What do Hollywood, the Ellen DeGeneres Show and cerebral palsy have in common?
She’s a budding British filmmaker who has her sights set on Hollywood. He was the first-ever comedian to perform stand-up on the Ellen DeGeneres Show and is a household name in the USA. They’re an ocean apart, but Alice Barker and Josh Blue are bound by more than their drive to make it big in showbiz. Both have cerebral palsy (CP) and both are determined to break down stereotypes about people with disability.
Today they’re doing it with This Is Medtech by giving a shout out to World Cerebral Palsy Day, which aims to give a global voice to the CP community.
CP is a group of neurological disorders that affect muscle control and body movement. It’s usually caused by an injury to a person’s brain before, during or after birth, and is the most common motor disability in children. In Europe, about two babies in 1,000 are born with some form of CP. There is no cure, but treatments to improve comfort and mobility can include Botox injections, surgery and physiotherapy, among others.
Alice was diagnosed when she was about a year old. Relying on a wheelchair was “fun and relatively simple” as a child, but it got harder during her teens. “When you’re young, you don’t know things like judgment and prejudice,” says the 20-year-old film student. “I don’t want people to describe me as ‘Alice in the wheelchair’, but rather ‘Alice the film buff’, or something similar. My chair is just a piece of equipment I use to get around; it’s not permanently attached to me. I think teens and adults tend to lose sight of that.”
That’s why she loves the directness of kids, who just ask. “We should encourage that kind of open questioning about disability, because that’s how people learn and combat stereotypes. The problem arises when people stop being curious and jump to conclusions,” she explains.
The issues that knocked Alice’s confidence as a teen have only served to strengthen her resolve to become a filmmaker, with one caveat: “Although I’m all for talking about disability from an activist point of view, I don’t want to be preachy about it in my movies,” she says. Nonetheless, Alice finds it incredibly refreshing to see a growing number of actors, like Breaking Bad’s RJ Mitte, showcasing their disability to the world. She admits to worrying about who will look after her out in LA, but that won’t deter her. “It’s definitely not mainstream to have a disabled film director! But leave it with me ‒ I want to be the one to blaze that trail.”
On the other side of the pond, Josh Blue has already blazed that trail in comedy, even though it took him a long time to come to terms with confidence himself. “It’s amazing what confidence can do. Even if you don’t really believe you can do something, if you just pretend you can, a lot of times it works out,” he told This Is Medtech, quipping that “I’m just terrified someday someone’s going to find out I’m not even funny.”
The 36-year-old comedian, who centres much of his self-deprecating act on having CP, agrees with Alice that there’s a notable shift in attitudes towards disability in the entertainment industry. “You see more people with disabilities in shows. I’m part of the movement. I’m putting myself out there every day. I don’t think the world was ready for me 20 years ago but there’s definitely a bigger push to make people with disabilities more accepted in entertainment,” says Josh, whose long list of achievements includes competing at the 2004 Paralympic Games in Athens as a member of the US Paralympic Soccer Team as well as a few acting stints.
What advice does he have for Alice and her concerns about getting by on her own? “Those fears are almost always in your head. Words on a paper and words on a screen, it doesn’t matter where they came from. It doesn’t matter the body that they came out of. There’s tons of ways to work around that and there’s tons of genuinely kind people to help you. You just have to be determined in your goals and figure out how you can make it work for yourself.”