Controlling Your Own Narrative
Play audio version
Introducing DJP Mentor Cara Reedy
June 7, 2022
“[My] childhood was privileged in one respect in that I didn’t want for anything material and had the best educational opportunities. But, as a Black dwarf girl child, I was harassed a lot because of my dwarfism,” says Cara Reedy, a journalist with achondroplastic dwarfism and a newly appointed mentor to the Disability Justice Project. “People felt even freer back then to comment on my body, and many made a point to let me know I wasn’t normal,” she says.
Now 46, Reedy addresses the oppression she’s experienced as a little person through her work as a journalist, actor, comedian, and film director. In 2019, she released “Dwarfism and Me,” a documentary with co-producer Tim Silverstone, for The Guardian. “It was really well received by the audience. Most people were not aware of dwarf history in America. We were thanked a lot for bringing it to the forefront. There is so much disability history that needs to be explored and brought to light,” she says.
The documentary’s concept was drawn from how “history and our culture created this really abusive environment for people with dwarfism,” how “dwarfs were … talked about in … pre-modern culture and … what the effects of that are today,” says Reedy. Through “Dwarfism and Me,” Reedy and Silverstone found that persons with dwarfism still live with the effects of sideshows and circuses, and this objectification of persons with dwarfism has changed into reality shows like “Little People Big World,” “Little Women” (of Atlanta, NY, LA) and, says Reedy, “pretty much anything that comes on The Learning Channel.” Selene Luna, a Mexican-American comedian and actress with dwarfism, says in “Dwarfism and Me” that “little people are … portrayed in entertainment as a creature, a mystical monster.” Luna asks, “Why is it not important for little people not to be presented in a dignified manner?”
In 1998, Reedy received a political science degree at Loyola University in Chicago. She studied abroad at Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute in London, where actress Mariana Hill taught her method acting. Since graduating, Reedy worked at CNN for ten years and has done freelance work with NPR. She has been in newsrooms for over 15 years and has passionately focused on documentary work.
Reedy believes persons with disabilities still face limited access to power, making it difficult for them to control their narratives. She suggests unity among persons with disabilities across the globe – for the goal of liberation and as a call to action. Fifteen percent of the globe’s population lives with disabilities. “Liberation looks different in different countries because systems are different in different countries, so I don’t feel like there’s a one-size-fits-all system fix, but there is a one group, one idea that we all should be raising each other up across the globe.”
Powered by her passion for creating spaces for media professionals with disabilities to lead conversations that most affect their lives, Reedy joined the Disability Media Alliance Project (DMAP) in June 2020 after its director watched “Dwarfism and Me.” According to its website, DMAP strives to bring the disability community and the media industry together “to promote accurate representation of people with disabilities” and to “eliminate disability stereotypes and misinformation in news, television, film, and other media.”
Reedy now works at Storyline Partners, a collection of leading advocacy organizations collaborating with the entertainment industry to tell more accurate and nuanced narratives that reflect the realities and richness of different communities. Though she’s left DMAP, Reedy continues to build the U.S.-based Disabled Journalists Association, a “place where journalists can come together and kind of have one voice to speak to newsrooms about their coverage of disabled people,” she says.
Reedy recounts experiences with discrimination in her career, particularly during her 10-year stint at CNN. “There was sort of a refusal to believe that I have these skills. I watched people that I trained move up and be executive producers while I still was on the bottom rung, and quite frankly I had to leave newsrooms in order to leave the discrimination,” she says. “It’s a difficult place,” In the next 10 years, Reedy aims to do more documentaries, movie-making, and screenwriting.
At the Disability Justice Project, Reedy looks forward to meeting more journalists and people with disabilities around the globe. She’ll be mentoring the upcoming cohort of Indonesian fellows. Additionally, she wants to understand how different cultures and systems treat persons with disabilities across Africa, where the DJP’s second cohort of fellows this year will be based. “I’m excited for this program,” she says. “I just think it’s the neatest thing.”
Nissy Namuyomba is a 2021 DJP Fellow and an administrative assistant at MADIPHA. @2022 MADIPHA. All rights reserved.
News From the Global Frontlines of Disability Justice
Rwandans with disabilities face significant barriers to accessing health care. For those with short stature, this includes hospital beds and reception windows that are too high. “Sometimes we are served after others or choose to stay home,” says one advocate for more inclusive services and infrastructure.
Dissatisfied by the way local news portrays people with disabilities, DJP Fellow Sri Sukarni is determined to use her new video skills to share issues important to her community. At the top of her agenda is the lack of accessible public service buildings. “This is what I want to convey to the media, to the government,” she says.
When DJP Fellow Benedicta Oyèdayọ̀ Oyèwọlé was a child, a pastor laid hands on her to “cast out the demons” and blamed her disability on witches. Today, Oyèwọlé is working as an advocate for Nigerians with disabilities to end discrimination: “It’s people’s attitudes that need to be transformed. You can’t legislate attitudes.”
When she was four years old, DJP Fellow Kinanty Andini drew all over the walls in her mother’s house. Now she’s using her creativity to make films that fight against mental health stigmas. “I want to show the society who we really are,” says Andini. “I want people to know that we are not what the stigma says about us.”
Olúwáṣeun Oníyídé Olútòni says that living at the intersection of multiple marginalized identities has shaped the way the world sees her – and how she sees the world: “My disability, gender identity, and queerness are not separate parts of me. They are parts of what makes me whole.”
Accessible job opportunities are few and far between for persons with short stature in Rwanda, says Vice President of the Rwanda Union of Little People Manasseh Nzanira. A woman with short stature who has remained unemployed despite having a bachelor’s degree for over four years shares her story.