks to fight the uninformed and sensationalized reporting on disabilities that is seen all too often in the media.

Carly is also a leading advocate for improved access to the fashion industry for those living with various disabilities. In 2018, Carly formed the first-ever disability-inclusive event as part of Melbourne Fashion Week, titled ‘Access to Fashion’. The event featured several models and fashion designers with disabilities. Through her activism, Carly encourages Australian fashion retailers to promote a more diverse and inclusive market.

PODCASTS

In You Little Ripper, Australian Paralympic legend Kurt Fearnley and co-host Georgie Tunny deliver a daily dose of Paralympics for the Tokyo Games, speaking to key athletes to bring home the spirit of the Paralympics.

We’ve Got This: Parenting with a Disability is a new series produced by Eliza Hull. The series explores the complexities that parenting with a disability brings, whilst also challenging the stigmas and stereotypes.

The I Can’t Stand Podcast is for everyone who has a question or just wondered about disability. No question is off-limits. Every question is important.

In this podcast A Nation Changed, Kurt Fearnley deep-dives into one of the greatest social reforms in Australia’s history – the NDIS. He talks to people who fought to change the system, those personally affected by the NDIS and those it’s failing.

Podcast One In Five explores some of the most complex issues facing people with disability today, gives voice to people with disability and asks about their experiences with employment, housing, the law, supporting families and early intervention.

DISABILITY IN ENTERTAINMENT

BRIDIE MCKIM: Actress

Born a triplet and growing up in Brisbane, Bridie discovered acting as a means to get attention from her competitive brother and sister.

Bridie has mild cerebral palsy, has represented the disabled community in the Cerebral Palsy League of Queensland, and in 2018 became the first disabled actor to play a lead role on Australian television on the ABC, ‘The Heights’.

ROSIE JONES: Comedian & Actress

Rosie is a comedian, writer, actor and much more!

She’s been on several TV shows, including 8 Out Of 10 Cats, The Last Leg and Comedy Central’s Roast Battle. She made her primetime debut as Serena in a Silent Witness two-part special.

Jones has ataxic cerebral palsy, which heavily impacts her speech and mobility. She is passionate about intersectionality – the interconnected nature of characteristics like disability, sexuality and race.

Rosie has several sitcoms in development and has also written on the second season of Netflix’ Sex Education.

MOLLY BURKE: Youtuber & Vlogger

Molly Burke uses her content to reconnect with a fashionista lifestyle she once immersed herself in before her blindness at the age of 14 due to the rare eye disease, Retinitis Pigmentosa.

Through her platform of nearly 2 million subscribers, she produces fun and lighthearted lifestyle content, from beauty tutorials to dispelling myths on blindness.

RACHAEL LEAHCAR: Singer

Rachael Wendy Bartholomew, known by her stage name Rachael Leahcar, is an Australian singer and songwriter born and raised in Adelaide, South Australia. She participated in the first season of The Voice Australia, coming in third place. Shortly after, she signed a record deal with Universal Music Australia.

Leahcar was born with retinitis pigmentosa and (as of 2012) is legally blind with only 10% visual function. She found her love of music at a very early age and has been singing and playing instruments ever since.

HANNAH GADSBY: Comedian, Writer, Actor

Hannah rose to prominence after winning the national final of the Raw Comedy competition for new comedians in 2006 and has since toured internationally and appeared on television and radio.

In 2018, the release by Netflix of a film version of Gadsby’s stand-up show, Nanette, expanded her international audience and received multiple accolades, including the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing for a Variety Special and a Peabody Award. Starting in 2019, she toured internationally with her show Douglas.

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