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Making a Positive Awareness In The Media

28 Feb 2017

12 Actors with Disabilities

The awareness of disabilities and long-term illnesses in the media has risen considerably in the last few years, where actors with disabilities are making a positive impact and landing key roles regardless of their disabilities. There’s an ongoing argument where non-disabled actors are playing disabled roles, even though real disabled actors are available, which is particularly evident in Hollywood films. So within this feature we’ve specifically focused on television media, as there’s a positive increase in the amount of disabled actors now landing major roles in television. Although the public shouldn’t necessarily look to the media to learn about these disabilities, it’s certainly raising the awareness and helping to dissolve stigmas around the subject. The lack of disabled actors in television and film is something which has improved considerably over the years, however still needs changing and is an area which needs much more discussion and attention.

Good news is that there are already quite a few channels out there trying to make those changes, including the BBC, and some truly remarkable television shoes that are making waves in the media. A recent one to watch out for is ABC’s new comedy “Speechless” which follows a family of five with a special needs child.

This feature outlines 12 actors with disabilities and long-term illnesses that are making a positive awareness in the media with their outstanding performances in television phenomenons such as “Game of Thrones”, “Breaking Bad”, “Stranger Things” and more. Check out which actors are on the list, as well as an infographic which presents some statistics on the employment of disabled actors within television.

Source: Entertainment Weekly


Peter Dinklage

Show: Game of Thrones (Restricted Growth – Dwarfism)

Award-winning actor Peter Dinklage has earned an incredible place in the media spotlight for his outstanding performance as Tyrion Lannister in HBO’s “Game of Thrones” television series. Winning both a Golden Globe and Emmy award for his performance as Tyrion Lannister, he’s created a positive awareness around Restricted Growth (Dwarfism), especially not only being part of such a popular television show but playing such a major character within the show. This is an incredible example of how a real disabled actor playing a key role can have such a positive impact and awareness and that professional actors should be considered for these roles regardless of their disability or long-term illness. Rather than playing a typical comedy role which Dwarfs are usually often seen playing, Peter has made a breakthrough for both disability in television and increased the awareness of Dwarfism.

RJ Mitte

Show: Breaking Bad (Cerebral Palsy)

Looking for acting opportunities where his disability would serve to educate viewers, actor RJ Mitte landed his most iconic role to date as Walter “Flynn” White Junior on AMC’s Emmy and Golden Globe Award-winning “Breaking Bad” series. Having Cerebral Palsy, just like his “Breaking Bad” character, RJ Mitte is on a mission to get more disabled people on TV and to increase the awareness. Unlike his character Flynn though, Mitte doesn’t need to rely on any walking devices and RJ had to learn to slur his speech to create a more dramatic version of his own disability. A celebrity ambassador for United Cerebral Palsy, RJ Mitte is an inspiration around the world. He’s engaged in public speaking, has been seen gracing the catwalk and was also part of Channel 4’s Paralympic coverage back in September last year.

Gaten Matarazzo

Show: Stranger Things (Cleidocranial Dysplasia)

Bringing awareness to Cleidocranial Dysplasia, a rare genetic disorder, Gaten Matarazzo is an upcoming actor to watch out for! Known for playing Dustin in Netfl ix’s cult hit series “Stranger Things”, he certainly holds his own as one of the coolest characters. At just 14 years old, Gaten is making a positive awareness around his disability at such a young age by speaking openly about it on chat shows and other media interviews. Although his disability isn’t directly related to his character in “Stranger Things”, Gaten is showing that a professional actor can be cast for a key role despite their disability. With season 2 of “Stranger Things” on the horizon, there’s plenty more of this charismatic little start to come.

Russell Harvard

Show: Fargo (Hearing Loss)

Born with Deafness, Russell Harvard has been acting since a child. Landing his fi rst villainous role as Mr.Wench in “Fargo” the crime-drama television series, he was happy to play somebody that wasn’t himself and play a character that wasn’t defi ned by being deaf. Although Russell Harvard’s role in “Fargo” isn’t a positive character to look up to in the show, since he’s a bit of a villain, the idea that Harvard can play a villain (like any other professional actor) is a step in the right direction for showing that actors can land and should audition for major roles regardless of their disabilities.

Sarah Gordy

Show: Call The Midwife (Down’s Syndrome)

Sarah Gordy, a professional actress, dancer and model with Down’s Syndrome, is best known for her high-profile role as Sally Harper in the BBC’s “Call The Midwife”, a television series set during the 1950s. As well as BBC shows, Sarah has acted in short fi lms, radio dramas, commercials and many theatre productions. With 10 years experience on stage and television, her aim is to play roles where people see her as a woman and actress fi rst rather than just someone with Down’s Syndrome. The BBC’s “Call The Midwife” was a major turning point where they didn’t see her as just an actress with a disability, they saw her as a woman fi rst. Some of Gordy’s earlier accounts with the BBC weren’t so promising though… This stigma around actors with disabilities needs to end.

Colin Young

Show: Call The Midwife (Cerebral Palsy)

Co-star with Sarah Gordy on BBC’s “Call The Midwife”, Colin Young is a disabled actor with Cerebral Palsy. Making his debut in “Call The Midwife”, Colin played the role of Jacob Milligan who had an on-screen relationship with Sally Harper, played by Sarah Gordy who is an actress with Down’s Syndrome. Although featuring two disabled characters having a relationship has been a massive breakthrough for disability portrayal and acceptance within the media thanks to “Call The Midwife”, both Colin Young and Sarah Gordy believe there is still a long way to go. All professional actors who are disabled should be getting cast for their talent and abilities rather than to just portray
their disability.

Michael J. Fox

Show: The Good Wife (Parkinson’s Disease)

Diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 1992 at just 30 years old, Michael J. Fox has soldiered on with his acting career, showing determination and becoming a huge inspiration to other people with disabilities and health conditions. Despite having Parkinson’s Disease, Fox has continuously showed commitment and motivation within his acting career and has successfully contributed to positive awareness around Parkinson’s Disease, by sending out the message that people with a disability or condition can carry out a relatively normal life and do things which they’re passionate about. Landing his recurring role as the character Louis Canning, a cut-throat lawyer, in the CBS drama “The Good Wife”, Michael J. Fox was able to show that just because he’s an actor with a disability, that doesn’t mean he should have to play a role where he’s portrayed as helpless and needs sympathy for the viewers.

Jamie Brewer

Show: American Horror Story (Down’s Syndrome)

Model, actress and active member within the Down’s Syndrome community, Jamie Brewer has been shining the spotlight on Down’s Syndrome with positivity and showing exactly why people should accept such disabilities, especially within the media, and why disabled actors deserve the same opportunities to present their talents. Making history on the New York catwalk in February 2015, Jamie Brewer was the fi rst Down’s Syndrome model to walk at fashion week, thanks to designer Carrie Hammer. This was an incredible milestone for Brewer to be at the forefront of, and thus inspiring many others with disabilities. As well as modelling, Jamie has also been getting a strong reputation for her acting within the television series “American Horror Story”. Playing a range of characters, which included some challenging narratives, the series helped to showcase her acting ability and versatility.

Robert David Hall

Show: CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (Double Leg Amputee)

Robert David Hall is a disabled actor who is best known for his character on CBS’s “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” television series. Being a double leg amputee in real life, David Hall plays the character of a medical examiner called AI Robbins. Not always a double leg amputee, Robert David Hall was severely burned in 1978 from a car accident. After several months in a burn unit and double leg amputation, he now walks comfortably on two prosthetic limbs. A committed disability advocate, Hall has used his position to raise awareness of those issues that impact the quality of life for people with disabilities and recently joined the board of directors of the National Organization on Disability.

Lauren Potter

Show: Glee (Down’s Syndrome)

Taking on the character of Becky Jackson on Fox’s musical comedy show “Glee”, Lauren Potter was born with Down’s Syndrome and is helping to increase the awareness for people to look at an individual’s skills rather than their disability or health condition. Although Lauren has brought plenty of positive connotations for “Glee”, the show has also received quite a lot of negative reviews as well. Lauren’s co-star Kevin McHale plays a character called Artie who is in a wheelchair yet he doesn’t actually use a wheelchair in real life. This just shows the negative impact that casting non-disabled actors for a disabled role can have, even though Lauren Potter has brought a great amount of disability awareness to the show.

Lisa Hammond

Show: Eastenders (Pseudoachondroplasia (Restricted Growth) and Joint Hypermobility)

Born with Pseudoachondroplasia (Restricted Growth) and Joint Hypermobility, Lisa Hammond is best known for her character Donna Yates on the BBC’s “Eastenders” series. Hammond has made an incredible achievement for raising the awareness for Restricted Growth and Joint Hypermobility disabilities, although she has also sadly come under quite a lot of criticism for the role as well. Although Lisa is often seen in a wheelchair in real life, she doesn’t always need to be on it… which led to one of the episodes of Eastenders featuring Donna Yates standing up and out of her wheelchair, which resulted in quite a stir in the media. Although negative, the media attention which Hammond received should hopefully make people realise that not all disabilities are as they appear and just because someone might sometimes need a wheelchair, doesn’t mean they need to be in a wheelchair 24/7.


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