Toolkit on the Go: Representing Disabilities in Film and Television

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.

Scripting/Character Creation:

  • 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.

Best Practices:

  • 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.
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