Racism! Sexism! Ageism! Ethno-male-white-euro-centrism. These are all very important topics when it comes to diversity and inclusion. The serious nature of these discussions is paramount to an equal society that represents and treats all people fairly. Anyone see who's missing from this list? Here's a hint. We make up twenty percent of the population of the United States. Our unemployment rate is sixty-six percent, twice that of the national average of protected groups.
For many of us, our expenses for the basics of daily living are dictated, without restriction, by the drug and health insurance industries. You may not know the answer because no one has been talking about this "protected" group. No one has brought up the fact that our representation in the film and television industries is far below that of any other type of "-ism" -- listed less than two percent. We don't actually lay claim to an -ism for that matter. And, we certainly have not been invited to any Hollywood brunch with the elite to discuss our inclusion--actual, fully represented inclusion. We aren't even at the table for discussion.
People with disabilities are systematically excluded from the topic of diversity and inclusion whenever a discussion comes up after an industry makes a critical error in judgment of a system they tout as perfect or honorable or the hallmark of professional-ism. The diversity discussion has not been very diverse. I've watched the fervor over the #OscarsSoWhite this last week, which is a truly needed discussion. But, you don't get to call it inclusion or diversity and only speak of the aforementioned isms. You can choke on your endive and pear while those words are coming out of your mouth if you, for one second, decide not to mention people with disability. And you have not mentioned them. I've searched. I've read. I've listened. I've watched all the recent media coverage on "diversity," and disability is not part of the discussion.
I say the word decide because so often I have heard the words, "we forgot to think about that." Or, "That never crossed my mind." Or, "Please educate me." Why do I need to educate you about access to employment, when you hold a casting call for a person in a wheelchair on the second floor of building without an elevator? Clearly, you had no intention of hiring someone in a wheelchair. Why do I need to educate you about casting a non-amputee person to play an amputee; yet you want advise from the actor who happens to be an amputee, whom you never even auditioned. Again your intention is clear.
If your show is running publicity on the premise of racial, ethnic, and religious diversity, that's great. It's needed. But, if one of your leads is a character in a wheelchair, who is not a wheelchair-user, please refer to the title of this piece.
Over the last few years there have been changes in my industry. The AMPTP has agreed to attend and discuss the issue of diversity for persons with disability under the banner of a "Joint Task Force" with the SAG AFTRA Union. Their intentions are, I believe, sincere. 20th Century Fox held a forum on this discussion of disability diversity, mixing industry leaders with those active in the cause for disability awareness. Glen Mazzara (Walking Dead, Damien) ran the WGA Show-runners Training Program and invited people to the table to educate on this very subject, people who could be seen effectively, as the future of television. There are those who talk the talk and walk the walk, but baby-steps is the go-to comment about that walk. When the prominent speakers on the subject of diversity get together and do not refer to disabled persons in their discussion, in their speeches, in their outrage about the lack of diversity, again I ask you to refer above.
When you who have the media's eyes and ears, effectively the world, and make no mention of your struggling brothers and sisters who meet with a whole set of obstacles everyday that you take for granted or overlook or just don't know about, then you are not speaking of real inclusion. You have a your own agenda and most likely it comes with a crème brûlée.
Danny Woodburn, actor, Co-Vice-Chair SAG-AFTRA Performers With Disability Committee, National Advisory Board ReelAbilities Film Festival.