Why should there be a National Disability Theatre? The easy answer is, there shouldn’t have to be, but very few questions are easy. Being autistic and legally blind, growing up and through high school I had no friends. I spent my lunch breaks and recesses pacing the hallways not knowing who to talk to, how to talk to them, or how to make a friend. I was completely alone in my own head. But my grandmother had a subscription to Seattle Children’s Theatre and when I was sitting in the dark theatre watching a show, I felt seen, I felt silently heard, and really sitting in that audience was the one time I felt understood.
If you see me walking down the street, I most likely have headphones on. I nearly always wear a blue t-shirt—v-neck so nothing touches my neck. And I don’t wear coats or jackets when it’s cold out, which drives my wife crazy. I was late to speak, but I invented my own incredibly detailed sign language to communicate. I had speech therapy all through elementary school and occupational therapy all through middle school. Yet growing up I rarely saw an adult with a disability. This is while 20% of the population has a disability making disability the largest and least represented minority in the United States. Yet according to the Ruderman Family Foundation 95% of the few disabled characters we see on TV are played by non-disabled actors.
I quickly realized that people with disabilities deserve to see successful professionals at the top of their game who, who will tell them that if you are different, if you access the world differently, if you need special accommodations, then the world needs you! American's will get to encounter many such artists at NDT.
I also realized that the arts have so much power to impact other economic sectors. A company producing large-scale professional work run entirely by people with disabilities will show the world that our differences really are our strengths. We will impact industries beyond our own, demonstrating that people with disabilities can efficiently and productively undertake professional work at the highest level, and that accessibility is not only right – but also profitable. We want to eliminate the single story of people with disabilities and show that we are neither inspirational nor charity cases, just powerful and ferocious professionals.
Right now over 50% of college graduates on the autism spectrum are unemployed. And that needs to change. Over 50% of college graduates on the autism spectrum are unemployed!
Moving forward it is my goal to make sure that every person who steps through our doors feels seen, heard, and understood. Feels taken care of. It’s my goal that everyone who reads about National Disability Theatre or watches video of our work feels seen and understood as well.
Why National Disability Theatre now? Because we need hope. Because we need empathy.
Thank you so much for joining us on this journey. Please make your voice heard and reach out any time.
With immense love, gratitude, and respect, and on behalf of everyone at the National Disability Theatre,