Able Artist Profile: David Renaud, MD

By Stephen Letnes (CEO) | March 12, 2018

Able Artist Profile: David Renaud, MD

Doctor And TV Show Writer, David Renaud On Hollywood And Being A Wheelchair User

Able Artist Foundation is fortunate to have a Board of Directors that spans many industries. From clergy and higher education, to multi-platinum selling musicians and Hollywood industry professionals. Board member, Craig Tollis is an editor on the hit ABC TV show, 'The Good Doctor', starring Freddie Highmore. During season 1, Craig was introduced to show writer, David Renaud, MD.  The good doctor was kind enough to share his answers to questions that were presented to him by board member, Kaitlyn Yang and executive director, Stephen Letnes. AAF Thanks David for his thoughtful and insightful responses.


Dr. David Renaud is a physician and TV writer who gives new meaning to the term script doctor. Since breaking into TV writing through the Disney-ABC Drama Writing Program, he has written for both David Shore on THE GOOD DOCTOR and Jason Katims on PURE GENIUS. David emigrated from Canada and holds both an MFA in Screenwriting from UCLA and an MD from the University of British Columbia.


1. Have you been a wheelchair user all of your life? 

I started using a wheelchair when I was 20 years old.


2. How has being a wheelchair user informed your career decisions-if at all?

Being in a wheelchair motivated me to pursue a medical career which is what, ultimately, led me to television writing.  


3. As you have learned to solve problems/overcome challenges using a wheelchair, do you feel it has made you a more effective doctor/writer?

Our challenges inform and define us in so many ways. The wheelchair has been my greatest challenge in life so far. I had to learn to adapt to almost every situation and it made me more empathetic, patient, and resourceful. I believe that these qualities make me both a better doctor and a better writer. 


4. What are the differences between collaborating with other medical doctors and other screenwriters?

Oddly, there are more similarities than differences between the two. In medicine, doctors engage in a lot of group problem-solving to help patients with their health issues. Although we are working out different issues, it's a similar process in the collaborative environment of a writers' room.  

5. Who is better/worse to deal with: doctors or writers?

Both have similar strengths and stretches -- an odd mix of ego and insecurity. Writers might be more fun at dinner parties, but the jury is still out on that one :) 


6. How do Canada and California differ in attitudes towards accessibility? Do you find one to be generally more accessible?

California is outperforming. Sorry, Canada, but you grandfathered too many old buildings. 


7. How do your peers and colleagues see you? 

People who know me well often tell me that, eventually, they just kind of forgot about the fact that I am in a chair. I think that is true for the most part, until it impacts them. Like, we go to a restaurant that is inaccessible or to an event in a location that is not 100% accessible. 

8. How does the rest of the world see you?

Tough question, since I try not to pay too much attention to this. I suspect they are either impressed with my drive or feel sorry for me.  


9. Do you have to go above and beyond, work harder to get recognized when compared to other writers without disabilities?

I think that when you have a disability, you always need to work harder to prove that you can do the job as well as everyone else which means you have to be better than the average person. With writing, you are judged first by what is on the page so it's not as much of an issue. In the writers' room and on set, however, it is a different situation and can be very challenging. I entered the industry at a time when people were really welcoming and eager to help remove barriers. That's been my experience on all three shows, but I can only speak to my experience.   


10. Is there an unspoken bias against people with disabilities in Hollywood?

While I've had a very good experience so far, in general, there is definitely a lot of bias in our society towards people with disabilities and Hollywood is no exception. However, I think there are a lot of liberal-minded people in this business and, therefore, a lot of empathetic people eager to give you an opportunity to prove yourself.  


11. As far as limitation goes, do you think there are any major limitations that would make a person unsuited for work in entertainment?

Instead of concentrating on people’s different levels of ability as inherent limitations and barriers to entry, I would like to see the focus shift to recognizing the artificial limitations that the industry has imposed in the various fields. Many of these limitations arise from expectations that often do not necessarily correlate to doing the job well. Plenty of writers’ rooms are on the second floor but that doesn’t mean that you need to be able to walk up a flight of stairs to do the job of a writer. What I mean is that we need to stop seeing people as limited by their disabilities and, instead, start identifyng limitations that are simply a function of how things have been done in the past. People need access and they deserve accommodations. I think we should stop thinking in terms of "disability" and start thinking in terms of "disaccessability" since that is the real issue. 


12. How can we advocate to better educate the general public so we can start chipping away at the stereotypes typically associated with people with physical disabilities?

I think we need to support and encourage the strong, dedicated advocates we already have and encourage new voices. I feel tremendous gratitude to all the people and organizations that have made it possible for me to do the things I want to do in my life and my career. We also need to highlight all the things that people with disabilities are doing and how much more they could be doing if not for these barriers to access. My hope is that I can lead by example. Right now, I am focused on pursuing my goals and tuning out any detractors. What I can do is show people who I am and what I'm capable of doing. It's not always within my power to make them think differently about me, but I do have the power to determine how I think about myself. Hopefully, seeing is believing. I think I've done some stuff with my life since being in a chair that cuts against some of the stereotypes about people with disabilities. 

13. How can we advocate for more diversity and inclusion behind the camera?

Everyone wants to see themselves represented on screen. People want to connect and hear a version of their story being told. I think that's one of the reasons that The Good Doctor has been resonating with viewers. There are a lot of people with disabilities out there -- an untapped market. Disabled artists are the ones to tell these stories. In addition to behind the camera, we also need more representation in front of the camera. Film and television reach massive audiences and we need to do a better job of putting people in front of the camera with disabilities and telling their stories. We need more shows starring people with disabilities doing real jobs, being doctors, lawyers, pilots, and dancers. Shows like The Good Doctor and Speechless are incredibly valuable because they present a better vision of the world: the world as we would like it to be. Show society the world you want often enough and people will start to see the world that way. Then, the barriers will come down.


14. Do you have any thoughts on the current bill that was passed by the House of Representatives, HR 620 (The “ADA Education and Reform Act”)?

It's a horrendous bill that removes powerful incentives for businesses to comply with laws regarding accessibility, effectively gutting protections for people with disabilities under the guise of discouraging unscrupulous lawyers and plaintiffs.


15. What are your thoughts on the goals and services of Able Artist? 

I want to see more people with disabilities in the industry, more diverse voices. Organizations like Able Artist help with removing barriers and facilitating access to the tools emerging artists need to break into the industry and I think we can all agree that is a good thing.


16. If you had one piece of advice to share with someone with a disability who is searching for purpose/a career, what would it be?

Don't wait for someone to tell you that a career is right for you. If you want it, it's right. Start working toward your goal. Work hard. Get better. Then, work even harder still. Enjoy the process more than the success. Always accept constructive criticism, but never accept discouragement. You will come up against obstacles and you need to find a way around them. It won't always be easy, but it will be character building. Find a community that supports you. If there isn't one, then start building one. There are organizations and people who will lend a helping hand. Don't feel bad about needing help along the way. Everyone needs advocates and mentors, not just people with disabilities. Remember it's your goal, your dream. No one can give it to you. But no one can steal it from you either.   

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