In A Flash Episode 5: Part 2 – Dani’s Twins
Jessica: Welcome to In a Flash. In a flash is a short accessible sometime irreverent podcast, introducing you to topics important to disabled people and disability communities. I’m your host, Jessica Stokes. I have big red hair and a green walking stick or purple wheelchair. This podcast is possible thanks to the creativity and the time of COVID 19 project. Today’s episode is part two of a two part series on disabled parenthood, specifically zoomed in on the documentary Dani’s Twins. Dani’s Twins is an award winning documentary offering a rare, intimate look into the pregnancy and early parenting journey of Daniella Isay, one of the few quadriplegics ever to give birth to twins who did so during a pandemic. If you haven’t yet, go back and listen to episode one where I talk with Dani Isay herself about all the creativity involved in crafting community and reimagining the everyday tools of parenthood as a disabled mom. She’s a badass who literally had to film parts of her own birth due to covid’s constraints on the documentary’s production team. Today, in part two of this series, I get to talk to Dani’s dear friend, producer of Dani’s Twins and disability policy expert, who also happens to be an aspiring disabled dad. His name is Andy Arias. As we talk about the impacts of creativity on policy. His reasons for producing Dani’s Twins and why disabled people might just maybe make slightly better parents than their able counterparts sometimes. Here’s the hint, it’s not based on our ability to teach your kid how to ride a bike.
Could you explain for us the work that you did on Dani’s Twins?
Andy: Dani and I’ve been friends for years. We were in L.A. together. We met, and then we both decided to move to the East Coast. She moved to rural Virginia, and I was like, Whoa, that’s 3 hours away. And then I decided to move back to L.A.. But before that, I went to her baby shower and just happened to meet the production team. I’d been producing some small films and an acting and in the advocacy accessibility space, and they needed someone along with Dani to really elevate the disability education piece so the voices would be authentic and diverse and really speak to the community. Because we know as people with disabilities that our stories are told all the time, but they’re told through the lens of non-disabled people. And so when they met me and Dani was like, Hey, you really need to bring this guy on as a producer to help educate, help inform and bring a broader audience to the film. And so that’s really what I’ve been doing, is bringing in the larger picture of not only motherhood but just parenting and disability in general.
Jessica: You’re talking about producing multiple works of entertainment, but you also do all this policy work. I wanted to see how you merge the two things for yourself. How does this work and film and policy create systematic change? What kinds of things have you been trying to do to bridge your advocacy across those two spaces?
Andy: Nobody in the real world that’s not disabled doesn’t have somebody with a disability. They don’t know the ins and outs of ADA. They don’t know the ins and outs of the Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act. And those are the two biggest things that really guide are independent and employment barriers that we have to work through. But yet nobody knows those things. And I would like to get a roundtable with people from the entertainment industry and people in the disability world and have these real world discussions about ableism and about equality and about justice and about equity and really things that policy will not move well or the needle won’t move as well if there’s not a media presence to it. When you work for an entity, whether it be state, federal or local, you’re talking to each other and you’re talking to a room of people on the net. People in the know that already want the change made or have opposition to the change. But nobody in the outside world knows about it unless they’re paying for it or unless they want to run a program. But you ask your friends about it, they’re like, Oh, what they do to civil rights for people with disabilities. But what does that mean? What I’ve tried to do throughout production is elevate those conversations through Dani’s Twins. We don’t mention those things, but those things are the umbrella, which the concept of the film is based on.
Jessica: Yeah, when you’re working with language as squishy as reasonable accommodations, then it does see if we push the boundary creatively on what people imagine life for disabled people should be, then what is a reasonable accommodation? And we’ll also be transformed as Dani Twins continues to receive awards nationally and internationally. What do you hope comes from its circulation and reception?
Andy: The film gave me a lot of hope and I’ll be really honest with people. I’ve seen the film at least 50 times, so every time I see the film and I know what’s going to happen, I cry. I cry every time I see the babies for the first time and Dani’s racing to the hospital, I get really emotional and I’m like. I know exactly what’s going to happen to the little people now, and I still get emotional. So what I hope it creates is a fundamental awareness for everyone about what strength is, regardless of ability. Disability is going to happen to everybody in their lifetime. You’re going to age into it. You’re going to be in an accident or you’re going to be lucky like me and be born with C.P. So you’ve got to deal with it now. And dealing with it now, I hope, will shift the perception of so many people looking at it as negative or as stigma or as, Oh my God, I’m so glad that’s not me. Well, guess what? One day it will be you and what you want your life to look like. What do you want your rights to be? And I think the film in a lot of ways says, Hello, wake up. You can be disabled and have the gift of loving and supporting and a family and of children. I want these babies as their uncle. Andy is the chosen Uncle Andy to live in a world where everything is equal for everyone and nobody is looked at as different or as as less than. Because let’s be honest, people with disabilities still are looked at as less than we are not equal in society. We are equal within our own communities. But in society as a whole, we’re still looked down on. We’re still judged by our choices. And I want them to grow up in a world where that it’s just not even a question of whether someone is disabled or not. And I see the little minds really adapting to that with Dani and really adapting that to me. They don’t they don’t make me run and chase them when I’m playing with them. They come up to me because, well, first off, they know Uncle Andy moves slow. They know Uncle Andy doesn’t chase, and doesn’t throw balls. So they bring stuff to me and then brings that to Dani and the hope, but not as a, Oh, there’s something wrong. But this is just how life is for people. And so that kind of empathy and sort of emotional intelligence needs to be installed in everybody. And I hope the film does that in a way that allows it in the audiences that we present it to. Is that like a ha moment? Like I didn’t know moms could be that way, and I know families can function that way. And first of all, it’s great that they’re having that. But it’s also heartbreaking that these people live their whole lives and didn’t think beyond their able bodied bodies. Right. So I hope the film does that and I hope it opens doors for people who want to be parents, whether it be mothers and fathers, to have the strength to push through that challenging period of being told, maybe not, maybe you shouldn’t. I think there’s 34 states that have laws against parents with disabilities. And so we talk about that a little bit in the film and a little bit through our education campaign. And I hope we end up debunking a lot of that.
Jessica: Hearing that answer makes me think of that question we often ask, but that I haven’t written for you. And the question goes like this I’d ask you to write a letter out loud to our listeners, and particularly as I’m hearing your responses to this question, our listeners, many of them are disabled. So if somebody who’s disabled is thinking about parenthood and saying, Oh, maybe this isn’t for me, if you could write them a letter, what would you tell them as they’re on the cusp and not quite able to imagine themselves in that role yet?
Andy: Find some disabled parents to mentor you in that process. I’ve been so inspired by Dani and by Valeria and by Shannon, and by my friend Lisa Hayes, who’s had a baby back in the early eighties, and she had to run away from systems because they were going to take her kid away because she has a spinal cord, degenerative disability. So she raised her kid on her own and ran away from systems because if they found out, she would have had to put her baby in foster care. These incredible mothers, it made me want to be brave and go through the system, even though it’s a little bit more challenging for me as a gay single man with a disability to say I want to be a dad. And being around the twins has made me want to be more of a dad than ever. I want to teach my future person that you can be a unicorn, you can be anything you want to be. And I think in our case that’s more relevant then able bodied parents, because we are that example. We are being whatever we want to be despite whatever circumstances the world puts on us. I’m going to say it. I think disabled parents might be better parents. I think then non disabled parents, for many reasons, know how to adapt to society. We know how to really rise above different circumstances. We know how to be more empathetic to others. And those are all things that we want all of our kids to know. But we inherently, as people with disabilities, have to grow those things within ourselves so we can plant the seeds within our kids in the future. Parenting really right now is focused so much on what you can do physically for them that we need to really look at the internal tools that Dani is putting into her, her daughters, and that is astronomically more giftable to me, more more precious than any of that other stuff that people fixate on. I think what she’s teaching them internally is it’s going to create better humans. People need to focus on that more than they do teaching them how to ride a bike or swim. That’s going to come. But the internal stuff that seems to be lacking a lot of the time.
Jessica: We end each episode with takeaways. This isn’t just an info dump, but a way to change her every day. If you haven’t watched Dani’s Twins yet, do a screening with your friends, see the creativity community, and every day genius baked into disabled parenting. Disabled parents are still under threat. Stories broke this January about alleged biases built into the Allegheny County Family screening tool that are leading to disabled parents losing their access to their own children. The ACLU has gathered more detailed research about how predictive analytic tools perpetuate bias against disabled people and people of color, particularly black and indigenous people in the U.S., disabled and non-disabled, the like. If all of this compels you to take action on the policy side of things like Andy himself, consider these words from Alice Wong, who is a disabled activist and founder of the Disability Visibility Project. “People with disabilities are still facing numerous barriers, whether it’s at the polling station and whether it’s filling out absentee ballots or whether they’re even allowed to vote.”
So if you’re continuing down this rabbit hole, please, please check out the political participation episode of the Disability Visibility Project linked in the show notes. There you learn ways to begin advocating to eliminate structural barriers that keep disabled people from voting booths, elected office and even parenthood. Now go forth. You’ve got work to do.
Episode 5: Part 2 – Dani’s Twins (Teaser)
In Part Two of this series I talked to the Producer of Dani’s Twins, Andy Arias.
“Disability is going to happen to everybody in their lifetime. You’re going to age into it. You’re going to be in an accident or you’re going to be lucky like me and be born with CP. So, you’ve got to deal with it now. And dealing with it now, I hope, will shift the perception of so many people looking at it as negative or as a stigma or as “Oh, my God, I’m so glad that’s not me.” Well, guess what? One day it will be you. And what do you want your life to look like? What do you want your rights to be? The film in a lot of ways, says “Hello. Wake up! You can be disabled and have the gift of loving and supporting and of family and of children.” I want these babies — as their Uncle Andy, as their chosen Uncle Andy — to live in a world where everything is equal for everyone and nobody is looked at as different or as less than.”
Guest: Andy Arias
Host: Jessica Stokes
Audio Producer: Lawrence Carter-Long
Transcript By: Lawrence Carter-Long
Cover Image Description: In the foreground of the image is a white disabled man smiling into the camera. He has brown hair combed into a swoop. He wears a blue and white shirt under a long scarf of varied grays and whites. In the background is the quote “”What do you want your life to look like? What do you want your rights to be? The film in a lot of ways, says ‘Hello. Wake up! You can be disabled and have the gift of loving and supporting and of family and of children.” The quote is attributed to Andy Arias, Producer of the Award-Winning Documentary Dani’s Twins. At the bottom of the image is the episode title: In a Flash Episode 5 ‘’Dani’s Twins Part 2” A stamp over the image reminds you to “Stay tuned for the next episode.”