EXCLUSIVE: As a person with disability, these are the types of comments that “frustrate” Hannah Diviney

"They're coming from a place of a lack of visibility."
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Gleeks everywhere (guilty) won’t soon forget the moment when Artie Abrams stepped out of his wheelchair and boogied to The Safety Dance by Men Without Hats.

While us able-bodied folk laughed at the ridiculousness that was Glee, relishing momentarily in the actor’s under-utilised dancing skills, for someone like 10-year-old Hannah Diviney, who is wheelchair-bound due to cerebral palsy, the dream sequence wasn’t as amusing.

WATCH: Latecomers trailer

“I spent my entire childhood, most of my adolescence, searching for representation,” a now-23-year-old Hannah tells WHO. “I never saw anyone who looked like me in the books I read, the games I played, in TV shows or movies,” she adds, explaining her initial excitement at seeing Artie on Glee.

“Here was this guy going through high school; he had friends, which was something I was really struggling with at the time; he could sing; he was having relationships. It was great.

“The feeling of realising that the actor playing him wasn’t disabled and was sort of wearing my life like a costume was a punch to the gut,” Hannah admits. “And that became more obvious to me as I got older and started restlessly searching for it, that this was the case for most portrayals of disability across film and television.”

“I spent my entire childhood, most of my adolescence, searching for representation,” Hannah tells WHO. (Credit: Instagram)

After a near-thankless search, Hannah, who recently spearheaded a campaign against an ableist slur in a Lizzo song, has now become the representation she wanted to see on screen, portraying the role of Sarah – a girl with cerebral palsy – in SBS’ Latecomers.

“I never thought that acting was a legitimate pathway for me, probably because of the complete lack of visibility and representation of disabled actors across the board,” the 2021 Women of the Future finalist tells us, adding that she has now been “bitten by the acting bug”.

Of her inaugural acting role, the writer is in disbelief that she is the person “helping to lead the charge” to hopefully “revolutionise the Australian film television industry”.

“But also creates waves internationally if we can make that work.”

Hannah portrays Sarah in Latecomers. (Credit: SBS)

At its core, the show heralds the intersectionality of disability and sex (more on that here). For the creators, it was important not to reduce disability to the only facet of one’s personality, nor perpetuate the ‘bravery’ trope that so often accompanies people with disabilities.

“As someone who has received comments like that for most of my life, I think I tend to experience frustration,” Hannah says on the matter. “But I also understand that like those comments are coming from a place of goodwill and they’re also coming from a place of a lack of visibility.

“We don’t really see disabled people out and about just living their lives. The only time we see disabled people is kind of every four years at the Paralympics, or you see super high-profile ones like Dylan Alcott.

WATCH: Hannah Diviney reacts to Beyoncé removing ableist slur from her song. (Article continues after video)

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“I think, unfortunately, that sort of bravery viewpoint, which I think the late and great disability advocate Stella Young termed as ‘Inspiration Porn’, it comes from the idea that just seeing disabled people be visible is still quite strange, surreal, and sometimes even unsettling for people in the community.”

This lack of visibility in the Australian media landscape is, according to Hannah, changing for the better.

“I think we have made some incredible progress,” she tells WHO, adding the caveat that there are many disability advocates who don’t get the same recognition as herself or other high-profile identities.

“I think the fact that we had Dylan Alcott as 2022’s Australian of the Year is incredible for representation.” (Credit: Instagram)

“I think the fact that we had Dylan Alcott as 2022’s Australian of the Year is incredible for representation. And Heartbreak High with the incredible Chloe Hayden,” Hannah notes.

“We definitely have a long, long way to go. And in terms of like the realities of living with a disability, there’s a lot of work to be done in terms of how we access opportunity and have a voice and political representation and all of those things.

“But I think we’re probably in the best place we’ve been in and the best sort of time to make change. It very much feels like we’re on the precipice of making some really big waves.”

You can watch Latecomers on SBS Viceland and SBS On Demand on Saturday 3 December – the International Day of People with Disability.

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