Twice as many characters with disabilities will appear on broadcast television this year as compared to last, a new report finds, though they still account for just 1 percent of those depicted.
Out of 796 characters appearing regularly on 109 scripted, prime-time shows this year on ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and The CW, eight have disabilities, up from four last year.
The findings come from an annual analysis of diversity in television programing conducted by GLAAD, a media advocacy organization for the gay and lesbian community. The report looks at the number of characters representing various minority groups — including those with disabilities — on shows scheduled for the 2013-2014 television season, which just began.
Despite the increase, advocates lamented the fact that actors with disabilities are still rarely cast to play the parts that do exist, particularly on broadcast television.
“When it comes to broadcast television, characters with disabilities are mostly represented by the non-disability community, while casting for disability roles on cable television is certainly more progressive: at least half of all scripted characters on cable with disabilities are portrayed by performers with disabilities,” said Anita Hollander, chair of the actors’ union SAG-AFTRA’s National Performers with Disabilities Committee, in the report which her group helped GLAAD prepare.
Characters with disabilities who are expected to appear this season include Max Braverman who has Asperger’s syndrome and his mother who’s recovering from breast cancer on NBC’s “Parenthood,” characters on Fox’s “Glee” and NBC’s “Ironside” who use wheelchairs, a character with Parkinson’s disease on NBC’s “The Michael J. Fox Show,” a father who is blind on NBC’s “Growing Up Fisher” and characters using prosthetic legs on ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy” and CBS’s “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.”
As the percentage of characters with disabilities increased, the GLAAD report found that ethnic diversity on television has remained steady while there have been declines this year in representations of gender and sexual orientation on broadcast television.
“Overall, representation on prime-time broadcast television continues to not accurately reflect the diverse American population,” the report indicates.