Entertainment professionals across all platforms are working to become more inclusive of minorities. This is our opportunity to ensure inclusion and equality for all people – including America’s largest minority – the one-in-five Americans with a disability. Opening the inclusion umbrella is the right thing to do as well as economically smart given that the disability market is valued at more than $1 trillion. Yet the disability community often is forgotten in inclusion and diversity conversations. The lack of representation – just 3.1 percent on screen of scripted television characters (27) and even less in children’s television (less than one percent) – means that millions of people are unable to see themselves in media today. Furthermore, actors without disabilities play more than 95 percent of all characters with disabilities on television.
The representation that does exist is misleading. Almost all portrayals of people with disabilities in media are white, but disability impacts all. Anyone can join the disability community at any point and people with disabilities come from all communities – including African American, Asian, Hispanic, Native American, LGBTQ and other communities. According to a recent report by The Media, Diversity, & Social Change (MDSC) Initiative at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, only 2.7 percent of all speaking or named characters in film were shown to have a disability in 2016 (up from 2.4 percent in 2015). None of the leading characters were from an underrepresented racial/ethnic group or the LGBTQ community. “The results of this analysis on characters with disabilities reveal clear discrepancies between the real world and the ‘reel world,’” the report says. “Stories that reflect the full lives of characters with disabilities and the demographic diversity of this community remain elusive in film.”
Audio Description Services
Audio Description, also known as Descriptive Audio or Video Description, narrates the relevant visual information contained in a video and is an accommodation for blind and low-vision viewers. These descriptions fit into natural pauses in the video’s audio track to provide context, to clarify speakers, and to articulate visual elements that are critical to gain a comprehensive understanding of the video.
- Deluxe Media Services’ in-house audio description department has described more than 130 feature films. Certified by the American Council for the blind, they have a database of more than 200 professional voice talents. They can provide audio description in foreign languages.
- 818-565-3600 (Los Angeles location)
- 212-824-5388 (New York City location)
- Descriptive Video Works specializes in descriptive video for broadcast programming and feature films. They have completed audio description for more than 20,000 television shows and feature films. Their audio description for U.S. networks and film studios give 22 million American viewers access to a wide variety of broadcast programming.
- WGBH’s Media Access Group has pioneered and delivered captioned and described media for more than30 years to people in their homes, classrooms at work and in the community. WGBH serves 35 million people who are deaf, hard of hearing, blind or have low vision. For feature films, DVS® Theatrical® allows moviegoers who are blind to hear descriptions of the film’s key visual elements without distracting other patrons.
- Woman of Her Word provides the specialized voiceover style required for audio description. Michele Spitz has produced and narrated AD for 50 films, as well as voiced AD for museum tours, educational videos and audio newsletters that provide access to information for the low vision and blind communities. Michele is a disability advocate, public speaker and philanthropist supporting arts and accessibility.
Closed Captioning Services
Closed captioning and subtitling are both processes of displaying the audio portion of a television program or video as text on the screen or other visual display, providing a critical link to news, entertainment and information for individuals who are deaf or hard-of-hearing.
- 3Play Media provides closed captioning, transcription and audio description services to make video accessibility easy. They are based in Boston, MA and have been operating since 2007.
- The National Captioning Institute is a nonprofit corporation created in 1979 whose primary purposes are to deliver effective captioning services and encourage, develop and fund the continuing development of captioning, subtitling and other media access services for the benefit of people who require additional access to auditory and visual information.In 1979, NCI developed the decoder box, and a decade later, NCI partnered with ITT Corporation to invent the first caption-decoding microchip for television sets.
- WGBH’s Media Access Group provides captioning for television shows, feature films and online videos. Its MoPix® service is a patented Rear Window® Captioning System that enables theater patrons who are deaf and hard of hearing to watch closed-captioned movies along with the general audience during any regular showing of a captioned film.
Sign Language Interpreters
The world of entertainment is a small one. Projects are produced for audiences worldwide and communication is essential for success. Interpreting in the theatre, television or film industry requires knowledge of Sign Language and knowledge of the industry. When hiring an interpreter through a service, be sure to let them know it is for an entertainment industry event.
- The Sign Language Company provides behind-the-camera interpreters to facilitate communication among the actor, director and other cast members on the set, in pre- and post-production meetings, cast reads and rehearsals, both in the studio and on location. The Sign Language Company provides services in Los Angeles, California and around the entire country.
Los Angeles Area
- LIFESIGNS, Inc. was established in 1986 to provide emergency sign language interpreting services for health care, mental health and law enforcement agencies. LIFESIGNS, Inc. responds to 40 to 50 emergencies a month and approximately 10,000+ requests annually. LIFESIGNS, Inc. provides a full spectrum of interpreter services in ten counties in the greater Los Angeles area, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
- RISE Interpreting is a family-owned small business based in Riverside, California. RISE launched in the summer 2007 by the brother and sister team of Phil Carmona and Adonis Parker. Each is nationally certified and combined have more than 20 years of professional interpreting experience. Their mission is to make effective communication fully accessible between Deaf and Hearing individuals through quality interpreting and community education.
- (951) 565-4422
New York City Region
- Deaf and Hard of Hearing Interpreting Services (DHIS), Inc. serves the New York City and the tri-state area. Established in 1996, DHIS provides ASL, spoken English, signed English, CART, foreign sign language and other services.
- SignNexus provides interpreters for communication access for people who are deaf on the sets of TV shows, talk shows, game shows, reality TV and more. SignNexus is based in New York, NY.
Disability Advocacy Resources
- CinemAbility: This documentary takes a detailed look at the evolution of disability in entertainment through interviews with filmmakers, studio executives, film historians and celebrities on the powerful impact that entertainment and the media has on society.
- City of Los Angeles Department on Disability: The Department on Disability, on behalf of the City of Los Angeles, is committed to ensuring full access to employment, programs, facilities and services; through strategic management and partnership education, advocacy, training, research and improved service delivery; for the benefit of persons with disabilities, providers of essential resources and policymakers.
- Easterseals Disability Film Challenge: The Easterseals Disability Film Challenge gives filmmakers—with and without disabilities—the opportunity to collaborate to tell unique stories that showcase disability in its many forms. The film challenge is a weekend-long filmmaking contest, open to all, that provides a platform for new voices in the entertainment industry. Each year, aspiring storytellers are prompted to creatively write, produce and complete a short film. Challenge winners receive invaluable access to entertainment professionals, opening the door to an industry notoriously difficult to enter.
- GLAAD: As a dynamic media force, GLAAD tackles tough issues to shape the narrative and provoke dialogue that leads to cultural change. GLAAD is the only organization to track the number of characters with disabilities on scripted television: https://www.glaad.org/whereweareontv20.
- Hands On: Hands On offers interpreted performances in the nonprofit theatrical arena, as well as information on deafness and the arts across the country.
- Hollywood, Health & Society (HH&S) provides entertainment industry professionals with accurate and timely information for health, safety and national security story lines. A program of the USC Annenberg Norman Lear Center, HH&S recognizes the profound impact that entertainment media have on individual knowledge and behavior.
- Media Access Awards: The Media Access Awards honors members of the entertainment and broadcast industries for their efforts in promoting awareness of the disability experience, accessibility for people with disabilities and the accurate depiction of characters with disabilities.
- National Arts & Disability Center: The National Arts & Disability Center promotes the full inclusion of audiences and artists with disabilities in all facets of the arts community.
- ReelAbilities Film Festival: Initiated in New York in 2007, the ReelAbilities Film Festival is the largest festival in the U.S. dedicated to promoting awareness and appreciation of the lives, stories and artistic expressions of people with different disabilities. The festival presents award winning films by and about people with disabilities in multiple locations throughout each hosting city. Post-screening discussions and other engaging programs bring together the community to explore, discuss, embrace and celebrate the diversity of our shared human experience.
- RespectAbility: RespectAbility is working to change the narrative in Hollywood to ensure accurate and positive cultural media portrayals of people with disabilities. RespectAbility partners with leaders in the entertainment industry on the full inclusion of people with disabilities – both in front of and behind the camera – and is inviting additional partners to help move the needle on three core issues: 1) inclusion and diversity in Hollywood; 2) more positive and accurate portrayals of people with disabilities; and 3) the employment of people with disabilities.
- Ruderman Family Foundation: The Ruderman Family Foundation believes that inclusion and understanding of all people is essential to a fair and flourishing community. Guided by their Jewish values, they advocate for and advance the inclusion of people with disabilities throughout our society.
Hiring Performers with Disabilities
- The Art of Autism: The Art of Autism is an international collaboration of talented individuals who have come together to display the creative abilities of people on the autism spectrum and others who are neurodivergent. They provide a forum to connect with those who wish to employ these abilities.
- Born to Act Players: The Born to Act Players is a unique theater company comprised of professional performers with and without disabilities. Many members of the company are working actors.
- The Divas With Disabilities Project: This campaign is bringing together women of color with disabilities throughout the world to reject and discredit stereotyped imagery historically portrayed by mass media. Its mission is to help shape the perception of what “disability” looks like by promoting women of color through various media platforms.
- Deaf West Theatre: Deaf West Theatre Company serves as a model for deaf theater worldwide. Founded to directly improve and enrich the cultural lives of the 1.2 million deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals who live in the Los Angeles area, it is the first professional resident Sign Language Theatre in the western half of the United States.
- Coach E Productions: Elaine Hall was a top Hollywood acting coach when her life changed dramatically after her son was diagnosed with autism. After merging her interests of acting and autism to create The Miracle Project, Hall’s Coach E Productions provides on-set acting coaching, consulting and production advising.
- Kazarian/Measures/Ruskin & Associates (KMR): KMR is one of the country’s leading bi-coastal talent agencies. The diversity department specializes in character actors and models with diverse disabilities for film, television, commercials, theatre, print and live appearances. KMR is a resource for finding just the right actor for that “hard to find” character when it comes to a disability.
- Meet The Biz: Meet The Biz is dedicated to developing educational opportunities for actors, artists, singers, dancers, and filmmakers – with and without disabilities – through workshops that connect them with working entertainment industry professionals. The program fosters learning, engagement and networking, and provides the tools for developing skills needed to work in the entertainment industry. The intention is to bridge the gap between ability and disability by embracing diversity, breaking down social barriers and opening doors of opportunity.
- The Miracle Project: The Miracle Project provides individuals with autism and other disabilities tools to build communication, social skills, community and greater self-esteem through inclusive theater, film and expressive arts programs. This acclaimed arts program was documented in the HBO double Emmy Award-winning documentary, AUTISM: THE MUSICAL. The Miracle Project has an advanced professional training program for those interested in pursing a career in the entertainment field.
- National Theatre of the Deaf (NTD): In 1967 when NTD began, Sign Language was seen as a stigma. By placing Sign Language on stage, the NTD showed the world that Sign Language was a beautiful, powerful, visual language.
- Performing Arts Studio West (PASW): Founded in 1998, PASW represents culturally and disability diverse actors who have been featured in more than 2000 roles in film, television, theater, music videos, commercials, industrials and print ads. PASW also provides hands-on individualized training, career management and on-location support.
- Trained Actors with Real Disabilities for Film & TV: This Facebook page is building a database of trained and highly skilled actors who have real physical challenges, to promote for all-inclusive diversity in Entertainment.
Hiring People with Disabilities Behind The Scenes
- AFA HUB: AFA Hub is a media and technology organization that provides vocational training in animation, video game design, film, visual effects, coding and 360 VR. It provides media & technology training to reduces the current unemployment rate of people with disabilities. AFA also has programs to assist students in finding employment after they finish their training.
- Exceptional Minds (EM): EM is a nonprofit vocational school and working studio preparing young adults on the autism spectrum for careers in digital animation and visual effects.
- From the Heart Productions: From the Heart Productions is dedicated to helping independent filmmakers with unique films that contribute to society get their films funded.
- Inclusion Films: Inclusion Films, started in 2007 by veteran filmmaker Joey Travolta, teaches filmmaking to children and adults with developmental disabilities. In addition to workshops in California, they travel the country doing short film camps for children and teens with autism.
Disability Media Sources
- For more than 25 years, ABILITY Magazine has been the leading publication for health, disability and human potential. Itshatters myths and stereotypes surrounding disabilities and brings attention to the issues, showing disability is part of the fabric in our lives. It covers the latest on topics people read every day, like health and sports. Writers and contributors include MDs, PhDs, JDs, best-selling authors, U.S. senators and advocates. ABILITY Magazineis the first to embed VOICEYE (a high-density matrix barcode system) on its editorial pages to hear print through smartphones and tablets, giving greater access to people with low vision, blindness or reading challenges in 58 languages.
- Disability Scoop is the nation’s largest news organization devoted to covering developmental disabilities. Readers include teachers, special educators, school administrators, therapists and other disability professionals in addition to parents and caregivers. What’s more, lawmakers and the nation’s most influential disability advocates rely on Disability Scoop to stay in the know.
- The Mighty is a digital health community created to empower and connect people facing health challenges and disabilities. Contributors and partners include almost 300 nonprofits and thousands of writers with all kinds of disabilities. They contribute prose, stories, videos and other media on topics important to them, highlighting how disability fits into daily life.
- A colorful, award-winning lifestyle magazine, New Mobility, encourages the integration of active wheelchair users into mainstream society with articles on advocacy, travel, employment, relationships, recreation, media, and more. Ninety percent of its writers live with disabilities, creating a vibrant culture of disability journalism and advocacy within each monthly edition. New Mobility is the official publication of the United Spinal Association. It advances the organization’s mission to improve quality of life for people with spinal cord injuries.
- NOS Magazine is a source of thought and analysis about neurodiversity culture; a culture in which neurological differences in the brain (like Autism) are celebrated as natural. It includes long form journalism, reviews of pop culture and more. NOS stands for ‘Not Otherwise Specified,’ a tongue-in-cheek reference to when a condition does not strictly fit the diagnostic criteria. People who identify as a part of the neurodiversity community will be given publication preference in order to ensure that this publication is a voice of the community.
- The RespectAbility Report is a political commentary on U.S. elections with a focus on disability issues. Published by the nonpartisan, nonprofit organization RespectAbility, the report does not endorse candidates or legislation. Chief political writers for The RespectAbility Report include Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, former political and training director for Campaigns & Elections magazine and regular columnist for The Daily Record, and Lauren Appelbaum, former political researcher for NBC News. A majority of its writers are people with a variety of visible and invisible disabilities.
Training Programs for Minorities
- The Second City – Bob Curry Fellowship seeks diverse candidates from ethnic backgrounds who are interested in the world of acting for their 10-week professional development program.
- The Sundance Indigenous Program: The Sundance Institute’s commitment to supporting Indigenous artists is woven throughout their history. Indigenous filmmakers have long been involved in the Institute, going back to Larry Littlebird (Laguna/Santo Domingo Pueblo) and Chris Spotted Eagle (Houmas Nation), who participated in the first meetings founding the Sundance Institute. Following president and founder Robert Redford’s original vision, the Institute has remained committed to supporting the voices of Indigenous artists.
- The T. Howard Foundation offers internships that are geared toward minority students interested in the multimedia and entertainment industry. They have a comprehensive approach for dealing with diversity. The paid internships provide networking opportunities, scholarships, and professional development training.
- WGAW Women in Film connects selected members with professionals who offer advice and guidance. This is an opportunity for women to learn about business practices, focus their efforts and hone their skills that are vital to the entertainment industry so that they are able to take advantage of the experiences that are offered.
Companies including Comcast NBCUniversal, IBM, JP Morgan Chase, Microsoft, UPS, Pepsi, Starbucks, Walgreens and others have shown that employees with disabilities are loyal, successful and help them make more money. That’s because people with disabilities bring unique characteristics, talents, innovations and loyalty to the workplace that benefit employers and organizations. If we find the right jobs for the right people, it can and does increase the bottom line of companies. People with disabilities can work in any field; television shows and films should reflect this.
Business-Focused Disability Organizations
- The National Organization on Disability promotes the full participation of America’s 56 million people with disabilities in all aspects of life. Their subject matter experts in disability and employment provide consulting services to public agencies and employers seeking to harness the unique talents that people with disabilities can bring to the workforce.
- Talent Acquisition Portal led by the Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation and The National Employment Team (NET) in partnership with disABLEDperson, Inc. TAP is an online system that includes both a national talent pool of Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) candidates looking for employment and a job posting system for businesses looking to hire individuals with disability. TAP was developed in response to the need and demand of businesses who needed access to a centralized talent pool of individuals with disabilities, but who also needed the ability to connect to support at the local, state, and national level.
- Disability:IN is the leading nonprofit resource for business disability inclusion worldwide. Their network of over 270 corporations expands opportunities for people with disabilities across enterprises. Their central office and 25 Affiliates serve as the collective voice to effect change for people with disabilities in business.
Resources for Employers
- RespectAbility: A nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, RespectAbility understands we are a stronger community when we live up to our values – when we are welcoming, diverse, moral and respect one another. With a mission of fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities for people with disabilities, RespectAbility is a resource for employers looking to hire and retain employees with disabilities. RespectAbility offers best practices, free webinars and factual resources so people with disabilities can achieve the education, training, jobs, security and good health that everyone needs and deserves.
- The Job Accommodation Network (JAN): Working toward practical solutions that benefit both employer and employee, JAN helps people with disabilities enhance their employability, and shows employers how to capitalize on the value and talent that people with disabilities add to the workplace. JAN is the leading source of free, expert and confidential guidance on workplace accommodations and disability employment issues
- ADA National Network: The network provides information, guidance and training on how to implement the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in order to support the mission of the ADA to “assure equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency for individuals with disabilities.” Funded by the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR), the network consists of 10 Regional ADA Centers located throughout the United States and an ADA Knowledge Translation Center (ADAKTC). Each Regional ADA Center focuses on its region’s unique needs.
- Disability Employment Tracker: The Disability Employment Tracker™ is a free, confidential company assessment that measures disability and employment policies and practices and includes a confidential section on veteran employment practice.
- Disability Equality Index (DEI): The DEI is a national, transparent, annual benchmarking tool that offers businesses an opportunity to receive an objective score, on a scale of zero (0) to 100, on their disability inclusion policies and practices.
- Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion: EARN is a free resource that helps employers tap the benefits of disability diversity. They educate public- and private-sector organizations on ways to build inclusive workplace cultures and empower them to become leaders in the employment and advancement of people with disabilities.
- Getting Hired: An Allegis Group Company, GettingHired is a recruitment solution dedicated to helping inclusive employers hire professional individuals and veterans with disabilities.
- With the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, Congress created the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to assure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education and assistance.
- The Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) is the only non-regulatory federal agency that promotes policies and coordinates with employers and all levels of government to increase workplace success for people with disabilities. ODEP promotes the adoption and implementation of policy strategies that will impact the employment of people with disabilities.
- Understood: Since 2014, Understood has served millions of families of kids who learn and think differently. In 2012, their Workplace program was created and has helped thousands of people with all types of disabilities find meaningful employment at inclusive companies.
Consortium for Citizens With Disabilities
The Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD), headquartered in Washington D.C., is the largest coalition of national organizations working together to advocate for federal public policy that ensures the self-determination, independence, empowerment, integration and inclusion of children and adults with disabilities in all aspects of society. Since 1973, CCD has advocated on behalf of people of all ages with physical and mental disabilities and their families. CCD has worked to achieve federal legislation and regulations that assure that the 54 million children and adults with disabilities are fully integrated into the mainstream of society. There are more than 100 CCD member organizations.
Do you know other people or organizations that should be included as a resource?
Contact our Communications Associate, Eric Ascher, at [email protected].
More Resources You Can Use
- Disability Training and Speakers Bureau
- African Americans
- Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders
- Communications, Marketing, and Advertising
- Ending the School-to-Prison Pipeline
- Faith Inclusion
- Fighting Racism and Unconscious Bias
- Hispanic and Latinx
- Inclusive Philanthropy
- Job Seekers
- Policy Makers
- Sex Education
- Spinal Cord Injuries