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CBS Entertainment is pledging to improve disability inclusion in Hollywood, The Hollywood Reporter has exclusively learned.
The company — which includes the network, CBS Television Studios and streamer CBS All Access — has become the first in the industry to respond to a request from the disability advocacy organization Ruderman Family Foundation: to commit to auditioning actors with disabilities for each new production going forward. CBS will now do so for each of its new projects that gets a series pickup.
“The Ruderman Family Foundation commends CBS for its leadership in becoming the first major media company to pledge to audition actors with disabilities for roles in their productions,” Foundation president Jay Ruderman said in a statement. “It is our hope that other major media companies will follow their lead and foster opportunities that will lead to more authentic representation of people with disabilities in popular entertainment. Enhanced visibility of disability onscreen will help reduce stigmas people with disabilities face in everyday life.”
The idea is to encourage studios, networks and production companies to be more mindful of opportunities to populate their onscreen worlds with representations of disability that reflect the real world. According to the Foundation, 55 million Americans (about 20 percent of the population) have disabilities, but fewer than 2 percent of television characters do. And of those characters, 95 percent are played by able-bodied actors.
In May, a CBS series was one of four shows honored with the Foundation’s Seal of Authentic Representation, a new mark of recognition for films and TV series that feature actors with disabilities in substantive speaking parts. CBS’ NCIS: New Orleans, which features wheelchair user Daryl “Chill” Mitchell as series regular Patton Plame, received the Seal alongside ABC’s now-canceled Speechless (starring Micah Fowler, who like his character has cerebral palsy), and Netflix’s Special (created by and starring comedian Ryan O’Connell, who also has CP) and The OA, which features wheelchair user Liz Carr in a recurring role.
“We take pride in our commitment to cast and hire people with disabilities in our productions,” CBS Entertainment executive vp diversity, inclusion and communications Tiffany Smith-Anoa’i said in a statement. “We salute the Ruderman Family Foundation for advocating for this very achievable and important goal.”
The pledge reads as follows:
We recognize that disability is central to diversity, that the disability community comprises the largest minority in our nation, and that people with disabilities face seclusion from the entertainment industry.
We understand that increasing auditions, no matter the size of the role, is a critical step toward achieving inclusion in the industry.
This studio pledges to increase the number of actors and actresses with disabilities who audition for parts on television and in film.
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