Rights groups pushing for greater media representation of people with disabilities

Who: Calgary Society for Persons with Disabilities, and Wax, with 2 Words Productions and Six Degrees for Audio.

What: “Visibility for Disability,” a campaign to encourage greater representation of people with disabilities in popular media.

When & Where: The campaign broke Dec. 3, the International Day of Persons With Disabilities, with a website, three digital videos (see below), Twitter and Facebook posts.

Why: Despite representing nearly 20% of the population, less than 3% of characters on North American TV have disabilities—and 95% of those are played by able-bodied actors. CSPD, along with a handful of other groups that advocate for the disabled, want to see that change by calling on content creators to include more people with disabilities and by exposing people to their own prejudices about disabled people in popular media.

“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.

How: Two fake commercials—one for laundry detergent, one for cereal—featuring people with disabilities. The ads run straight up until the end, when the characters speak directly to camera about how few people with disabilities are featured in advertising.

The real eye-opener, though, is another video showing focus groups who review the ads. At first they’re visibly unsettled and openly share opinions about why the ads don’t seem right: the people featured in the ads aren’t “marketable,” or they might “honestly detract some people from the product.” Once the focus group sees the characters breaking the fourth wall and addressing the problem, they start to realize their own prejudices about people with disability and why it would be good to have more representation.

What about the content creators? There’s a letter calling on them to include more people with disability. As of Monday, 100 people had signed the letter from film, TV, advertising and marketing.

Like who? Danny Woodburn of Seinfeld, Kurt Yaeger of Sons of Anarchy, Eileen Grubba of HBO’s Watchmen, CJ Jones of Baby Driver as well as major brands including Levi’s and Shaw Communications.

Quote: “What we see on screen influences how we act in real life. The entertainment industry has an opportunity to help remove the stigma that currently exist around interacting with individuals who have disabilities,” said Lauren Appelbaum, vice-president, communications, with RespectAbility, one of the other groups supporting Visibility for Disability, along with The Easter Seal Society and the Media Access Awards.

Visibility for Disability – Crunchy O’s from WAX on Vimeo.

Visibility for Disability – Beam from WAX on Vimeo.

Visibility for Disability – Focus Group from WAX on Vimeo.

David Brown