A Film by Liz Ortiz
And...Seen challenges mainstream assumptions of disability through the perspective of actress/wheelchair dancer, Jamie Petrone. A raw, intimate exploration of Jamie’s life as she defies stereotypes, questions authority and pursues her dreams, one of which is to be seen as just another human being.
The mission of THISAbility shall be to educate, enhance, empower, and promote the advancement of performers with mixed abilities, while creating opportunities for FULL inclusion and diversity in the arts.
Our vision is to create a place where children and adults with mixed abilities will see themselves truly integrated into all facets of the performing arts community. Our students will thrive in a nurturing, competitive environment where each artist is considered solely on his or her merits as a performer. THISAbility will be a place where students of all ages can grow and visualize their true potential, knowing they are not alone and they are equal to everyone else.
Over a billion people live with a disability in our world today; more than 56 million in the U.S. alone. That’s nearly 20% of the U.S. population, and yet we are the largest minority group underrepresented in the entertainment industry. Despite recent efforts by industry heavyweights to provide universal access to all areas of production in both film and television, we are a far cry from inclusivity becoming a standard practice.
Twenty Five years ago people with disabilities in the media were invisible. Despite policies against discrimination, more than a third of performers with disabilities in the U.S. reported some form of discrimination in the workplace, such as being refused an audition because of their disability. As a result, in 2009, the Actors’ Equity Association (AEA), the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) and the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) came together to form the IAMPWD – Inclusion in the Arts & Media of People with Disabilities, and created a PR campaign to educate the industry and public on the lack of inclusion and universal access for people with disabilities.
The IAMPWD campaign focused on three areas: access, inclusion, and accuracy.
- Access is about removing physical barriers to jobs, as well as intentional or unintentional discrimination, so PWDs can equally compete for roles
- Inclusion means that PWDs deserve to have their stories and images reflected in media’s portrayal of the diverse “American Scene”
- Accuracy means eliminating stereotypical or false depictions of PWDs, and wherever possible, cast them for characters with disabilities
On January 11, 2012 the IAMPWD marked the end of its three year campaign with a bi-coastal industry summit. "Disability IS Diversity: Reflecting the True American Scene" was an event that included casting directors, filmmakers and studio and union representatives and focused on ways to increase the visibility of both actors and characters with disabilities in popular entertainment, as well as the employment of journalists with disabilities. The campaign itself was remarkably successful in bringing awareness to industry professionals. “The IAMPWD campaign leaves us with a roadmap for progress. It calls on writers to utilize characters with disabilities to add interesting dimensions to storylines, as well as creating more opportunities for actors with disabilities to audition and be cast. This is what the campaign was all about. And now is the time to make it happen.” - Dr. Olivia Raynor, director of the National Arts and Disabilities Center, Tarjan Center, at University of California Los Angeles.
My name is Jamie Petrone, and I am a working actress, although these days I find myself living a very different role. While studying musical theatre at a prestigious conservatory, I was heinously misdiagnosed and suffered a near-fatal allergic reaction to prescription medication, which left me in a wheelchair, unable to walk. Although being asked by the program’s director to take a leave of absence and return when I was “better” because “you can’t be an actress in a wheelchair” was devastating, it became a defining moment of my life, and I made an unwavering decision that no matter what, I was going to pursue my dream of becoming an actress. Our stories don’t begin or end with our disabilities, and it is my intention to make this a reality for all performers. As a member of the national advisory board of the IAMPWD, I have been able to form relationships with people that not only envision an INCLUSIVE society, but also embrace the opportunity to move forward by actively engaging in every aspect of the business. I choose to see past my disability, and THISAbility represents a community making a conscious decision to see past the obstacles of life. Instead of giving up we find inspiration in pursing our dreams.
THISAbility serves to educate, enhance, empower, and promote the advancement of performers with mixed abilities, while creating opportunities for FULL inclusion and diversity in the arts. Our vision is to create a place where children and adults with mixed abilities will see themselves truly integrated into all facets of the performing arts community; where they can thrive in a competitive environment where each artist is considered solely on his/her merits as a performer; where children can grow up and visualize their true potential, knowing they are not alone and they are equal to everyone else. For THISAbility, part of making it work now is proving to the next generation that anything is possible. We feel that there is an unprecedented need for this type of organization to provide programming, and we are confident that we will be acknowledged and supported by the decision makers within the industry.
Vocal Music Department Director/Master Teacher in Voice Techniques and Pedagogy
Consulting in Diversity & Inclusion Initiatives
Co-Chair, Finance Director
Production Manager & Technical Coordinator
Instrumental Music Department Director
Outreach Coordinator & Marketing Specialist
Multidisciplinary Dramatist & Mentor