People with disabilities are the largest minority in America, with almost one-in-five Americans having a disability. Yet the disability community often is forgotten in inclusion and diversity conversations. According to GLAAD, fewer than two percent of scripted television characters (15) have disabilities in 2016. Furthermore, more than 95 percent of characters with disabilities on television are played by actors without disabilities.
What does exist is misleading. Almost all portrayals of people with disabilities in media are white, despite the fact that disability impacts all. Anyone can join the disability community at any point and people with disabilities come from all communities – including the African American, Asian, Hispanic, Native American and LGBTQ communities. According to a recent report by The Media, Diversity, & Social Change (MDSC) Initiative at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, only 2.4 percent of all speaking or named characters in film were shown to have a disability in 2015 and none of the leading characters were from underrepresented racial or ethnic groups. “Depictions of disability are not only marginalized,” the report says, “they also obscure the true diversity of this community.”
- Hollywood, Media & Disability Webinar – As part of RespectAbility’s process of creating a Community of Practice to work on the closely connected issues of disability, diversity, inclusion, poverty and media, RespectAbility hosted this webinar. RespectAbility is working with several partners within the entertainment industry on the full inclusion of people with disabilities – in front and behind the camera.
- Alliance for Inclusion in the Arts – The Alliance for Inclusion in the Arts advocates for full diversity American theatre, film and television. They promote authentic dialogue about race, culture and disability that embraces the complexity of underlying social and historical issues.
- Amputees in Hollywood – The mission of Amputees in Hollywood is the realistic portrayal of the amputee in the media and amputees in amputee roles in movies and on television, as well as the authentic representation of prostheses and the professionals who design and fit them.
- 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.
- 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 through its Where We Are on TV
- Hands On – Hands On offers interpreted performances in the nonprofit theatrical arena, as well as information on deafness and the arts across the country.
- 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.
- Multicultural Motion Picture Association (MMPA) – The MMPA celebrates creative voices and portrayals bringing needed perspectives to film and television by making these stories available to a mass audience.
- National Arts & Disability Center – The National Arts and Disability Center promotes the full inclusion of audiences and artists with disabilities in all facets of the arts community.
For Performers with Disabilities:
- Actors for Autism – Actors for Autism is dedicated to the advancement, education and training of people on the autistic spectrum. They provide new and innovative programs in the arts, film and television, animation, visual effects and video game industries.
- 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.
- Down Syndrome in Arts & Media (DSiAM) – DSiAM is a casting liaison service for individuals with Down syndrome and other developmental disabilities like William’s syndrome, Cerebral Palsy and those on the autism spectrum.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 and expressive arts programs. This acclaimed arts program was documented in the HBO double Emmy Award-winning documentary, AUTISM: THE MUSICAL.
- 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 provides hands-on individualized training, career management and on-location support for performers with intellectual disabilities working in film, television and commercials.
For Behind the Scenes:
- 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.
Do you know other people or organizations that should be included as a resource?
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