Alvaro Gutierrez interviews Christina Bruno, disabilities advocate, and David Harrell, disability/program associate

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Alvaro Gutierrez
David Harrell
Christina Bruno

Today, we have a lady and a guy. So they are from the organization: Inclusion in the Arts. We have Christine Bruno, she’s a disabilities advocate and we have also David and I’m going to see if I’m able to pronounce this well, Harrell. He’s a disability and also program associate.


Alvaro Gutierrez: Hello and welcome to Project Access for All. Today, we have a lady and a guy. So they are from the organization: Inclusion in the Arts. We have Christine Bruno, she’s a disabilities advocate and we have also David and I’m going to see if I’m able to pronounce this well, Harrell. He’s a disability and also program associate. So guys, thank you for being with us today.

Christine Bruno: Thank you for having us.

David Harrell: Thank you for having us. Yeah.

Alvaro Gutierrez: My pleasure and for whoever wants to take this one, what can you tell us about when and why Inclusion in the Arts was born?

Christine Bruno: Well, Inclusion in the Arts was actually founded in 1986, and it was originally founded to specifically address the issues of exclusion in film and theatre, and television for artists of color and in 1989, when our current executive director took over the heading of the organization, she felt it was important to
include disability in the mix as part of, to have equal place at the table in terms of diversity. Originally, its mission was to address issues of exclusion for artists of color.

Alvaro Gutierrez: Reading your powerful website, we find that you have many projects and programs going on. Can you tell us about some of them?

Christine Bruno: The organization started in 1986. We were originally called the non-traditional casting project, and the organization was founded specifically in 1986 to address the problems of exclusion among artists of color in theatre, film and television, and in 1989 when our current executive director, Sharon Jensen came on as executive director, she felt it was important to add disability to that discussion; to that conversation, so the disability would have an equal seat at the diversity table. For the first three years while the organization focused specifically on issues of color, and addressing exclusion among artists of color, and since 1989 disability has been included in that. Now, we’re an organization and since 1989, we’ve been an organization that is an advocacy organization for artists of color and artists with disabilities, and we are non-profit organization. We’re a resource and information organization, which means that we don’t generate work (clears throat)
but we provide services to theatre companies, to production companies, to directors to producers, to artistic directors to individual artists themselves, to writers. To anyone who is generating work who has questions about the inclusion of artists of color and artists with disabilities. Secondarily, we also do a lot of resource events. Whether they be large scale resource events like big convening’s among the industry to talk about issues of inclusion in our industry, or smaller resource events like panel discussions or round table events. All centered around how to create more opportunities for artists of color and artists with disabilities. In the last three and four years, a large part of our focus has been on concentrating on issues of disability rather than color. Although we still do advocate for artists of color and the reason for that is because, disability is traditionally still the largest underserved minority in the country; in our business, in theatre, film and television particularly.

Alvaro Gutierrez: Christine, I have to say, it seems to be in the whole planet Earth. Because in Latin America, in Europe it’s the same. You see countries like England then you see Canada, New Zealand, and Spain. Everywhere it’s around 70% of the people with disabilities who don’t have access to employment and to many, many things.

Christine Bruno: Correct

Alvaro Gutierrez: Or in the same planet in that regard and we need to improve that, and you are doing a great job in helping that. I was reading your website and you have powerful programs and projects going on. Can you tell us about some of them?

Christine Bruno: Sure. I mean, I think that I can bounce this one over to David but I think one of the major programs, I think I’d say about, I’d say close to 60% of our time is spent, sort of working; we maintain a database of artists with disabilities, nationwide database of artists with disabilities and I’ll bounce this over to David so he can tell you more about sort of our casting referral service, and those sort of consultancy efforts that we’ve got going on.

David Harrell: Yeah, we maintain a database of actors with disabilities from around the country. Primarily, the actors are in New York or Los Angeles which tend to have most of the work within our industry, but we do have from all around. From West Virginia, Georgia to Washington state. Boston. Chicago. Wide variety of folks. We will work with casting directors on a case by case basis, most of the time where they are looking to cast a character that has a disability. So we will provide
information of actors that have that disability. Let's say they're looking for a wheelchair user, we try to get more information in terms of the specifics of that character, and we’ll encourage them to try to broaden that out a little bit. Because the pull of actors is so small. We’ll send those specific actors for that specific character and what we're trying to do more of is, encourage the industry as a whole to look at disability within a broader scope of diversity. So there’s a lot of push now to be more diverse in the casting of shows and to kind of represent more of the culture that we see, within our cities and within our towns. We want the idea to be that disability is also a part of that. There can be a character in a play, or in a film, or television show that is a person with a disability that is doing a job, that is living their lives and it doesn’t have to revolve around the character having a disability. It could just be in a person in the world living their life. I think what is encouraging to me in that is that helps break down some of the stereotypes about disability and employment when we see that represented in the stories that we’re telling. I think that can be a catalyst for broader social change.

Alvaro Gutierrez: Now we have a complaints question. Maybe for both of you. We’ll see how you respond to that. (Laughter) I was reading a blog post, precisely gestures from a person with disabilities who was saying, and I want your opinion on
that, that he doesn’t like it too much when in movies, people who don’t have disabilities plays someone with disabilities, and he was talking about “The Theory of Everything”. I want your opinion on that.

Christine Bruno: Well, that’s an interesting thing that of course, as you know that we as you probably guessed that we deal with everyday. (Laughter)

Alvaro Gutierrez: Right.

Christine Bruno: On a continual basis and also I should just as a sidebar mention that, both David and I are actors professionally and we both have disabilities. So this question you’re asking affects us in our lives as advocates for Inclusion in the Arts, but also as artists on a daily basis. Because one of the big things and I think this probably speaks to the blog post that you were reading is, at least for artists with disabilities so often we don’t get to even play ourselves.

Alvaro Gutierrez: Right.

Christine Bruno: On screen or on stage or on television, and one of the reasons, well there are several reasons for that and they’re very new honest reasons, one of the big reasons for that that we are continually trying to have conversations about,
and break down assumptions about, is that in this industry disability is still seen as a technical skill. It’s viewed as a technical skill. What I mean by that is, in this day and age, you would never or you would rarely—I’m not going to say never because I know there are places in the world where they still do it. But you would rarely see a person, a white person putting themselves in black face in order to appropriate the character of a black person. (Alvaro Gutierrez: Right.) Part of the reason you would rarely see that is because there would be obvious protest…

Alvaro Gutierrez: Yeah.

Christine Bruno: From people all over the world. (Chuckles)

David Harrell: Right and just…

Christine Bruno: Right.

David Harrell: As a culture, we decided that is inappropriate.

Christine Bruno: Right.

David Harrell: And I don't think, as Christine is making the point, we’re not really
there in terms of disability. I think the conversation is starting more and more, and it will be interesting to see how that moves forward.

Christine Bruno: Secondarily, the problem in the industry; there’s so many (chuckles) layers to this that it’s such a complicated issue. Because there’s that, right? That disability is still seen as a technical skill and the pushback is, oh well it’s acting so even though I’m not deaf, I should be able to act like a deaf person. Or even though I don’t use a wheelchair, I should be able to stick myself in a wheelchair. Because disability is not seen as a lived experience. It’s again, it's seen as a technical skill. So there’s that issue. The other issue is that, as we all know and maybe a controversial statement, but it’s born out by statistical evidence (chuckles) that the quickest way to win an Academy Award is to play someone with a disability.

Alvaro Gutierrez: Sure. Sure. (Christine interrupts. Christine: Right.) Yeah.

Christine Bruno: And to be fair, if you are an actor particularly an actor with a name, I mean, I think it’s going to be a very rare actor who’s going to say, who’s going to be offered the part let’s just take “The Theory of Everything” as an example because you bought it up. If you were offered the role of Steven Hawking
and you did not have a disability, how many actors are really going to turn that down?

Alvaro Gutierrez: (laughs)

Christine Bruno: You know? So, there’s that and there’s another layer is, in the case of playing Steven Hawking, while we would love to see somebody authentically, you know someone authentic with the authentic lived experience of disability play that role; the argument can be made, are there actors out there with ALS who can play that role? Are there actors out there with others disabilities who can play that role? Right? So all of those arguments are valid but that doesn’t excuse the fact that we don’t get to play ourselves. And what we say here, at the organization, we have these conversations all the time and most of the time they’re debates. Because we get comments from people saying like, “oh it’s acting”—“get over yourselves”, you know, “why should you care if so and so gets that role”. Well, the reason we care is because the playing field is not level.

Alvaro Gutierrez: (inaudible noise)

Christine Bruno: Once the playing, if the playing field ever becomes level then we
won’t, then hopefully we won’t have to have to these kinds of conversations. Because everybody will be considered for every role. There won't be any conversation about color. There won't be any (clears throat) conversation about race. There won't any conversations about disability. It’ll just be whose the right person and the best actor for the role, right?

Alvaro Gutierrez: Right.

Christine Bruno: But the truth is, we’re not there yet. (Chuckles)

Alvaro Gutierrez: (Chuckles) No.

Christine Bruno: It is a tough thing, and to speak a little bit to what David just said; the pull of disabled actors, while it is growing everyday and while there are many qualified actors out there—ready, willing, and able and having experience and the training to work, compared to the pool of non-disabled actors in the country or in the world obviously the pool of disabled actors is smaller.

Alvaro Gutierrez: Christine and David, I need to go for a follow up that I didn’t plan (chuckles) but…

Christine Bruno: Sure.

Alvaro Gutierrez: Would you say that something a little bit similar happened to the gay community? That, you know, you would have some straight actors playing gay roles and now that you have many gay people coming out, you obviously have gay actors playing gay roles too. So they have broken a little bit that part too. Maybe?

Christina Bruno: Yeah I think definitely with, particularly with the whole community, with the LGBT, now Q community and the transgender community, that that they have made huge strides in the last three, four, five years and even strangely enough in a way, sort of the conversation and I'm speaking for myself personally—I don’t even remember really remember the conversation happening five or six years ago (inaudible noise), around that community so much, and they have made huge strides and they've definitely surpassed, I think, the disability community in terms of making inroads and getting the industry to sit up and take notice of the lived experience of their community.

Alvaro Gutierrez: Absolutely. I agree. Now, one of the things that you highlight on the website is this Broadway Accessibility Initiative. What is that?

David Harrell: Well, the Broadway Accessibility Initiative is a project that we've worked on several years ago, specifically with the Theatre District Council, here in New York. They had an initiative of trying to make Broadway more accessible to audiences and we said, well (clears throat) how about making it more accessible to patrons with disabilities? We did a proposal where we would work with four Broadway shows and create a collaboration with another company, Sound Associates that would provide what’s called eye caption and descriptive services. Now, eye caption is a handheld device that captions every single performance. Whereas someone who would go for an open caption performance that may happen once, maybe twice in a year of a Broadway show. You would have a very limited amount of opportunities. With eye caption, because it is a handheld device, it would be available for every performance. Similar with the descriptive service, again, it is audio description of the show and both systems would be tied into the actual computer systems of the show, and so they move along with the cues. Lighting cues that the show kind of calls so they stay in line with the performance, so they’re not done in real time but they do follow the show and we'll continue to provide interpretation of the show as it moves along. So we felt it was a big option, for, especially with the amount of people with disabilities that come to New York City as visitors…

Alvaro Gutierrez: Right.

David Harrell: …as tourists, that it can be very frustrating if you want to see a Broadway show and unfortunately, there is no sign language interpretation or open caption, or audio description available when you are in town, and you wanted to have that experience of a Broadway show. These services kind of opened up every performance. So we worked with four shows on Broadway and I think this was back in 2011-2012, that’s when we started so it’s been a few years. Two of those four shows are still running and sound associates also provides this service for, I think it’s six to eight shows that are currently on Broadway outside of the two that we kind of collaborated with—and with our collaboration, what we did is, we brought in individuals from the deaf community, from the blind, low vision community and had them sort of work with sound associates to create the scripts that were going to be used in the captioning and descriptive services. So it was coming from the community, which we felt was very important and they were getting feedback from folks who would actually use those services.

Alvaro Gutierrez: David, to question scene one, (chuckles) can you tell us some of the shows that have these services (inaudible), how does it work for an individual. I
mean, I go I sit down and I’m, someone gives (breaks up) me advice that provides this kind of caption or audio description, is that correct?

David Harrell: Yes. I'm trying to get that information for you real. Yeah, so you would, let’s say you were coming to visit New York City, (Alvaro interrupts. Alvaro: Yeah and if) and you wanted to (Alvaro: you just have to) get information on these services. You would get the website of sound associates, they typically like for people to contact them ahead of time and let them know that you’re coming, and you basically, I think with your ID—I think you have to swap your ID out for the device or something, so they, there’s more information on their website about their policy. But you would get a device, let's say if you were blind or low vision it would be the audio description. (Clears throats) So we would have the audio description device, there's a headset that goes over your ear and then you have a handheld device that controls the volume, and it gives sort of an overview before the show and kind of welcomes you, kind of let’s you know what’s happening and then as the show begins, it just plays through based on the cues of the show.

Christine Bruno: And the device itself is like a PDA. Like the size of an iPhone.

David Harrell: It is not an Apple device (chuckles) I don’t believe. But it’s a handheld device. Almost, a little bit bigger, like what the old PDAs used to be was what they seem like to me.

Alvaro Gutierrez: Yeah, for our listeners they have been twice Broadway…

David Harrell: I can give you a few of the shows. The Book of Mormon has the descriptive and eye caption. Jersey Boys, The Lion King, Mamma Mia, and Wicked.

Alvaro Gutierrez: Oh, wow those are powerful shows. A

Christine Bruno: Yeah. They're, you know, some of the most popular shows among tourists on Broadway.

David Harrell: On their website it does say Aladdin has the eye caption but not descriptive. But that’s something you know, you can go to their website, which is

Alvaro Gutierrez: How wonderful, you know. I was wondering if that would be possible to have this kind of service, live performances—because on the movies,
you have mobile appliances that are starting to do that (Christine: Right) which are wonderful. They sync lines with the movies and I have known people in Italy, in the UK, in the US who are doing this and the job is unbelievable. You can sit down at home for our listeners. You have your iPhone. You have your Android and you put the movie and starts describing what you are seeing. It’s unbelievable. So to have see live performances, I suppose this is the future also right? To have this everywhere.

David Harrell: Well, you would hope so. The problem is, it costs money and (laughter) a lot of Broadway shows, unfortunately, are on this very, very tight wire act. Very few of them last very long. Very few of them turn profitable. So what the issue is, I think is there’s not, and again this all comes back to cultural thoughts on disability as a social model vs medical model, etcetera. (Alvaro: Right) Society, if we thought oh wow this makes sense; we should find ways that this could be affordable to a company, or to a Broadway show, or for live performance. I think maybe you would see more of it. I think that the technology is there and hopefully getting better. (Alvaro: Sure) There are many people with disabilities that may not want those services. There are deaf individuals that may not want to use that caption, they want to see an ASL sign performance and that’s important too, that it’s not just these technologies but, it’s a breath of accessibility and an option of accessibility. The important thing about these devices was, every show you could come at any time and be able to enjoy the show. Whereas other accessibility, you may be limited in your opportunity, but I would love for, and I think it’s a two way street as we, Christine and I have talked about and thought about too that, there’s been such a history of exclusion (chuckles) for people with disabilities. Culturally as we talked socially, you know and a lot of things around the world, so to expect just to offer services and expect audiences of individuals with disabilities to say, oh great we’ve just waiting so long, thank you so much is a little naïve. There has to be some real community engagement and really getting the information out there. Number one about the services but also educating this community about these art institutions, and about what live performance is. Many people have never experienced that and so, so having—and it’s not on their radar. So trying to do a little more community engagement, I think, is an important step within the disability community.

Alvaro Gutierrez: Now, you actors with disabilities being in the art field since you began in this wonderful field that you’re in. What has been the biggest improvement and the biggest barrier that still you face?

Christine Bruno: I’d say the biggest barrier that we still face is, access to opportunities. Access to auditions of all kinds; access to representation. That’s sort of on a practical basis in terms of, in terms of pursuing a career in the arts, as an actor. I think for me and I’ll just speak for myself, one of the cultural barrier affects the barrier, the more practical barrier that I just talked about, is that people in the industry, a lot of times actors with disabilities aren't even on their radar. In some sense, they may not even know there are actors—there are professional actors with disabilities. If they do know there are professional actors with disabilities, I’m sure of, find us how to work with. There’s a lot of myths and assumptions around disability as a whole, whether we’re talking about this industry or any industry, or no industry. Just around disability as a whole and all of that sort of permeates this industry (David: Right.) and it’s magnified because it's this industry, because everything is visible. Everything is visual. (Alvaro: Right.) (David: Yeah) So much emphasis on visual representation of everything.

David Harrell: Well, what I kind of thought about for a while, there’s a couple things and I think Christine's right, I think it’s a broad cultural perception, (Chuckles) that we still as a genuine collective, considered disability inspirational, we consider it something that is being (skips) on some many levels because, we haven’t really thought of it—societal, in ways of a broader sense of society of being more inclusive. So the fact that Christine lives on the upper west side and gets down to Times Square with a mobility disability everyday is pretty inspirational (chuckles) because New York City is just not (laughter) set up in a way to make her commute, you know, (Alvaro: Right.) comfortable in any regard. She does have so many barriers and challenges that are completely, could be completely fixed in a way if there was a little bit more thought in our transportation systems in our building codes, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera in a bigger sense. So because of that, there’s still that perception of you’re overcoming something, and I think when you talk about the film, television, or even theatre industry; years and years ago if you saw a, at least here in the United States, if you saw a character on a television show or film—there was a person of color, you felt like there was a plot point at some point in that show that would explain why they’re there. I think we’ve moved past that over these last twenty, thirty years but it hasn’t been very long that, there was obviously a point for this person of color to be here that had to be explained to us. I don’t think we’re there or past that with disability. I think if you see a character with a disability, you automatically think that this has to be explained to me— this is going to be a plot point coming up, you have that perception and I think that people who are casting these things, will say we can't take the time or the risk to have our audiences focused in on disability when it has nothing to do with the movement or action of the play, or film or television. What we’re trying to do is change that perception, I do, to go to the positive aspect. (Alvaro: Right) I do believe there are efforts to make that happen. I do see outside of star roles (chuckles), maybe there is more of an initiative by casting directors to try to find, or try to cast disability authentically when they can or when there is more of an effort. There is some movement in trying to bring disability as part of diversity in general. That, I, I don’t think we’re seeing it yet. I think hopefully, maybe seeds are planted and there’s hopefully room for growth. But I think that’s going, again, take time but I do feel like if we begin to see more disability in smaller bits and pieces of the things that we watch, then that idea of there’s a person with disabilities has to be explained to me is going to begin to aroid and go away—and it’s just going to be, oh this is a person that is here doing a job or here having an experience. Not necessarily, that this is some big obstacle that this person has to overcome or I’m supposed to be inspired by this person.

Christine Bruno: Well, and I think that one of the really fine examples of that in recent years has been RJ Mitte's character on “Breaking Bad”. (Alvaro: Right.) We all knew that Walter White Jr. had cerebral palsy and obviously most of us know that the actual actor RJ Mitte has cerebral palsy, but it really was never explained. (Inaudible noise) It was never fleshed out, it was never explained, it was never presented as a symbolic gesture or you know, never sort of highlighted in the whole five seasons which I thought was beautiful because I kept waiting, you know, the cynical part of me kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. For there to be a big subplot as to why Walter White Jr. had a disability and what that meant for the trajectory of the family, and the you know (chuckles), and how that was going to affect Walter White Senior’s actions and it sort of just was never part, it was never part of the conversation, and then anybody who followed “Breaking Bad” sort of knew that the reason why it was never a part of the conversation is because, the reason why that character was included in the family in the first place was a simple reason was because Vince Gilligan, the creator of the show had personal experience of disability in his life; one of his best dearest friends growing up was a neighbor who had cerebral palsy, and he just thought well you know, I want this show to look like what I know and what I understand, and why shouldn’t I make this part of the mix—and why do I have to explain it. You know? Which is great. Which is more of what we want and what we’re talking about. Secondarily though, I also want to give a shout out to audiences which I think sometimes audiences are neglected and they get short shrift, and they’re, I think that decision makers make assumptions and decisions for audiences when they really shouldn’t because I've always found as an actor—and I would expect that David has found this as well is that, audiences are way ahead of most decision makers, in terms of their acceptability of whatever you put them, whatever you put in front of them. If you put a person with a disability on stage or on screen, maybe if, the comments that I always get are like, well yeah in the first five minutes it startled me and I wondered what it had to do with anything or and I wondered whether you were faking but then after five minutes I didn’t think about it, or I thought about it and it added to the new ounce of the character and I appreciated it. I think audiences are a lot more accepting and a lot more savvy about disability than decision makers often give them credit for.

Alvaro Gutierrez: Very good points and this next question, I’m sure it’s going to have both, both of you (chuckles) answering (laughter) because it’s about people with disabilities listening to the show who want to make it into entertainment
business who have been discriminated, (Christine: Mm-hm) who don't feel they have been treated equally and who think, oh, listening to these interesting people who have achieved and are achieving their dreams or helping others, what would be your advice for them to first find the place where they can go and feel the support of the community, and say we are going to help you in some way. I don’t know how, but somehow we’re going to help you because you have the same right as anybody else to prove your talents and abilities.

David Harrell: Well, I mean, I think it depends. That’s a hard thing because I think each of us have to sort of, I think it’s, I guess the advice would be to keep looking. You know that, to not let one person’s own prejudice or what have you deter you in anyway. It’s not an easy business for anyone; that it is a business of constant rejection and there’s the high points and there’s the lower points. So I think it is constantly trying to, to not take no for an answer to continue looking, to find the best possible path to training because I do feel that there is a craft to acting and there’s just certain vocabulary that’s needed, and that really comes with training, and so I think wherever you happen to be find the training that you have access to. Again, that is a very challenging job, I think sometimes, is to find the training resources to help you but I think more and more, the people—there’s more and
more awareness, and hopefully you can find a place that you can fit into and that you can learn from.

Christine Bruno: Yeah, I mean and it sounds, it probably sounds kind of general what we’re saying because, because all of these things still apply to anybody, who is looking to pursue a career in the arts to a disabled person or a non-disabled person, looking to pursue a career in the arts. We’re not set and obviously David and I are both very realistic, yet, I think that, is it harder for an actor with a disability to pursue a career in the arts? Absolutely. We’re not going to tell you that it’s not more difficult. It is, but that said, there are opportunities opening up that even weren’t available when David and I were pursing. I mean, David and I are fortunate enough to both have advanced degrees in acting and I also have an advanced degree in directing but that’s rare. The younger generation coming up and pursuing training programs are finding more inroads as actors with disabilities, and I know this is going to sound very Pollyanna of me, I just think that you need to bring your best self to the table, and you’re going to in a lot of sense—need to work harder than perhaps the non-disabled actor. I mean, it’s a tough business and just training, training, training, training, training; wherever you can find it, and it’s not always easy as an actor with a disability to find training programs that are either available, or accessible, or willing to (chuckles) accept you in their mix.

David Harrell: I would say that absolutely training is paramount and important but the other side of that is the ability to create your own work. (Christine: Yeah) Now, really more than any time in recent history, there’s access to create especially film stuff, I mean you can do a lot of interesting things on film with an iPhone. So you can find a group of people to work with and begin to fail (chuckles) by creating your own work. I mean, fail better. Shot something on the weekend that might not be that great but you’re going to learn from it, and then you’re going to also be able to take some of that training you’re going learn from yourself. I think there’s a combination of really trying to find the best training possible; creating that vocabulary but absolutely finding inroad of making your own work.

Christine Bruno: I mean, and any aspiring filmmaker will tell you make your own work. I read an article last week that came out of South by Southwest that was an article with Mark Duplass who's an indie filmmaker and he said, you can make a three minute film on your iPhone, make one, three minute film a week, and it doesn’t have to be technically great. People are making great work on their iPhones and the more film you make, and the more things you do you’re going to fail but something’s going to spark and turn into something bigger or somebody’s going to notice it. Because of technology, actors and musicians have so much more of a public platform than we ever had before and we don’t have to rely on the people with the money or the people with the power to give us access to opportunity.

Alvaro Gutierrez: I have to say that is very important for our listeners to learn because this, yeah because you know, opportunity you will find them and if you keep pushing you will make it happen, that’s a rule for life. (Christine: Yeah.) Where the possibility or not, we all know that from experience, (Christine: Yeah.) but what you both are saying in this second part of the answer is very critical, because it’s giving more light to people. We have social media, we have modern technology, we have the internet so it’s possible to discover you, the person who is listening right now. You have to create your own work as they are saying and to start showing your talents, as simple as that and people are going to find you.

Christine Bruno: There’s a film initiative, this is the second annual competition and it’s run out of Los Angeles but I think it’s a national competition called “The Disability Film Challenge” and it challenges artists with disabilities whether they’re writers, or actors, or directors with disabilities or all of those things with disabilities to create a film from start to finish in forty eight hours.

Alvaro Gutierrez: Wow.

Christine Bruno: I think David’s looking up the URL right now. It’s a disability film challenge. It’s like a festival. The films are shown, a winner is chosen and the winners of the winning film, I believe get to meet with some industry professionals in Los Angeles to obviously talk about their films or their careers, or what they would like to do next and this is the second year in a row that it’s happened. (Christine to David: Do you have the, uh?)

David Harrell: Yeah, it’s simply is the website. There’s plenty of information about (phone rings) the rules and regulations and things to do, but it’s coming up. It’s going to be April 17th through the 19th, so you have just forty eight hours to do. I think you can register up to April 15th.

Christine Bruno: Yeah so it’s coming up but it’s as we say a quick and dirty process. It’s a ? to make the film in forty eight hours.

Alvaro Gutierrez: Right. Right. Right. All this wonderful this, it’s important to always take notes of this. Thank you so much for that information, David. Now, looking at your website, and this is, you can say my final question and such. There’s something that I was blown away by to be honest (chuckles) and it’s that you know, you have won many awards—you have been distinguished by many things in your organization’s history, can you tell us some of those wonderful awards for people to understand the beauty of the work that you have done and that you have been recognized for?

Christine Bruno: Sure. I think our most recent award was, we have a 2011…The Tony Honor? Yes? (David: The Tony honor, yeah) For excellence in theatre and I think that that award, and for those of the listeners who don’t know that the Tony awards are the, are specifically for theatre—for Broadway and also regional theatres recognized, and every year I think a couple of non-producing organizations, service organizations such as ours are recognized for their body of work and contribution to the industry as a whole, and so I think that was our last, that was our last and probably you know the biggest.

Alvaro Gutierrez: I mean (inaudible noise) for listeners, is the biggest award in your industry, I mean for theatre. I mean it’s (Christine: Yeah, it sure is) (David: Right.) yeah.

David Bruno: We’ve also been recognized by the city of New York with The Made in New York award that celebrates organizations in New York City and their services in their respective fields, and that was presented by Mayor Bloomberg a couple years ago. (Christine: And that’s specifically film and television) Film and television right, so it was from the department of film and television or?

Christine Bruno: Yeah the department of the media I don’t know, they keep changing their name. (David: Right.) The media and entertainment division of the Mayor’s office.

David Harrell: Right. There was also a Drama Desk award.

Christine Bruno: We won a Drama Desk Award. I think an Opie award, you know, we've been around so long (chuckles). We've been around almost what's we’re going on our 28th year now so, but, it’s all been in service to the things that we’ve been talking about, which is inclusion—advocating for increased inclusion in the industry of artists of color and artists with disabilities.

Alvaro Gutierrez: I'm not going to let you go before you tell me your thoughts about the ADA25, what it means to you?

David Harrell: I’ll speak very quickly. For me, I was born without my right hand so I, and I was born in a small town and didn’t really have a knowledge about disability, and the sort of political progression of that and I remember the ADA being signed in the early 90’s when I was still in school—and it not really registering to me but now when you think twenty five years after that, when you look around and you see, even after twenty five years just the seeds of progress in terms of the recognition of a shared humanity of disability being part of our collective society; collective culture. I think there is still a lot of things, a lot of ways—a lot of distance to go (chuckles) but I do feel like within this twenty five years, there has been this very, very slow progression and there, the seeds are—the buds of flowers are beginning to come about I hope, and I think that’s part of what this celebration is to me because, it was much later in my life—into my adult life that I recognized myself as part of a broader culture of disability and people who may have physical differences that were, that no longer are shunned in ways that they were in the past and this is progress to celebrate, I think is what it means to me.

Christine Bruno: I think for o me it’s interesting because, I’m a little bit older than David and so, I was in school when the ADA—I was already in school when the ADA was signed and the school that I went to was not accessible and I was the only student with a mobility disability but they made accommodations for me. You know, because I was accepted to the school and I needed the accommodations and they gladly made them for me, and that was sort of the landscape of my life growing up—was I was literally the only disabled person I knew for decades, you know really; except for kids I met in the hospital, but those weren’t my friends.
Those weren’t the people that I interacted with and I never saw myself on TV or film or stage and I always wanted to be an actor, there wasn’t ever anything else I wanted to do, and I never really had—I was never really aware that I couldn't do it. I was never told that I couldn't do it. I was always encouraged to be whatever I wanted to be and do whatever I wanted to do. The sort of awareness of disability didn’t really enter my life until I sort of went to college. I mean by that, I mean sort of the negative aspect of people’s myths and assumptions and the way you’re perceived and looked at. I mean, it did a little bit when I was in school, people would make fun of me but I, it just was a part of my life. I never let it affect me but I think it’s interesting. What I’m struck by because I essentially was an adult by the time the ADA was passed. I sort of never grew up with that as part of the fabric of my life and so it’s interesting to me to look at the younger generation and realize that the ADA is all they know. That the access, equal access—physical access to buildings and to employment is they’ve grown up with that and so that’s a right. (David: Mm-hm) It’s not something that they’ve necessarily had to fight for from the ground up and I’m glad for that and, although there is still a long way to go and I know we had this conversation in our last talk (inaudible noise) Alvaro about sort of the difference between the social model and medical model, I think one of the downsides of the ADA is that, it still kind of follows the medical model of disability as opposed to the social model of disability. So by that I mean, that the ADA still puts the emphasis on the disabled person to accommodate themselves to society rather than, that the society should be build around all people and universal access for all people—and that's one of the areas where I think, where I think in the next twenty five years that the ADA can do better and expand its scope to become more of the social than strictly a medical model.

Alvaro Gutierrez: Now for our listeners what would be the final thoughts that you have for them to walk away from this intro, so they understand better what Inclusion in the Arts is all about and the importance of your work?

David Harrell: You know, we’re an organization that has been in the front line and in the trenches for a very long time, it’s a slug (laughter) you know and I don’t know if that translates, but (chuckles) it’s a slow process, but we’re seeing as I kind of made the analogy before, the seeds that have been planted over many, many, many years, you are beginning to see some very positive things sprout up from that. So I hope the listeners can find encouragement in that. That certainly we are not close to where we would like to be where we have a society that thinks about the inclusion of all its constituents; all its members. We’re not there yet but hopefully we can continue to work toward that, we can continue to bring awareness and the very specific intricate of our work in terms of our disabilities initiates and awareness that we can continue to bring that awareness that disability is part of the broader scope of diversity.

Alvaro Gutierrez: And (clears throat) and I would also encourage any artists with disabilities who are listening to this podcast to, wherever you are in the country or in the world keep, if you want to have a career in the arts don’t let anything deter you because even though a lot of our conversation has maybe focused on, not necessarily the negative but sort of the hurdles that we often face as artists with disabilities, the time has never been ripper (David: Right.) for artists with disabilities and by artists I mean actors, I mean directors, I mean writers, I mean film makers, I mean musicians—now is the time to get yourself out there and do the work and make your voice be heard; because like David was saying, the technology is allowing us to do that but also, also the industry, you know slowly but surely is listening, and we don’t really care why they’re listening like it’s the right thing for them to do to listen but if they’re listening because they think it’s going to increase their bottom line, and they’re going to make money and have more viewers—we don’t care. We (chuckles) just want them to listen (inaudible noise), you know, we have stories to tell and we’re encouraging anybody out there as a disabled artist to tell those stories in whatever media that makes sense for you. You know, visual arts too and anybody who is an actor out there with a disability and is actively pursuing a career in the arts, we encourage them to send us their materials, so we, so they can be included in our database.

Alvaro Gutierrez: How can they do that and contact you?

David Harrell: On our website, they can go to and I believe, I’m just trying to find (inaudible) if they go to the menu there’s a program, there’s a tab that says advocacy consulting in information program, if they go and click that
tab, it kind of talks (phone rings) about some of the work that we talked about today, and there toward the bottom it will say if you are an artist with a disability and would like to add your headshot and résumé to our files, contact our disability associate and it gives my name and my email, so you can find that information there—plus our phone number's on the website they can certainly give us a call here in New York City and we’ll be happy to talk to them.

Alvaro Gutierrez: Are you on social media?

David Harrell: Yes.

Christine Bruno: Oh, yes we are.

David Harrell: Please, like our Facebook page Inclusion in the Arts or Alliance in the Inclusion in the Arts on Facebook, and then Twitter we are inclusioninthearts so add inclusionarts on Twitter.

Alvaro Gutierrez: Well, Christine and David what a wonderful talk. What a wonderful job you’re doing and for our listeners, I’m sure I’m going to be in one of those Broadway shows we (Laughter) cause that sounds very interesting to me (chuckles) and thank you for your time, I know you’re very busy helping the
community but it’s been a pleasure to have you both.

David & Christine: Thank you for inviting us.

Alvaro Gutierrez: (Laughter) My pleasure. For our listeners we also are on social media and (chuckles) so you can go to Facebook and look for Project Access for All. You can go to Twitter and follow us there on Project Access for All. You can email us at and you can visit our website on So from Alvaro from ABS and Project Access for All, thank you so much for listening and have a wonderful day.