“This conversation is so necessary because there are 56 million Americans with a disability. That is 20% of the population. But if you judged our existence by what you see on TV, you would think we made up less than 1%,” said actress Marlee Matlin. “Movies aren’t much better — there is something wrong with the entire picture.”
Matlin’s comments came today at the first-ever (and long overdue) Disability Inclusion Roundtable held in Beverly Hills, where Matlin, RJ Mitte, Danny Woodburn, Micah Fowler and Orlando Jones took the stage to talk about the most unrepresented minority in Hollywood — people with disabilities, those who are often forgotten as part of the diversity landscape.
“We as an industry keep talking about diversity. We know we have a problem but when we start speaking about diversity, disabilities seem to be left out,” Matlin added. “We all remember the last Oscars for being too white. The Academy said its 2016 mandate is inclusion in all of its facets, but where is disability?”
In July of this year, the The Ruderman Family Foundation, which advocates for the full inclusion of people with disabilities in society, released a White Paper study on Employment of Actors with Disabilities in Television, co-authored by Woodburn, that laid out the inequality in the film and television industry for those with disabilities. It revealed that 95% of television characters with a disability on the top 10 TV shows are played by able-bodied actors. The Ruderman Foundation also organized the Beverly Hills event today.
“We are talking about a group of people (with disabilities) that are invisible right now, that are treated like second-class citizens,” said Jones. “If representation was equal, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. It’s human rights abuse, that’s what we are talking about.”
The panelists also said that even getting an audition — and physically getting into an audition — for a role is hard if you have a disability in this town.
“If I’m going to audition on a second floor with no elevator and it’s for a character in a wheelchair, then there was clearly no intent for calling in an actor with a wheelchair,” said Woodburn. “It’s a matter of access to employment and that’s also the case in the deaf community and the blind community needing interpreters and readers for their auditions.”
Fowler asked for casting directors to rethink the roles that they look at on the breakdowns: “Just give us a chance,” he said.