The Invisible Barrier
Performing arts is a competitive industry that brings out the best in you. It allows you to be whatever you want and instils a confidence - because you are in fact a character, which is the best mask in the world! J loves nothing more than being on stage or behind a camera, giving it his best shot and delivering his part knowing that he gave it 110%. There is something very special about landing a role and having the opportunity to build your character alongside your acting family as you embark on the journey together.
As parents of children in the industry, this role can get very muddled. The majority of parents are good allrounders. They will celebrate other children’s success as well as their own and are great company to pass time with during auditions. There are also parents who will step over everyone to tread a path for their child. We all know who they are and all have to suffer their obnoxious ways. It is just part of the industry, I guess!
Then there’s the invisible barrier. This is something that very few have to contemplate as for them it doesn’t exist. But for people with additional needs it is very much a thing. To comply with disability discrimination laws and equal opportunities, we are asked more and more to disclose disabilities so that adjustments can be considered. Great news! Yes and no. Yes, as it mirrors our belief that it is the child that matters, not their disability and if they can be supported to audition on a level playing field that is great. The disability needs acknowledgement to reduce the barrier to inclusion but that really is it.
And no…. Countless times, J has been overlooked not because of ability but because the ‘triple A ‘ stands out on the page and he is side-lined because the person next to him has a similar skill level without the additional ‘problems.’ The other person is perceived to be easier to work with.
The other parents? They often don’t see it or get it. ‘Well they all get stressed don’t they?’ This is something that becomes water off a duck’s back EVENTUALLY. But then there’s the parents that see the ‘Triple A ‘as a weakness to exploit. Ensuring that their child knows how to destabilise J if need be and will be ready with their quips about ‘well he was bound to struggle wasn’t he?’ As a very resilient person, I start to question my own sanity when these moments happen. Are people really like that? Am I reading too much into what I blatantly heard or saw?
So why disclose? We have often asked ourselves this question but we come back to the same two answers:
1. What message are we sending out to J if we are not disclosing his disability? We have been clear with him throughout his life that his disability doesn’t define him but he does need to be respectful of it to keep himself mentally well.
2. We don’t actually have a choice as he is a child and has to take medication throughout the day to manage his condition, so this has to be disclosed, regardless.
Instead, we find ourselves writing a little disclaimer at the side of the disclosure which says that J needs little support, just an acknowledgement that he might need some additional explanation at times, but he will ask.
Over the years, we have become hardened to the invisible barrier in the industry and if anything it has made J more resilient. The successes do come and they are celebrated as we know the amount of personal strength it took to achieve. When we look at the actors that are treading the boards as adults, it is very clear that many may have shared a similar journey. Maybe the resilience required as a child has set them up for life?!
We look forward to the day when the invisible barrier disappears and allows for a true world stage. When all who desire, take to the stage or screen with their unique skill sets and this is celebrated.