One of the most common questions we are asked is whether it will be better for a production to hire a writer or a consultant that is disabled. Ultimately, the correct answer is to hire both. But, let’s unpack this a little bit so that you understand why.
Let’s say you hire a writer for your show or movie and it’s their goal to craft a disabled character’s story. It’s their goal to make sure this character is represented authentically. That’s great. That writer will likely breathe something into that character that a non-disabled writer might not have been able to offer. You’ve got the story and thanks to this writer, the story is ready to go. Now you’re onto production.
Even if you do everything right in your own eyes and even if you hire disabled actors, without a consultant, you still have a million ways where things can fall by the wayside.
Even in the best of set environments, an actor might be willing to let certain things slide and just do their job. You might be asking yourself why that would be the case, but the simple reality is that disabled actors are hired at a rate much less than the average actor. In fact, a famous actress with CP, often points out during speaking engagements that she averages one audition per year. This is someone that has been a part of two successful TV shows and was a fan favorite on both. One audition per year.
If you’re only getting an audition or two per year and you’re trying to maintain your SAG status, you might not want to be seen as disagreeable. Even though the actor might have valid concerns about the story or accessibility issues, if they can work around it in their own mind, they will let it go out of fear that this job might be their last.
A consultant minimizes the stress on your actors for a couple of reasons. First, it’s likely that the consultant will notice the issues that are currently plaguing the actor, and it’s the consultant’s job to bring them up. The issue is still addressed, but the actor doesn’t have to jeopardize anything by bringing it up themselves. Additionally, depending on the specifics of the consultant, the actors may have the ability to address their concerns to the consultant, who can work as a middleman.
What about if you hire a consultant and not a writer?
Again, this could be a possibility, although we personally prefer that stories that include disability be written by disabled people. Of course, if the script is not as disability-friendly as you think it is when hiring a consultant, they will likely clue you in to how much work may need to be done and corrected. This could lead to working more with your consultant – if they are also a writer – but it could mean that you spend a lot of time with their notes, trying to rewrite it as you have been or you may find that you need to hire a writer with disability experience.
In this case, hiring both saves you time more than anything. A script can always be edited and repurposed as needed, but hiring the correct writer for the job could mean less time spent on this part of the project.
It’s also important to point out that a lot of times we get jobs consulting well after the creation of a project. It is much easier to help guide a project to ensure there is no harm before the script is filmed. The number of creators who come to the table after everything is shot and want to figure out how to fix the content in post is way higher than you would think.
Consider accessibility from the ground up – having a disabled writer from the get-go ensures that you are on the right track from the start of your project. Adding a disabled consultant for various parts of your production – casting, working with the actors, as a director’s assistant – ensures nothing goes wrong on set.
One more thing
Not all consultants are created the same. We have extensive knowledge when it comes to disability representation on the whole. We’re quite familiar with physical disabilities, neuromuscular disabilities, neurodivergence, and chronic disabilities, just based on personal experience. We can tell you when something is wrong or not going to sit right with your script or your finished project.
That said, if your project calls for a consultant that has a disability that we do not have, we will often recommend someone that does have that disability. This gives your project the most positive chance for authentic representation. We might be able to tell you that something is wrong with your project in those moments, but someone that is a consultant that has that disability would be able to tell you with authority how you can fix any story issues that you might have.
At the end of the day, authentic hiring leads to more authentic representation. And bringing others along makes Hollywood more accessible for all of us.