I recently spoke at a Grit Media showcase - displaying and celebrating the opportunities Grit Media provides. No Limits, The Boldness, screen production and training programs. It was held in the new space in the RMIT school of media and communication (my course's home) and we were treated to drinks and canapes. Plus it was good to catch up with the cast and crew and meet Grit Media board members.
I had many an oyster. And many a champagne.
A few people asked me how my speech went. Here it is for you to read. Thank you.
When was the last time you saw people with disabilities featured or even celebrated in the media, telling their own stories, specifically, on TV? I can think of a very recent example with John Hughes on MasterChef – John has cerebral palsy and was applauded for a courageous cooking decision rather than his courageousness that comes with having a disability. And I loved British Next Top Missing Model shown on ABC2 a couple of months ago. There has been Glee, The Librarians, the movie The Black Balloon, Packed to the Rafters, Summer Heights High and Angry Boys. But these depictions are just that. Depictions. It is not often people with disabilities can tell their own stories in the media with dignity, humour and intelligence.
Disability on the screen often means stories of pity, portrayals of freakshows and ugly ducklings, and the celebration of the supercrip. It might be tabloid journalists telling stories on behalf of people with disabilities. It might be a sensationalist medical show convincing viewers that disabilities, chronic illness and body differences are shocking and gross out material. These types of depictions are sort of educative but they can also create ignorance in viewers. There have been a few TV shows featuring young people with a similar skin condition to mine - ichthyosis. Colleagues who don't know me well tell me they’ve watched the show and now know all there is to know about ichthyosis even though my skin differs greatly to the girls in the TV shows. Recently a woman in a store told me she's seen me on TV. Yes! I am on Channel 31's No Limits, I said, very excited that someone is watching! She said no, she's seen I have a sister (I don't) and that I scrub my skin for two hours a day (I don't). She’d been watched Medical Incredible over on the other channel. I told her to watch No Limits.
No Limits celebrates disability though enabling a cast and crew with a wide range of disabilities and chronic illnesses to participate in the media. It accurately reflects disability in society. It is empowering, both for the cast and crew, and the audience.
I know my work on No Limits has had an impact on my immediate circle of friends and colleagues - most of who don't have disabilities. I had friends and colleagues willing to star in comedy sketches that I'd written. Friends watch me on TV. One friend said her whole family had a big discussion about whether they'd like to be cured of their illnesses after watching the No Limits cures episode.
I have been a presenter on No Limits since July 2010. In this time, I have learnt interview and research skills, spoke at length about disability issues, and I’m still working on speaking fluent autocue. I have learnt about a range of disabilities, the challenges faced, and how people manage them. The No Limits cast and crew are intelligent, dedicated, highly skilled and very supportive. I have also formed some valuable networks and more importantly, great friends, who understand the difficulties and milestones of having a disability or chronic illness.
The work we do on No Limits is voluntary. Some of us have full time jobs in addition to our cast and crew member roles. We continue to do this voluntary work because we love to, and we know it’s educating the wider community about disability, and giving people with disabilities a chance to have a voice in the media. I volunteer on No Limits to make a difference to others through education, positive media, support, humour and fun. I want to help people manage and accept their own chronic illnesses and disabilities. I also want to influence the way people perceive disability and chronic illness. I may not be able to stamp out discrimination worldwide, but I may be able to make someone think twice about commenting on someone's appearance or ability, and instead, take the time to get to know them better. I hope season 11 reaches a wider audience of both people with and without disabilities.
I am thankful for having this chronic illness. Often it’s a real hassle – it rudely interrupts my life and can be very painful. But it’s afforded me so many opportunities. And perhaps if I didn’t have it, I wouldn’t have the privilege to be a presenter on Australian television. I was once told that it is good that I am working and not locked away somewhere because of the way I looked. I only hope the woman who told me that happens to flick over and see me speaking on No Limits.