GLAAD: Only 6 disabled primetime characters
Actor Anita Hollander, who chairs the I AM PWD's steering committee and is a member of AFTRA's national board of directors, noted that a count of actors with disabilities is needed "if only to find out that there are so few of us in the pool."
Though the unions have taken no official stand against nondisabled actors playing disabled characters, Hollander said that for her and many disabled actors, watching those few parts go to nondisabled actors is frustrating.
"If you just watch any of the premieres this fall, you'll keep seeing characters pop up with disabilities in smaller roles," Hollander said. "Everyone seems to want one on their show, and it doesn't translate most of the time to performers with disabilities. The GLAAD report was not concerned with performers with disabilities, whereas the performers with disabilities are looking very carefully at who's playing them and wondering why we have to be represented by people who do not have disabilities."
As Dr. Al Robbins on "CSI," Robert David Hall is the one disabled actor on network primetime TV playing a disabled series regular. (Hall lost both his legs after his car was hit by an 18-wheel truck in 1978.) Like Hollander, he emphasized that disabled-actor advocates aren't looking for handouts; they're just looking to get through the audition-room door.
"I know plenty of people with disabilities who have MFAs in acting who just can't get auditions," said Hall, who is chair of AFTRA, SAG and Equity's triunion performers with disabilities committee. "To have a career in this business is a miracle anyway. To have a shot at it, to have something approaching a level playing field, actors with disabilities have to be able to audition, and it's just not happening."
Hall acknowledged that many activists have mixed feelings about seeing disabled characters played by nondisabled actors -- such as Hugh Laurie, the nondisabled actor who walks with a cane on the Fox series "House."
"Do I think Hugh Laurie is a great actor? You bet," Hall said. "I love him and I'm glad to see a character -- this is me speaking personally -- with a disability portrayed. But to some of the more active members in our group, it's similar to saying, 'What do you think of that Caucasian actor playing the role of the African-American guy?' I'm not criticizing actors without disabilities playing disabled characters. I am saying every time that happens, there's an actor with a disability who loses a slim chance to play a character who he might be."