Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Australian non-profit plans new documentary TV series that will focus on people with disabilities

Frustrated by representation of disability in the media, particularly in television, the Attitude Foundation, founded by former disability discrimination commissioner Graeme Innes, is seeking to change the story. 
A 13-episode documentary series will feature “interesting people who happen to have a disability” telling their story. 
Alex Varley, the foundation’s CEO, told Pro Bono News the portrayal of disability in television didn’t reflect real life. 
“When we were looking at where are the issues, the problems around the portrayal of people with disability, we recognised that the big area is the way that people with disability are portrayed in the media,” Varley said. 
“You’ve really got two dimensions for that. One is that you don’t necessarily see many people with a disability actually in the media, particularly… television programs where you have normal drama. 
“There’s some Screen Australia studies which have shown that around 4 per cent of characters in Australian drama are people with disability, whereas of course the general population is around 18 to 20 per cent. 
“And then when you actually see people with disability in things like television programs, there’s a lot of stereotypes.” 
One of the stereotypes, according to Varley, is the idea that disability needs to be cured. 
“Particularly when you’re watching things like the news where a very typical scenario is the scientist or the doctor who has discovered some miracle cure for a poor disabled child who is helpless and pitiful, and really focusing all the time on those extreme stories and extreme portrayals of disability,” he said. 
“Whereas in fact we know… most people with disabilities are not helpless.“They’re just ordinary people getting on with their lives and sometimes their disability and the way that society deals with it may impact on their lives, but it doesn’t define them necessarily.” 
The Attitude Foundation said other common stereotypes included “disabled villains”, with disability framed as the as the basis of resentment or “objects of total inspiration”, where a person is shown to “overcome” their disability. 
Varley said accurate representations of other minority groups have been proven to change societal attitudes. 
“Television still has a major impact,” he said. 
“There’s a few research studies that have been done over the years and in fact one of the more famous ones was the ‘Will and Grace effect’, after that American TV show, which was actually about attitudes towards gay people. 
“What that showed… is that it actually helped to change mainstream attitudes towards gay people as just being part of society as your colleagues, your friends and neighbours and everyone else.” 
There are some guidelines that television studios are supposed to follow around the portrayal of people with disability. 
But Varley said, despite these measures chipping away at the issue, it wasn’t enough. 
“We look at it and say: ‘Can we actually change every single television program that appears?’ and of course the obvious answer to that is: ‘Well no you can’t,’” he said. 
He said there were a number of reasons to produce TV series featuring people with disabilities. 
“The reason for us doing it and making a series from it is that you get prolonged exposure,” he said. 
“And what you get to see then is the variety of people with disability, and it’s not all about the stereotypes like every blind person has a guide dog or carries a white cane… or every person with a physical disability is in a wheelchair. 
“It’s about us focusing on something that we think is achievable, that we know will have an impact, and that we can help to control that message and get those proper stories made by people with disabilities.” 
Varley said the series would be in a similar style to Australian Story.“It’s about telling an individual’s story – someone with disability – and it’s not going to be sensationalist,” he said. 
“But obviously the people who will be involved in the programs will have interesting stories in themselves. No one watches boring television and you don’t change attitudes if no one watches it. 
“But what it will do is really give you more nuances and tease out how they live and what happens when their disability impacts on them because of what society does.” 
The Attitude Foundation is fundraising to produce the pilot episode.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Ruderman Family Foundation challenges TV content creators to audition, cast more actors with disabilities this pilot season

The Ruderman TV Challenge was designed to continue our work in Hollywood and advocate for greater inclusion of performers with disabilities. At a time when the discussion around the need for greater diversity in Hollywood is garnering great attention, disability is still being left out. But disability is a fundamental part of the human experience and needs to be included in depictions of diversity. 

This project by the Foundation builds on the widelycovered Ruderman White Paper on the Employment of Actors with Disabilitiesa study which found that only 5% of all characters with disabilities on screen were portrayed by performers with disabilities. It also comes as the next step after we hosted the Ruderman Studio-Wide Roundtable on Disability Inclusion in Los Angeles attended by around 200 industry insiders this past November. 
The context that demonstrates the need for more inclusion of people with disabilities on screen is self-evident. Approximately 20% of people have a disability, which makes them the largest minority in the U.S. However, depictions of disability in film and television are consistently around or under 2% of all characters—a statistic that shows a staggering discrepancy of representation. 
What we’re asking is a simple request for television content creators to audition and cast more performers with disabilities this pilot season. 
As pilots are still being announced and filmed, several roles remain to be cast. While it would be great to have far more performers with disabilities in principal roles, we challenge content creators to raise the visibility of the disability community in a much lower-stakes, higher-impact approach: cast any minor role or even background character as a person with disabilities. Do you still need to fill the role of the bank teller or the woman taking her dog for a walk in the background? Audition talented actors who are wheelchair-users, or amputees or any other disability. 
We will track the pilots this season and study the results of this challenge to learn which show and/or network excels in its commitment to inclusion and diversity. The results will be published in advance of the 2017 Emmys. 
How can this be done? 
Scripted shows like SpeechlessNCIS: New Orleans and Switched at Birth for example are authentically portraying disability and successfully demonstrating not only that there are incredibly talented performers who are people with disabilities, but that audiences embrace these characters. Audiences are hungry for representation of themselves and their family members on screen. Television has the power to shatter disability myths. 
For this project we have teamed up with two remarkable industry influencers: Daryl “Chill” Mitchell, a long-time advocate of diversity and inclusion, producer, and actor well-known for his current role in the CBS hit NCIS: New Orleans. And with Tari Hartman Squire, the creator of Lights! Camera! Access! 2.0 Collaborative, a veteran of the disability inclusion movement in Hollywood and the builder of school-to-screen pipelines for inclusion. 
With her help we have compiled a list of resources to get you started. If you have any questions, please contact Kristina Kopic, the co-author of the Ruderman White Paper on the Employment of Actors with Disabilities, and one of the collaborators of the Ruderman TV Challenge. You can reach her at kristina@rudermanfoundation.org  
We look forward to seeing your creative and innovative commitment to inclusion. 
Disability-Inclusive Diversity Resources:
  • Breakdown Services/Actors Access (over 4,000 performers with disabilities):
  • Changing the Face of Beauty:
  • Disability Film Challenge (open to aspiring filmmakers with disabilities):
  • DisBeat (authentic disability sources for journalists):
  • GLAAD Where Are We On TV: Annual Diversity Report:
  • Inclusion in the Arts (performers with disabilities and portrayals):
  • LCA 2.0 Clinton Global Initiative (Commitment to Action):
  • LCA 2.0/EIN SOF Communications (employment-in front of and behind the camera/portrayals):
  • Media Access Awards:
  • Meet the Biz:
  • SAG-AFTRA Diversity Committees (including PwD):
  • Writers Guild of America West – Diversity:

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

In honor of International Women's Day, a Helen Keller essay on women and peace

A column from Helen Keller, called “Women and Peace” that she wrote for Home magazine in February 1930. (Read more of Keller's essays in Byline of Hope from the Advocado Press.)

We are standing on the threshold of the New Year.  The world goes on from year to year with its burden of suffering and misery that need not be.

Some of us are asking ourselves if the time has not come for women to put the world-house in order.  We are weary of groping among the shadows of old sins!  We want more light, more life, more love!  Above all, we want peace—peace of mind, peace in the world.  

Since the beginning of history women have dreamed of a day when the Dove of Peace should descend upon the world, and no one should make them afraid.  That day has always been postponed, defeated, the lovely vision retreating with their retreat and advancing with their advance.  Always the women, the sweethearts, the young wives and mothers have looked forward to that day, mocked at by the old, the politicians, the militarists. The sacred, perfect world of love and harmony has ever seemed like a spirit without a body; but it has lived on in the hearts of profits, seers and women, and that which liveth shall take shape and stand forth incarnate, manifest unto all eyes.  

I believe that the idea of peace is more alive in our hearts today than ever before.  We do not need to go to the Scriptures of the sages of a thousand years to find it.  It is within us.  We contain all things—the past with its hate, cruelty and greed; the future radiant with the hope of a world where the nations shall be in love with each other, without fear and without danger; and the present in which to work, and bring strong desire to renew and reorganize our habits.  Ours is the mission of universal peace, since in us alone is the life of the generations.  Let us, then, resolve, while we ache with the memory of lovers, husbands and sons dead, that no more battlefields shall be covered with their young bodies.  Peace will not begin until women everywhere make the idea of peace live in their home talk, their books, their art and their lives.  

She should say not, then, “I am only one woman, I can do nothing.  Men make war and peace, it is their affair, not ours.”  True, men have been the masters of the world—the autocrats of statecraft; but, what have they done to put the world-house in order? Have they not imperiled the human race with their diplomacy?

Let us not be deceived by talk about war to end war.  That is propaganda which closes the mind and prevents education from opening it to the facts.  Violence does not, and never will, yield to violence.  There is a great, vibrant renaissance coming through women.  They will not continue to tolerate the old hateful things their eyes have opened upon New Year after New Year.

When women in all lands are fully awake to their missions, their efforts will ensure the final triumph of justice.  They can do more than any conference of diplomats to help usher in the dawn of a new era of good-will and peace and righteousness. When such patriotism is taught in our schools and churches, there shall arise the warm, throbbing, one-hearted Empire of Brothers.