Los Angeles (July 26, 2005) – Fifteen years after the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law, Screen Actors Guild (SAG) released the executive summary of a first-of-its-kind study Tuesday that reveals performers with disabilities (PWDs) are significantly underrepresented in the entertainment industry and often reluctant to ask producers for even the most minor accommodations.
According to “The Employment of Performers with Disabilities in the Entertainment Industry” report, 54 million Americans (20 percent of all Americans) are living with a mental or physical disability, yet less than 2 percent of TV show characters display a disability and only 0.5 percent have speaking roles. General findings show that performers with disabilities are more than 50 percent more likely to experience workplace discrimination than Americans without disabilities. Also significant, while more than 33 percent of SAG’s performers with disabilities indicate a reasonable accommodation would help them in their work, 60 percent never ask for an accommodation—even one so slight as having a cane nearby or asking a producer to face them when they speak—because they fear employers would be reluctant to hire them.
The findings were announced by CSI: Crime Scene Investigation regular Robert David Hall, who chairs SAG’s National Performers with Disabilities Committee. Hall, who lost both legs in a car accident in 1978, was flanked by CSI cast mates William Petersen, Marg Helgenberger, Jorja Fox, David Berman and Wallace Langham, along with former Guild president William Schallert, 1st Vice President Anne-Marie Johnson and SAG General Counsel David White.
“The ADA was a quantum leap in the right direction, and SAG has been a tremendous advocate,” Hall said. “But today we have the first real documentation of what performers with disabilities and their advocates have long suspected: we have far to go to achieve true equality of opportunity. Without it, everyone loses—the performers, the studios, the viewers. The images we see and the stories we tell say a lot about our society. We are part of the story."
The new study is especially significant because little data currently exists on the experiences and representation of performers with disabilities. The annual Casting Data Report tallies opportunities in film and television solely by race, ethnicity, gender and age. However, the Guild announced today that it and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers are jointly petitioning the U.S. Labor Department to permit the expansion of the report to include annual information on performers with disabilities.
“In film and television, we deal in the world of fiction and ‘make-believe,’” said Guild 1st Vice President Anne-Marie Johnson, who chairs SAG’s Ethnic Employment Opportunity Committee. “But we must reject the fiction of the homogeneity of the American people. In terms of social change, 15 years is a very short time. We still have our work cut out for us in casting, in the portrayals we put in front of America, in the reasonable accommodations we make—to move beyond the stereotypes and limitations that still confine these performers and this industry.”
The executive summary of the report is accessible at www.sag.org. (Click here to read the executive summary.) The complete 23-page report will be posted on the SAG Web site in coming weeks. The study was commissioned by Screen Actors Guild and made possible by a grant from the SAG-Producers Industry Advancement and Cooperative Fund (IACF). Research was conducted by Olivia Raynor, Ph.D. and Katherine Hayward, Ph.D. at the National Arts and Disability Center at UCLA.
Since its beginnings, SAG has fought for inclusiveness in casting. In the 1980s, SAG was instrumental in bringing awareness about performers with disabilities. Guild leaders also were high-profiles advocates for passage of the ADA of 1990. Through dedicated staff on both coasts, regular seminars, special screenings and workshops, SAG continually strives to expand the opportunities available in the entertainment industry for underrepresented performers. SAG’s Diversity, Special Skills and Talent bank provides producers and casting directors immediate access to performers.
Screen Actors Guild is the nation’s largest labor union representing working actors. Established in 1933, SAG has a rich history in the American labor movement, from standing up to studios to break long-term engagement contracts in the 1940s to fighting for artists’ rights amid the digital revolution sweeping the entertainment industry in the 21st century. With 20 branches nationwide, SAG represents nearly 120,000 working actors in film, television, industrials, commercials and music videos. The Guild exists to enhance actors’ working conditions, compensation and benefits and to be a powerful, unified voice on behalf of artists’ rights. SAG is a proud affiliate of the AFL-CIO. Headquartered in Los Angeles, you can visit SAG online at www.sag.org.