GLAAD: Only 6 disabled primetime characters

1:37 PM PST 10/13/2010 by Daniel Holloway, Back Stage
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But 'CSI's' Robert David Hall is only actor who is actually disabled.

There are 587 series-regular roles on scripted network primetime television this fall. Only six of them have disabilities. Only one of those six is portrayed by a disabled actor.

That information comes courtesy of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, which last week released its annual "Where We Are on TV" report. The survey documents the number of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender characters in each new fall television season. This year, for the first time, GLAAD also counted the number of characters with disabilities.

While the U.S. Census Bureau reports that people with identified disabilities make up a little more than 12% of the American population, they make up only 1% of the primetime population. Disheartening though that statistic may be, the fact that it even exists represents progress.

"One of the issues that performers with disabilities in the entertainment industry have continued to struggle with is the lack of accurate measurements on the portrayal and employment of actors with disabilities in television and film," said Rebecca Yee, national director of affirmative action and diversity for SAG.

"This report is more than just numbers; it's really the first authoritative study measuring the number of characters with disabilities on television, and importantly, the number of performers with disabilities who portray those characters."

The research for the disabilities portion of the study was done in conjunction with I AM PWD, a campaign of SAG, AFTRA and Actors' Equity to include people with disabilities in the arts and media. SAG and AFTRA have struggled for years to convince producers to include disability information in employment and casting data reports, which break down hiring data based on gender, ethnicity and age. But producers claim that reporting on disabilities could put them in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act, which protects the disabled from being identified as such should they not want to reveal their status.

According to Ray Bradford, AFTRA's national director for equal opportunity and diversity, AFTRA succeeded more than a decade ago in getting producers to agree to include disabilities on employment data forms. But the addition has never been made, as producers and the union remain at an impasse over formatting issues, with the producers worried about exposing themselves to litigation.

"While we have found case law," Bradford said, that demonstrates that "it would be a specious lawsuit, employers don't like to deal with any lawsuit. So it has really brought us to this point that we have looked for any means available to count not only people with disabilities but, according to GLAAD reports, characters with disabilities. Because our thinking is characters with disabilities will hopefully lead toward employment of people with disabilities."

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