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UCLA’s 2023 Hollywood Diversity Report Includes Disability for First Time

November 21, 2023
Source: RespectAbility

After numerous disability organizations including RespectAbility and FWD-Doc lobbied for disability inclusion, the 2023 UCLA Hollywood Diversity Report is tracking the disability status of actors for the first time.

“Recently, a few of the data sources used for this report have begun to collect information about disability,” the report states. “As more than one source on actor disability status became available as recently as December 2022, we were able to move forward with collecting and reporting on these data for the first time in this year’s report.”

The report’s end notes mention that one of these sources is Nielsen-owned Gracenote, which began tracking on-screen disability representation as part of its inclusion data in late 2022, with the assistance of RespectAbility. “We were honored to provide input to Nielsen’s Gracenote leading to new metrics indicating progress on representation of disabled talent on screen,” RespectAbility’s SVP Lauren Appelbaum was quoted in Variety in December 2022. “Being able to measure the gap in representation of disability is a powerful capability that equips the media industry to act and invest in representative content and disabled talent. We hope tracking representation will lead to an increase over time.”

RespectAbility applauds the team at UCLA for utilizing this data to include disability data and encourages all researchers to ensure disability is included in diversity reports. For example, Netflix has been tracking disability representation since 2018 for their multi-year study, with reports that came out in 2021 and 2023, with another to come out in 2025.

Disability “Severely Underrepresented” in Front of the Camera

“Comprising at least 26 percent of the United States population, adults with a disability were severely underrepresented in front of the camera across all three platforms in 2021-22,” the UCLA report said. This included 12.2% of broadcast scripted leads, 9.9% of cable scripted leads, and 5.6 % of digital scripted leads.

In terms of disability represented, the majority were those with nonapparent disabilities. Among the 40 leads with known disabilities, the majority (76.8%) reported having mental health, learning, or neurological disabilities. “Actors with visible disabilities were essentially excluded from the small screen in 2021-22,” the report includes.

Furthermore, none of the top 10 broadcast scripted shows for any viewer group had casts in which more than 20% of the top actors had known disabilities. Three shows in the 18-49 viewer group had a disability cast share of 11-20%: NBC’s This Is Us, NBC’s Saturday Night Live, and Fox’s 911.

The digital space performed better, with at least two of each viewer group’s top 10 digital scripted shows in 2021-22 having casts in which more than 20 percent of the top actors had known disabilities. Netflix’s Stranger Things and Disney+’s Hawkeye had the highest disability cast share at 41-50%.

Disability inclusion drives both equity and profitability. With the market size of the extended disability community being 63%, opening the inclusion umbrella is not just the right thing to do, it also is economically smart, as the disability market is valued at more than $1 trillion, according to Nielsen.

Including disabled actors playing both characters with disabilities and those without disabilities does not happen by accident. What we see on screen influences how we act in real life, but that is dependent on productions choosing to include individuals with disabilities in diverse and accurate portrayals. This can help to remove the stigmas that currently exist about interacting with disabled individuals.

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