TV Characters with Disabilities on the Rise… But Not TV Actors

Every year, GLAAD, a media advocacy organization for the GLBT community, conducts an analysis on diversity on television. For the past 4 years, GLAAD has included a count of primetime broadcast scripted series that include characters with disabilities. And while the characters with disabilities have increased, the actors playing them have, well, not.

GLAAD reviewed primetime broadcast shows, including those slated for the 2013-2014 schedule, and counted those characters with a disability as defined by the ADA, which also includes invisible disabilities and chronic diseases such as cancer or HIV. They found that 8 characters will have a disability this season, compared to only 4 last year. While that is still a wildly low number compared to the proportion of people living with disabilities in the actual population, at least it’s an improvement. Here’s the breakdown:

Now for the less than great news: of those characters, only two (CSI’s Dr. Robbins played by Robert David Hall and The Michael J. Fox Show’s title actor), are played by an actor with a disability. While it certainly isn’t necessary for someone playing a person with a disability to actually have that disability, there are tons of phenomenal actors who do – so why not cast them? That question was loudly raised with wheelchair users Artie from Glee and Robert from Ironside, as both characters are played by able-bodied actors.

The answer is a big who knows? But the good news is that cable TV is offering actors with disabilities more opportunities.

“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 SAG-AFTRA National Performers with Disabilities Committee.

We want to hear from you. Are you happy to see more characters with disabilities on broadcast TV? Or disturbed by the trend of casting able-bodied actors to play these characters versus actors with disabilities? Or a little bit of both?

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