I have a right side weakness. My coordination and mobility are limited on my right side. This means that the stroke I had at birth happened on the left side of my brain, which caused seizures until I was 14. I have minor CP. I have had to work hard, use concerted effort, and push myself twice as hard as any able bodied person. I still do.
Some people never know that I have any ability issues. I have known people for months and then one day they ask, “What’s wrong with your leg?” I’ve been told I started out in the world as a fighter. I was going to succeed no matter what. I was going to make a difference.
Although this is true to an extent, it doesn’t change the fact that there are several specific hurdles and challenges I am faced with on my path to my ultimate goal.
Speech: When I am tired and fatigued, I slur my words and mumble, sometimes to an unintelligible degree. Energy: I would argue that having a physical weakness requires more energy and a focus to move about the world. During long days, it is challenging to push through. Strength: Clearly there are benefits to having a full able body. Ability: Sometimes movements are difficult with one arm or one fully functioning leg. It takes a concerted effort to master my ways of moving around the space. It takes longer to learn the physicality and body mechanics in an office, rehearsal hall, backstage, etc. Typing: One handed typing clearly slows down the process of drafting and writing anything.
I love theatre. I love everything it stands for. It teaches us compassion for others. I love the production component of theatre; seeing a performance executed flawlessly is an all time thrill. I love knowing everything about productions: production meetings, rehearsals, performances, putting together reports, and I love the people. I love maintaining a show. This is why I became a stage manager and worked my way up and into equity status.
Most companies and colleagues are open-minded. I have never been judged as different. In fact, I believe I did a darn good job. However when I have trying days, my blemishes show up differently than they do on others. If I am limping, slurring, or just plain tired I am more prone to fatigue and making errors. Again I have to make a concerted effort to maintain myself. This is not a challenge when I am appreciated and working with a supportive team. However, on those experiences where things don’t go so well (we have all had them), it affects me differently. It also seems easy to blame the not-so-able bodied person for things not going well in the work place. This is especially the case on jobs where superiors are called on the line and they themselves have let down the company or production. It is always easier to blame someone else, than to take responsibility for yourself.
Also, it is easy to take on the role of the scapegoat. Why not? I mean, I am lower than others. People with limitations have been told constantly that we are less than. We needed more attention then our siblings, classmates, and even coworkers. Never mind if they train us we COULD and often DO become the best employees, the most detailed, and most efficient. But we often have to endure being told we don’t measure up, are asked to leave, or go back to school. Ugh!
Interviews: I have interviewed. I have interviewed. I have interviewed. In one way or another, I am frequently asked, “What is wrong with you? (your hand)” Either with a stare in the middle of the meeting, with a question… like “Is there anything you need accommodation with?” Or, what has actually happened…The interviewer will call one of my references and venture into illegal territory, asking questions about my hand and ability. Why can’t the interviewer ask me first and be upfront with their concern? Also, why is my arm a factor in my job performance and ability? After I receive the uncomfortable glances, it is hard to address the issue myself. I already start off on an unstable platform.
How can you judge ability fairly? How do you make reasonable accommodation and when is it about someone being prepared or fitting the qualifications of a position? I don’t know the answer just yet. However, I do know that I am special, capable, and would be an asset to any company. Take a chance and please judge a person fairly with an open heart and mind. Thank you kindly.
Peter Royston is an Equity stage manager from California. Peter has worked for theatres such as: California Shakespeare Theater, TheatreWorks of Silicon Valley, San Jose Repertory Theatre, as well as Opera Santa Barbara and Opera San Jose, among others. He has served in the development department at TCG and the executive office at The Public Theater. Earlier this year, Peter also stage managed a benefit for Callen Lorde Community Heath Center at 54 Below. Peter currently serves as the Development Associate for TheatreworksUSA and works front of house at Signature Theatre.