Thursday, July 14, 2016

New Study Points Out Just How Poorly Pop Culture Portrays Characters With Disabilities

Posted By on Thu, Jul 14, 2016 at 2:44 PM

click to enlarge Look at that cute face. This kid should be able to get cast on a successful TV show, no problem. - BIGSTOCK
  • BigStock
  • Look at that cute face. This kid should be able to get cast on a successful TV show, no problem.

Remember last year when Emma Stone was cast as a Hawaiian character and movie lovers everywhere had to come to terms with Hollywood's history of whitewashing?

Well, get ready for round two because the Ruderman Family Foundation just released a study, The Ruderman White Paper: Employment of Actors with Disabilities in Television, about the poor representation people with disabilities receive in American media.  

Despite the fact that nearly 20 percent of Americans live with disabilities, characters with disabilities are rarely included in popular television—and when they are included in the scripts, they're nearly always portrayed by actors without disabilities.

According to their data (which looked at the top 10 TV shows at the end of the 2015-2016 season and the top 21 shows that are original content on streaming platforms) currently only 5 percent of characters with disabilities are portrayed by actors with disabilities.  

While the study itself says it's unrealistic to expect every character to be portrayed by an actor that share their background, we can do better than we're doing right now:
We believe that it is absolutely unacceptable to have 95% of characters with disabilities played by actors without disabilities. It is a matter of social justice to have a large segment of our population authentically represented in the mass entertainment that is television and scripted, dramatized stories. It is necessary to create an environment where actors with disabilities have access to play characters with disabilities. It is also necessary to reduce stigma surrounding “invisible” disabilities such as addiction and mental illness. Only by having actors who are open about those disabilities will we slowly create a society that doesn’t shun or shame a vast segment of its population. We have to tell stories about people with a variety of disabilities and we have to be fair in representing them accurately. Only then will we have more realistic stories that reflect our society.

We will not choose a number and say that this is how many characters with disabilities need to be played by actors with disabilities. But we are saying that it’s about time we start ensuring that it’s more than 5%.

As the report points out, representing underserved communities in pop culture matters
It is argued that when it comes to people with disabilities, television representation is imperative for stigma reduction. Due to factors such as frequent inaccessibility of public places, abysmally low employment of people with disabilities, and segregation in education, mainstream culture often doesn’t have the chance to organically encounter and interact with people with disabilities. So almost by default, most attitudes toward people with disabilities arise from the stories we encounter around us—stories which are woefully underrepresented in the most widely consumed medium: television. 
Read the full report here

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