The second episode of the Breaking Barriers podcast sees an aspiring actor with Asperger’s Syndrome, Nicky Priest, in conversation with Jacqui O’Hanlon from the Royal Shakespeare Company.
Along with host Yassmin Abdel-Magied we listen in as the pair discuss the role of disability in the workplace, how diverse the art world really is and the barriers which the RSC have themselves.
Nicky, a stand-up comic and aspiring actor who was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome when he was 12-years-old, has some strong views and thankfully is not afraid to share them.
But what did the episode teach us?
- Autism can be a significant barrier to employment in general, not just in arts. According to the National Autistic Society, just 15 per cent of people with autism are in full time work - despite the fact that 79 per cent of autistic adults want to work.
- Representation is important. Yassmin Abdel-Magied highlights how important it is to see people from different backgrounds and experiences in the media. She explains: “Having representations on screen and on the stage of different abilities in ways that don’t shout about it can be incredibly powerful. It’s not about the ‘otherness’ of that particular character and allows for the difference to be normalised and I think that’s what so many of us want.”
- Things need to change. Jacqui says that she has learnt from the way that Nicky speaks about how society views people with autism and other learning conditions. She says: “Society’s got to do some changing because it creates the barriers that you’re facing. Actually if the world changed we wouldn’t have terms like disability because we would have adapted – so everybody could be as they are because there wouldn’t be barriers to them.”
Nicky would like to see the industry “get up to speed with how to accommodate actors with disabilities and the thing is some professional theatre companies or television production companies or film production compaies will probably think it’s not worth the hassle but it is. You’re missing the point. You could get a disabled actor to play a disabled character – or even a non-disabled character – and pull it off with more authenticity and more charisma, just more realism than a non-disabled actor can.”