DisBeat Announces the “Disability Narrative Imperative” in Hollywood’s “Diversity” Conversation


DisBeat Announces the “Disability Narrative Imperative” in Hollywood’s “Diversity” Conversation

In response to the full exclusion of Disabled Americans in the “Diversity Debate” surrounding the Oscars and USC’s Comprehensive Annenberg Report on Diversity in Entertainment, DisBeat is announcing the “Disability Narrative Imperative.” DisBeat has gathered statements from Disabled celebrities and other allies in the entertainment industry to comment on this “inclusion crisis.”

Despite recent calls for improved and increased displays of diversity and representation in the media, and the viral hash tag campaign #OscarsSoWhite table, Disabled Americans are still being excluded from the Hollywood inclusion movement. 

The good news is….LGBT allies are articulating disability in the inclusion conversation; The Deaf community is developing the next generation of Deaf filmmakers with the Deaf Film Camp. Additionally, the Clinton Global Initiative has accepted Lights! Camera! Access! 2.0 as a two-year “Commitment to Action.” Light! Camera! Access! 2.0 aims to increase employment of disabled professionals in media Industries (TV, film, advertising, theatre and interactive),  improve disability portrayals and increase accessibility of entertainment with captions and audio descriptions.

But this week, Disabled Americans were dealt yet another reminder, and this time it came with an academic sting: The USC Comprehensive Annenberg Report on Diversity in Entertainment was released on Tuesday, February 22nd. The Report, which frames its findings of significant gender and racial gaps as an “inclusion crisis” and an “epidemic of invisibility,” completely failed to measure the appearance and inclusion of Disabled People. Not so “comprehensive.” 

In reaction to this formal exclusion of 56.7 million disabled Americans from The USC Comprehensive Annenberg Report on Diversity in Entertainment, DisBeat announces, the “Disability Narrative Imperative.” It’s time to re-frame the inclusion debate, and shed light on the deep underrepresentation of Disabled People.

What follows are thoughts and opinions of individuals on the front lines of the battle to bring accurate representation of the Disabled American experience to large, small and personal screens, worldwide:  

Lawrence Carter-Long, Nothing Without Us Media:

"The disability community is accustomed to the entertainment industry doing projects about us without us," chided Lawrence Carter-Long, media authority and curator/cohost of THE PROJECTED IMAGE: A HISTORY OF DISABILITY IN FILM on TURNER CLASS MOVIES in 2012, "they even win awards for it, but the lack of disability representation in the diversity debate is doubly disgraceful. When critics fail to even mention the blatant discrimination against disabled people in the media it illustrates just how widespread and commonplace the bias against us is. The shocking but unmistakable fact is it’s the norm. Are they being purposefully malicious? Probably not. But it doesn't matter. The effect is still the same. The message: "We don't care about you" comes through loud and clear just the same." 

Seven years ago this week an uppity bunch of Jerry's Orphans occupied the Oscars to remind the Academy and Jerry Lewis that "Pity Isn't Progress" and protest blatant discrimination against disabled people. Doesn't look like they've learned a whole heck of a lot since then, does it? https://youtu.be/vk215FvaiX8


Danny Woodburn -- Actor, SAGAFTRA Performers With Disability Committee Co-Vice Chair

"People with disabilities are still seen as a fringe group when we speak diversity or inclusion. We are like the unseen family member that has been institutionalized and spoken of only in hushed tones. The Media Diversity and Social Change Initiative at USC Annenberg School of Journalism decided no equal time to be given to the 20% of our population living with disability in this country in their study.  There was no insistence in the reporting done at the Associated Press to cover this end of the story.  Despite full knowledge being given to the NY Times, The Hollywood Reporter, The LA Times, Variety, NPR and Local LA entertainment news outlets about our exclusion from this "diversity" conversation, exclusion from the #OscardSoWhite reporting, where race alone is seen as the pinnacle of diversity, there has been no inclusive talk about people with disability during this period in which talk of change is vital.  After such an inexcusable failing but the media and by USC, perhaps a later study will emerge where PWDs will get "separate but equal" treatment, as it were.  I can't help but recall the film Kiss of Death where Richard Widmark pushes a wheelchair user Mildred Dunnock down a flight of stairs"



Simi Linton, filmmaker, Invitation to Dance, and member NYC Cultural Affairs Advisory Commission     

The film and television industry has the opportunity to reshape disability in the public imagination. They can listen to us, the insiders who know what disability looks, feels and sounds like, who know what stories capture our experience, and who can write, direct and act them into existence. We see the world from the vantage point of the atypical. Let us take you on that ride and show you the sights.  It’s time.



Dominick Evans, Filmmaker, Writer, Activist, and Disability Thought Leader

Dominick is a film director and activist who founded and moderates #FilmDis a weekly chat on disability, film, and other media, held Saturdays @ 9 PM ET. Dominick has a degree in film and spent years studying disability representation in the media. On the topic he has this to say:

"We are not at all considered equal in Hollywood, and part of that is because the industry remains oblivious to the disability community and the disability rights movement. Part of that comes from the fact that we don’t have a lot of positive and authentic visibility in the media, and part of that is because performers with disabilities still face barriers in the audition process, plus Hollywood still does not believe disabled actors can and should audition for any roles - as 56.7 million disabled Americans play every day in real life. So, how do we solve this conundrum? Making Hollywood aware of the fact that we are here requires greater access to media, but greater access to media depends on disabled people being cast in Hollywood. Further, while there is a great need for disabled actors to be cast in roles that are not necessarily about disability, if we cannot even play ourselves, then who can we play?"



Robert David Hall is an actor, musician, and disability advocate. He played Dr. Robbins for 16 seasons on the original CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. He also serves on the board of the National Organization on Disability and was National Chair for the Performers with Disabilities Caucus at SAG-AFTRA and AEA.

Like millions of others, I'll be watching the Oscars on Sunday.  I'm a big fan of Chris Rock and I can't wait to hear what he'll say about the current "diversity" firestorm swirling around the industry. The host, the presenters, and some of the winners will decry the "old white men" of the Academy or the lack of "opportunity" for people of color.

All of this is expected and known. It’s also true.

Only one problem: 

The largest minority group in America will, again, be invisible, unmentioned, and forgotten.

As usual, it’s my group.

People with disabilities make up close to 20% of America’s population. 

I became passionate about disability employment in Television and Films because I AM disabled and wanted to be employed – in Television and Films.

This business is a multi-billion dollar juggernaut. People around the globe, with and without disabilities, consume it every second of every day The problem is: with all the talk of "Diversity" and "Inclusion," precious few people with disabilities actually make their living in my chosen field.

TV and Movies tell the story of life.  I wanted to be part of that story.

In my professional life, I've usually been the only person with a disability in the room.  I've had the great joy to work in fairly high levels of the radio, television, film, and music worlds and it's been odd sometimes to be singled out as the "disabled" talent.  I'm extremely grateful for everyone who ever took a chance on me, but, to a person, I believe they’d say I was hired for my ability and not because of my disability.

Employing qualified people with disabilities is not simply a "do-gooder" impulse. There are a lot of talented and gifted people in ALL groups-we ALL know this.

To restate the obvious-

Talent and beauty flows from:

Women and Men

Young and old people

Ethnic and racially diverse groups

LGBT folks

And, oh yes, People with disabilities

I would add that my Unions, SAG-AFTRA and Actor's Equity, have, for many decades, led the fight for inclusion in the arts and entertainment for Performers with Disabilities. My former employer, CBS, (in particular Head of Diversity, Josie Thomas and Casting VP Fern Orenstein) has also made real efforts to seek out qualified disabled talent, in front of, and behind the camera. 

Employment is the key to validation for almost everybody. If you're a human being with a passion for something, even "show business," your disability should not derail your dreams.

Now, go watch the damn show.


Stacy Marie Lawrence, founder DEAF FILM CAMP:

Our deafness is a tremendous gift to the transformative power of storytelling!  Our differences manifest themselves not in sound but in the way we draw motivation from our challenging life experiences.  There is so much more to our diverse community - not only our talent, but in our resiliency - that puts us in an extraordinary position to share our stories with you!  We need to hire more deaf professionals and those with disabilities in creative areas in all aspects of the entertainment industry with the authority to showcase powerful films and productions that represent all of us accurately.  That's the best way for us to develop the next generation of Deaf and disabled storytellers and celebrate our gift with you! 


Ray Bradford, Director of Programs, Entertainment Media, GLAAD:

Speaking to the Los Angeles Daily News concerning the recently released "Comprehensive Annenberg Report on Diversity in Entertainment", its indictment of the film and television industry and the intersectionality of our shared human experience, Ray Bradford, Director of Programs, Entertainment Media for GLAAD said "“If you are not seen or heard, whether you are a woman, an older woman, an LGBT person, a person of color or a person with a disability, it is as if you are invisible.  Our stories are rich. Our stories are diverse, and we have some pretty good stories to tell.”


For the last six years, GLAAD has included characters with disabilities in its annual report, Where We Are on TV: GLAAD - Where We Are on TV Report - 2015


Greg Smith, The Strength Coach: Expert on Resilience and Inner Strength – Speaker, Author, Podcaster, Advocate:

I’ve always believed the biggest barrier for people with disabilities is a mental barrier.  With advances in technology and medicine, we have the ability to live longer and thrive, overcoming the physical inconveniences that our conditions create.  But getting inside the minds of the general population is the key to true community engagement, interdependence, independence and freedom.  Good media coverage can help people “get it” and can move the ball forward.



Alice Wong, Founder and Project Coordinator of the Disability Visibility Project

In response to the USC’s Comprehensive Annenberg Report on Diversity in Entertainment, Alice Wong Founder and Project Coordinator, Disability Visibility Project says “Irony of ironies, a report on inclusion that excludes a major diversity population - people with disabilities. Let's hope for inclusion of people with disabilities (so ironic) in next year's report. We're not invisible. Our stories are rich.” She asks, “Why doesn’t your definition of diversity and inclusion include people with disabilities?”  Follow Alice at: @SFdirewolf and visit Disability Visibility Project at: http://disabilityvisibilityproject.com


David M. Perry:

David M. Perry is a disability rights journalist, history professor, and creator of How Did We Get Into This Mess? – the blog on language and power:

When the #OscarsSoWhite scandal broke, the Academy promised to improve diversity by talking largely about race and gender. But famous actor Idris Elba was much more inclusive:



Note to Journalists who cover disability issues -- Inspiration Porn:

David Perry, disability rights journalist, history professor, and creator of How Did We Get Into This Mess? – the blog on language and power offers his insight on inspiration porn to journalists covering disability issues:



The late Stella Young was a comedian and journalist who used a wheelchair - a fact that doesn’t, she’d like to make clear, automatically turn her into a noble inspiration to all humanity. In this very funny talk, Young breaks down society's habit of turning disabled people into “inspiration porn.”

Ted Talks: https://www.ted.com/talks/stella_young_i_m_not_your_inspiration_thank_you_very_much?language=en


SAG-AFTRA’s Statement on Diversity from the SAG-AFTRA President’s Task Force on Education, Outreach and Engagement and the SAG-AFTRA Diversity Advisory Committee:

It is a founding principle and included in our union’s mission statement that: “It is a core value of SAG-AFTRA that our strength is in our diversity. We are committed to the broadest employment and involvement of our members, regardless of race, national origin, ancestry, color, creed, religion, sex, marital status, sexual orientation, political affiliation, veteran status, gender identity or expression, age or disability. SAG-AFTRA strives to educate and engage members so that they may be full participants in the workings of their union. We are proud to be a model of inclusion, democratic organization and governance.” – 

See more at: http://www.sagaftra.org/statement-diversity-sag-aftra-president%E2%80%99s-task-force-education-outreach-and-engagement-and-sag-aftra#sthash.WVKJku5N.dpuf