TV Characters With Disabilities Scarce, Report Finds
As television’s new fall lineup makes its debut, a report on the medium’s representation of minorities finds that strikingly few characters have disabilities.
Just 1 percent of regular characters on scripted shows scheduled to air on broadcast networks this season have a disability. The findings are part of a new report from the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, which for the first time this year included disability in its annual look at diversity on television. In addition to disability, the report considered characters’ gender, sexual orientation, race and ethnicity.
In all, six out of 587 characters regularly appearing on ABC, CBS, The CW, Fox and NBC have disabilities. They include two characters on “House” — one who uses a cane and another with Huntington’s disease — a character on “Glee” who uses a wheelchair, a child with Asperger’s syndrome on “Parenthood” and a man living with HIV on “Brothers & Sisters.” What’s more, an actor on “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” who has a prosthetic leg represents the only regular cast member who has a disability both on a show and in real life.
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“This analysis shows there’s a lot of work to be done on the broadcast networks,” said Anita Hollander, chair of the Tri-Union I AM PWD campaign to promote inclusion of people with disabilities in entertainment, which helped conduct the report. “Actors with disabilities are rarely cast or considered for series regular roles, but authenticity is a clear advantage for accuracy in scripted programming, and creates a dimension that provides opportunities for further exploration in story lines.”
The picture is somewhat brighter for actors with disabilities in recurring roles and on cable. At least six recurring characters with disabilities are expected to appear on broadcast network shows, five of which are played by actors with disabilities. And there are at least four regular characters on cable shows who are played by individuals who have disabilities themselves.