A new study by Ruderman White Paper took a comprehensive look at the employment of actors with disabilities in television. Their findings concluded that 95 percent of characters with disabilities in top 10 TV shows are played by able-bodied actors, an act that, according to the Ruderman Family Foundation, reveals the “unjust and troubling discrimination of actors with disabilities in Hollywood.”
Co-authored by “Seinfeld” actor Danny Woodburn and Kristina Kopić, advocacy content specialist at Ruderman, the study examined 31 shows across all platforms, from streaming, cable and network, and also determined that only four actors with disabilities were cast during the 2015-2016 season, amounting to less than 2 percent of all actors on screen. With people with disabilities representing nearly 20 percent of the US population, it concluded that they are the most underrepresented minority in Hollywood.
“The protest and ensuing media frenzy ignited by the ‘Oscars So White’ campaign has shaped an ideology around diversity in entertainment. This off-balanced idea of diversity has led to policy and even proposed legislation that has excluded people with disabilities,” said Woodburn in a statement from Variety. “The Ruderman White Paper On Employment Of Actors With Disabilities In Television is our attempt to bring perspective to inclusion, to reinforce access and an understanding of authenticity as an expression of what true diversity means and to finally let the least represented group in this medium be heard.”
ABC’s new comedy “Speechless,” starring Minnie Driver, features Micah Fowler, an actor who has cerebral palsy in real life and plays JJ, the family’s eldest child. While this is a step forward, the Ruderman Foundation hopes to have more studios hire more actors with disabilities.
“The entertainment industry has a significant impact on how our society views various minority groups. Part of this is rooted in the fact that our population spends more time watching television than socializing with friends. Because of the widespread stigma in Hollywood against hiring actors with disabilities, we very rarely see people with real disabilities on screen,” said Jay Ruderman, president of the Ruderman Family Foundation. “This blatant discrimination against people with disabilities not only is fundamentally unfair to the approximate 20 percent of our population with disabilities, it also reinforces stigmas against people with disabilities. By systematically casting able-bodied actors portraying characters with disabilities, Hollywood is hurting the inclusion of people with disabilities in our country.”