In college, before I could graduate with my degree, I had to do a thesis project. I remember being terrified of this thesis project when I heard about it before I’d ever been admitted to the program. But, before I knew it I had to come up with a thesis project that encapsulated all that I had learned about theater and performing. No pressure.
I did this project with my best friend. We were going to write (well, I was) a play for young audiences. We were going to take said play and tour it around the area, performing for various age groups. We were going to build this from the ground up- play, sets, costumes, all of it.
I decided to adapt Cinderella because she loses a shoe and I have one leg. It made sense.
Now, this play, you guys. It’s REALLY terrible. It’s full of inspiration porn, how we all are special snowflakes, and that you can really do anything you want if you put your mind to it. I wrote it like this because that’s what I’ve been told my entire life. That I could overcome anything I wanted with just some elbow grease and lots of prayers.
And that’s ableist.
I’m about 15 years older now. I’ve spent more time talking with people with disabilities. I’ve spent a lot of time, more importantly, LISTENING to people with disabilities. And do you know what I’ve heard the most? People with disabilities just want to be recognized as human.
Let me just say that one more time.
People with disabilities just want to be recognized as human.
If I were to re-write this play, and maybe I will someday, the fact that Cinderella has one leg wouldn’t even be mentioned until she talks to the Fairy Godmother about how she is going to dance at the ball. And instead of the Fairy Godmother saying something really saccharine like, “You can do anything! Just have a glorious attitude and the world will treat you like everyone else!” She’ll say something like, “Just shake your groove-thang!” (because in this new interpretation the Fairy Godmother talks only in clichés.) And the show will go on. That’ll be the only discussion of Cinderella having one-leg.
I did three performances of that Cinderella. And we got such POSITIVE reviews. People kept telling me how important it was. That I’d found my future profession. WHAT AN INSPIRATION I AM. That play continued to reinforce the stereotype that people with disabilities are only on this Earth to be inspirations to people who are not disabled.
I perpetuated a bad representation. Someone who lives it.
But, because I listen. Because I am still learning. And unlearning some of the things I’ve been taught my entire life, I can do better.
I can do better.