Amy Poehler, Naomie Harris and Jessica Barden are among the 80 actors and entertainment professionals who have signed an open letter against prejudice and discrimination towards disabled talent in Hollywood.
The letter states that there is an “urgent need to act on disability inclusion” and demands that major studios appoint permanent disability officers, who would have a variety of responsibilities including seeking out opportunities for disabled talent and ensuring inclusive and accessible hiring practices.
Around one in four adults in the US have some form of disability, according to government figures, yet one study found that just 3.5 per cent of regular characters in TV series were disabled in 2020.
Of the 27 Oscar winners who have played characters with a disability, only two were portrayed by disabled actors: Harold Russell in 1946 for The Best Years of Our Lives and Marlee Matlin in 1987 for Children of a Lesser God.
The letter and the #DontDismissDis campaign have been organised by agent Keely Cat-Wells, who said she lost a job because of her disability when she was an actor.
“Covid-19 made productions recruit Covid officers and specialists to keep cast and crew members safe so they could keep accessing work, in order to save as many jobs as possible,” she said.
“The disabled community have faced threats, lost jobs and dealt with a lack of access long before Covid-19, and unlike this situation, there has been no drastic steps to provide security.”
Harris added: “If you show the injustice of the system and say, ‘Look, here’s a way forward,’ it makes it more difficult for people to ignore.”
In an accompanying document, titled Hollywood Horror Stories, disabled talent anonymously detailed the discrimination they have encountered.
One actor said: “I was asked to audition where the audition room was up a flight of stairs with no elevator, the role specifically asked for someone who was disabled to play the role.”