Toolkit on the Go: Representing Disabilities in Film and Television
Prepared by Disabilities in Media & the Global Alliance for Disability in Media & Entertainment (GADIM)
This 1-page Toolkit points to suggestions/recommendations for representing disabilities on screen. Many of the points raised here were co-produced with disabled people, ﬁlmmakers, disability advocates/allies, researchers and academics in disability studies and ﬁlm studies. The more in-depth Toolkit can be found here: Representing Disabilities and People with Disabilities in Films: Working Toolkit for ﬁlmmakers and industry stakeholders. The objective of this Toolkit is to promote anti-ableist representations in ﬁlm and television that can contribute to positive disability identity and inclusion.
- Disabled people, disabled actors, and disabled crew members should be part of the process for ﬁlmmaking and productions about disability issues and disabilities.
- Disabled actors should be used to play disabled roles to avoid disability mimicry and inauthentic representation. If for some reason the production cannot hire a disabled actor, a disability consultant should be employed to be on set at all times.
- Disabled characters should be a regular part of mainstream ﬁlm and television content and not an occasional feature.
- Put disabled actors in leading and supporting roles across all genres.
- Writing rooms should include people with disabilities, particularly when a character with a disability is being scripted.
- If nobody in the writing room has the disability being depicted, a disability consultant should be employed.
- Wheelchairs are not props or an aesthetic. Use them only when a character or storyline calls for it.
- Depict accurate mobility canes for blind characters on screen; they should not be led by hand.
- Costumes should be appropriate for the character and not uncomfortable for disabled actors and used only when a character or storyline calls for it.
- Discuss the character’s clothing and accessories with the disabled actor or an on-set disability consultant, e.g. not all blind people wear dark glasses.
Film scores/soundtracks/music on screen:
- Accompanying sounds/music should not be emotional, tragic, or sad simply because a character has a disability.
- Do not change sounds/music for scenes where a disabled person is featured to invoke sadness/tragedy.
- Use sounds/music intentionally to illustrate an empowered disabled character.
- Include disabled crew members in the sounds/music production.
Language of disabilities on screen:
- Do not identify disabled characters on screen by their disabilities in a way that is unnecessary, for example, saying blind CEO when you can simply say CEO.
- Do not use stigmatizing or antiquated terms about mental health disabilities.
- Depict disabled characters as part of the community. More than 1 billion people across the world have some form of disability (16% of the world’s population).
- Represent the diversity of disabled characters. Some disabled people have multiple disabilities and/or are neurodiverse. Do not assign disabled characters disabilities that the actors do not have. Do not use disability terms in a negative way.
- With 1.3 billion disabled people worldwide, film and television content should have captions for deaf people, and if possible, audio descriptions for blind people.
- The audition process for film and television productions should be accessible, such as being in a building with wheelchair ramps and elevators for an in-person audition.
- Film and TV productions should meet the accessibility needs of all disabled members of the production team and have barrier-free sets.
- Represent disabilities in an inclusive way, without implying some disabilities are “better” than others.
- Increase the frequency of ﬁlm and TV productions about disabilities and/or with disabled characters.
- Disabled actors/performers should be given equal pay to their nondisabled colleagues.
- Avoid negative stereotypes or themes of pity or charity when representing disabilities on screen.