Study Reveals 20% of Characters with a Disability on TV are Portrayed Authentically

Study Reveals Only 20% of Characters with a Disability on TV are Portrayed Authentically by Actors a Similar Disability 

New study showcases progress from Foundation’s benchmark 2016 study where only 5% of characters on TV were cast authentically.

Boston, MA, February 5, 2019 A newly released study commissioned by the Ruderman Family Foundation has discovered that 22% of all characters with disabilities on network television and 20% of such characters on streaming services are portrayed authentically by an actor with the same disability. 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.

“Authentic Representation in Television 2018,” the Foundation’s new white paper, follows up and expands on the organization’s 2016 paper on employment of actors with disabilities in television. The 2016 study had revealed that despite people with disabilities representing nearly 20% of the U.S. population, an astonishing 95% of characters with disabilities on television were played by able-bodied actors.

Examining a larger sample size than its 2016 equivalent, the new study encompasses all television shows aired in 2018, including 284 shows across 37 networks and four streaming platforms, using the Deadline seasonal schedule guide and the Watchdog Scorecard. According to the white paper, 55% of network television shows and 42% of shows on streaming services had characters with disabilities. More than half of these characters had mental disabilities, a third had physical disabilities and the rest had cognitive disabilities. Seventy-one percent of all authentically represented characters portrayed physical disabilities, 16% depicted mental disabilities and 13% represented intellectual disabilities.

The leading networks for authentic casting were CBS with 14 authentic casts, NBC with eight authentic casts and Sundance Now with five. Netflix leads the streaming platforms with eight characters who were authentically represented, followed by Amazon Prime with three authentic characters.

“While we are encouraged with the entertainment industry’s progress on authentic casting of actors with disabilities from 2016 to 2018, we believe our 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,” said Jay Ruderman, President of the Ruderman Family Foundation. “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.”

The Foundation’s ongoing efforts have served as a catalyst for advancing the needs of the historically underrepresented community of people with disabilities in film, media, theater and other artistic platforms. Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Mark Ruffalo, Glenn Close and Eva Longoria are among the notable actors who have signed the Foundation’s recent open letter which calls on Hollywood executives to create more opportunities for people with disabilities.

Having been honored at the Media Access Awards last November with the SAG-AFTRA Disability Awareness Award, the Foundation was recently an official partner of the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, which featured the event’s first-ever public prioritization of the issue of disability inclusion.

The full white paper, “Authentic Representation in Television 2018,” can be accessed here: https://rudermanfoundation.org/white_papers/the-ruderman-white-paper-on-authentic-representation-in-tv/

About the Ruderman Family Foundation

The Ruderman Family Foundation is an internationally recognized organization that advocates for the full inclusion of people with disabilities in our society. The Foundation supports effective programs, innovative partnerships and a dynamic approach to philanthropy in advocating for and advancing the inclusion of people with disabilities throughout the U.S. and the world.

The Ruderman Family Foundation believes that inclusion and understanding of all people is essential to a fair and flourishing community and imposes these values within its leadership and funding.

For more information, please visit www.rudermanfoundation.org

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