by Emily Kranking
March 25th was National Cerebral Palsy Awareness Day. For me, it’s always time to celebrate my disability and how it makes up my life. But this year, I want to talk about how representation is so important in our community.
This past week, conservative political commentator Candance Owens criticized an underwear advertisement that featured a model in underwear. Owens said on her DailyWire show, “I don;’t know how far we can take this inclusivity thing…I don’t know why this needs to be done. I’m getting tired of this all inclusivity thing. It seems ridiculous.” A couple days later, she followed up with a whole episode dedicated to the outlash she received from the community. As the episode title says, she believes that representation doesn’t matter. One part that stood out to me is Candace telling a comment from a disabled woman, who said that she wanted to be a model growing up and never saw one like her. She needed the model (Haleigh Rosa) growing up to know that she can be a disabled model. Owens ridiculed this comment, saying casting us in anything would be equal to a participation trophy. Immediately, I stopped what I was doing and rushed to my office to make a TikTok on this.
Growing up, I have never had anyone like me once on TV, movies, or in the theater. And I just don’t mean the Archie character from Glee, who was played by a nondisabled actor. I mean me - a person with a speech impediment, upper limb difference, and leg braces - myself, and I. By the time I was in high school, I wanted to be an actress and I wanted to be a theater major in college. But because I’ve never seen one disabled actor on Broadway or on screen (until ABC’s Speechless and the inclusive revival of Spring Awakening by college), I gave up on the idea of acting professionally. A year later after I graduated, I stumbled across a virtual open call for an indie movie and ended up booking a lead role in it, a month later. This ended up being Best Summer Ever, the world’s first disabled movie musical. In the beginning of middle school, I started having an interest in movie musicals after High School Musical and had a sense that I wanted to do that. With Best Summer Ever: Not only did I get to be the Frenchie/Taylor to the Sandy/Gabriella and lived my HSM moment, I got to be me - a person with a speech impediment, upper limb difference, and leg braces. And as a result, these disabled tweens, who have the luxury to grow up with this movie, can grow up to know that they can be disabled performers.
Heck, I never thought I could be a model until I was signed on to my amazing management Gamut Management. I may have grown up seeing models who are white and blonde like me. But as someone who has always enjoyed looking at photos in catalogs, I always wondered what it would be like if I saw someone like me. Would I have been interested in modeling? But, thanks to No Limbits, I had an opportunity to be a model like Ms. Rosa. In September, I walked on Fashion Week with the Runway of Dreams, wearing colorful and accessible clothing by No Limbits. And above all, I could be me, disabled and all. And I could feel beautiful in my own way like Ms. Rosa. And any kids with cerebral palsy who happened to see my picture, can know they can be models.
So, yes Ms. Owens. Representation does matter.