Study: Only 22 Percent Of Disabled Characters On Television Are Authentically Cast
Photo Credit: STAR: L-R: Guest star Naomi Campbell and Ryan Destiny in the "Let the Good Times Roll" episode of STAR airing Wednesday, May 2 (9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. (Photo by FOX Image Collection via Getty Images)
News , Television

Study: Only 22 Percent Of Disabled Characters On Television Are Authentically Cast

Despite the obvious issues the entertainment industry has with accurately portraying characters with disabilities, a new study finds that some progress has been made in recent years.

According to a white paper commissioned by the Ruderman Family Foundation entitled “Authentic Representation in Television 2018,” 22 percent of disabled characters on network television and 20 percent of disabled characters on streaming services have been portrayed “authentically by an actor with the same disability.” Among the actors mentioned as accurately portraying disabled characters are Naomi Campbell on FOX’s Star, Daryl Mitchell on AMC’s Fear the Walking Dead and E.R. Ruiz on CBS’ SWAT. 

“The findings indicate the entertainment industry’s progress on authentic casting in recent years, yet underscore that disability remains glaringly absent from Hollywood’s discourse on diversity,” the foundation summarizes.

The study is a follow-up from the foundation’s 2016 study which found that a large 95 percent of disabled characters on television were portrayed by able-bodied actors. The new study encompasses all of network and streaming television and concludes that 55 percent of network shows have disabled characters, along with 42 percent of streaming shows. “More than half of these characters had mental disabilities, a third had physical disabilities, and the rest had cognitive disabilities,” the foundation states, adding that 71 percent of characters portrayed authentically were characters with physical disabilities. Only 16 percent of characters with mental disabilities were portrayed authentically, and only 13 percent of characters with intellectual disabilities were portrayed authentically.

CBS led network television with 14 authentic casting decisions, with NBC coming in second with eight and Sundance Now with five. Netflix was also found to lead the streaming services with eight authentically cast characters, with Amazon Prime authentically casting three.

Even though Jay Ruderman, Ruderman Family Foundation president, said the foundation is “encouraged with the entertainment industry’s progress on authentic casting” between 2016 and 2018, the study “provides Hollywood with unprecedented empirical evidence that now is the time to offer more unique narratives and diverse characters in order to foster a more inclusive landscape.”

“At a time when entertainment is advocating for inclusion, it is crucial that we continue to advance the rights of people with disabilities and create more opportunities for them in television and film,” he said.

The full study can be read at the Ruderman Family Foundation’s website.


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