‘Growing up with such an obvious physical difference made other people see me as less of a real human being. I think a lot of people feel that way.’
“I grew up in suburban Chicago as a disabled, queer person, who was an actor. I understood that I was disabled because I had to deal with surgeries; at 13 I became a right leg amputee and began dealing with prosthetics. I don’t think I realized it at the time, but growing up with such an obvious physical difference made other people see me as less of a real human being. I think a lot of people feel that way. They focus on whatever they feel is different about them, even if they are not necessarily disabled.
“However, I was never considered limited because of my disability. I was able to audition for every role. I went to a great college for a theater degree and had a ton of performance opportunities, but once I got into the real world I started to notice that people saw me as limited. What I’ve learned over the past 12 years of being a professional disabled actor is that there’s a huge disparity in representation. Almost 25 percent of the people in the U.S. are disabled, but only 2 percent of characters in all media are disabled, and of that, only about 15 to 20 percent are played by actual disabled people.
I realized that I had placed a lot of my self-worth on my successes as an actor and other people’s perception of me.
“Decision makers need to understand that there’s a wide variety of disabilities and that all disabled people should be considered for all roles. There needs to be more representation because it leads to legislation that helps disabled people. I’ve been lucky to make appearances in ‘Broad City,’ ‘Amsterdam’ and ‘Homeland.’ I was also in wonderful projects like ‘Othello’ with Daniel Craig and Rachel Brosnahan at New York Theatre Workshop, where, before the pandemic, I was about to start rehearsals for ‘Three Sisters’ with Steve Buscemi.
“When the pandemic hit, life got so much smaller. I moved to Mastic Beach and found myself removed from my family and friends, as well as my coping mechanisms, a lot of which included achievement, trying to book the next job, and proving to myself that I am worthy and have value. I realized that I had placed a lot of my self-worth on my successes as an actor and other people’s perception of me. In contemporary society we’re not taught that we have value unless we are successful. I’ve learned that I can feel good about myself no matter what happens.”