Freya Higgins talks about parents with disabilities and her role within our short film Inclusion Makes the World More Vibrant.
Freya Higgins is a disability advocate and actress who will make her film debut on December 3rd as the beautiful mother in our short film, Inclusion Makes the World More Vibrant. As a woman who is legally blind and a mum herself, Freya talks to us about what the short film means to her and how she believes the film is going to help break down stigmas that surround parents with a disability.
Firstly, were you excited to work on the film? Yes! It was really exciting and a great opportunity for me. From a broader social point of view, I felt the film had a really important message; making people aware of the value of diversity in our community.
What was the audition process like? It was an interesting process, that’s for sure! It was daunting because I’d never done an audition, but it was a fun challenge. I had no idea what to expect, but I found everyone warm and welcoming and it was interesting to audition with different kids too, so the director could find the right match between mother and child. I learned a lot.
Do you relate to your character in anyway? Yeah, in a lot of ways actually. I have raised a child and I have a disability. So I related very much to the character and the challenge she has in terms of needing to encourage her child to adjust to having a parent with disability. As a parent, you want to make sure your disability doesn’t impact in a negative way on your child. You want your disability to bring out their strengths. My character doesn’t want to depend on her son, no parent does. My character wants to find a creative way for her and her son to live within a family unit that includes disability as something that’s normal and positive.
Do you think there is much representation of parents with disability in film and TV? Not at all. I think it’s rare to see disability in general in the media, let alone parents with disability. It’s not common to see disability and when it is shown in the media, it’s often not a parent, but rather it’s a child, teenager or someone who is not in a relationship with kids — there are very narrow representations of people with disability in the media, and certainly nothing which shows us being capable parents.
Are there any stigmas in society that exist around parents with disability? As a mum with a disability, often I’ll get asked — and this was particularly prevalent when my child was younger — “How do you care for him?” It’s a bit inappropriate for someone to ask a mum how she cares for her child, but I got use to it. Also people would tell me, “Oh he must be a huge help to you” and they’d say this when my son was three! It’s not like that at all; it’s not about my child helping me! You can be a parent with disability and not rely on your child. This is just some of the big pervasive stigmas that parents with disability face when raising their children. Some others include the idea that people with disability shouldn’t reproduce or even be in relationships. I see a lot of these stigmas, especially through my professional role as an individual advocate. I have a caseload and I advocate for individuals with disability. If someone’s having an issue where they’re not having their needs or rights met, an advocate like myself can assist them to negotiate their rights. There are a lot of people in society who don’t think a person with disability can raise a child. We see a lot of this in child protection, there’s this idea that people with disability can’t raise children, but that’s completely false. There are many wonderful parents with disability and their family unit simply adapts and adjusts, and they get on with it.
What are the challenges that some parents with disability face when it comes to social inclusion? There’s so many. I think sometimes schools are not accessible, I think government services aren’t that helpful and it all depends on the disability as well. For me, when I was raising my son, school newsletters weren’t available electronically, the same with permission slips; they weren’t accessible to me. There is overall a lack of awareness around parents with disability at schools and within extra curricular activities. The focus is on the child and if the parent has extra needs, it’s seen as no ones responsibility. A lack of awareness is the main issue and the broader social stigmas too.
Do you think this film will help advocate for inclusion, and why? Yeah absolutely! Firstly, just seeing a parent with disability in the media is great. The mother is very responsible, she is getting out with her son, and she is supporting and encouraging him. What’s beautiful about it also, is that her disability actually helps him engage with the artwork. He really becomes immersed in appreciating the art because he wants to describe it his mum and share it with her. Not only does this provide an opportunity for him, he also engages others in the room as well. That’s something wonderful; a message that disability provides other people an opportunity to engage with the world around them in a unique way. The story shows her disability is a positive thing, not a negative thing in the context of their relationship. That’s how the stigmas get broken, through stories that show an alternative way of preserving disability. Rather than disability being portrayed as something tragic or requiring charity, it shows that disability can give something to society, another way of seeing, sensing, and understanding the world we live in.