Picture on left is of "Hollyoaks" star Tylan Grant, who is the first autistic actor to play an autistic character on British television. Pictured on the right is Sammi Haney, who plays Dion's best friend on the Netflix show "Raising Dion." Sammi, who is a wheelchair user, was born with Osteogenesis Imperfecta Type III. The text beneath the pictures says, "The FilmDis study shows that only 11% of disabled characters on TV are played by disabled actors" (FilmDis, 2019).

FilmDis and GADIM Become Partners

In 2021, GADIM partnered with FilmDis, founded by filmmaker and media consultant Dominick Evans, 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 a study conducted by Evans and his FilmDis partner, screenwriter and media consultant Ashtyn Law, called “Disability Representation on TV in 2019/2020.”

They found that out of the 1,198 disabled characters across the 30 networks & streaming services, only 128 characters were portrayed by disabled actors, who had at least one of the disabilities they portrayed.  

Thus, nondisabled actors portrayed more than 1,000 disabled characters on television, according to their study. This inauthentic representation is called disabled mimicry. Evans and Law define it 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 direction 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 release below.

FilmDis founder Dominick 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: 

Detroit, Michigan – In May 2021, FilmDis, a media monitoring organization created by screenwriting and directing duo, Dominick Evans & Ashtyn Law, released their second study of disability representation on scripted entertainment television.

For the 2019/20 study, Evans and Law watched 250 shows on 20 television networks and 10 streaming services from April 2019 to March 31, 2020. Of those shows, 218 featured at least one disabled character.

The study found a total of 1,198 disabled characters across the 30 networks & streaming services. All the disabled characters were examined through an intersectional lens, breaking down all aspect of a character: disability, age, race/ethnicity, gender/gender identity, nationality, and sexuality.

Findings from the study:

  • Of the 1,198 disabled characters across the 30 networks & streaming services, only 128 characters were played by disabled actors (defined as the actor having at least one of the disabilities they portrayed).
  • The most represented disabled characters on television were disabled cisgender white males with 503 disabled characters.
  • The 2018/19 study found just 36 LGBTQIA characters out of 708 disabled characters. In the 2019/20 study, LGBTQIA characters nearly doubled with 70 characters, which is 6% of the number of all disabled characters on television.
  • In categorizing the representation of disability, most disabled characters fell into the following categories: Alcoholism/Addiction (214 characters), Multiply-Disabled (180 characters), Chronic Health Conditions (161 characters), Psychosocial, excluding Autistic (143 characters) Cancer (100 characters), Physical Disability (87 characters), and Body & Facial Differences (87 characters).
  • Low numbers of representation included Amputee (56 characters), Deaf (31 characters), Blind/Low Vision (27 characters), Autistic (15 characters), Learning Disabled (10 characters), Little People (8 characters), and Down Syndrome & Intellectual Disability (6 characters).

This study, which is the most comprehensive study released on disability representation on scripted entertainment television, examined every aspect of representation from race to gender, to specific disabilities and the parts each character played (Lead, Guest Star, Supporting, Bit, or Extra).

The study’s authors said that the most important issue for the television industry to address is storytelling.

“We are urging Hollywood studios to make a commitment to hire disabled consultants to help them develop projects from the beginning stages. These consultants would be able to help craft characters within current television vehicles, as well as develop new characters for upcoming shows,” they explained.

The authors advise studios to hire disabled people to be part of their casting and on-set teams. FilmDis recommends that studios, producers, and other creatives hire disabled actors for any role they can play, not just the “disabled roles.”

FilmDis says studios must begin to hire disabled screenwriters, directors, and other crew members, as well as consultants, to help the television industry craft narratives that empower rather than stigmatize the disability community.

FilmDis completed this research study with a grant from GADIM (the Global Alliance for Disability in Media and Entertainment). If you would like to support or help with the FilmDis 2020/21 study, please contact Ashtyn Law at info@filmdis.com.

Read the full report here: http://filmdis.com/our-work/research-projects/

For more information on the FilmDis Study into Disability Representation on Television, or to work with FilmDis on your next Film, Television, or other media project, email Ashtyn Law at info@filmdis.com.

About FilmDis

FilmDis is a media monitoring organization formed by Ashtyn Law & Dominick Evans that consults with entertainment professionals to improve the quality of disabled representation in television, film, video games, and other media. The main goal is to cut down on inspiration porn, disabled mimicry, and the narrative that disabled people are pity-inducing, helpless, and unable to participate in stories about themselves. Please visit FilmDis to learn more about the work we do.

About Ashtyn Law

Ashtyn Law is one of the co-founders of FilmDis. Ashtyn went to school for English and Screenwriting. She has written multiple short films, produced new media for the web, and has worked with PR companies connected to Sony, 20th Century Fox, Disney, HBO, Showtime, Microsoft, and CBS, reviewing and evaluating media content they produced. Her most recent work was consulting on the Selma Blair biopic, “Introducing Selma Blair.” She started FilmDis with the desire to help studios craft more authentic, inclusive disability representation.

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