What’s involved in training actors with disability? This is one topic that needs a lot more exploration now that people with disability are being included in productions. One place to start is the material that’s been developed for Universal Design for Learning (UDL). Deric McNish’s book chapter, Training Actors with Disabilities, provides an interesting perspective on the issues and discusses various approaches to theatre courses. You will need institutional access for a free read. The chapter can be purchased from SpringerLink.
Abstract: This essay presents accessible training methods for students with disabilities in college acting, voice, and movement courses. It presents teaching strategies selected from a survey of prominent professors, as well as from actors with disabilities that have worked professionally and completed an actor training program. This paper presents some valuable perspectives on a largely unexplored topic and offers multiple approaches, including ways to adapt popular acting, voice, speech, and movement pedagogies for the greatest variety of students, ways to effectively communicate with college students with disabilities, ways to apply Universal Design for Learning in practice-based theatre courses, and responsible strategies for portraying disability identity during in-class scene work.
Rob Imrie and Rachael Luck discuss universal design from the perspective of how it relates to the lives and bodies of people with disability. Their philosophic offering is the introduction to a set of eight papers in a special issue of Disability and Rehabilitation. Some important questions are raised about the role of universalism and the embodiment of disability. For example, proponents of universal design say that users are crucial to the design process, but what does that mean for the skills of designers – will they be lost or discounted? Yet these are the people who have the power to use their skills “in ways where some social groups will benefit and others do not”. The focus of universal design is often on techniques and operational outcomes, but is this enough – are there other aspects to think about? Imrie and Luck provide a paragraph on each paper and conclude:
“The papers, as a collective, are supportive of universal design, and see it as a progressive movement that is yet to realise its potential. The contributors provide insight into the tasks ahead, including need for much more theoretical development of what universal design is or ought to be in relation to the pursuit of design for all and not the few. This includes development and deployment of concepts that enable non-reductive conceptions of design and disability to emerge, aligned to political and policy strategies that enable universal design to become a socio-political movement in its broadest sense.”
The title of the editorial of the special edition of Disability and Rehabilitation is, “Designing inclusive environments: rehabilitating the body and the relevance of universal design”. Thought provoking reading for anyone interested in UD as a social movement as well as design thinking. There is more on their universalising design blog site.