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Nielsen’s TV content analysis company Gracenote will begin tracking on-screen disability representation as part of its inclusion data, which currently covers talent gender, race, ethnicity and sexual orientation.

“As of September 2022, there were 923,229 total television program titles available to audiences, up 43% since the third quarter of 2019,” per Gracenote. “And while the volume of disability-inclusive content has increased over time, progress is slow, especially when compared to the increase in available programming generally. According to Nielsen Gracenote Inclusion Analytics, disability inclusion in video content peaked in 2019, when 518 productions were released featuring people with disabilities. But this number is just a drop in the bucket when it comes to total content production. As of December this year 7,556 video titles included disability thematic attributes, but that represents just 4.1% of the 183,089 total titles with descriptor metadata released during the same period.

While the CDC reports that 26% of Americans have a visible or non-apparent disability, Share of Screen analysis from Gracenote Inclusion Analytics says 8.8% of the top recurring cast members in popular broadcast, cable and streaming programs represent the disabled community.

Nielsen’s 2022 Attitudes on Representation on TV study found that 48% of viewers “are more likely to watch content in which their identity group is represented,” up 13% from the previous year, while 34% of people with disabilities surveyed said they “felt under-represented in media and 52% said they were inaccurately represented.”

“By providing visibility into the presence of physical, intellectual, cognitive, mental and sensory impairments in people appearing in popular programming, Gracenote Inclusion Analytics paves the way for more equitable and accurate representation amongst the disability community and more informed decision-making around content investments,” Nielsen’s Gracenote said.

The company will now begin tracking these disability-representation points in its Inclusion Analytics:

  • Neurodivergence
  • Intellectual/Developmental
  • Visual
  • Hearing
  • Physical
  • Mental Health

Gracenote will also provide data for Black, indigenous and people of color, “with more parameters coming soon to provide more granular insights into intersectionality.”

“One show putting a spotlight on people with visible disabilities is ‘Dead to Me’ — a dark comedy about the friendship between a recent widow and a free spirit with a secret. Actress Christina Applegate, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2021, plays one of the two main characters, Jen,” Gracenote stated Thursday in a blog post announcing its new diversity representation data tracking, noting that Applegate is “one of a very few” leading actors “with an visible disability.”

The Nielsen-owned company pointed out that increase in disability representation could “mean increased revenue for inclusive content providers and platforms,” with brands spending $738 million on advertisements in disability-inclusive broadcast and cable programs in Q3 of this year, while total ad spend on broadcast and cable in the same period was $9.9 billion.

“More than one in four Americans today are living with a disability, yet actors without disabilities are still casted to portray them in TV shows and films,” Halleh Kianfar, vice president of product at Gracenote, said. “This is one example pointing to the large opportunity to create and invest in more representative content. Initiating positive change starts with measuring the diversity of talent featured in it across a range of identity groups and intersectionalities and we’re proud that Gracenote Inclusion Analytics serves this critical purpose.” 

Lauren Appelbaum, senior vice president of communications and entertainment and news media at RespectAbility, added: “We were honored to provide input to Nielsen’s Gracenote leading to new metrics indicating progress on representation of disabled talent on screen. Being able to measure the gap in representation of disability is a powerful capability that equips the media industry to act and invest in representative content and disabled talent. We hope tracking representation will lead to an increase over time.”