It's Time to Include Disabilities in Diversity

Article after article discusses our need to ensure diversity, but they rarely mention disabilities. It's as if people with disabilities are an afterthought (or more accurately, a forgotten thought). If the omission is mentioned, people often get defensive, as if they are being accused of insensitivity. But if another protected class like gender, race, religion, or sexual orientation were omitted, people would be up in arms about that.

The Newseum in Washington, DC has a section on civil rights in the media but fails to include disabilities. The museum was made aware of the oversight but hasn't done anything to correct it. Museums across the country, such as the National Museum of African-American History and Culture in Washington, DC and the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City, that are dedicated to ensuring civil rights for various populations, tend to overlook those with disabilities.

Even when people with disabilities are included, the inclusion is usually limited to those with a visible disability, such as someone who uses a wheelchair, crutches, a Seeing Eye dog, or American Sign Language, in order to ensure that everyone notices the inclusion. This means that people with invisible disabilities, such as those who are hard of hearing, are seldom included and therefore, their disability is forgotten.

Today, no one would consider having a white person play a black person by wearing black face, yet able-bodied people regularly portray people with disabilities. In fact, it has been a way to win an Oscar. In 2015, the Best Actor and Actress winners (1) both portrayed people with disabilities. Instead of using actors with disabilities, the producers chose actors who "acted" as if they had a disability. If this is unacceptable based on race, then why is it acceptable based on disability?

Even New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who has championed access for people with hearing loss, omitted people with disabilities when he issued a press release to stand up against hate crimes. Such crimes against people with disabilities are underreported.

The "D" in diversity should be a reminder that it also stands for disabilities, and it is time to include them.

(1) Eddie Redmayne won an Oscar for playing Stephen Hawkins, who has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's Disease), in The Theory of Everything and Julianne Moore took home an Oscar for playing a woman who has Alzheimer's disease in Still Alice.