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The Ruderman TV Challenge is a call-to-action follow up to our widely successful Ruderman White Paper on the Employment of Actors with Disabilities in Television
While 20% of the U.S. population has a disability, fewer than 2% of all television characters do. Additionally, our Ruderman White Paper on the Employment of Actors with Disabilities in Television last year found that 95% of top TV show characters with disabilities are played by non-disabled performers. The imperative for diversity is already widespread in many corners of the industry and we assert that disability is of course a part of diversity. Having laid the groundwork for this assertion, in this White Paper we move from conversation to a call to action.
We collaborated with Tari Hartman Squire (Lights! Camera! Access! 2.0) and Daryl “Chill” Mitchell (NCIS: New Orleans) to design and issue a soft challenge—the Ruderman TV Challenge—to the creators of scripted television pilots – 151 pilots on 39 delivery platforms of broadcast, cable and internet for the 2017-2018 TV pilot season, asking them to audition and cast more performers with disabilities, including “five lines & under” and background or atmosphere roles.
Our objectives are perhaps best summarized by creator and executive producer Scott Silveri’s in his remarks upon receiving the Television Academy Honors Award in June 2017 for the breakthrough ABC show Speechless:
“Before I was a part of this show, I didn’t care a lick about it. I’m very late to the party. For 20 years, the number of people with disabilities I cast was a whopping zero. I should know better.
I’m here to share my first very positive and fortunate first-hand experience that barriers to casting those with disabilities are false and they are imagined. The rewards are great. There is a real appetite for their stories. I am not saying go out and create a show about disability…
For those of us with a say about who gets on TV and who doesn’t, I simply ask you to recognize part of our responsibility is to represent society as a whole. You can’t do that without representing disability. So please consider this diversity among the very worthy kinds of diversity, which we take seriously.
Thank you to 20th Century Fox for supporting the show from the very beginning. Thank you to ABC for giving us a home, and for treating us with such care.”
Scott Silveri, Creator/Executive Producer of Speechless Television Academy Honors Acceptance Speech June 9, 2017
This White Paper details the methodology and preliminary results of our challenge and concludes with observations, current trends and our recommendations moving forward in order to continue the drive for more sustainable disability inclusion in Hollywood, and around the world.
When it comes to hiring performers with disabilities for scripted series and/or pilots, the leaders are as follows:
In addition, our data collection also shows that Fox has been excelling in auditioning talent with disabilities with 14 of the 23 Fox Studios (not to be confused with broadcast network) dramas and 9 of the 13 comedies having auditioned performers with disabilities.
Please note, these auditions and hires were not necessarily for guest star, recurring or principal roles, but also included background/atmosphere, and “five lines & under” roles. As we expand talent pipelines, we will continue to challenge content creators to audition and cast performers with disabilities for principal and regular roles.
Although we have seen a move in the right direction—more scripted series are open to auditioning and casting talent with disabilities, more performers with disabilities are having positive experiences—we still must acknowledge that we are far from parity with the disability community. The number of working actors with disabilities is far below the 20% of people with disabilities in the population.
Unfortunately we cannot determine an exact number of working actors with disabilities due to the lack of industry documentation. For example, the SAG-AFTRA quarterly “Casting Data Reports” include categories gender, age, lead or support role, Asian Pacific, Caucasian, Latino/Hispanic, N. American Indian, but there still is no category for disability, despite advocacy efforts for decades—and there should be. Therefore, we must continue fortifying talent pipelines and dismantling stereotypes as we advance toward full inclusion and representation of disability on large, small, and personal handheld screens.
Published in September 2017