AXSChat Podcast

AXSChat Podcast with Keely Cat-Wells CEO & Founder C Talent.

August 05, 2022 Antonio Santos, Debra Ruh, Neil Milliken talk with Keely Cat-Wells
AXSChat Podcast
AXSChat Podcast with Keely Cat-Wells CEO & Founder C Talent.
Show Notes Transcript

 

Keely Cat-Wells is an Entrepreneur and Disability Activist dedicated to making social, systemic, and economic change. As the founder and CEO of C Talent Keely has been named a One Young World Entrepreneur of the Year 2022, Forbes 30 Under 30 Entertainment honouree, Diana Award winner, an AdWeek Young Influential, GBEA Young Entrepreneur of the Year, and has been appointed as an Advisory Board Member to Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation. Keely is a Forbes Contributor and has spoken as a Disability Subject Matter Expert for companies and organizations including, The LEGO Group, United Nations, Google, UCLA, NBC, Vidmob, Advertising Week, No Barriers USA (where she also serves as a Board Member), Cannes Film Festival, The Valuable 500, and Virgin Media’s Ultraviolet event among others. Keely has recently been chosen as a youth participant at the first Mental Health Youth Action Forum hosted by MTV Entertainment Group, in coordination with the Biden-Harris Administration and 18 leading mental health nonprofits. The forum will take place at The White House and drive culture from awareness to action on mental health through storytelling and media.

Keely founded her first company at a young age during her time in hospital, which developed into C Talent

After noticing the lack of access in the entertainment industry, Keely formed Zetta Studios which is set to be the world’s first-ever studio to be designed with disabled people in mind.

Keely is also working with Sara Hart Weir to eliminate section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act, an 80+ year old discriminatory statue that provides the foundation of a system that permits employers of disabled workers to file for certificates that allows them to pay disabled employees subminimum wage – even to this date. We 

This is a draft transcript produced live at the event and corrected for spelling and basic errors. and will need to be checked if you wish to publish it. AXSCHAT Keely Cat-Wells

DEBRA:

Hello everyone. This is Debra Ruh and I have Antonio Santos, my partner in crime with me and Neil has no electricity. So, I don't know what he's doing. Probably honeydews out in the garden today. But we're really excited about our guest today. I'm such a big fan of her, so I'm going to gush the whole time. But, Keely Cat-Wells is here today she is the CEO and founder of C Talent and her work is incredible. We are so excited to, if you don't know about her work, we are so excited to make sure you do know about it. So, Keely, welcome to the programme, do you mind? Well, first of all let me do a quick visual description and then maybe Antonio can do a quick visual description and then we are going to turn it over to you to tell us a little about who you are and also a quick visual description for anyone that can't see us. But, I'm a mature woman, not an older woman, okay, with white and purple hair and I have on green and blue today, with a green necklace and brown glasses. Antonio, you want to give a visual description and then pass it to Keely?

ANTONIO:

I'm wearing glasses, a blue shirt. I'm on my 50th. And I have had a picture of a forest and a building on my background.

KEELY:

Thank you so much. So please to be here. So, I have a black shirt. Behind me is some mountains, California mountains. I'm in my 20's and have gold rimmed square glasses, long blond hair and I'm a white woman. So, thank you again so much for having me.

DEBRA:

Yes. And Keely, tell us more about who you are?

KEELY:

For sure. So, I always say, do I give the long version or the short version, so I will do a middle version for you guys. So, I am a disabled woman. I acquired my disability later in life when I was 17 years old. And, I was at the time training for a dancer and I had auditioned three years in a row to get into this big prestigious academy in London and I thought dancing is going to be my life, I just want to be a ballerina, that's all I want to do and then I had literally just started at this academy and the first week I just felt very unwell and everyone was like it's just nerves and it wasn't just nerves and I ended up being hospitalised for three years.

DEBRA:

Wow.

KEELY:

Having lots of operations, lots of misdiagnosis and then during that time I started, someone told me they were like because I was also clinically depressed at the time because of everything that was happening and they told me, you need to put your focus us on something else other than just you. And I really appreciated that, but it took a lot of time to realise what they meant. But I started representing some of my friends who were dancers and started to also place them in jobs so they could also play their way through college, and I was able to do that from my hospital bed, before remote work was a thing. And then I came out of hospital, as a disabled person and realised that disabled people usually don't get access to option A or option B so, I created my own option C, which is C Talent, which is a talent agency representing high profile deaf and disabled talent. And then I moved out to Los Angeles to foresee that and here we are. And we have been going for about Two and a half, nearly three years. We grew very quickly and during the pandemic, we kind of switched from predominantly representing actors to representing content creators on or social media and placing them with giant brands and doing book deals and film deals, because we realised that these creators, they have taken an industry where historically in the media and film industry, you have to get through so many gate keepers. These talent, they were claiming the narrative and owning their stories on social media, doing in their way, telling it their way, making content accessible even though the platforms don't allow for accessible content and for us it was just incredibly successful and we were recently acquired by Wailer, a creator company and that marks one of largest investments ever made in disabled talent in the creator industry, which is very exciting.

DEBRA:

I was so excited to hear it. And you know, I just love how the universe just unfolded for you. I'm not saying it was always easy because I know it wasn't but it’s really pretty amazing how you took such a major obstacle and you used it to help so many other people so, including yourself. So, that is very powerful. I just it. I love the work and I also love that you are focused not only on maybe traditional but people that are, their voices are being heard on social media. I know both you and I were blessed to be selected by LinkedIn as their first 100 creators to accelerate and it’s very exciting to see the community and the brands getting behind us. So, that is very exciting. So, congratulations.

KEELY:

Thank you so much. I think brands and companies are realising that disabled people and just creators in general, their audiences now, nearly all of the ones who are working with brands, their audiences are bigger than those who tune into cable TV. It's where people go now to get their content and they have so much influence over the people that they speak to because they build that connection, the kind of connection you don't get when you are just watching TV. It is amazing.

DEBRA:

And I also think, and I want to make sure I let Antonio jump in too. But I also think that because I am really blessed to have a very large following. But it is very organic and engaged. We're very engaged and we're helping each other engage. And others are buying but I think what is starting to happen is their brands are understanding who are really having the conversations that add value and I think that is another reason why your work is so very important.

ANTONIO:

If you go back somehow to our own history here on Axschat, we have interviewed actors, some of them living in LA, we have interviewed people who are strongly associated to the American Disability Act. We are also in acting industry. We interview generally some creators working for the BBC, who is actually a news channel that has been quite innovative in this space because many of their creators and journalists with disabilities will feature in many of the shows but now, bringing the conversation to the creator community that is on social networks, it unfolds opportunities to a lot more people. And we know that people are able to somehow in their own way, to create their authentic content. However, we know that there are still a lot of obstacles to make that content accessible. It could be oh, it's really difficult to find a software solution or an easy way to caption a video or it's very difficult to find a social media management platform to make sure that our content includes alt text. So, my question to you, how can the overall community put some pressure on social networks or even in the platforms that facilitate content creation to make sure that they prioritise accessibility because I still get this type of answer. If you want to enable this feature for alt text, go to our site and vote for us to enable this feature and then I tell them, this is not up to discussion. So, you want me to compete with other features, when I just want to make content accessible. So, how can we move forward here?

KEELY:

I love that question and it's so true. Access is just, it’s like separate is not equal and having to make disabled people take those extra steps to get access is not cool. We ask this question, whose responsibility is it when content goes out on these social platforms. Is the creator, is it the brand, is it the platform, is it the agency? It's everyone's responsibility. Everyone has the power to make content more accessible and access, as we know, is so different from me to you and to someone else. Everyone's accessibility requirements are different. So, I think first of all, the platforms have to a, recognise why access is important. They have to make sure that the platform themselves are not just accessible and not just built with and by disabled people but also things like algorithms and things like hashtags and all of the different, you know AI tools too are not suppressing content by disabled people and marginalised groups because we see that happen a lot and it's a massive issue and that is an access issue. So, I think the platforms have so much work to do and I wish that they would engage more in the community. I wish that they would hire more disabled people and I know they have some dedicated teams, but I don't think they don't invest enough in those teams. I don't think they set them up for success. Maybe some are starting to, but I think historically they haven't. And then, with the creators themselves, I think we have to dismantle ableism. I think there is a lot of thinking of oh, disabled people won't want to watch this content or disabled people won't need to access this content and I think that we have to just get away from that thinking of like deciding for other people what they want to watch or don't want to watch or don't want to listen to or do want to listen to. I think everyone has to big role to play. And there has been a lot of advocacy online and continues to be and Debra, I know you're a huge part of that advocacy and Antonio as well of getting these platforms to be accessible but it shouldn't have to be this big fight. Which it is. But I'm pleased that you know as disabled people we are so used to doing this but finding creative ways to make content more accessible ourselves like the camelCase hashtags. Like image descriptions. So, yeah. I hope everyone starts to take a bit more responsibility for access.

DEBRA:

I love all that you said, and I agree. That was a great question and Antonio always asks such great questions. But, at the same time, I agree with everything you said because we each have to have ownership, have ownership making sure our content is getting out to everybody. And I remember, one of my favourite authors, Eat, Love & Pray, Elizabeth Gilbert. I love her work. And she one time said that somebody came to her and said your book totally spoke to me and this is what it said to me and Elizabeth was thinking about it and she is like, that is not what I was thinking when I wrote it. But, when we create something and we put it out there, you don't know how somebody is going to use it or identify with it. It could change their lives. And in some ways, it doesn't matter. If it speaks to you put it out there. Which Keely that is what you have been doing at a very young age. So, that is very, very important.

ANTONIO:

I just want to highlight something that sometimes also relates with financial inclusion is, we know, there are also some issues that sometimes if you really want to create full accessible content, you might need to spend money. And there are two ways to look into this. One, of course there are professional solutions, and you need to find ways to support and make content accessibility. At the same time social media platforms need to find a way to lower down or to find ways where people able to create inclusive content in a way that doesn't bring disgust to the creator who are just trying to create accessible content. Because in the current situation, what is usually happens, if you are somewhere in the space of the English language, your life is more or less easy because there are a number of tools you are able to use that work very well with English. But, if you are a native speaker of another language, it's a lot more difficult. So, I think the social networks themselves, they need to find the work or creators, otherwise people will be, some creators will be excluded just because of the financial burden behind the ability of making accessible content.

DEBRA:

Right.

KEELY:

I couldn't agree more. Couldn't agree more and something that we have had so much and constantly hear from brands because we also have a consulting side to the business as well as our talent management side. And from the consulting side, they often ask, well what's the ROI? How do we know this? And what is the ROI tomorrow? They want it immediately. And as we know it takes time. Our community has been so marginalised for so long. Give us the opportunity to love your brand, to have access to your brand and we'll be very loyal customers but expect us to be happy with you tomorrow, it's probably not going to happen. So, whilst we often talk about the business case as we know, including disabled people and the billion people who are on this planet that are disabled and probably more because the issues with disclosure and the stigmas and the stereotypes but, we also need to need to get away from brands thinking that they are going to make an ROI on this the very next day that they implement access.

ANTONIO:

I believe that they also need to create some trust. You know, not just out of the blue. Okay now, like we have seen even in some of examples of some advertising created by Caroline Casey of Valuable 500. This is not okay. I did this accessible content, Now, I'm okay. You need to keep that going. It's not just doing an accessible add or an accessible campaign that you build trust in the community. It needs to be part of your core message. It needs to be part of our core values and that is something that you need to build with time.

DEBRA:

And I will also say that I think that we have the obligation as the community to help these brands. Like you said Keely, understand ROI, well let me start talking to you about ROI brand. ROI is the great resignation. ROI is, we don't trust you big corporations, as society anymore. And so, you want to show us who you are well then actually you need to be very mindful about diversity and inclusion and access. And so, how I'm having these conversations is I'm saying you get the young people don't want to work for you anymore. Right? They don't want to work for you. People my age will work for you still. But the younger generation don't want to work for brands that they consider are bad. The reality is if you're not telling us who we are we are going to make assumptions ourselves and it's usually not going to go well for you. It's just all these things we are saying. I also want to say that we do have social media brands like LinkedIn and Twitter. They are trying, Instagram, they are trying. But, and they are, they're starting to understand how important we are to the conversations. But we still have a major problem just in our community that we know there is at least, as you said Keely, a billion. 1.7 whatever the numbers. But people don't always want to identify as being part of our community. And they don't always know they are part of our community. So, one time, I've said this on air before but one time, I was asked, what is the biggest problem that you all have? Oh gosh, there are so many. Oh my gosh. But that people don't even know they are part of our community or if they are, they're going to hide it because they are afraid, they are going to be disenfranchised. And I think, that is why your work is also so important and so, do you want to take that on?

KEELY:

Absolutely. I couldn't agree more. And I think we definitely we have, part of the reason we have to blame for that is obviously a, access in society and b, is the media and entertainment and everything that we've seen on screen for so long and on screen, we have often have very poor representation, if there is even representation at all. I think the figures are, it's increased, we were I think 2% of disabled people on screen, a couple of years ago and now we're at 8% representation on screen. But only a few percent, I want to say two, but I wish I had the study in front of me, 2% of that 8% is actually accurate representation of disabled people on screen.

DEBRA:

Wow, okay.

KEELY:

And often times and there's not been a study on this, and I would love to see a study on this of how diverse that representation is and, as well as intersectionality by diversity I mean what type of disabilities, invisible disabilities? Or are they just wheelchair users and of course, we have to have representation of wheelchair users but often times the representation is very limited to that. It's, I always get the question, or the comment you don't look disabled, you can't be disabled, or I get DM's on Instagram on probably a monthly basis, of people saying you're lying, you're making it. and I'm like, I don't have to prove to you that I'm disabled but it's just incredibly frustrating and I agree we have got a lot of work to do with storylines and just educating folks around asking for access requirements and that it's not a bad thing. Being disabled is not a bad thing. Actually, welcome to this incredibly amazing community of people who are creative and adaptive, who you know, if you watch Crip Camp and you watch Coda and you can be proud of being disabled and still have a complicated relationship with your medical condition. I feel that totally.

DEBRA:

That is so beautiful. I love how you said that.

KEELY:

Thank you.

DEBRA:

I know I'll be hogging the mic, so do you want to come in? I'm bad at that. I knew I was going to get excited about Keely.

ANTONIO:

So, I think if you look to initiatives that you are working on, is there a particular area that you would like to highlight. That you would say, this is what I am focusing at the moment? And this is what I want to achieve let's say in a couple of months or a couple of years?

KEELY:

Absolutely, so employment is huge for us. Employment is everything. So we work really hard not just to make sure that our talent gets paid, absolutely for what they are worth and more. But also, that we are normalising disabled people being experts in subjects beyond disability. So they're getting hired for the roles that are the doctors, the lawyers, the entrepreneurs, . mothers, the fathers. All of the different roles that don't specify that they need to be disabled. So that is one of our big goals and we are actively doing that and also, integrating disability and the narrative and disabled people into all of those campaigns that are currently planned and the creative briefs are done but they haven't thought about disability and with Wayler, the amazing opportunity we have is that they are one of the leading companies that create the majority of campaigns that go out on social media and we get the opportunity to say great, now we are here, we are with you and they are doing it, minimum 15% representation of disabled people in every single campaign 15%. So, exciting. So there's that.

ANTONIO:

One of the areas that we have discussed previously on Axschat, where we would like to see more representation is around events. Now, we know that sometimes if we look to the major events in human resources, we almost don't see panels or people with disabilities represented. Of course, we have specific events focused on people with disabilities where everyone knows each other but how can we break this barrier and have people with disabilities represented everywhere? It could be an event on block chain, financial services. How can we make sure that people are represented everywhere where we talk about tech? Or everywhere we talk about society, not just on the events everyone talks about how to address and how to improve disability topics.

KEELY:

I'm so pleased you brought this up. It's such a big topic and something that we're also focusing on is about accessibility and the way that we, we got really frustrated with the Cannes Film Festival and the Cannes Lion Festival, which obviously both happen in Cannes in France, and we noticed that everyone seems to pass the blame. The event was saying we can't create a certain amount of access because of the city and the city was saying, we can't create a certain amount of access because of the festival and it's on them. And as you say, you know you go to events which are disability focused and whilst that is great and needed, we're often times as disabled people preaching to the choir. Like, we know what needs to be done and yes, cheering each other and being champions for each other is so needed but we need to get our voices heard by the people who need it hear the most, which is at these events as you. So, accessibility is events are paramount and some events do have great accessibility, but the community just don't know about it because they don't think it’s worth advertising or its in tiny, tiny print at the bottom of their website and no one can see it or find it. So, being sure to engage the community and being proud of the access that an event puts in place, I think will help us move the mark.

DEBRA:

And rewarding them. But I will also say to brands, and you know this, that, just because you've met a person with disability means you met a person with a disability. So, you have to do your homework. not everyone that says they're an expert in this field is an expert in this field. I personally think Keely Cat Wells is an expert that you can very comfortably use, but I see mistakes being made over and over by brands by not taking the time to do your homework just like you would with any other community group. Take the time. Does the community consider Keely an expert for example? I would say, yes. But I see brands making mistakes, not taking the time to really understand all the moving parts we have in our industry. And also, I don't think any of us can do at all. But also look at the ones that are coming together and supporting each other and collaborating, which is what we are doing with Billion Strong and so, I just say to brands make sure you are paying attention. Make sure you are paying attention because otherwise you could make some big mistakes. Antonio do you want to jump in?

ANTONIO:

I just want to jump in in something that might create some disagreement, but I think it’s quite healthy to look. If you look back to the last 20 years of gender diversity not every woman that was appointed to become to a chief diversity officer was an expert on diversity and then we realised that where we are, why we are not trying to progress faster. So, it's really, really important to identify if is the person you are working with is an expert or you're just filling in someone within the box, just to have your work done and not to be concerned with doing anything else. So, I think it's very important that brands and organisations look at the expertise of the person. Otherwise, no progress is going to be made.

KEELY:

I couldn't agree more, and I think getting the perspective from multiple people in that community too because one disabled person cannot speak on behalf of the entire community and we need to get all of those opinions. I mean my team is absolutely incredible and I rely on them so much and I'm still learning things every single day about disability and accessibility that I had no idea of and just being a disabled person makes you an expert in your own health condition and your own disability but it does not make you an expert on behalf of the entire, you know, within the entire community. And I mean I remember when Dan who works for C Talent, yeah, Dan Edge, he's amazing and he taught me about the social model of disability. I had no idea and when he said, you're not disabled because of your medical conditions, you're disabled because of the inaccessible world that we live in and I was like, whoa.

DEBRA:

Yeah, society disables us, I agree.

KEELY:

Yes, and I was like wow and that is now the foundation of everything we do on the consulting side and getting people to understand that initially and using that as the building block. But, yeah, I couldn't agree with that point more.

DEBRA:

Keely, I'm going to go sort of in the direction that Antonio started. But we want to support your work. We do. We want to support it, so what can our community do because we have a very big community behind us. What can we do to help you be even more successful and I also want to throw something else real quick in. One thing we have also talked this on Axschat, but we have had face differences on here and things like that but it’s so important the way we tell stories in film and social media and videos and movies because society learns and decides different things by that. So, we know that if you have scars on your face, you're an evil person, no, no, no that is not true. But even, I'll be honest with you, when I saw Michael J Fox, who I love, playing a really angry man he was really mean on this one show, I was thinking but people with disabilities aren't mean, don't be stupid Debra, people with disabilities are people. So, I just really admired some of the actors that were showing not everybody with a disability is nice because we are just people. But I was just curious what can we do to get behind you. And how do we continue to breakdown these barriers?

KEELY:

Absolutely and I think off the villains too, I think we have three predominant stereotypes that we see mostly playing out, which is the villains, the victims and the inspirations. And I think we have to just get disabled people, not just in the writer’s room but in the mailroom and the CEO and in leadership in boards. And disabled people that are not constantly asked for their opinion only about disability, but they're asked their opinion on everything. So, I think that is really important to change the narrative. So, I would say to everyone listening and wanting to get involved or support our work is follow our creators, learn about the disabled actors and writers and directors and producers doing incredible work because we all have the power with just a comment or a follow or a like to support the disabled community and to push our voices beyond the ones who are drowning us out and still perpetuating those stereotypes. So, support those who are doing the good work and those who are in front and behind the camera.

DEBRA:

I know we are out of time and so, I want to make sure that we thank My Clear Text. We love them as a partner and they keep us accessible and we're so grateful, but also, Keely do you mind telling the audience how they can find more about your work. I know you're all over social media but how do they find you on social media, how do they find your website, how do they find the work you are doing and the creators you are supporting so we can go out and support those creators?

KEELY:

I appreciate that thank you. So, everything online is just C Talent, the letter C and then the word Talent and then for me personally, my website is KeelyCatWells.com. And I love LinkedIn, that's probably my favourite platform to use, to advocate and just talk about. So, definitely find us on LinkedIn. Give us a connection.

DEBRA:

I agree, I agree, and we are so grateful for your work, we love what you're doing. So, thank you for being on today. We also know you’re super slammed, so we’re very grateful. But, we want to say thank you to the audience. Thanks again to My Clear Text, which we love and adore and highly recommend for anybody that needs captions and CART services and we hope that Neil is having a good time doing his honeydew items today. So, thanks to the audience. Bye everyone.

KEELY:

Thank you all.