I receive many emails and phone calls from colleges who want to have me speak or perform but aren’t sure how to fund travel, lodging and speaking fees. This is especially true of programs for students with disabilities whose budgets are strapped and rarely have funds for guest speakers. I have wanted to share some ideas that I oftentimes share in scenarios like this. If you have other ideas, please share them in the comments section.
Disability as Part of Diversity and Multiculturalism: Disability is a culture and people with Disabilities are part of the largest minority group in the United States. Sometimes they are not included in events around diversity. Having speakers who represent the Disability community can contribute to the conversation on diversity and also acknowledges the multiple minority status that many people experience. Some schools have diversity committees that can contribute funds for a speaker and be a co-sponsor for the event.
Student Life: Many colleges have Student Life departments that book shows and speakers for campus events. Student Life often has the money to fund the events but they may not know of performers and speakers with disabilities. Many entertainers are part of a larger organization to get their gigs but performers with disabilities may not have access to this organization because of the expense or lack of an agent to represent them. Referring a performer with a disability can bring diversity to the Student Life department. Although every month should be disability awareness month (in addition to Black history/ Gay pride month, etc…), it may be a good argument to get performers in October and April when many schools have or should have Disability awareness events.
Explore Multiple Speaking Opportunities: When I do a show at a college, if the schedule permits, I am open to talking to other groups or classes (of course you will have to pay performers-just because we have a disability doesn’t mean we are giving it away for free!). In negotiating with the performer, you might pull together a schedule where they are making different appearances throughout the day. Some performers may be open to getting $100 as a guest speaker and then $800 for a big show the next night. Thinking creatively can help entice a performer to your college, even if you are not able to pay their top dollar price.
Speakers May Not Mind Doing Double Duty: Many performers and speakers are multitalented. They may be performers by night but teachers, motivational speaker and trainers by day. For example, I could do comedy with the Comedians with Disabilities Act at a night time show but be available to train faculty on universal design in teaching, speaking to fluency classes on stuttering or having a meet and greet with students who have disabilities. Wearing multiple hats may mean multiple funding streams to support the transportation and lodging that come along with hiring a performer.
Collaborating with Student Groups: Student groups can be a great resource for bringing in speakers. These groups sometimes include special interests (career oriented), minority status (ethnic, disability, gay/lesbian/bi/trans), or service oriented. Speakers who represent different groups might be co-sponsored by multiple organizations. Speakers with Disabilities are primed to be sponsored by groups like Disabled Student Unions, future special education teachers, and social justice organizations (just to name a few).
Collaboration with the Community: In higher education there is a movement toward community engagement. Schools should be looking at how to engage with Disability related organizations. Community organizations might have the funds but not have the venue. Colleges might have the venue but not the funds! Why not join each other to educate the college and local community!
President’s Speaker and Other Special Series: Many colleges have a special series or colloquiums where speakers with specialized knowledge are invited to speak. These positions are often reserved for big shot academics. The Disability community often resents “experts” representing their experiences. A core value in our community is “nothing about us without us,” a moto appropriate from the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. So when you approach the president’s office to fund your event, be sure to share this value and why having an activist instead of an academic is appropriate.
It is common at colleges for events to be sponsored by many departments and organizations. For programs for students with disabilities collaboration is especially important because of limited resources. If your department is able to do the “work” of setting up the speaker, there is oftentimes money that can be mined from different departments. It could take work and schmoozing, but the students with and without disabilities, faculty, staff and the local community will all benefit. Plus the more investment by different groups the more people will come! It is a good way to get butts in the seats and allow other groups become invested in disability awareness.
Please feel free to share your ideas for funding in the comments area below.
There are lots of comedians, performers and speakers with Disabilities who would love to speak to your college communities. Here are just a few! Make sure you make sure they are a good fit for your show before you book.
Comedians with Disabilities Act: A blind man. A woman who stutters. A wheelchair user. A Little Person. While this may sound like a description of a support group, it is, in fact, the lineup for the “Comedians with Disabilities Act”, a comedy troupe that the San Francisco Examiner called “the most unconventional comics to pop up in 2011.” Made up entirely of performers with different disabilities, the troupe brings their brand of humor to audiences throughout the Bay Area. www.facebook.com/comedianswithdisabilitiesact
Nina G (hey that’s me): Nina is a humorist who performs with the comedy troupes The Comedians with Disabilities Act and Feminist Tendencies. She brings disability awareness to night club and college audiences through comedy. She is also an educator and disability activist educating via workshops, keynote addresses, and trainings. Workshop topics include universal design in teaching, disability awareness, and humor as a coping strategy. http://www.ninagcomedian.com
Cheryl Green, MFA, MS integrates her degrees in performing arts and speech-language pathology to explore how story can be used to break down stigma and barriers. She creates films with a disability justice perspective and can lecture on disability representation in the media; brain injury identity and culture; and a variety of technical topics around brain injury deficits, cognitive rehabilitation, and participation level treatment concepts. She is located in Portland, OR. https://www.facebook.com/StoryMinders
Ally Bruener: Ally is a stand-up comedian based out of Louisville, Kentucky. Her sweet and innocent appearance is the ultimate misdirection once she opens her mouth. She’ll steal the hearts of a shocked audience. http://www.allybruener.com/
Caitlin Wood: author of Criptiques http://whereslulu.com/
Aaron Snyder: https://www.facebook.com/themusclea
Queenie TT: http://www.pssistermovement.com/
Chris Fonseca: http://www.comedypro.com/fonseca
Shannon Devido: http://www.shannondevido.com/
Tim Grill: www.Timgrill.com