Cara Reedy is the Program Manager for Disability and Media Alliance Project, aka D-MAP. She's a journalist, an actor, a director and a photographer. She worked at CNN for ten years, produced documentaries, wrote about food and reported on disability. And in 2019, she co-produced a short documentary for The Guardian called "Dwarfism and Me." Her goal within her work in the media is to have disabled people control their own narratives.

Learn more about Cara and D-Map.

Learn more about The Passionistas Project.

Full Transcript:

Passionistas: Hi, and welcome to The Passionistas Project Podcast, where we talk with women who are following their passions to inspire you to do the same. We're Amy and Nancy Harrington and today we're talking with Cara Reedy, the program manager for Disability and Media Alliance Project also known as D-MAP. She's a journalist, an actor, a director and a photographer. Cara worked at CNN for 10 years, produced documentaries, did some food writing and reported on disability. And in 2019, she co-produced a short documentary for the guardian called “Dwarfism and Me.” Her goal within her work in the media is to have disabled people control their own narratives. So please welcome to the show, Cara Reedy.

Cara Reedy: Hi, thanks for having me. I'm really glad to be here.

Passionistas: What is the one thing you're most passionate about?

Cara: Justice and equity because for so much of my life, I haven't really received a lot of that. So it's made me kind of fighting mad about it. Everything I do, I believe should further the cause for other people like me, because at some point we have to stop treating people, poorly black people, disabled people, like all of the cross sections that I inhabit. But more than that, once you start fighting in this space, it becomes more clear how much the system kind of keeps us down and it keeps everyone down. And I think that's what people don't really realize is that you may think that, okay, well, it's just the disabled people that are not doing well. It's like, no, when disabled people aren't doing well, we're all actually not doing well because the system is broken. That means that system's broken.

Passionistas: Take us back to your childhood. And you know, you said that you feel like you've often been treated unfairly. So tell us about that.

Cara: Growing up, I had a really good childhood. I would say I have great parents and a great brother. So I didn't experience any of that at home. But when I went outside of my home space, there was a lot of, no, you can't do that. Whatever I wanted to do, there were a lot of barriers put up that had nothing to do with me that had to do with other people's perceptions. I was a dancer. I still call myself a dancer because I started off when I was six and I had a wonderful dance teacher who was like, you can't do ballet just because of the way your legs are, but you can do all of these other things, things growing up from elementary school, I had this really great kind of support system between my parents, the dance teacher, Mrs. Wren, I'm going to shout out her name. She's gone now, but she's amazing when I hit high school, that's when I felt it. I was an actor too. Like I love performing. I perform all the time. Even when I'm in the grocery store, like, this is just who I am. I like to tell stories and stuff. But when I got to high school, there was a definite like, Oh no, I don't. So you don't think you really fit in the place. And if you do, maybe you can go into the chorus, but kind of somewhere where we can't see you, I ended up my senior year trying to trick the system. And I figured out that if I tried out for a kid's part, they would have to give it to me. So I played a kid my senior year, which was super embarrassing, but I did it cause I was like, well, I want to perform.

And I want to be in the senior play. So I'll play a kid. So I think I played Agnes in, meet me in St. Louis. Well, all of these, like sophomores were playing my big sister and there were times when there were dance choruses and I would try out theirs. We did anything goes, which is a tap show. And like tap dancing is my that's my jam. And so I go up to audition and the choreographer said, do the time, step on my Cher did it because I've been doing timestamps since I was six. And then she said, do the double-time step. Oh, okay. Did that do the triple did it? And then she kind of looked at me because that's something you get when you're different. You figure out people are testing you and trying to figure out how they can eliminate you quickly. So she said, okay. And then I looked at her and I said, you want me to do a quadruple? Like, how far do you want me to go? I know all of 'em and she went, no, that's fine. When the call sheet was put up, I was in like chorus B, no dancing at all. There were girls in the dance chorus who had never put on a tap shoe in their life. It was like, well, you know, she has a creative vision. C’mon it's high school. What creative vision does this lady have? She's not going to Broadway. This is it for her. So like, what, what is this? And my dad just lost it, which he does sometimes. And he wrote her a note and just said, yeah, you're super prejudice. I'm calling you out. He go, he handed me the letter, ISA, don't read it. Don't say anything to anybody. And just put it on her desk and walk away. I said, all right. So I did that morning, went to class and it was in the middle of the Spanish class. And there's a knock on the door. Also in the letter, he said to her, do not speak to care about this. And she went and knocked on the door, pulled me out of Spanish class to yell and cry at me about how unfair I was being. And what did I tell my father and how dare you?
 
Me prejudice. And she was balling like just flipping out balling. And I was just standing there, not in class while managing this grown woman's emotions. That to me was one of the pivotal moments in my childhood. I realized I don't really have protection because no one would do that. No one would do that to any other kid. They would never pull a kid out of a class. She ended up calling Mike because my dad left his phone number in the note and said, call me. And she ended up calling. And I was in the house when she called and she was crying and screaming on the phone. She said, you called me racist. And he said, Oh no, I called your prejudice for height. And he said, but now you make me think you're racist too. And then she flipped out. And then I ended up getting in the court in the dance course because she had no case. What could she say? There are girls that don't even own tap shoes in the chorus. I went from there to college where I was like, college is going to be my space. And it wasn't at all. I got into theater program at Loyola. We did a freshman showcase and everyone, I think we did a scene from Antigony Tiffany and I played and Tiffany sister, everyone, after the freshman showcase, all of the teachers came up to me and say, you are talented, really talented. And I thought, Oh my God. I mean, a year I did it. I got it. All right.
 
And then the head of the department pulled me aside and he said, I want to talk to you privately. So make a meeting with me. And I'm 18. I don't know any, like I literally had just turned 18. I didn't know any better. So I was like, okay. And so I saw, I, I schedule an appointment with him and I go in and he says, I really want to work with you, but there's so many challenges with this, but we'll figure it out. 40 five-year-old Cara would understand what that meant. ATM care of thought, Oh, he's going to work with me. And then year after year, there was nothing. His wife also taught there. She was my advisor. And I went to her and I said, I don't know what I'm doing. Like I'm an actor. And I mostly just work on the crew. I don't know how to move past this.
 
She said, well, I think what you need to do is go write your own stuff. You're telling a 19 year old, who's paying thousands and thousands of dollars for you to train her that she needs to do it on our own. So I left for a year because I had a meltdown and my mom said, you can do one or two things. You can transfer schools or you can go abroad a year, pick your poison. And I chose to go abroad. And I studied at the Lee Strasberg acting school in London. And it was fantastic. It was the best thing that's ever happened to me. My teacher was Mariana Hill, who was in the godfather movies. She was Freightos wife. And she was also in a bunch of Elvis movies, wacky lady, she's still alive. She's super awesome. And she was, it was the first time I was in an acting class where the teacher, first of all, trained me second, whole leaned down and said, you're very talented.
 
And I want you to keep going. And I almost lost it in there. Cause it was the first time anyone had said it to me. I come back from London and I go to reregister at Loyola that summer. And I was staying with friends and we all went out drinking. And the head of the department ended up out drinking with us, which is a different inappropriate, like why was he out with us? But there you go. I turned to him and I said, listen, this is my senior year. And I just came back more than I was at Lee Strausberg school. I did really well there. I learned a lot. What do I need to do to get into a show? And he said, Hmm, well, if you really enjoyed it so much over there, you should go back. And Oh, I melted down. I melted down in a way immediately.
 
I had a meltdown, but then I also had like a mid-life crisis at 21 where I didn't know what I was going to do. I took some paths that weren't the best. After that I graduated, my mom said I was a double major anyway. And she said, drop theater. Just forget it. She didn't mean like, forget it as in your life, but forget it at Loyola. And so I dropped it, graduated with a degree in political science, like got out in that year, pushed through, but I also started drinking heavily. And I'll be honest about that. Yeah. I started drinking. Cause that was all I knew. And I didn't know where I was going to go.

Passionistas: Was it an option for you to return to London at that point?

Cara: My mom just was like, we can't, they couldn't afford to sit because it was so expensive and that's why they calculated that they could pay for a year there. Or if I transferred, I would probably have to do extra time in college. And so that was the calculation. I tried to go back because I also was in college over there. Not only acting school and the Dean of the college professor Hilditch I love this man, Scottish man. He tried his best and offered me scholarships. That's why I loved London so much because I sort of found my place in my people. And I had a Dean who loved me and was trying to figure out a way for me to stay financially. It just didn't work out. That was a big heartbreak and I've never really returned fully to acting since then I've been in and out of it.
 
And I think that happens to a lot of people when you experience trauma like that, you dip in and then someone says something the wrong way. And you're like, Oh, Hey, well, all right, that's enough. Latner okay. And I've done that. I did the improv scene and experienced some things there. Abel ism, sexism, like all of the things that people are reporting. Now I saw I never got raped or anything. There were a lot of people that did. And I had some friends that almost got raped in the improv scene, nothing like that happened to me, but there was definitely an aura, a massage journey that was really prevalent. And I don't think they've mastered that and gotten rid of it yet. So I dipped out of that because people are like, how come you didn't make a team? I was like, cause I didn't even graduate from improv school.
 
I dropped out. I've been in and out of sort of performance and that kind of space for years. I finally decided in 2017, after I quit CNN that if I was going to be in performance or I was going to do any performance, then I had to control it. So I have, from this point on is controlled everything done. I taught myself how to direct. I know how to produce because I worked at CNN for 10 years. So I learned those skills. They're not by their choice by mine because they didn't want me to. But I was like, well, I'm here. I'm going to do it. Everything I've ever done, I've manipulated systems to get there because if I don't, I'm not going to go. I'm not going to ever walk in somewhere. And they're going to be like, here are the one because that's not what people see when they see me.
 
That's not the image of a little person. An image of a little person is a clown. Someone that's not very serious or someone that's super sad and kind of an isolated figure. I always get comments on the street. Sometimes people will come up and they want to like, talk to me like I'm a pet. I smart off because that's who I am and I'll get responses like, well, you're not very nice. I don't know why you expected me to be. You walked up to a random stranger on the street and decided that they would be nice because of their body. I'm not nice at all. I mean, I am nice, but not, not to randos on the street, talking to me like, that's not going to happen. You chose this. This is not my choice for you. It was not great for me, CNN. There was great.
 
And it also was not great. I learned a lot. I know a lot of things about production, about how networks work, how decisions are made, but that's by accident. That's because I was in rooms where people didn't know I existed. Like they knew existed, like, you know, doorknobs exist, but they don't think of you as a thinking human being that can take this information in and use it. The 10 years at Santan was awful.

Passionistas: How did you last so long there? That seems like a long time to put up with that.

Cara: I mean, I tried to get out multiple times. I applied for other jobs, but early in my career I was working for a particular anchor. I won't name that person. I went to this person and said, I'd like to produce, I was their assistant. They said, okay. You know? Yeah. I think you should be pretty good at that.
 
Every time I would get like a little project to do, they would spend that time kind of sabotaging my time, but I would still get it done and get it done really well. But because I was running this person's life, they weren't into me doing other things, even though I was running their life and doing it because I understood that that was the deal. Like I couldn't shark my duties on the other side, but it just was not that person was like no way, no way. And so that was a pretty brutal that person actually started sabotaging my work in really, really gross ways. And I've kind of never talked publicly about this people know, but I've never spoken publicly about it. And there's, I can't get into too much detail about it, but I will tell you the, I got fired from that job because they couldn't really pin anything on me because there was nothing to pin.
 
It was all this weird, like, Whoa, you're not managing her expectations and blah, blah, blah. And like all these weird words and the, uh, final straw I was, I was leaving and I was going, but I was staying at CNN, but going to a different job. And the executive producer who had been my champion up until that point, you know, it was my last day with this person. And they said, I want to speak with you before the day ends because it was also the holiday. So it was like, everybody's last day before the break. And I said, okay. And my friend who sat with me, it was an assistant to, she looked at me and said, you cannot cry in that meeting. Do not show any emotion. And I was like, okay. And she was right, like, totally right. But I needed her to sort of prep me.
 
And so I got into the meeting and it was just a character assassination. He said, we thought you would be good at production. You're not, you're not ever going to go anywhere in it. We really had high hopes for you, but it's not, you should not pursue you. You can't pursue it that he said, but you're going to be an assistant again. And I think this'll be a good move for you. I said, okay, okay. Okay, walked out. He walked out smart. He walked out smiling. Like he had done something great and left. And then I am just crying. That was another pretty dark period after that conversation, because I was stuck with basically what they had done was all of the credits that I'd worked up towards those past two years, they erased. They just completely erased it. So I wasn't assistant again. And every time I try, I would try to tell someone that I had done all this other stuff.
 
They would sort of look at me like, you're crazy. That didn't happen. And no one would vouch for me. So I was done. That was also why I couldn't get out of CNN because I kept getting kind of punched. I didn't have any credits, so I couldn't leave. So kind of got stuck. No believe me and I had no references. So I went off to be an assistant again. And I was an assistant until I left. I ended up in a safer space. I won't call it safe, but a safer space. When I went to the digital side, I had a boss that kind of just was like, listen, you can do whatever you want to do and just get your job done. So I started writing there. I actually started writing because I knew that no one could take it away from me. And once you get a byline, it's yours.
 
And it's PR the internet is written in ink. I went to cat kinsmen who is now at food and wine. And then she was starting the ITAR Crecy blog. And I just went to, I was like, can I write for you? I've never written about food, but I'll figure it out. She said, yeah. And so she gave me a break. She gave me the two biggest breaks at CNN. There was that one. And then she was doing a series where people could kind of like talk about their biggest, I don't want to say fear, but it's kind of talk about their feelings around something that makes them different. And so she had me write about being a little person and what that's like, and that was in 2014 and it went viral, translated into other languages when all over the place. So without Kat, I wouldn't be here.
 
She really saw me and kind of helped me and propelled me and did great things. She was one of the only people like in my career that just didn't have any idea whether I could do it, but said, let's try. It just worked. That's a long road. That's why I think I'm so passionate about it. Never happening to anyone else because it's still brutal and expensive quite frankly, to deal with this stuff. I haven't had a full-time job since Santa Ana. I mean, not until I went to D map and that's because I couldn't, I was so messed up in the head because when people spend years telling you that, you know, and absolutely not. Why would you even think that I'm giving like the big picture of what happened at CNN? There was so many microaggressions that happened there where people would come up to me and you know, when I would write a piece, they would go with me and be like, Oh, you could write.
 
And what do you mean who I could write? Well, I did this. Let's be some kind of like magical thing that you just come out. Right? And I'm like, no, I went to college. I worked for somebody at some company and it was like, Oh, where all fine black writers. Um, and at the time Ebony was still around. Essence was still around. I'm like, go poach, gal patch, all those people there really talented. You got BT down the street. I mean, that's why those places exist. Disabled people. Don't sort of have those spaces yet. So were locked out in, we're locked out everywhere. I had a meeting with somebody recently and they said, Oh, we're working on a project and you were referred. Have you ever covered the subject? And I said, no. And they were like, Oh, like kind of like, why did you, why am I being referred to you?
 
And I said, I haven't covered it because I haven't been allowed to cover it. No, one's been allowed to cover it. Like no disabled people have been allowed to cover it. I said, are there people that could cover it yet? Let me name some people that could cover it. And they're like, Oh, and like, I'm not blaming that person. Cause they were, they were just literally trying to find people like that's, that's not what I'm saying here. It's it's that there's because we aren't seen no one knows where to start. And there's people that are out there, like guy I was talking to the other day, he's actually actively like, okay, how do we do this? Like, let's do this. So there are, I feel like there are people, all of a sudden waking up to the fact that there are disabled people in the world that need to have their issues covered and they need to be in film. They need to be in all of these places. So it's starting at D map. I'm trying to push it forward faster, a little faster. Cause I'm impatient. And I'm like, let's move on. C’mon guys.

Passionistas: Tell us more about what D-MAP does. And how did you get involved?

Cara: Actually Lawrence Carter long. Who's the director of D map and of communications for draft, which is our parent non-profits disability rights, education and defense fund. Right after I did, uh, the doc dwarfism and me, one of my friends from CNN, one of my good friends who actually saw all of the things that happened to me. He was at NBC at the time and he emailed me and he goes, why is it this vine about dwarfism? And you gave this to somebody else. I'm like, Whoa, first of all, it wasn't my initial idea. And he's like, fool, we should talk about doing something together. So we ended up talking about it. And then as the news business does about a week after I sent him the proposal, he got laid off, he said, he said, I'm out, but let me transfer. You won't be the big doc we were thinking of, but let me transfer you to this smaller department.
 
And maybe we can get something cooking there for you. I pitched this very small thing. It's about inspiration porn because it's something I want to kill. It's my goal to murder all of it before all of this was over inspiration. Porn will be dead. I've decided we were going to do this little thing. And I wanted, I really wanted to find someone that has either written about inspiration porn or has been the subject of it. Moritz was a March of dimes poster child. So in my research I found Lawrence and I was like, he was a poster child. So I called him and he, we ended up talking and he came in, did the interview. Then about a month later he messaged me and he said, can we, can we set up a zoom chat? Yeah, sure. He said, I want some, I want to talk to you about something.
 
And he said, I really think that you should come work, get this D map started. And D maps been going on since 2008, but there's sort of like this resurgence now that they're trying to build it up. And Judith human who was in Crip camp and is the leader of the disability rights movement. She's w is, uh, she wrote a paper for Ford that actually started this new iteration of D map. Lawrence called me in. And I interviewed with him basically. Then I interviewed with Judy and then I interviewed with Susan who's the executive director, Susan. Then they brought me on and that's how it started. But what we've decided is we're going to do is sort of be where the infrastructure, the support system for disabled creatives, journalists, all the things that I never had, I am building up for everyone. That's my goal.
 
So we're starting the disabled journalist association. We're starting really focusing on journalism. So we're doing some programming where we take issues that the news media hasn't quite covered as a disability issue. And we're going to really deep dive into it, but all of the programs are going to be run by disabled journalists. And then we're going to invite the other news media just yet so that they can see what they've been missing. Not only in content, but also people so that they can see. Well, I can't find a disabled journalist. Yes you can. It's right here. It's right here. It's all right here. Come up, take your pick. That's our goal, disabled creators in particular, don't get the support that other creators get. I did a lot of interviews over the summer. Not only with journalists, but actors and comedians. Like what is it that you need? And a lot of it is basic stuff. Like I need captioning or I can't find a job. I don't know. I don't have the network to find a job. So we're trying to build all those networks. So those connections so that people can come and find us. And if we don't have it right, then, then we'll go between Lawrence, me, Judy, Susan, like we'll, we'll figure it out for them. Which is because when you're a disabled creator, you're really by yourself most of the time, because nobody wants you to do it anyway. Like just give that up.
 
So we're actually working with Selena Buddha who was a previous passionista and we've had a lot of deep conversations over the last month. And a lot of it was, well, people told me not to talk about my disability because no one will like that. I used to hear that journalism too, where I would pitch stories about disabled people and it was always, Oh, nobody wants to know, Oh God, that's too much. No one will click on that. That's depressing. It's like, but 26% of the population is disabled. Just for business purposes, you are leaving 26% of the population's money on the table and walking away from it because you're afraid. And how many people are actually disabled in this room. But won't say it because you say things like this, like how do you get there when no one wants to talk about it?

Passionistas: As people who don't have disabilities, what can we be doing to be better advocates and allies?

Cara: I think the biggest thing is listening. Cause there's so much, especially in the disability space, there's so much talking, being done by non-disabled people for us in particular because our agency has been taken away and it, you know, people are like, well, we have to give disabled people agency. It's like, no, they already have it. Like you just have to stop talking. I think that's the biggest thing, because some people will be like, I don't know what to do about the disabled people. Well, be quiet, like, and listen, because there's all these movements and things happening within the disability community. But no one knows about because no one's listening or they'll go to some organization that is not run by disabled people. Those people will like have ideas about what disabled people want and it maybe isn't maybe you going to them. It's probably not the best thing. And not to say that there's not advocates that are non-disabled, there's a lot of parents that are really good at it. But for this for a while, can we just listen to disabled people like truly listen to them.

Passionistas: Thanks for listening to The Passionistas Project Podcast and our interview with Cara Reedy. To learn more about Cara, follow her on Instagram @infamouslyshort. To learn more about the Disability Media Alliance Project, go to d hyphen map dot org. Now here's more of our interview with Cara. Please visit thepassionistasproject.com to learn more about our podcast and our subscription box filled with products made by women-owned businesses and female artisans to inspire you to follow your passions. Sign up for our mailing list, to get 10% off your first purchase. And be sure to subscribe to The Passionistas Project Podcast so you don't miss any of our upcoming inspiring guest. Until next time stay well and stay passionate.

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