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Our technology is disabled, not me.

Posted by rachelhandler76 on August 14, 2015 at 11:10 PM Comments comments (1)

Our technology is disabled, not me.


 

I went to college for musical theatre and voice performance. I graduated and worked at regional theaters and did a few Off-Off Broadway productions. And then I lost my leg when I was driving to an audition.


 

I’m an actor/singer/dancer/musician/comedian. And I happen to wear a prosthetic leg. Does that make me a disabled actor? I don’t think so. It makes me a more knowledgeable human being. The experience of losing a limb and living with a body outside the norm will certainly influence my choices as an actor, but I think that’s actually an advantage. Not a disadvantage.


 

Technology has come so far, when I walk sometimes it almost feels as natural as my real foot and ankle. Sometimes it hurts like hell and I curse the prosthetic leg torture device! I’m ready for technology to catch up with me completely, but we’re not quite there yet.


 

This summer I have the joy of being part of a new musical, The Bipartisan. I was cast not despite my prosthetic leg, but in part, because of it! This director knew how to think outside the box and saw the opportunities in utilizing my “fake leg” for comedic purposes and to catch the audience by surprise.


 

Audiences always enjoy a good inspiration story about someone living with a disability. I prefer that audiences be inspired by my performance or skills, not my disability. Nicu’s Spoon Theater Company is spinning that notion on its head with their new production of Richard III. All of the actors in the show have some sort of disability - except Richard III.


 

As a society we are so afraid of disability. Consciously or unconsciously we all know it can happen to anyone at any time. Richard III is evil because he was born with a disability and it made him hungry for power. Not it this version.


 

On this 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, please join me in embracing this notion that there are no disabled people, just disabled technology. Our world is beautiful because of its diversity, the arts are the best outlet to explore that beauty and promote inclusion for all.



The Question Amputees Dread

Posted by rachelhandler76 on July 19, 2014 at 8:40 PM Comments comments (1)

As someone who has had to use crutches for almost a year of her life, and will now have to use a prosthetic leg for the rest of her life, I think I can safely say that there is one phrase we crutch-using folks or prosthetic leg wearers really despise. That phrase is a simple, two word question that will make us want to punch you in the face. “What happened?”


 

Let’s think about the possible answers, 1. I fell down stairs. 2. I hurt my knee dancing. 3. I just had surgery. 4. I lost my leg (to cancer, diabetes, traumatic accident). Notice what all of these answers have in common? They are not fun events! They are actually pretty horrible times in a person’s life. In my case, you are asking me to tell you about the worst, scariest, most painful day of my life. So why in the world would I want to talk to you about that? Especially when most of the people asking this exact question are strangers or mere acquaintances that I will never see or speak with again.


 

If you see someone on crutches, I think it’s safe to assume that they are not just using them for fun (unless they are my brothers who like to steal my crutches). So please, never ask a person using crutches or wearing a prosthetic leg, “What happened?” unless you are good friends with them. Even in that case, it’s really better if you wait for them to offer this information. Instead of letting your curiosity get the best of you, why not just say, “I hope you feel better” and let that lead to a conversation about what happened if the injured person takes it there.


 

I’m no Miss Manners, and I can’t speak for everyone on crutches, but please spread the word, it is rude and inconsiderate to ask someone on crutches (or in a wheelchair, or wearing a prosthetic leg, or someone who has anything different about them!) “What happened?” Let us offer you the information when we’re ready. I’ve started charging people for my leg story, no joke. I’d rather say, “Leg story will cost you $20” than punch a person in the face (which is how my body wants to respond after being asked this question by 50 strangers in one weekend).


 

Next time you trip over your own shoe, break your ankle and have to use crutches, think about how annoying it will be to have to tell that story to every Joe Shmoe who opens a door for you. “What happened?” Now imagine how much harder it is to answer that question when you don’t even have an ankle to break!? Save yourself and everyone around you from a very awkward, uncomfortable silence and refrain from asking these dreaded two words, “What happened?”



Revision Surgery

Posted by rachelhandler76 on March 16, 2014 at 4:15 PM Comments comments (1)

I decided to try a VLOG instead of a BLOG. I'm not sure how I feel about VLOGS. I think they come off as a little cocky sometimes. But I wanted to try it because I thought it may reach more people than most of my other blog posts. I think a common misconception about amputees is that once we've healed from the initial surgery, we can walk with a prosthetic leg and be done with the struggle. This could not be farther from the truth and I hope society can watch my video and understand the depth of our challenges. When you see someone walking with a prosthetic leg, be impressed! But don't be surprised to see someone with a leg amputation in a wheelchair. We all have different paths in life, some are full of more twists and turns than others. 

These Boots Are Made For Walkin'

Posted by rachelhandler76 on November 21, 2013 at 11:55 PM Comments comments (3)

I’m finally buying NICE shoes. Not DSW or Famous Footwear, or…Payless. I’m treating my feet with the respect they deserve and it’s starting to feel (and look) amazing. When I got my prosthetic leg I thought I was confined to a life of sneakers and yoga pants. Lately I’ve been venturing away from the sneakers, though they are undoubtedly the most comfortable of all my shoes. A girl’s just gotta change it up!


Due to ongoing skin issues on my residual limb, I can’t wear heels yet…I can barely wear my flats for a whole day! But I’m working on controlling my fears and anxiety to allow myself to have some fun with these new shoes.


I don’t like expressing the sad moments in my life; I never post negative statuses on Facebook. But I want to open up about ongoing fears and struggles since my amputation – and why wearing nice shoes is a big step!


Each amputee faces a different journey. If anything, losing my leg has taught me that you can NEVER judge a book by its cover. Just like no two people are alike, no two amputees are alike (and no two cancer patients are alike…;). There are many amputees out there walking around without the assistance of crutches, I used to be one of them! But health problems have made me stumble two steps back.


I’m suffering from a severe case of what is called – heterotopic ossification. Basically, bones are growing outside of the skeletal structure. These bone fragments are ruining the little amount of soft tissue that I have left in my residual limb, and when they rub against my skin too much it starts to bleed. This happened in June. When that spot was finally healed it happened again in a different spot in September.


These tiny spots take forever to heal because they are on a skin graft, which is like baby skin and very fragile. When a spot opens up, it also opens me up to a higher risk of infection – which can be disastrous.


Wearing shoes that don’t have that cushiony, polyurethane enhanced sole feels really weird, and puts more pressure on my skin. But I have to start living my life the way I want to live my life, not dictated by my injury. I’ve been holding back for so long and that’s no way to live. My “catch phrase” has been – “The prosthetic leg I wear isn’t a sign of loss, but a reminder to overcome fear and embrace life.”


I think I need to change this phrase. “The prosthetic leg I wear isn’t a sign of loss, but a reminder to MASTER fear and embrace life.” I might never overcome my fears, they will always be there. But I can master the way I handle those fears. Instead of thinking about what I can’t control, I’m learning to focus on what I can control.


I might need another surgery to fix my problem and help me walk again. There are a few surgical options out there, but none of them are appealing. One requires a six hour surgery of sewing blood vessels together, the other involves losing a few more inches of my leg.


My newest prosthetic leg has a vacuum attachment that has been very helpful for the health of my soft tissue, it also looks pretty badass! Maybe this leg will be the miracle I need to heal my real leg, who knows!? But I’m not putting life on pause any longer. For now, I’ll be the girl on crutches…wearing those really cute shoes. ;)


 

Appreciation

Posted by rachelhandler76 on May 1, 2013 at 12:35 AM Comments comments (1)

As I lay in bed, the scent of fresh flowers wafts through the air. I am relaxed and at peace. These beautiful flowers in my room were given in celebration of the premiere of my one woman show, “Inspiration Whore.” But that scent sparks a vivid memory of my hospital room last March. I remember the nurses saying, “We love coming to your room because it smells like a garden!” At the time I didn’t even think about the smell, I just liked looking at the flowers because they reminded me of all the friends and family that I am blessed to have.


When I was in the hospital I thought of those flowers as messages of condolence, but now I see that the meaning behind them was the same as the reason for my current flowery apartment – those flowers were given as a celebration of life!


Every day I thank God for my family and friends, for my ability to still be alive and appreciate them! When my leg was taken away in an instant, so was my freedom of mobility. It’s not until something dear to us (like walking!) is taken away that we can finally see what matters the most.


Each morning when I wake up I am thankful for my friends and family, I know that if there is a day when I can’t get my leg on, they will be there to help me through the struggle. Sometimes I slip into believing that life just isn’t fair. It’s not fair to me and it’s not fair to my friends and family. Hope and faith – believing in something greater than myself – help to get me through this challenge. But what helps the most is the love and support from friends and family. Never underestimate the power of friendship and family support. It is important to be there for people going through difficult times, even if your support is just being at the other end of a phone line or a gentle hug. Even if you think they can’t feel it, they will feel you.


Due to the nature of my injury, my skin is very delicate and wearing a prosthetic leg can be damaging to that skin. It’s still painful and there are some days I worry I won’t be able to get out of my apartment! Have you ever had to worry about getting your leg on? I hope not! Be grateful!


I’m still learning to adapt to these new conditions. Yesterday I couldn’t put my flats on because I lost my shoe horn, and getting a cute flat shoe on a prosthetic foot can be quite a challenging task. A good friend was there to help me through this moment of utter frustration. I miss the days of sliding on jeans or throwing on a pair of heels. My situation is not ideal, but it’s my life and I’ve accepted it. I will wear heels again, I will be able to run again! For now, I’m at peace with waking up and taking a step, without crutches, my own step.


 

Restart

Posted by rachelhandler76 on March 19, 2013 at 10:55 PM Comments comments (0)

On March 3, 2012 I was hit by a car and lost my left leg below the knee. On March 2, 2013 I started travelling to NYC, land of public transportation and walking. The past year has been a roller coaster. There were weeks, actually months, when I didn’t think this time would come. But now that I’m auditioning again, it feels like I never stopped.


My dad whispered in my ear, “Just like pressing the restart button.” I knew he was right, and now I’ve come to realize that auditioning again isn’t just a restart, it’s a revamp.


Like throwing away a slow, old computer and buying a shiny new one. I feel refreshed, empowered and strengthened. Although my left leg still causes some mobility issues, I now have a better understanding of who I am as a human being, what I believe in, and how to achieve what I want.


I first started auditioning to pursue acting, singing and dancing. I still want to be on Broadway! But I’ve found myself gravitating towards learning more about young people with disabilities. I enjoy speaking with them, discussing our challenges, and finding common ground – regardless of physical or mental disability.


I’ve been speaking at high schools and colleges about my personal experience becoming disabled. The students I meet are a big part of the reason I’ve chosen to continue performing; their courage and honesty keeps me grounded because they’ve accepted their reality of life with a disability. But they also inspire me by learning to adapt and find the opportunity in adversity.


I have a few speaking engagements lined up, some are open to the public if you’re in the area:

Iona College – April 4

University of New Haven – April 15

Stockton – May 16

I’m also performing in a few projects!

-An independent film, “Only Those Who Limp” written and directed by Margot Cole.

-Monologue Night at Grounds for Sculpture on April 5. This evening is being produced by A Saturday’s Child. Check it out: http://www.asaturdayschild.com/A_Saturdays_Child/MNM.html

-My solo show “Inspiration Whore” on April 7 and 8, get your tickets now!!: http://tictheater.com/shows.html

-And a I’ll be playing Wendy in a children’s theater tour of “Peter Pan” by Identity Theater Company, info is on their websitehttp://www.identitytheater.com/


“I always say don’t make plans, make options.” –Jennifer Aniston

Plans change! Life happens! So plan A didn't work out, lucky it's a big alphabet.

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Collision

Posted by rachelhandler76 on January 23, 2013 at 4:40 PM Comments comments (1)

I cried yesterday. Those tears had nothing and everything to do with my leg.

     

Yesterday a 12 year old girl was killed standing in the median of an interstate after the car she was in was involved in an accident. This story sounds all too familiar to me. A lot of people are never taught to remain in their vehicle after an accident, and many lives are lost or severely changed due to this cause.


Insurance company risk assessments measure your life expectancy in SECONDS when you exit a vehicle on the interstate. It is something you should never do. This is not the first time I’ve heard of a person dying this way, and it won’t be the last. Stories like these make me so grateful that my own life was spared the day I lost my leg.


The day of my accident I wanted to stay in the car. I was involved in a minor fender bender and myself and the other driver pulled over on the shoulder of the interstate. I called the police because her cell phone died and we waited in our cars. Then she asked me if she could use my phone. I got out of the car and stood next to her while she called her work. She hung up, I took my phone and we were both going to go back to our cars when another car spun out of control and slammed into both of us, amputating my leg on impact.


The weather was bad that day, it had been raining and the curve where both accidents occurred is marked as 25MPH but everyone seems to go around it at 35MPH. Speeding around that curve only works if the weather conditions are perfect. Almost all of the accidents that take place at that spot happen when it’s raining. The curve also comes out of nowhere, so unless a driver is familiar with the road chances are they will not take the one or two signs warning of the drastic speed limit change too seriously. But they really, really should.


As it seems our snow and ice season is beginning, let’s all be a lot more cautious when driving, especially around curves for my sake, please! It seems like most car accidents and injuries can be avoided if proper precautions are taken. Who knows what would have happened to me if I had stayed in the car at the time I was hit. Since after the car hit me it continued on to crash into my parked car and total it, I may not have been better off inside the vehicle after all! But we’ll never know. What I do know is that I’m missing my leg because someone was speeding around a 25MPH curve in hazardous weather conditions.



 

F-E-A-R

Posted by rachelhandler76 on November 6, 2012 at 1:25 AM Comments comments (2)

Fear


It’s a scary word. In past blog posts I’ve written about my own fears, but now it’s time to talk about yours.

Well ok, I’m generalizing. I’ll call the following a societal fear.


Did you know that nearly 20% of the American population is living with a disability? We are in the minority, but still…20% is over 50 million people! I’m guessing you may not have known that fact because nothing like that is visible in the media. It’s estimated that less than 2% of roles on TV exhibit any type of disability. What’s worse, only .5% of those roles ever get the chance to speak and the actors playing those roles might not even be disabled themselves. The most well-known show on TV featuring a disabled character is Glee. On that show the black actor is black, the Asian actor is Asian (even the actor who plays Kurt, the leading gay character, is gay), but the wheelchair user isn’t actually wheelchair-bound. This must change. Acceptance of performers, writers, and directors with disabilities must be gained with the same awareness that has been achieved by artists of color and other minorities.


Here’s another fun fact that I bet you didn’t know; SAG (Screen Actors Guild) publishes a Casting Data Report that provides the industry with an analysis of the hiring practices and employment trends in film and television related to ethnicity, age and even gender. The industry does not currently report information about the hiring of actors with disabilities; hence, little is known about their employment. I’m assuming producers don’t want to add disability as diversity to the casting report because they’re afraid of what it will show. Statistics provided by the Actors Equity Association on the employment trends in Broadway and other theaters aren’t any better, as they are virtually nonexistent. Obviously, not much is being done to increase employment for performers with disabilities.


Why is this? I have a theory. As the disabled playwright, John Belluso, once said, “Disability is the minority no one wants to join but anyone can fall into at any time.” Society FEARS disability because it is the only minority we could all become part of!! This fear is increased because it isn’t seen, isn’t shown as a natural part of life. So how can we, as a society, solve this conundrum? Here’s a simple solution - cast more disabled actors (give me a job…or just a chance to audition!!).


Our disability doesn’t have to be featured, in fact, I’d prefer it be shown as a natural character choice. On Breaking Bad Walter White’s son has Cerebral Palsy, but the show doesn’t portray this trait as a disability, just a natural part of his role. It demonstrates very clearly the exuberance and independence as well as the challenges of a life lived with a disability. In this same show, however, one of the Mexican Cartel brothers loses both his legs being hit by Hank’s car and is mocked for it. His character is a bad guy, I get it. The audience should be happy this horrific injury happened to him. But consider this true story of a double amputee – He drops his daughter off at school in NYC, stands behind his car and suddenly gets hit by a taxi and loses both his legs.


This leads me to a trend I’ve noticed because I’m a new amputee – most leading amputee roles in movies are the bad guys! Think about it; Darth Vader, Dr. Curt Connors from The Amazing Spider Man, and Lieutenant Dan Taylor from Forrest Gump . These amputee villains play right into the mindset of society. There is fear of disability; we all want to think that if life is “fair” then the good guys can’t get hurt. No one wants to think that in the end the good guy loses a limb and becomes permanently disabled. But this happens every day all over the country. So why should those fears get projected onto us amputees?


Some of the strongest people I know live with a disability such as limb loss. This loss doesn’t make us saints, but it certainly doesn’t turn us evil. Being disabled is defined as lacking power, lacking strength, and lacking physical or mental ability. Adapting is defined as adjusting to different circumstances. People living with a disability shouldn’t be thought of as lacking, we should be more commonly known as adjusting.


I still want to be on Broadway. With that goal in mind I wanted to write a bit about performers with disabilities who have made it to Broadway or are performing regionally at Equity theaters. I’ve found they are few and far between. Few disabled performers get cast as a character not specified as having a disability, and there are hardly any disabled characters in plays and musicals. Even though I can hide my disability, my dream role is Sarah in Time Stands Still. She isn’t a disabled character but she does get injured in an explosion and that would give me the chance to incorporate my amputation into her character. What’s strange is that I have never seen or heard of an actress with a disability playing this role. Why are casting directors constantly missing these rare opportunities? Because society doesn’t want to think about the possibility that the good guy (or girl) can be or become permanently disabled.


It seems as though biopics (movies based on a true story) are the only outlet being used to convey a person living with limb loss as inspirational. Soul Surfer, Men of Honor, and 127 Hours are good examples. Does this mean, however, that our society can’t even begin to imagine and create an amputee role that is positive, active and kind spirited before and after becoming an amputee? Or is it that we don’t want to imagine a positive, active and kind spirited person becoming permanently disabled. If a good guy can lose a leg in the movies, does that mean it could happen to you? Yes. But does seeing it on a screen make it more likely? No.


My life didn’t end when I lost my leg. In some ways it feels like this is only the beginning. My injury is just another plot twist leading to a greater ending. After all, as they say in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, “Everything will be ok in the end. If it’s not ok, then it’s not the end.” At the end of The Hunger Games movie Peeta is a determined young man. At the end of the book, The Hunger Games, Peeta is a determined young man and an amputee. Why this change from paper to screen? Society fears disability and doesn’t want to see the good guy become an amputee. Not only have these writers missed the opportunity to cast an amputee actor, but they also could have incorporated the grueling psychological trauma of losing a limb into his character. This loss could have made his character more whole and demonstrated to society that one can still be the good guy and live life with a prosthetic leg.


Being disabled is being different. We aren’t born thinking different is bad but that’s what we’re taught in society. From a young age we learn that Captain Hook is a bad guy because of his physical deformity and his actions. The only way to end this fear of disability is to accept that it can happen to the good guys and stop portraying us as the villain. Let yourself and your children stare and ask questions about my prosthetic leg. Let me show you that I’m a person living a fulfilling life with a disability. Let me show you that there is nothing to fear.


Soon I will be posting a video of my first speaking engagement at a performing arts high school, but for now here is a picture of me from the set of the upcoming feature film, Noah. 


 


Next To Normal?

Posted by rachelhandler76 on September 19, 2012 at 11:25 PM Comments comments (0)

Before March 3, 2012 I lead a pretty typical life, some might say, “normal.” It was great, fun and just a little crazy! In an instant my life changed forever. I will never feel “normal” again, but I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing.


When my leg was amputated I not only changed physically, but also emotionally. Who could have imagined that at 24 years old what I consider to be my greatest achievement is simply walking? I’ve worked hard in my life at many jobs, classes and auditions, but learning to walk with a prosthetic leg has been the most powerful and humbling experience of my life.


I felt like I lost part of my soul the day I lost my leg. I saw my dreams of singing and dancing on Broadway being crushed; I felt powerless and angry. My first day home from the hospital I cried for an hour, with my family by my side. My home felt different because I felt different. I knew then there was no looking back, only forward (as Obama would say).


The prosthesis I wear symbolizes power to me. At first I was worried that when I looked down at my feet all I would feel was a sense of loss. I’m happy to have been wrong. My “new leg” is truly a reminder to overcome fear and embrace life. Today I’m walking again! No more wheelchair, crutches or even a cane. I am really walking with my own two feet! AND IT FEELS UNBELIEVABLE! I have to pinch myself every time I take a step because it feels too good to be true.


I used to think of my prosthesis as “the torture device” because it was extremely painful, but now it seems like magic. Of course it’s still a little uncomfortable and my residual limb feels sore after a long day wearing the prosthetic leg, but there’s no better feeling than looking down at my 2 feet and taking a step. It could simply be a step towards the fridge to pour myself a glass of water, or it could be taking a step onto the stage.


I’m in a show now and one member of the cast had no idea that I use a prosthesis. When I walk down the street or into a restaurant, no one knows the trauma I’ve endured; if I wear long pants they can’t see that I’m different. They can’t see that I’m part of the 20% of disabled Americans. I’m thankful to be able to hide my disability and appear “normal”; some people don’t have that luxury. Yet, sometimes when people can’t tell I’m an amputee I feel guilty for hiding that part of my life. I’m not ashamed of my leg, in fact, I’m pretty proud of it!


As I move forward with my life, my goals and my dreams I find myself on the cusp of normality, but not quite there. This experience has shown me that everything happens for a reason. Even though this injury certainly wasn’t in my life plan, sometimes the most creativity happens when you color outside the lines. My injury dared me to be vulnerable and taught me to be strong. Who needs normal when it’s our differences that make us who we are?


This is a rehearsal for "The Odd Couple," can you tell which leg is fake!?



 

True to Who You Are

Posted by rachelhandler76 on August 23, 2012 at 1:40 PM Comments comments (0)

In my last blog post I wrote about overcoming fear. Lately I've been realizing that fear is no longer an issue in my life! However, feeling uncomfortable has become a daily occurrence. I've experienced a traumatic event and endured so much discomfort, so now, to put myself in an uncomfortable situation on purpose seems ridiculous! Yet, I must, because my version of an uncomfortable situation is different from most...driving is uncomfortable, but I do it. Going to a bar with or without my prosthesis is uncomfortable, but I do it (gotta live a little!!) and even walking through the mall can be uncomfortable, but I do it. People stare, gawk, point and kids ask questions. My circumstances may not be perfect (don't think many South Jersey-ans see a girl with only 1 foot a lot...) but I can still be a trusting, optimistic person. I'm learning never to hide from life, but trust that whatever happens, I'll be OK. 


Tears don't mean you're losing, everbody's bruising. 
Just be true to who you are. - Jessie J.


I love her song, "Who You Are" and I used to dance to it all the time in class before my accident, but now the lyrics convey a much different message to me. 


This is what happens when I start messing around at physical therapy...here's a little dance I choreographed to "Who You Are." 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OTd4z2s4V7I




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