USC Chan Magazine | Spring 2013
Neville-Jan Gives Keynote Lecture on Disability to TV and Film Writers Guild
Originally published in the Spring 2013 issue of the USC Chan Magazine
Associate Professor Ann Neville-Jan gave the keynote address at “People First: Real Disabilities, Reel Stories,” a recent event examining the portrayals of people with disabilities in television and film. The event was sponsored by the Writers Guild of America, West; the WGA Writers with Disabilities Committee; and Hollywood, Health & Society at the Norman Lear Center of the USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism.
Neville-Jan recounted several participants’ stories from her qualitative research conducted with Professor Mary Lawlor on the everyday life experiences of adults who have spina bifida. When the researchers interviewed people with spina bifida about their experiences during childhood and adolescence, an unaticipated theme that emerged was the significance of footwear in the everyday lives of women.
During the later process of disseminating this research, Neville-Jan herself encountered unanticipated attitudes.
“A few years ago, I presented research findings about shoes at a medical conference,” Neville-Jan recounted. “After hearing the stories from our women research participants, several surgeons in the audience indicated that finding fashionable shoes was a major problem for their patients who had spina bifida. One surgeon lamented, ‘Yes, many of my patients with spina bifida tell me similar stories; I thought long and hard about this issue and feel there was only one solution.’ What is that? Anybody want to venture? Foot amputation. The audience was stunned. The surgeon continued, ‘I really mean this. One of my patients needed an amputation because of a foot infection. She was very happy with the shoes she could wear on her prosthetic foot,’” Neville-Jan recalled.
“While this seems an extreme solution, even women without foot impairments are choosing surgery as a means to wear fashionable shoes. The stories our research participants told us about managing appearances in everyday life highlighted how the personal practice of dressing — for example, wearing fashionable shoes — was important for their personal and social identity. By sharing these stories tonight, I hope that they can have a real effect on attitudes about disability,” said Neville-Jan.
The event also featured guests Ben Lewin, writer and director of The Sessions; Margaret Nagle, writer and producer of Warm Springs; Eric Guggenheim, writer and co-producer for Parenthood; David Radcliff, writer and producer; and Auti Angel, actress in the docu-series Push Girls. Hollywood, Health & Science Director Sandra de Castro Buffington moderated the discussion and audience questions.