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Hulu's Disability Representation section with artwork for five shows

Hulu’s New Disability Representation Collection Puts the Spotlight on Actors with Disabilities

Los Angeles, Dec. 3 – In celebration of International Day of People with Disabilities, Hulu has launched a new content collection celebrating disability representation with 34 television series and films including new Hulu Originals thriller Run, film I am Greta and TV series Ramy, as well as shows like Freeform’s Everything’s Gonna Be Okay and NBC’s Speechless.

The featured content is representative of both visible disabilities including those who use wheelchairs and are Deaf as well as nonvisible disabilities including mental health conditions.

A promo for the new collection showcases various actors with disabilities including Steve Way (Ramy), Kayla Crommer (Everything’s Gonna Be Okay), Kiera Allen (Run), Amy Purdy (Defining Moments) and Gavin McHugh (9-1-1). The audio track, which was recorded by a disabled woman, shares an important message: “When we say we want an inclusive world, we mean an accessible one for everyone by everyone.” In addition, there is an audio-described version of this promo available for people who are unable to view the images on the screen. Hulu also marked this day by highlighting some of the content on Twitter.

While 18.6 percent of people in the U.S. have a disability, just 3.1 percent of characters on screen and less than one percent in children’s television are disabled. This collection is promoting the content that is disability inclusive.

“To help play a small role in providing people with disabilities a voice and to shine a spotlight on the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act this year, we thought it was important to create a content collection dedicated to disability representation,” said Josie Brown, Director of Brand Marketing.

When deciding on which content to include, the team prioritized the inclusion of content featuring authentically cast portrayals of people with disabilities. “We’re proud to share that about 2/3 of the collection meets this criteria,” added Brown.

Brown recognized the importance of ensuring that disabled individuals were involved in the creation of this collection.

“Our Employee Resource Group, a11y, played a significant role in this campaign – from the initial ideation and brief writing stage to the final creative review of marketing assets,” she said. “They offered important insights, helped us build the ‘Disability Representation’ collection, provided guidance on our language and messaging, and served as a resource to review the accessibility of our marketing assets.”

“To ensure authenticity, it’s crucial that we work hand in hand with members of the diverse community that we are celebrating,” she added.

The title of this collection – “disability representation” – is important. Too often, people outside of the community like to use euphemisms like “differently abled” or adjectives like “inspiring.” Because disabled employees were involved throughout the process, the team was able to avoid pitfalls like those. 

“Though we never claim to speak on behalf of an entire community, through conversations with Hulu’s employee resource group (a11y), we know that many people in the community identify as ‘disabled’ or having a ‘disability,’” Brown said. “In order to authentically participate in the International Day of People with Disabilities celebration, it was important to us to use the language people with disabilities use to describe themselves.”

Ensuring Accessibility

On-screen representation is important but only part of the equation of being inclusive. As such, Hulu prioritized many facets of accessibility for people with varying disabilities including:

  • All related social posts will have alt-text and closed captioning. Hulu’s employee resource group, a11y, has reviewed the captions to ensure a screen reader will be able to read the captions.
  • Hulu made sure the purple and white graphics are AAA certified for color accessibility.
  • Hulu considered both People First (person with a disability) and Identity First (disabled person) language in the post copy.
  • The content promos feature closed captioning to ensure accuracy of the narration. There is an audio-described version of this promo available for people who are unable to view the images on the screen.
  • The Hulu team conducted extensive research to ensure that the collection is featuring real people with disabilities.
  • The voiceover actress featured in the International Day of People with Disability promo is a person with a disability.

“In the spirit of our belief that we should have an ‘inclusive and accessible world for everyone,’ it has been a top priority at Hulu to ensure all marketing assets are accessible to people with all forms of disabilities,” Brown said.

However, while all of the marketing assets for this collection are fully accessible, not all of the content in the collection is. For example, just 11 of the TV series/films have audio description available. That means that 23 of the properties in the collection do not yet have audio description tracks available through Hulu. Audio description is a separate audio track that blind individuals and those with low vision need in order to access the exclusively visual content of a show or movie.

When Hulu launched, its content did not include audio description tracks. In March 2019, Hulu added tracks to some of its content and they continue to add audio description to content every month. As of Nov. 29, 2020, Hulu has a total of 104 titles available with audio description tracks.

“At Hulu, we are focused on providing audio description and captioning for our Hulu Original titles and are working closely with our internal teams to make all of our content as accessible as possible (within the rights of our licensed partner deals),” Brown said.

It is important to recognize the steps Hulu is taking to learn from their past mistakes, as they are being intentional in this work to include people with disabilities. Learn more about Hulu’s accessibility features on their website.

Disability inclusion is a win-win for studios – driving equity and profitability. As 1-in-5 people have a disability and audiences crave authentic content, disability inclusion can be a part of financial success and profitability. In fact, the disability market is valued at more than $1 trillion, according to research by Nielsen. By both highlighting disability-inclusive content and ensuring their accessibility, Hulu is taking an important step in including more viewers.

Meet the Author

Lauren Appelbaum

Lauren Appelbaum is the VP, Communications and Entertainment & News Media, of RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities so all people with disabilities can fully participate in every aspect of community. As an individual with an acquired nonvisible disability – Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy – she works at the intersection of disability, employment, Hollywood and politics. She regularly conducts trainings on the why and how to be more inclusive and accessible for entertainment executives throughout the industry. Appelbaum partners with studios, production companies and writers’ rooms to create equitable and accessible opportunities to increase the number of people with lived disability experience throughout the overall story-telling process. These initiatives increase diverse and authentic representation of disabled people on screen, leading to systemic change in how society views and values people with disabilities. She has consulted on more than 100 TV episodes and films with A&E, Bunim-Murray Productions, NBCUniversal, Netflix, ViacomCBS, and The Walt Disney Company, among others. She represents RespectAbility on the CAA Full Story Initiative Advisory Council, Disney+ Content Advisory Council, MTV Entertainment Group Culture Code and Sundance Institute’s Allied Organization Initiative. She is the author of The Hollywood Disability Inclusion Toolkit and the creator of an innovative Lab Program for entertainment professionals with disabilities working in development, production and post-production. She is a recipient of the 2020 Roddenberry Foundation Impact Award for this Lab. To reach her, email [email protected]

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