Disability advocates fight for television airtime

Less than 3 percent of characters across North American TV programming have some form of disability.

People with disabilities are still heavily struggling with representation in television, according to data from a coalition of disability advocates from the US and Canada.

The "Visibility for Disability" campaign is designed to highlight the stark lack of people with disabilities across North American TV screens. 

According to the Calgary Society for Person with Disabilities, less than 3 percent of characters on broadcast television in North America have a disability, and 95 percent of the actors portaying those disabled characters are able-bodied. And all this while nearly 20 percent of North Americans have some form of disability. 

"Audiences are asking to see more diversity in our media, but despite being the largest minority group in the world, people with disabilities have been largely left out of this important cultural conversation," said Mickey Greiner, executive director of the CSPD. 

Visibility for Disability - Crunchy O's from WAX on Vimeo.

To combat this, the coalition of disability advocates, which includes the CSPD, the Easter Seal Society, RespectAbility and the Media Access Awards, created advertisements for fake products, featuring real people with disabilities. 

The ads were then presented to test audiences, whose comments helped shine a light on common misconceptions about people with disabilities. 

Reactions included bewilderment and unease, with one viewer stating that an ad prominently featuring a person with a disability was "a bit of a stretch."

"What we see on screen influences how we act in real life. The entertainment industry has an opportunity to help remove these stigmas" said Lauren Appelbaum, VP of communications at RespectAbility.

The coalition is hoping that this feedback will entice content creators to pledge their support toward giving people with disabilities more screen-time, as well as allocating more resources toward hiring more people with disabilities in front of and behind the camera. 

So far, the effort's open letter has been signed by those such as Danny Woodburn of Seinfeld, Eileen Grubba of HBO's Watchmen, Steve Way of Hulu's Ramy, Kurt Yaeger of FX's Sons of Anarchy, the vice president of global marketing for Levi's, and others. 

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