Changing the Narrative: My Journey Towards Increasing Disability Representation in Media

Growing up, I didn't see a lot of media including people with disabilities. I spent a lot of my Friday nights in high school diving into the captivating worlds of my favorite TV shows, movies, and YouTube channels. However, looking back on this, it strikes me how absent representation of people with disabilities was in those narratives. Amidst the laughter, drama, and love stories, there was a glaring void – a void where I never found myself reflected as a friend, a family member, main character, or daring love interest.

As a 15-year-old, I didn't put much thought into this. It seemed almost logical; why would the charming high school football player embark on a storyline of falling in love with someone in a wheelchair? And why would a person with a disability be part of the popular girl crew? It felt like an unspoken rule that these narratives weren't meant for someone like me.

Little did I realize that this perception was shaping my understanding of reality. Media, in all its forms, has a profound impact on our subconscious, influencing how we perceive ourselves, what we believe we deserve, and most importantly, how society views us. The dearth of representation on screen became a persistent reminder to my young mind that I wasn't enough. I wasn't enough to be loved. I wasn't enough to be written about.

The narratives I consumed unknowingly had an impact on my self-worth, leaving me with the belief that my story wasn't worthy of the spotlight. But as I grew older, I began to question this narrative and the power it held over me. I knew that one day I wanted to be a part of the change that allowed young people in the same situation as me to know that they are not alone, and that their stories are powerful and deserving of attention.

Becoming involved in the entertainment industry

Although I didn't know the specifics of what I wanted to do, I knew that I wanted to be involved in the media and entertainment industry in some way. I enrolled in Toronto Metropolitan University immediately after high school, as they had a unique bachelor of arts program called Creative Industries that allowed me to explore various creative fields like film, fashion, theater, dance, and music. I was also fortunate that I was able to do my minor in Disability Studies, as this allowed me to deepen my understanding of disability justice and truly understand the unique intersection between disability and media in our present-day society.

Throughout my time in university, I learned a lot about making media more inclusive and accessible, and even got to do an internship at a broadcasting company, Accessible Media Inc., dedicated to lending a voice to Canadians with disabilities. However, it wasn't until this past year that I truly felt like I had found my calling to pacing the way for inclusive disability representation in the media with Kello Inclusive.

Kello Inclusive is a non-profit talent agency dedicated to exclusively representing disabled and visibly different talent. Kello Inclusive is the first of its kind in Canada, and they have made incredible strides in making the industry a more inclusive place by casting talent as models with major brands and even in films.

I didn't have much modelling experience when I initially applied to join their roster, but I was so in awe of what they were doing that I wanted to be a part of it in any way I could. Shortly after, when I saw that they were hiring for some summer positions, I decided to apply to see if I could be involved with this incredible organization behind the scenes as well. I felt compelled to have a deeper experience than simply booking myself a few photoshoots or brand deals; I wanted to be a part of permanently influencing what disability representation looks like in the media and putting disabled talent on the map.

Tori modelling

Fast forward to now, and I feel so excited to see what the future holds for disability representation. In the past few years alone, there has been so much improvement in the type of narratives that we see on screen with major shows like Sex Education, The Healing Powers of Dude, The L Word: Generation Q, and Ordinary Joe, showing us that disability can be a natural and seamless aspect of any storyline, even without it being the main focus. Even in the reality TV space, we are starting to see more space created for disabled voices, with one of my favorites being a show called "Push" – a reality show that follows the lives of wheelchair users in Edmonton, Canada.

Where do we go from here?

I truly believe that we are entering a pivotal era for inclusion of all forms, as Hollywood realizes that this movement is not just a trend, but rather a pivotal step towards a more vibrant industry – an industry where people truly feel included, represented, and seen within the stories that they are consuming.

If you are someone with a disability who is interested in acting, modelling, or creating content in any form, my biggest advice would be to put yourself out there. The industry is shifting, and we need to be unapologetically take up space because our stories deserve to be heard.

Talent agencies like Kello Inclusive can be a great place to start if you're interested in exploring this seriously. However, being a part of changing these narratives can happen in so many ways – write a story, film a YouTube video, or audition for your school play! Whatever it is, know that you deserve to be there as much as anyone else, and you are a powerful part of changing the industry for the better.

About the author

Tori Hunter

Tori Hunter is a writer, model, and disability advocate/consultant. who lives with Spinal Muscular Atrophy type 2. She works with Kello Inclusive – Canada's first agency exclusively representing disabled talent – and her writing appears in various online publications, including her personal blog that documents her travels as a power wheelchair user. Tori's dedication to advancing disability representation in the media drives her work, pushing for inclusivity and diversity through her writing and advocacy efforts. Her contributions reflect a commitment to shaping a more inclusive narrative for disabled individuals.

Date: 12/18/2023 12:00:00 AM

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