Introduced by Taylor Miller, moderator and Slamdance Unstoppable cofounder Juliet Romeo sits down with actor Lolo Spencer and actor/Slamdance Unstoppable Cofounder Steve Way to discuss disability, accessibility, and activism, including navigating the COVID-19 pandemic and making it as an actor and filmmaker in an inaccessible industry. This panel was originally presented as part of the 2022 Slamdance Film Festival.
Watch the full panel above or check out some highlights below.
On navigating the pandemic with a disability.
SW: It's been now 23 months since the last time I worked. I would really, really like to make some money soon. Because I can't keep coasting and, you know, I got bills to pay and I got my house. But you know, we live in this weird society that values work and productivity over the health of those workers. So yeah, while I obviously want to work, it's not the best idea not just for me but really anyone.
On choosing disabled characters with humanity.
LS: What I always desire when it comes to choosing roles is, "What is the humanity of this character?" first, before what you are able to see because I have a visible disability. I think it does start to create a narrative about disability lifestyle that people are not used to if they don't have a disabled person in their immediate lives, that they won't ever learn about that they won't ever learn about unless it was on TV or film. So the more versions and variations of disability lifestyle that is out there in the media, the better for people to understand disability overall. I don't think we should ever shy away from the harsh reality that living with a disability comes with but it doesn't always have to be a focal point every time you create a character with a disability.
SW: It's real. It's our leaves. Obviously we're disabled and we might do things differently but that doesn't mean that we don't get into the same situations as non-disabled people. Just because we're disabled doesn't mean we don't go to the movies or go to the grocery store. It's not like we don't have jobs. So I always thought it was the epitome of ignorance when we would be shut down for wanting to do just that on screen.
On asking for accommodations on set.
SW: Something I've learned over the last few years is that there is no chance in hell that the accommodations I need are 1) harder to get, and 2) more expensive than the accommodations that are asked for by top paid A-list actors. You can't tell me the ramp I need or getting me a room is more expensive than the trailer that Will Smith uses.
LS: I think I struggled with it more just on a personal level. Feeling like, you know, what we call internalized ableism, is almost pushing ourselves to a certain point so that way we don't have to ask for these accommodations. Because we've been gaslighted our entire lives that the things we genuinely need — this isn't like some fancy shit; this is genuinely some stuff that we need — is for some reason doing too much, asking for too much, inconveniencing people.
On diversity within disability.
SW: The game is definitely changing. Because if it wasn't you or I would not be on TV. So it's definitely changing. And I think you and I have this obligation now to help open the doors for other people like us. I know for me personally as just another straight white guy, I might open the door for more diverse voices because yeah, I'm disabled. And If it's that hard for me to get this far, I have to acknowledge that it was certainly easier for me just because I am at the end of the day a straight white guy. And I think that's the other thing that we don't really talk about is that within disability in media there is still all of the other biases that have been fought against for decades.
On working with allies.
LS: Allyship shouldn't be a task. It shouldn't even be a job. It's literally just a human connecting with another human, realizing where you may have privilege and being like, wait a minute, that's fucked up. Let's not do that anymore. Let's not do this. You shouldn't have to take a course on how to be an ally. Just be a person who sees an injustice and speak up and do something about it. That's all this really ends up being.
SW: There's a difference between problems with the system and problems with individuals. You know, individuals, yeah, they make mistakes. But certain systems are designed and set up to be that way. It always bothers me when people say, "Oh, the system's broken." No, it's not! It's working exactly the way it's designed to. It's working just find. Just because it's not working for you doesn't mean it's not working. Our number one goal is to change the system and I think the only way we do that is by merging with individuals so when they make mistakes, we're there to say, "Actually, it's like this." What you said before about speaking to someone, treating us as humans. "Yeah, you know how you just talked to that one person? Yeah, just do that to me."