CMU School of Drama

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Invisible Disability in Theatre: Why I May Not Want to Tell You I Have a Disability

HowlRound: Working in the theatre with an invisible disability can be challenging. While most buildings have a ramp to allow a person who uses a wheelchair to get into the building and there may be handrails in the bathroom for patrons with mobility challenges, an artist with an invisible disability like my Tourettes Syndrome (TS) or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) doesn’t need a change to a physical structure. Instead I need accessibility into people’s minds. However since my disabilities are “invisible,” how are theatre administrators or directors supposed to know that I have a disability or the kinds of accommodations that I need?

5 comments:

Mark Ivachtchenko said...

This article comments on a topic that extends so much further than just the theatrical world. This issue revolves around what our contemporary society (and other societies around the globe) consider to be "real" mental disability or what illnesses/disabilities we prioritize over others. An extreme example, suicidal thoughts and depression, are still argued over whether they're real mental illnesses or not to this day. Obviously some disabilities, like being confined to a wheelchair, are going to be tended to immediately since you are restricted in terms of what spaces you can get to. But hidden disabilities, as the article speaks about, are still hard as hell to deal with. Both mental and physical disabilities can either be permanent or temporary but your peers, co-workers, employers, etc. MUST understand what you are dealing with and, although it's a lot to ask for even today since it stretches back into this larger argument, must be accepting of you no matter what. You should never be silenced when it comes to discussing the challenges you're facing.

Angel Zhou said...

I hope that all of this man’s current and future employers read and understand this article. It conveys a powerful message about people with disabilities in theatre and in general. I have an invisible disability myself, and I wish I could vocally make it clear – with my circumstance, I can’t always do that. My disability comes from my left Achilles tendon, which tore as a result of a poorly-informed surgery (I was not told that my Achilles would be operated on). However, on a subway, I look like a perfectly healthy young woman. It is difficult for me because I have a hard time standing and often need a seat. But, people don’t see that from me and instead make me feel obligated to give seats up to people with visible disabilities. Travelling in public transportation is a nightmare for me, and I am often afraid to do so. I hope that this article’s author’s message is told and is understood on a broader scale – just because someone has an invisible disability does not mean he or she is incapable. We are all human.

Lauren Miller said...

As Angel already stated, living with a invisible disability is a problem both inside and outside the theater. It is in the design of the building and the mentality of the people working in it. There has yet to be a single day in Purnell when I have not heard someone say something ableist (ableism is the discrimination against people with disabilities).Either its a professor commenting about how their "OCD won't let them" leave a detail untouched, or a student talking about how a production gave them PTSD. It reflects misinformation and prejudice towards people with disabilities. And, to be fair, I should take more responsibility and call people out whenever I hear comments such as these. However, it is so pervasive in all aspects of the industry and society and no matter how many people I correct or try to speak to (I avoid sounding accusatory) it just keeps on happening. Which is hilarious considering the number of people in this school with mental illnesses or invisible disabilities. I'm not sure what I can do to affect a large amount of change in the community. I agree with the author on every point, but I don't know how to change anything other than talking about it as much as possible (and even then, I don't like strangers or people I don't completely trust knowing the particulars of my health).

Annie Scheuermann said...

Trust with invisible disabilities is such a hard thing. I think that is the biggest block in opening the conversation and opening up to co workers and bosses. I like to thing that no one ever is intentionally discriminatory against those with an invisible disability, but as the author mentions it is the small comments that often cause a spiral, at least for me, that turn into so much more. I also like to think that once the label of ones invisible disability does not change them, as in once you know someone for a while just adding medical terms doesn't change them, so why would your relationship with them change? But, often I think it comes down to people reveal their invisible disabilities with those they have poor relationships with, hoping it will help the other understand and they can work to find a better working relationship, but once a relationship is already not so good, in any situation its hard to improve. When thinking of change on a broad scale, being one person can often feel effectiveness, but we all are just one person, and I think it really is just as basic as showing kindness. Being kind when someone needs a break, when someone is alone, it does not matter is someone has any sort of disability just know that everyone is trying their best and trust we all know our bodies.

Sasha Schwartz said...

I have to admit that I haven’t thought about this situation that much, even as someone with a brother with autism, which often can manifest itself as a visually “invisible disability’. Obviously every situation is different, but I think the main difference between what I know from being around my brother and what the writer is describing is that Ricky’s TS and/or OCD can, in a way, be information that is kept back for as long as he feels comfortable, in that it isn’t immediately apparent either physically nor necessarily verbally, depending on how he manages these aspects of himself. It’s very sad but true that the laws regarding discrimination in the workplace against people with developmental/behavioral disabilities aren’t strict enough to really help many people, especially in theater, where an actor could be fired for, as Ricky says, not “fitting the aesthetic of the company”, which could mean literally anything, with little way to “prove” obvious prejudices. We as artists and facilitators need to be keeping track of what we are and aren’t doing to make our field a more welcoming and diverse place, or else we are being complacent in the blatant discrimination against those who are making our community so much more rich and interesting.

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