Woman with white hair and young woman with auburn hair edited together

WHEELS CONTINUE TO TURN ROAD TOWARDS PEOPLE WITH DISABILITY LIVING THEIR BEST LIVES IN THE FILM INDUSTRY.

Disability employment has been a journey lined with twists and turns along a long road leading towards dreams of an inclusive destination.

One company assisting along the way has been Bus Stop Films, a pioneering, not-for-profit company whose approach to building, expanding and showcasing talent and abilities has been a key in raising the profiles of people living with disability on both sides of the camera.

Providing opportunity and support for people with disability like actress, filmmaker and disability spokesperson, Audrey O’Connor to connect with the entertainment industry, Bus Stop has made many a dream come true.

AUDREY’S JOURNEY FROM BEING BULLIED TO FINDING A BELONGING IN THE FILM INDUSTRY

Speaking with journalist Pete Timbs and writer, editor and disability advocate Tristram Peters on Feros Care’s Growing Bold and Inclusive Employment Podcast, Bus Stop Films CEO Tracey Corbin-Matchett and Audrey explored the company’s history, the roles they play, the importance of being “visible”, and how a dream can be made a reality with the right commitment, vision and support.

“One night I was having this dream that I was actually on a film set; I didn’t know if it would come true or not,” said Audrey, who started her journey as the lead in short film Yoke, when she was 15.

“At that stage of my life, I was being bullied at school and I had to go to Queensland for three weeks to film and it made me feel extraordinary.

“I wanted to be in it because I wanted my freedom from school. When I was at school, I felt invisible because I was completely ignored. We need to be seen and heard; it’s important to show diversity in film and represent all people.”

With Yoke thrusting Audrey, who lives with Down syndrome, into the world spotlight, the filmmaker and actress has appeared in short films such as Jessica VS Hitchcock and Everybody Loves my Girl, while also making her own short film, Secret, and documentary Ruckus On Our Way.

Encouraging people like Audrey to share their own stories, Bus Stop has developed an Inclusive Filmmaking Toolkit, which outlines the best practice principles for creating meaningful inclusion of people with disability in front of, and behind, the camera.

While founded more than a decade ago, a crucial piece of the Bus Stop puzzle has been Tracey, whose dream of combining “social justice and creativity in one”, led her to the film company.

Now at the company for two years and providing pathways and inclusion across everything from embracing diversity to enriching disability employment, the professional, and personal satisfaction of helping to make a difference lasts long after the credits have rolled for Tracey.

“I started working in the screen industry around 16 years ago, and as a parent of two young people living with disability and disability myself, I was just so impressed by what they (Bus Stop Films) did and how they supported people with disability,” she said.

“They came about in terms of developing a film studies program for adults with intellectual disability to offer film school education as well as make films by and about disability, and in that time, Genevieve Clay Smith (co-founder) has grown the organisation into the one we are today. We now operate our accessible Film Studies program in Sydney, Canberra, Wollongong, and Western Sydney.

“We’re making amazing films with talent like Audrey, changing people’s minds (about disability) and changing the lives of those making them. It was a real honour to start working with them.”

In a twist of early fate, Audrey found out about Bus Stop Films from a friend in drama class, and fast-forward a decade, her most recent offering, See Me, which she wrote and stars in, was produced by Bus Stop Films.

IMPROVING DISABILITY EMPLOYMENT STATISTICS IS A KEY FOCUS FOR BUS STOP FILMS

However, while Tracey said Audrey’s collaborations showed talent was not limited, nor defined by disability, she believes there is still had a long way to go. In Australia alone, over 4.4 million, or 1 in 5 people, have some form of disability, but of the over 2.1 million in that demographic of working age, under half (47.8%) were employed, compared with 80.3% of people without disability.

Equally as concerning, people with disability between 15 and 64-years-of-age have both lower labour force participation (53.4%), and higher unemployment rates (10.3%), than people without disability (84.1% and 4.6% respectively).

“It’s a true and very sad statistic,” said Tracey regarding lower labour force participation.

“I think that reflects that people sometimes have low expectations of people with disability, and perhaps that’s what furthers their unemployment, and underemployment.”

In a positive sign, the ABC recently named much-loved Triple J news presenter and acclaimed journalist Nas Campanella as their Disability Affairs reporter. Nas, who featured in Episode One of this season’s Grow Bold With Disability Podcast, is blind and lives with genetic disease Charcot-Marie Tooth, but refuses to be judged or defined by disability.

Her goal for the role is to push for change and equal employment opportunities; particularly through driving avenues for people with disability and lived experience to write about, and share stories about the wider disability community, akin to Bus Stop Films’ opportunities for those like Audrey.

In a further positive, Tracey said a key aspect of Bus Stop Films’ mission was to support people through employment pathways in the screen industry and find skills to apply to other areas of life.

“We’ve launched “Inclusion in Action”, which is aimed at the screen industry and supporting production companies and filmmakers in being more confident in working or collaborating with a person with disability,” she said.

“That’s including getting a job, and whether that’s in the screen industry (long-term) or in retail, or hospitality, it’s around skills building, turning up on time, taking direction, and being part of a team.

“The primary focus is to open up employment pathways on both sides of the camera, and as we know, having a job is more than just about having a job. It’s about feeling good about yourself, contributing to and being part of society, and active in the community the way everyone else is.

“People with disability shouldn’t be inhibited from having that experience.”

Setting a big platform for the current and future generation of people with disability to enjoy the opportunity to shine, Audrey is still focused on achieving a lot in her own career.

The definition of growing bold from bullied schoolgirl to talented actress and filmmaker, Audrey has helped to open a path for acceptance and equality.

“Growing bold also means being extraordinary and showing what we can do,” Audrey said.

“It’s about looking out for what you love and doing it with passion and joy,” Tracey added.

“I would like to grow bold with Bus Stop Films over the next three years and take our amazing programs all over the world… I want world domination.”

TO LISTEN TO OUT GROWING BOLD AND INCLUSIVE EMPLOYMENT PODCAST, CLICK HERE.

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO OTHER GREAT EPISODES FROM OUR GROW BOLD WITH DISABILITY PODCAST.

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