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Advocate Profile: John Lawson

John Lawson smiling at the camera. He is wearing a bright blue button up to match his bright blue eyes. He also wears a black blazer jacket over his button up.

What is your favorite way to pass time? When I'm not writing, I enjoy cooking and baking, then hiking to walk off the pounds from taste testing my cooking and baking.

What is something people generally don’t know about you? In 1987 while working a "real job" (as his dad use to say) in between acting and singing jobs, John was injured in an electrical accident painting an above ground water storage tank that resulted in 30% burns to his body and amputations of both hands. John started playing piano at age 3, started lessons at 4 and studied piano for 17 years. After four months in the North Carolina Jay-Cee Burn Center, at age 30, John left with hooks in place of hands. Since leaving the hospital, John has become the first double hand amputee to be trained and certified as a private pilot in the US and the only double hand amputee to be a certified PADI SCUBA Instructor in the world.

Who is John and how do you like to define/introduce yourself? John is an award winning writer/director and PWD actor with past television roles in “Law and Order: SVU,” “Switched at Birth” and “American Horror Story: FREAK SHOW,” as well as roles in many films. John has spent over 25 years as an advocate for accuracy and authenticity of performers with disabilities in film and television.

What gets your fired up about the disability movement? I believe in what’s called the “social model of disability.” It states that disability is caused by the way society is structured, rather than by a person’s impairment or difference. It looks at ways of removing barriers that restrict life choices for disabled people. When barriers are removed, disabled people can be independent and equal in society, with choice and control over their own lives. This model not only applies to society, but should also apply to the entertainment industry as well. With the recent swell of diversity dialogue spurred by the Oscars So White, the most underrepresent group, Performers With Disabilities (PWDs), has not even been mentioned in most of the conversations. Disability is diversity. It crosses all ethnic and socioeconomic lines.

It's not an exclusive club and one that everyone could join in the blink of an eye.

What is your advocacy platform? In my real life, I am a Dad, Granddad, private pilot and scuba diving instructor that happens to be an amputee. In the make-believe world of Hollywood, I am an amputee that happens to be an actor. I'm rarely cast in a dad or granddad role or any role "that happens to be an amputee," but most times only cast where the character is disability or amputee specific.

What barriers or challenges do you face in this movement? (or in life) I think the greatest barrier is education. Teaching producers, directors and the casting personnel that people with disabilities are trained and some have good acting experience. I think changing the way the world defines and views disability, whether in-front-of or behind the camera or actually any workplace environment, is the biggest barrier to people with disabilities.

What do you want those who do not identify with disability to know? First I'd have to say, I am not here to inspire anyone. I have lost count in the past 30 plus years of the number of strangers that approach me in public while shopping or pumping gas to tell me that "I am an inspiration !" I guess they mean well, but to me they are just sort of congratulating me for getting up that morning and remembering to put on my pants. There is nothing inspirational about pumping gas or grabbing a can of beans off the grocery shelf. Most people believe that because you have a disability that your life is worse; that being a disabled person is a bad thing and that if you live with the disability, it makes you exceptional. Living with a disability is not a bad thing and it certainly doesn't make you exceptional or inspirational.

What areas are you still growing/hope to grow? Personally? Professionally? Of course professionally, I would like to work more in front of the camera in roles that are not disability specific, in hopes that the public will see disabled people in film and television in "regular" roles where the character happens to have a disability. When that becomes the common rather that the exception, then I hope we will live in a society where we place value on genuine achievement by disabled people.

What are you working on now/next? The first weekend of April I directed my fourth Easterseals Disability Film Challenge Film staring Micah Fowler from ABC SPEECHLESS and Jamie Brewer from AMERICAN HORROR STORY and Patrika Darbo from many movies and over 300 episodes of daytime TV on the BOLD AND BEAUTIFUL and DAY OF OUR LIVES. Watch the film: Second Date!

How do we follow you?! Facebook @JohnWLawsonactor

Instagram @JWLawson57

Twitter @JWLawson57

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