Disability Advocates Call For More Hollywood Representation
HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 12: A view of the Hollywood Boulevard sign near the Hollywood Walk of Fame on February 12, 2021 in Hollywood, California. The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce honored Ali MacGraw and Ryan O'Neal with a virtual double star ceremony today in celebration of the 50th anniversary of "Love Story" and Valentine’s Day.
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Amid Hollywood’s push for more diversity and inclusion, disability advocates are worried that the industry will leave them on the backburner as they focus on representing other minorities.

In an open letter released on Wednesday, over 80 industry members called upon business leaders to focus more on disability inclusion. Spearheaded by Keely Cat-Wells, founder and CEO of C Talent, an agency representing disabled artists and athletes, the letter was signed by the likes of Amy Poehler, Naomie Harris, and Heather Matarazzo.

“If we don’t design for accessibility or include people with disabilities, it is like saying we don’t want the business of every fifth person who walks or rolls through the door,” said Cat-Wells, as reported by HuffPost.

Cat-Wells said she founded C Talent in 2017 after facing discrimination in the industry as a disabled person.

“I went to the fitting where they had me try on a low-rise bikini, which revealed my Ileostomy bag,” she said. “The next day, I received an email saying that I no longer had the part. They said I was ‘too off-putting’ to the audience and it would be ‘too confusing.’ This could have easily been ‘fixed’ with a high-waisted bikini. This type of prejudice and discrimination is not an isolated occurrence. In short, I lost a job because of my disability.”

The open letter specifically called out Hollywood for making pledges about disability representation but never following through.

“Due to years of misrepresentation in the media, social barriers, and chronic ableism, the Deaf, Hard of Hearing, Neurodiverse and Disabled communities continue to be underrepresented and disrespected in the entertainment industry,” the letter says. “This fight is not a new one. Pledges have been made but no systemic action has been taken to change inequitable systems and procedures. We can’t expect a band-aid to heal an open wound.”

“Disabled people make up the largest minority group in the world – One in four people are living with a disability and yet according to GLAAD’s ‘Where We Are on TV report’ the number of series regular characters reflects 3.5% representation, with very few of those being authentic,” it continued. “This number continues to severely under-represent the actual U.S. population living with disabilities. Behind the camera reflects an even worse set of statistics. Adequate inclusion is long overdue. Do not dismiss disability.”

Last December, members of the deaf community were upset over the fact that the CBS adaptation of “The Stand” did not cast an actual deaf person to play a particular role.

“The selection of the hearing actor to portray Nick Andros in The Stand is not acceptable. The character, Nick Andros[,] is Deaf and signs. Not one Deaf professional actor was called in to audition for the role,” the open letter stated. “The decision was made without respect to and for Deaf professionals, union, and non-union alike. There was no acknowledgement given to the psyche of a Deaf character; being Deaf is more than just not hearing.”

“At the time of diversity and inclusion, this cycle of misrepresentation and unequal or non-existent employment opportunities for Deaf professionals in the entertainment industry, both in front of and behind the camera, must end,” it continued. “This has been happening for decades.”

Related: CBS’ ‘The Stand’ Blasted For Not Casting A Real Deaf Person

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