Number of Disabled TV Characters Is At All-Time High

old-fashioned TV set

According to an analysis released earlier this month, the number of disability portrayals on current TV shows is at an all-time high. The analysis was done by GLAAD, a media advocacy organization for the gay and lesbian community.

Among series regulars appearing this season on scripted prime-time network programs, 15 are expected to have disabilities. That is nearly double the number of portrayals of disability on network shows last season (there were only eight).

For the 2016-2017 season, the report found that characters with disabilities account for 1.7 percent of all series regulars on network shows. This is the highest percentage ever recorded (at least since GLAAD started tracking disability representation on TV in 2010).

Network shows that will feature characters with disabilities include:

  • “Empire”
  • “24: Legacy”
  • “Rosewood”
  • “Superstore”
  • “Taken”
  • “Trial & Error”
  • “This is Us”
  • “Grey’s Anatomy”
  • “How to Get Away with Murder”
  • Speechless”
  • “NCIS: New Orleans”
  • “Scorpion”
  • “The 100”

The change in the number of TV characters with disabilities is heartening. Producers and screenwriters are getting the message that they need to portray disability in their shows. It is not acceptable to ignore this huge segment of the population.

If the trend of improvement continues, perhaps someday the proportion of disabled characters on TV will be the same as it is in real life.

Currently, however, the proportion of TV characters with disabilities is not even close to reflecting reality. The 1.7% of regularly appearing characters is a tiny proportion compared with the 20% of people living in the United States who have disabilities.

20%. That’s 1 out of every 5 real people, as opposed to less than 1 out of 50 TV characters.

We have made major progress, but there is still a long way to go.

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