Hiring the disabled

Posted by Allen Rucker in Life After Paralysis on August 22, 2019 # Mobility, Lifestyle

What follows are excerpts from a podcast I recently did with TV writer/producer David Shore, the creator of the long-running medical series, “House,” starring Hugh Laurie, and currently the executive producer of “The Good Doctor,” the hit ABC series featuring a 27-year-old surgeon on the autism spectrum.

On both shows, and many others, David is the “show runner,” meaning he hires and fires all the staff, including actors. On “The Good Doctor,” there are two writers with disabilities, one in a chair, and many guest actors with disabilities of all sorts. As a boss, he knows all about working with people with disabilities. His views, I think, apply to anyone in the position of hiring the disabled.

ALLEN: If a disabled writer, say, a man or woman in a wheelchair, comes into their office looking for work, how do you think most show runners would react?

DAVID: I honestly don’t know. One of my writers is in a wheelchair, right? So far it doesn’t seem to be a problem. We had to adjust a door at one point. I say that as a joke. There was a little step at the door and we had the building department come by. Otherwise, he’s another person in the writers’ room with unique life experiences and that’s the soul of a writer.

ALLEN: Was the chair ever an issue with you?

DAVID: When you meet a person in a wheelchair, you think, “I'm meeting a person in a wheelchair.” Once you spend an hour with a person in a wheelchair, you're spending an hour with a person. You’re told, “Don't look at the chair first,” but people normally do. Yeah, there's a difference there. It's an unexpected thing, but then so much else is going on very quickly.

ALLEN: What about when he has to move around on the film set?

DAVID: When he first came to work, that did occur to me. Would that be an issue? And that was the last time I thought about it because apparently, it wasn't an issue. We have good people moving cables and equipment around so that he can navigate them. Sometimes things are upstairs and they make a point of having a ramp there.

ALLEN: There could be other problems, too, like health matters or getting sued if you fired the guy. Let’s say, there's a showrunner listening and he's nervous for several of the above reasons. What would you say to him about dealing with people with disabilities?

DAVID: Well, first I'm going to yell at that person. Nervousness to me in this type of situation is a cop out and a cowardly attitude. It's really simple. You don't operate from the assumption that you are going to fail and I don't like people using lawyers as an excuse for anything. And I don't like people finding excuses for not doing something right. This is obviously the right thing to do. I trust myself to be able to judge someone better than that, at least in a meeting, and certainly someone in a wheelchair is not unique in that regard.

ALLEN: How did you end up with a non-autistic actor playing an autistic character at a time when a lot of people with disabilities find that distasteful?

DAVID: We did get a lot of heat about that before the show came on. But if you see this guy act, it's amazing. We’ve had a lot of autistic actors on the show and they come away saying nice things about the actor, Freddie Highmore. They enjoy being with him.

ALLEN. Change the subject. You did an episode with an intellectually disabled young man, played by an intellectually disabled young man, and his mother/caretaker who finds, at the end of the store, that she has become completely exhausted. She can’t deal with it anymore. Then he hits her in the face!

DAVID: Where'd that come from? That came from the notion of what point is love not enough. At what point is the greatest caretaking step you can take is to realize that something's beyond your capacity and dealing with limits. All of our characters are dealing with their own personal limits and we all have to fight to get as far as we can.

ALLEN: Thank you, David.