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More TV Shows Representing Disabilities Authentically, But There's Still Room for Improvement

At Nonotuck Resource Associates, Inc., we know that people with disabilities can live full and vibrant lives. 
Unfortunately, stereotyped characters in television shows or movies may portray disabilities as depressing and limiting. When disabilities are portrayed authentically - that is, when actors with the same disability in real life portray a character with a disability in a television show or a movie - that portrayal is more likely to show a more realistic picture of people with disabilities.

The “Ruderman White Paper on Authentic Representation in TV, 2018,” released in February of this year, looked at 284 shows across 37 networks and four streaming platforms to measure how many characters with disabilities were portrayed by actors with the same disability in real life.

According to the report, 22% of characters with disabilities on network television shows were portrayed authentically, while 20% of characters with disabilities on streaming services were portrayed authentically.
Though the numbers are small, they do show progress, says the report. A similar report issued in 2016 showed that just 5% of characters with disabilities in the top 10 network shows were authentically cast. In 2018, that number had risen to 12%. 

“While our findings indicate that the entertainment industry has indeed made some degree of progress on authentic cast"Atypical" following four young adults on the autism spectrum.ing over the past two years, disability remains glaringly absent from Hollywood’s discourse on diversity,” writes Jay Ruderman, president of the Ruderman Family Foundation. “Even where disability is present in television and films, it is almost always portrayed as an undesired, depressing and limiting state. This misrepresentation influences public perception of disability and people with disabilities.”

The report noted that two shows were major sources for authentic representation:

  • “This Close,” on Sundance Now, follows a couple who are deaf. The couple is portrayed authentically, and the show contained 9% of the authentic representations shown in the report.
  • “Atypical,” on Netflix, (pictured above) follows four young adults on the autism spectrum. The show contained 7% of the authentic representations shown in the report.

“This Close” was one of the 2019 recipients of the Ruderman Family Foundation’s Seal of Authentic Representation. Also honored were the TV series “Ramy,” on Hulu, and the movies “Give Me LIberty” and “The Peanut Butter Falcon.”
 

“(Through shared living) people with a disability experience a real transformation and discover confidence in themselves; they discover their capacity to make choices, and also find a certain liberty and above all their dignity as human beings.”

—Jean Vanier

Caregiving with Love:
Guide for Shared Living Providers

Learn how Nonotuck developed a love-based ideology of care. We started our shared living program as an alternative to group homes for people with disabilities. Instead, Shared Living creates genuine life transformation for people with disabilities, as well as families and communities. The true power of caregiving is found through hospitality, authenticity, and love.

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