As Disability Pride Month (July) invited industry executives, producers, writers, and content creators in general to reflect on how - and more importantly, by whom - disabled persons are represented in media, I was grateful for Disability Alliance BC’s reminder that “not everyone experiences disability the same way, and the ableism entrenched in existing institutions and society in general can make the lives of people with disabilities very difficult.”
When it comes to portrayals of disabled persons in film and TV, these roles have overwhelmingly been given to abled actors, from Audrey Hepburn (Wait Until Dark), and Patty Duke (The Miracle Worker) to Daniel Day Lewis (My Left Foot) and Sean Penn (I Am Sam). While filmmakers have sought to create more opportunities for disabled actors, a recent GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Discrimination) report showed that “actors without disabilities still play more than 95 percent of all characters with disabilities on television.” And while things have begun to improve, the numbers “continue to severely underrepresent the actual U.S. population living with disabilities, as more than twenty percent of people in the U.S. have a disability.”
Said one DABC staff member recently, “there is more to me than my disabilities, but they’re a meaningful part of who I am. My disabilities, both physical and mental, have helped shaped how I navigate the world, and how I view difference in general. I think that’s important for people to understand. I want to live in a future in which people without disabilities will see people with disabilities as whole people, so that barriers to people with disabilities participating fully in society will be reduced and eventually removed altogether.”
As creators of film, television, and other media work to create broader representation across all platforms, WriterJump celebrates just some of the disabled actors who have already paved the way with truly brilliant performances:
1. Marlee Marlin (Sarah - Children of a Lesser God)
2. RJ Mitte (Walter White, Jr. - Breaking Bad)
3. Daryl Mitchell (Tommy Weber - Galaxy Quest)
4. Ali Stroker (Betty Pilsbury - Glee)
5. Michael J. Fox (Louis Canning - The Good Wife, The Good Fight)
6. Cherylee Houston (Izzy Armstrong - Coronation Street)
7. Lauren Potter (Becky Jackson - Glee)
8. Russell Harvard (Mr. Wrench - Fargo)
9. Sarah Gorder (Sally Harper - Call The Midwife)
10. Jamie Brewer (Adelaide Langdon - American Horror Story)
To learn more about creatives who are changing the game, click here to read Mark Harris' article in the New York Times, "The Actors With Disabilities Redefining Representation".
To learn more about Disability Alliance BC, click here.
To learn more about GLAAD, click here.
For more information about how to tell your story in media, develop the requisite professional writing skills, and get in front of major producers and platforms, click here
WriterJump's next StoryInMedia Master Lab starts September 9.