Philanthropist-executive Jay Ruderman has a very specific message for the television industry: You’re on the right path, but there’s still a long way to go.
The Ruderman Foundation has been championing causes since 2002, and has recently focused on Hollywood’s neglect of people with disabilities, or PWD. Amid all the talk about Hollywood’s lack of inclusive hiring, no group has been more ignored. So in May the Ruderman Family Foundation began to salute those rare works that offer “authentic” depictions of PWD, meaning the character has more than five lines and is portrayed by a person with disabilities.
“We’re trying to generate conversation,” says Ruderman, who will be at Variety’s TV Summit June 12. “This industry is more powerful in shaping attitudes than any other. For the last few years, our organization has been critical, pointing out representations of disabilities that are not authentic. But we also want to recognize those who are doing it right.”
Speaking at Variety’s May 9 Inclusion Summit, Ruderman pointed out that America’s unemployment rate was 3.6%, yet roughly 70% of PWD are out of work.
Ruderman says it’s not only about artistry, civil rights and human decency — it’s also about good business. ABC’s “The Good Doctor,” centering on a character with autism, is a big hit and proves that audiences are looking for new and original stories.
The Ruderman Foundation’s white papers on the subject include the fact that people with disabilities are about 20% of the population, yet are rarely portrayed onscreen — and when they are, 95% of the time it’s by an actor who does not share that condition.
As Ruderman says, “It’s routinely seen as ‘good acting.’ There is a saying in the community, ‘nothing about us, without us.’”
In other words, don’t depict a character in a wheelchair, and then cast an able-bodied actor in the role.
Pictured: Netflix’s “Special”