Study Says 95 Percent of Disabled Characters Are Played by Able-Bodied Actors

A new study revealed what we probably all would have guessed about how disabilities are represented in media: Rarely, and usually not by people actually living with those disabilities.

The study was published in the Ruderman White Paper, and co-authored by actor Danny Woodburn, who is best known for his role on Seinfeld as Mickey Abbott. The study looked at the frequency of actors with disabilities on the top 10 TV shows of the 2015-2016 television season. Out of 31 shows, only four actors with disabilities were cast, or less than 2 percent of all actors on screen. They noted that about 20 percent of the population is a person with a disability.


Variety reports that Woodburn and his co-author Kristina Kopić were responding also to the furor around diversity in Hollywood as it relates to race, which they believe leaves other minorities behind:

“The protest and ensuing media frenzy ignited by the ‘Oscars So White’ campaign has shaped an ideology around diversity in entertainment. This off-balanced idea of diversity has led to policy and even proposed legislation that has excluded people with disabilities,” said Woodburn. “The Ruderman White Paper On Employment Of Actors With Disabilities In Television is our attempt to bring perspective to inclusion, to reinforce access and an understanding of authenticity as an expression of what true diversity means and to finally let the least represented group in this medium be heard.”

Any talk of diversity in representation is welcome, and disability advocates have been complaining about characters like Glee’s Artie Abrams for years. The character is welcome, the casting is not.

Screenshot via Fox.

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Aimée Lutkin

Contributing Writer, writing my first book for the Dial Press called The Lonely Hunter, follow me on Twitter @alutkin