Interview with Sammi’s Father Matt Haney

Sammi has dark curly hair and wears pink glasses

Sammi loves weird silly toys and takes whatever her current favorite is with her everywhere. She has OI Type III and uses a wheelchair. She has broken hundreds of bones from simple things like turning too much when asleep or sneezing too hard. At the age of 11 she got the role of Esperanza Jimenez, a sassy little girl with pink glasses, on Netflix’s Original Series Raising Dion.

Please tell us a bit about Sammi!

Sammi Haney is 11 years and lives in San Antonio, Texas. She has Osteogenesis Imperfecta Type III (severe). Her hobbies included reading (“Warriors” Series about cats), playing video games (Minecraft), gardening and learning to crochet.

How does OI affect everyday life in your family?

Sammi does Physical Therapy twice a week, so we have to schedule things around it. If we are going somewhere as a family, we have to preplan to see if everything is accessible for Sammi.

How did you discover Sammi’s talent for acting?

We really didn’t know she could act until we started to prepare for her Raising Dion audition for the role of Esperanza. She was able to quickly remember the script and had a unique way of bringing her sassy personality into the delivery.

Is Raising Dion the first project Sammi has been involved in?

Netflix asked Nikki Young, who used to work in casting, but was now the Entertainment Director at Morgan’s Wonderland if she knew any kids who were a good fit for the role of Esperanza. She recommended 3 kids, 1 of which was Sammi. When Netflix saw her audition tape, they said she was the only audition tape that made everyone in the room laugh, so she got the part! Sammi had never acted before, but she was in a commercial for Morgan’s Wonderland. This is the world’s first fully accessible and inclusive theme park, which Sammi goes to.

How does OI affect Sammi’s acting career?Sammi in a beautiful wide dress with pink flowers

I (dad) read through all the scripts before they started filming and suggested changes for things that weren’t safe for Sammi to do. This could be picking up a heavy backpack, having multiple actors take her in and out of a car seat, or going really fast over gravel. And they changed and accommodated everything I mentioned to them. On the first day on set we found out that the normal transportation vans for actors were not safe for her to get in and out of. So we told Netflix we needed a special van with a ramp so she could wheel her powered chair into the van. And within 2 hours they had one on set and ended up using it in the show too. When Sammi is on set, they always make sure that they stop everything and clear a path for Sammi. So nobody carrying heavy equipment around, bumps into her. Netflix has been extremely accommodating, and we have always felt Sammi’s safety came first.

What was the scariest experience Sammi was involved in from her perspective?

The scariest part did not involve filming Raising Dion. She has a fear of long ramps. When she was younger, at water therapy, when Mom went to do something, Sammi snuck away and tried to go up a long ramp by herself to prove that she could do it on her own. But she ended up tipping over in her wheelchair. Thankfully she didn’t get hurt. Her trailer at base camp for Raising Dion has a ramp on it (which we think is safe), and for Season 1 she hesitantly did go up and down the ramp with help. For season 2 she was just too scared to even do it with help, so we would pick her up and carry her into the trailer.

Do you see Sammi as a role model?Sammi and two colleagues

We hope so. She is trying to break down walls and show Hollywood that people with disabilities have a lot to add to a show and should not be left out. When Sammi got the role of Esperanza, we were told by an ally, that people high up in the industry (I don’t know who) that knew about the role, said to this ally, “There is no such thing as a funny 8 year old girl who uses a wheelchair, you are going to have to get an 11 or 12 year old girl and have her fake using a wheelchair.” Sammi proved them wrong, and we hope she helps pave the way for many more actors with disabilities to prove others wrong. When people see people like them on the TV screen, they realize there is no reason they cannot do the same thing.

What are Sammi’s dreams/dream projects?

Sammi: I love the Star Wars universe, and especially the recent shows like “The Mandalorian” and “The Book of Boba Fett”. I would love to work on those shows or similar ones.

Do you have any messages for the readers of OIFE Magazine?

We need more people with disabilities representing us in the entertainment industry. For that to happen, we need to challenge the ableism still in the entertainment industry. But we also need more people with OI who dream about being in the entertainment industry, to pursue that dream and actually give it a try!

This article was first published in OIFE Magazine 1-2022. Would you like to meet and read about more artists with OI? Check our section about Artists with OI!