Alt text for image: The Deaf actor Sandra Mae Frank, star of the TV series New Amsterdam, is in the left picture, and the disabled actor and model Jillian Mercado, star of The L Word: Generation Q, is in the right picture. Frank is a white woman with a brown bob haircut who is sitting on an exam table signing. Mercado is a Latina woman with short blond/brown hair who uses a wheelchair and identifies as queer. The text in the center says: “Disabled actors account for just 8% of disability representation on television. -2020-2022 FilmDis study into disability representation on TV.”

FilmDis and GADIM Become Partners

In 2021, GADIM partnered with FilmDis, founded by filmmaker and media consultant Dom Evans and screenwriter and media consultant Ashtyn Law, to study current disability representation on television in a more in-depth way. FilmDis is a media monitoring organization that advocates for authentic representation and inclusion of disabled people in all aspects of film and television production. 

GADIM funded the 2019/2020 study conducted by FilmDis, as well as its pandemic years study from 2020 through 2022. 

In the three years of disability representation in the two studies, FilmDis found that disabled actors playing disabled characters dropped from 11% to 8%. 

Thus, nondisabled actors are playing more than 1,000 disabled characters on television, according to the FilmDis studies. This inauthentic representation is called disabled mimicry. Evans and Law define disabled mimicry as “the performance of disabled roles by nondisabled actors or actors without the specific disability represented, which is often reduced to mimicking disability through physicality and vocal intonation.” Read Evans’ essay about disabled mimicry here. 

GADIM and FilmDis advocate for better television and film storytelling about actual disabled people’s lives and inclusion of creators with disabilities in every aspect of the storytelling, from script consultation to acting or directing to all parts of the production process. 

Evans and Law explain that “there is much more to disabled lives than what we see (on TV), and with Hollywood in desperate need of fresh stories and voices, disabled creators and their ideas for television are ripe for the picking. Hollywood just needs to let the stories bloom.” 

See the FilmDis press 2023 release below.

FilmDis founder Dom Evans directs a new music video in Hollywood, SPACES by James Ian, remotely from his home in Michigan. Evans is a white, trans, wheelchair user with short dark hair and glasses. He is looking at the scene he is directing from an iPad on a mount before the scene of James Ian sitting in front of a microphone with a guitar on his lap.
Listen to Beth Haller of GADIM and Dominick Evans of FilmDis discuss the work of both organizations on the Quentasia Studios podcast on Nov. 12, 2021: 

FilmDis Pandemic Years Study Shows Drop in Percentage of Disabled Actors on Scripted Television

 DETROIT (March 5, 2023) – The third study by the media monitoring group, FilmDis, found fewer disabled actors included in scripted television content in the years 2020 to 2022. Only 8 percent of the actors in the 216 TV shows studied identify as disabled, compared to 11 percent of the shows featuring disabled actors in 2019/2020 study.

The co-founders of FilmDis and the study’s co-authors, screenwriter Ashtyn Law and director and activist, Dom Evans, say that poor disability representation on television affects how society sees disabled people, and especially shapes how disabled children see themselves if they have no authentic disabled role models on television.

Law explains that the FilmDis hopes to push creators toward more inclusion of disabled actors: “Together we can ensure that no child has to live with the confusing notion that they aren’t important or valid enough to see themselves represented on TV.”

Evans says as a trans and non-binary former actor who has multiple disabilities, he has yet to see himself represented anywhere on television.

He explains, “We know everything there is to know about disability representation currently on television because we look at every aspect of representation and how that impacts disabled people in their everyday lives.”

This study covers television airing between June 1, 2020, and May 31, 2022 and breaks down disabled characters by race, gender/gender identity, sexuality, disability status (whether actors are engaging in disabled mimicry or not), age, nationality, network, shows, and part type.

Some of the highlights of the third study include:

  • Most represented categories of disabilities are: Addiction, Chronic Disabilities, Psychosocial Disabilities, Multiple Disabilities, and Cancer.
  • Least represented categories include Blind/Low Vision, Deaf/HOH, Dwarfism, Learning Disability, and Intellectual Disability.
  • The least and most represented categories have remained the same for all three studies.
  • Black disabled representation accounts for around 18% of representation while Indigenous + POC accounts for 16% of disabled characters on television.
  • Despite there being a huge overlap between the disabled and LGBTQIA communities in real life, 82 characters are LGBTQIA and disabled, which is about 6% of disabled representation.
  • On the 216 show, 1342 disabled characters played by 1348 actors.

Television is not properly reflecting the experiences of the 1.3 billion disabled people globally: 16% of world’s population, according to the World Health Organization.

For the third study, Law and Evans were joined by data analyst, William Neeley.

To find the study in different formats, a 160+ page paper, a shorter fact sheet, and an accessible Easy Language Guide visit the FilmDis website. All are available in Google doc and accessible PDF formats.

Contact for FilmDis: Ashtyn Law, FilmDis Co-founder:

About FilmDis: FilmDis started out as a discussion about disability representation in the media on Twitter in 2014 by filmmaker Dom Evans. Today it is a full-fledged media-monitoring organization offering research, education, media creation/development, and consulting on disability representation in film, television, video games, and other forms of popular media. Find FilmDis on Twitter and Facebook for news, reviews, resources, and research studies into disability representation on all forms of media.

About Ashtyn Law: Ashtyn Law (She/Her) has a BA in screenwriting from Southern New Hampshire University. She is the screenwriter of The Park, Rights for Waffles, Tracy, Chickadees, Overture, trip, Nance + Sydney, and Inamorata. She is currently developing the scripts for four new television series. She also works as a script consultant and tech writer. Law worked with major studios reviewing film and television including HBO, Showtime, Acorn, 20th Century Fox, CBS, ABC, and Disney. Law is neurodivergent with chronic health disabilities and is also bisexual. Check her out on Twitter.

About Dom Evans: Dom Evans (they/he) received a BFA in Motion Pictures Production where they learned from Oscar-winning filmmakers. They started their career as a child actor and public figure in their hometown of Toledo, Ohio. Dom also studied theater/acting at Bowling Green State University, Wright State University, and the University of Michigan – Flint. They primarily work as an award-winning director and disability consultant for Hollywood. Dom has consulted on multiple films and television series for networks that include Lionsgate, Discovery+, and Netflix. They recently directed the music video for James Ian’s “Spaces.” They have also reviewed material for major studios including HBO, Microsoft, Cinemax, Starz, EA, CBS, Disney, and Sony. Dom is a neurodivergent hard of hearing (HOH) wheelchair user with chronic pain who is also trans, non-binary, and queer. You can follow them on Instagram, Twitter, and Tik Tok.

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