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Hit TV show recreates Abilities Expo

Hit TV show recreates Abilities Expo ‘Speechless gave a tip of the hat to the expo and the absolute need for programs like this in the community we serve’

LOS ANGELES - Cure Medical participated in a special Abilities Expo in November. The company, which manufactures intermittent catheters, was among more than a dozen selected to help recreate the expo for an episode of the TV show Speechless, which features JJ, a teenager with cerebral palsy, that will air on Feb. 1.

Here's what Lisa Wells, vice president of marketing for Cure Medical, had to say about the show's quest for authenticity and being one of its extras.

HME News: Give me a 1-minute rundown of the show.

Lisa Wells: Minnie Driver plays a mom of three kids and JJ, played by Micah Fowler, is the oldest. Minnie is sort of the stereotypical mama bear, taking care of the family and advocating for the needs of JJ. It's a lot about their journey of trying to give JJ the most inclusive experience possible.

HME: Does Micah have cerebral palsy in “real life”?

Wells: He does, and he uses power and manual wheelchairs. The only difference between him and JJ is that he can speak, whereas JJ has a speech impairment, hence the name of the show. It's very unusual in TV today to have an actual person with a disability portray a person with a disability. The show stands out in Hollywood for setting that as their standard. It's one of the reasons why it has such a rabid fan following in the disability community.

HME: Why did they want to re-create an Abilities Expo?

Wells: All I can say is that Minnie's character has created her own adaptive clothing line. The producers at Speechless recognized the expo as a family conference for people with disabilities, and they contacted the organizers to ask if they could recreate a mini-expo on their set. They used the Abilities Expo's logo and signage and even the piping and drape that you'd see on their booths. It was scaled down, but their attention to detail was spectacular.

HME: It says a lot about the role of the Abilities Expo in the disability community that Speechless used it as a vehicle for Driver's clothing line.

Wells: Speechless gave a tip of the hat to the expo and the absolute need for programs like this in the community we serve.

HME: How was Cure Medical selected as one of the mock exhibitors?

Wells: It wasn't easy. We had to send in info about our company and booth pictures. That had to be reviewed by set producers and designers to see if it had the right look and feel. It also went through ABC legal to make sure there were no issues with self-promotion. It was a multi-step process. But when you have this kind of opportunity—about 3 million people watch this show every Friday—you move fast and take advantage of it.

Wells: What was filming like?

HME: We filmed 23 hours in two days, 13 hours the first day and 10 hours the next day, and that was just the first half of the episode. They had three more days of filming. They say the magic you see on screen—there's a lot that happens behind the scenes to make that happen. You have no idea until you shoot one scene 15 times. It really is an art. And we don't know what scenes made it through the editing booth. We'll be just as surprised as everyone else on Feb. 1.

HME: You had met Micah before, right?

Wells: Yes, he did an autograph signing at the Abilities Expo in New York two years ago. They greatly underestimated his star power—1,000 people showed up for a 40-minute autograph signing. They pulled me from our booth to help with crowd control, and I went home battered and bruised.

HME: Did you meet any of the other stars of the show?

Wells: Extras aren't encouraged to talk directly to stars during filming, because they're trying to focus on their lines with a lot of chaos happening behind them. We had more than 100 extras, plus more than 100 crewmembers, on set at all times surrounding the six main characters. But they were all there and very professional and nice, especially Minnie Driver, who was clearly the star and the leader of the group.


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