By Regina F. Graham, Refinery 29
One in four adults in the U.S. are living with a disability, but you wouldn’t know it given the lack of representation in the workforce, Hollywood, and media coverage.
Voices of Disability celebrates the real stories — not the stigmas or stereotypes — of this dynamic and vibrant community of individuals.
Lauren Ridloff, Danielle Perez, and Diana Elizabeth Jordan all have one thing in common: They are passionate and dedicated to the craft of acting. You might not know their names, though. The women, who hail from across the U.S., now primarily reside in Los Angeles, and represent a variety of ages, backgrounds, and circumstances. But they share a common thread: Throughout their careers, they have all found it difficult to land leading roles as women of color who have a disability.
Jordan is a 57-year-old actress and director who has cerebral palsy; 36-year-old Los Angeles native Perez is an actress, writer, and stand-up comedian who uses a wheelchair; and Ridloff is a 42-year-old award-winning Deaf actress who is slated to make history playing a Deaf superhero in Marvel film The Eternals, scheduled to be released in 2021.
Since #OscarsSoWhite became a trending topic in 2015, A-list stars, producers, and directors have all spoken up in various settings about Hollywood’s systemic color issue and lack of diversity. Viola Davis, Shonda Rhimes, and Issa Rae are just three prominent figures who have been critically vocal about the lack of diversity in casting people of color in blockbuster movies or major TV dramas. It’s a conversation we’ve had the displeasure of annually revisiting since April Reign first created the viral hashtag #OscarsSoWhite five years ago. And while it might not seem like any progress has been made, at least the conversation exists in the public discourse.
Very little, if any, attention has been paid to the lack of disabled women of color being considered for roles. A 2018 study from the Ruderman Family Foundation found that 80% of disabled characters on television are portrayed by non-disabled actors. The research covered about 280 networks and streaming shows from that year. In addition, 26% of the U.S. population (one in four people) has a disability, but fewer than 2% of all television characters do, according to the same study. Of that extremely small number of disabled characters on screen, nearly all are white. In addition, a study from the University of Southern California Annenberg Inclusion Initiative that combed through 900 popular movies from 2007 to 2016 found that only 2.7% of characters with speaking roles were portrayed as disabled.
Ridloff, Perez, and Jordan don’t see their disabilities as hampering their ability to do their chosen craft, nor should the color of their skin be an additional barrier to entry to Hollywood. Here, they speak to Refinery29 about their experiences fighting for a major shift that is long overdue in the industry.
Click here to read the full article on Refinery 29.