Let Us Play Us: Real Stories from Blind Artists

A modern video camera filming a scene.

Let Us Play Us: Real Stories from Blind Artists

Blind actors are rarely given the opportunity to play blind characters in movies, on TV, or on stage. As NFB President Mark A. Riccobono said in a recent press statement regarding The CW’s new series, In the Dark, which features a sighted actor playing a blind character, “We have had enough! There are blind actors looking for work, and no sighted actor, however accomplished or talented, can bring the same insight and authenticity to a blind character.”

Do you agree? Then join us March 27 from 12 to 2 p.m. Eastern Time for a special social media protest. Follow us on Twitter at @NFB_Voice and follow the hashtag #LetUsPlayUs. Share, comment, and retweet. We need all of our voices to amplify this issue and push for real, authentic representation in Hollywood.

We are also planning a physical protest April 2 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in New York City at the CBS Corporation (52 W 53rd Street, New York, NY 10019). 

Speaking of voices, there are so many blind artists who have already come forward with stories describing their experiences with the entertainment industry. The following quotes come from NFB members. They are our friends and our family, but most importantly they are talented, professional actors and musicians who have had enough. The time is now. Let’s work together to end discrimination and fight for representation.

Underestimated and misrepresented have we been and still are. Thanks to the NFB for continuing our struggle to be heard.

I am a total and have been involved with the arts for many years. I am more of a writer but have spent time on stage. In 2008, I wrote and produced a musical in the New York City Fringe Festival. I have had three of my comedy sketches presented on stage in New York City and also performed once at 'The Blind in Theater' festival in Zagreb, Croatia.

I received my master of arts degree in music, with my major in voice performance. My bachelor’s degree was also in music with voice performance as my major. During graduate school, I auditioned to be a graduate assistant. I was denied. My voice instructor told me that other instructors thought that students could walk out on me without my knowing it… I was not chosen for any young artist apprenticeships that I auditioned for. Those listening to auditions did not know how I would find my way around [the] stage or learn my music. Five to ten minutes, unfortunately, was not enough time for me to convince them I could do what was needed.

As a child, I was always fascinated with acting and learning about the various media (theater, movies, television, advertisements, etc.), but felt I was too ‘broken’ to participate because I saw only one actor with my disability, Tom Sullivan. It just didn't seem that the masses wanted a blind actress, so I never seriously pursued an acting career… I would love to learn more, to hone my skills, but I find it extremely challenging to find meaningful opportunities.

When I was at the school for the blind in the mid-1970s, the principal at the time would not allow a teacher to start a theater group because she believed blind people wouldn’t look good on stage… Our school had had a theater club until the early 1970s. There were cassette recordings of some of the plays they did… Even on a cassette, you would know if actors were bumping into each other or knocking over props. They weren’t. I don’t know all of the adaptations people used, but I don’t think they were much more sophisticated than tape on the floor…

No matter how hard I worked, no matter how many times I asked the director what I needed to do to improve and work up to landing a leading role, I never got one. And this was despite being the top soloist in the school… I desperately wanted to study musical theater in college but was discouraged from it every step of the way… I went to grad school, though, and kept fighting for my place on stage… We had an opera workshop class, and I worked hard in it to prove myself and to learn everything I could. And I did. I climbed on platforms, danced around stage, and performed with my colleagues as an equal. It was a beautiful thing. I played various operatic roles and truly stretched myself as a performer… Now I don’t perform mostly because I don’t have the energy to fight the discrimination… It’s not just the typecasting, the denial, or the doubt and discouragement. We also receive all the micro-aggressions. We get decisions made about us without our consent or consultation. Directors decide that we should be stationary or that we should be led around by another cast member all the time… We need training that is open and encouraging and experimental. We need opportunities to show the world what we can do. Most of all, we need to not give up until there are blind actors playing a variety of roles and characters.

—Alyssa Vetro