Disability Community Deserves More Visibility

By Novicki, Nic; Whitley, Mark | Variety, February 27, 2018 | Go to article overview

Disability Community Deserves More Visibility


Novicki, Nic, Whitley, Mark, Variety


Diversity and inclusion are two important cultural topics gaining attention and focus by employers nationwide, including Hollywood. And yet, disability is almost always overlooked in this conversation. This award season, in looking across the many films and television shows honored, why are there so few that represent our country's most diverse population - the disability community?

One in five Americans has a disability, making it the largest minority population, some 57 million strong. However, our stories, meaningful and varied, often go untold. People with disabilities are the most underrepresented population across entertainment and media, with too few opportunities afforded in front of or behind the camera. Variety's recent article on a USC study noted of the top 900 films between 2007 and 2016, just 2.7% of characters were portrayed as having a disability. What's more, in most cases these characters are played by an actor without a disability, further limiting industry opportunities for the talented actors with a disability.

People with disabilities "have virtually no influence in cinema and the enduring myths that are being created about them are by able-bodied filmmakers," notes a recent op-ed article for the Guardian. "The industry is not giving a voice to a huge section of our society and that needs to change," the piece concludes, making the point that diversity is good for business; it sells tickets. Just look at how female-directed and -starring films like "Wonder Woman" or largely diverse casts like "Get Out" are outperforming at the box office. Likewise, it's time for genuine disability-forward projects to grace the big and small screens.

Many global brands agree. Fortune 500 companies, like Toyota, Gerber, Target and Guinness, have dedicated national advertising to reflect disability in constructive and relatable ways, while using this same airtime to promote their products. Comcast NBCUniversal and Google make significant R&D investments in "disability-friendly" products and marketing them, as such. From product innovations such as Nike FlyEase, to athlete sponsorships, and global marketing campaigns, Nike has a long history of serving athletes with disabilities.

National media is beginning to provide more prominent space for disability viewpoints. For example, the New York Times established the first ongoing disability opinion series to give people with disabilities a national platform.

As a result of such awareness efforts, public perception of disability is undergoing a positive transformation. These are great strides forward, but we still have a long way to go. …

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