A report which assessed characters expected to feature on scripted prime-time US TV shows revealed there are more characters with disabilities set to appear during the 2019/2020 season than ever before. However representation in no way mirrors the reality of the 20 or so per cent of Americans who report having a disability. The Where We Are on TV report was released recently by the GLAAD media advocacy organisation.
Among the 879 regular characters expected on broadcast programming during the season, 3.1 per cent, or 27 characters, have disabilities, a full percentage point above the 2.1 per cent recorded last year.
According to Australia’s Centre for Applied Disability Research, up to 95 per cent of US TV characters with disability are being played by actors who don’t have disabilities, which the centre said is comparable to Australia.
Screen Australia conducted research into the issue in 2016 that analysed nearly 2,000 main characters from 199 free-to-air Australian TV shows. It showed that, similar to the US, only 4 per cent of TV show characters in Australia had an identifiable disability. In reality, just over 18 per cent of Australians have a disability. It was also revealed that actors without disabilities are placed in 91 per cent of roles for characters with disability.
One Australian actor who is breaking down barriers is Bridie McKim, (pictured). A student at NIDA, she has mild cerebral palsy and played Sabine, a character who has mild cerebral palsy, on the ABC TV drama The Heights.
In an interview in The Sydney Morning Herald, McKim said, “Now that diversity is such an important part of our industry tokenism can become a big problem… If you’re going to create diverse characters you have to make sure they’re authentic and coming from a place of truth. Otherwise there’s no point writing them.”
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