Working in Entertainment Post Spinal Cord Injury

9.15.2016
Content via AbleThrive Original
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AbleThrive Original

Drew Bates is an actor, writer, and producer of animation concepts for children and families. Drew was driving through Texas in a blizzard in 2007 when he sustained a spinal cord injury during a vehicle accident. Today, Drew is a C5/C6 quadriplegic who is continuing to push forward and carve out a spot for himself in the entertainment industry.

Just four months prior to his injury, Drew started his business, Unique Publications LLC, with the goal of “harvesting the skills of contract employees, and creating unique animated concepts in Children’s & Family Entertainment.” Since his injury, Drew has written two animated feature-film scripts, produced two show bibles, and started producing comedic shorts on YouTube.

AbleThrive caught up with Drew to learn more about how he has thrived post injury:

AT: How soon after your injury did you know you wanted to continue pursuing your chosen career?

DB: I never relinquished my desire to work in entertainment. It was something that seeped from within my bones. In fact, my love for it probably kept me alive post-auto wreck more than anything, as I still had unrequited goals, and didn’t have the opportunity to start a family over the years because of my singular focus.

AT: What kind of adaptations did you make in order to push forward with a new body and a new way of doing things?

DB: I’d spent the previous portion of my life learning that I didn’t want to be a doctor (as I was originally pursuing when in college), then learning the skills to be a professional actor. As those opportunities were expected to be few post-SCI, I had to start learning ways to adapt. While struggling with voice recognition software, I learned that I could use my pinky-finger knuckles to type on a computer; I learned adaptive tech, like a table, could be attached to my power-chair to hold my laptop computer; I learned that my limitations as a performer, like the loss of vocal support via abdominal muscles, could be circumnavigated via microphones; I learned that my lack of proximity to a major market of talent like Los Angeles, could by rerouted using the internet; I learned that the prejudices and absence of opportunities for people with disabilities could be bested by producing my own stories/content. I only needed to learn the production skills — So I learned screenwriting, audio-engineering, editing, and how to use software like Photoshop, and PowerPoint to create what I couldn’t afford to hire someone else to do for me. Finally, I had to learn about the specifics of the animation industry, instead of focusing on the entirety of the industry.

AT: What advice do you have for others who may be wanting to return to a career post-injury?

DB: First, one needs to understand fully the hurdles in the path of people with disabilities, as 80% of us are unemployed in the US. To be included in the 20% who are employed, one should prepare themselves for more rejection than the able-bodied community must face. I’m absolutely certain that prejudicial attitudes come into play, while at the same time there are additional factors one may not be privy as to why one may not get the job. Nonetheless, we’re living in a time of exponential technological growth, and new paths to old destinations can be, and will be found. For example, Animation is the most expensive medium in entertainment, as 60 seconds can cost between $10K USD and up to produce. Yet thanks to faster & cheaper computers, software, and social media, one can make their own content for significantly less, and still be able to distribute it across the planet. Don’t be afraid to learn new skills, nor put yourself out there for all to see. Ultimately, that’s the way we can all help to change the world!

Thanks to Drew Bates for his candid Q&A session with us, and for being a great example of how setting goals and learning new skills are essential to keeping your career on track. You can learn more about Drew and even catch a glimpse of his work at his website!

What career have you pursued after a life-altering injury or diagnosis? Share your story with us, and you could be featured on AbleThrive!

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