Disabled Actors in Mainstream Media

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Zack Weinstein is an actor and an ambassador for the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation. Photo by Brad Buckman

Zack Weinstein is an actor and an ambassador for the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation. Photo by Brad Buckman

By Valerie Martin

Ever since Glee shook the airwaves last year, the show has garnered controversy over one of its lead roles: Artie Abrams, the wheelchair-bound charismatic (and very talented) singer, played by non-disabled actor Kevin McHale. Since so few high-profile parts for disabled people come out of Hollywood, many disabled actors and activists alike were shocked and disappointed that the role of Artie was not given to an actor that was actually disabled like the character.

Possibly to help set its rep straight, Glee recently aired an episode on May 11 that included a guest-starring role for a disabled actor.  Zack Weinstein got the part and played a character that experienced a spinal injury and was confined to a wheelchair. NPR talked with Weinstein, as well as other disabled performers, on the issue of the representation of people with disabilities in mainstream film and television.

Read or listen to the full story at NPR.

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Comments

  1. valerie says:

    Agreed, thank you Beth for sharing this valuable insight that will help us better frame these kinds of discussion!

    Best,

    Valerie

  2. Thanks very much for your comments Beth. We completely agree and will be more conscious of using people first language in the future.

    Associate Editor, Sharon

  3. Interesting post, Valerie; thanks for sharing. My colleage and I wrote a similar blog about Glee a few months ago: http://hmapr.com/hmatime/?p=2269.

    We have both done a lot of work with and on behalf of people with disabilities, so we’ve learned a lot about the culture of the disability community. One aspect worth noting is that of using “people first language” when writing about or referring to people with disabilities. It’s a way to talk about people with disabilities without allowing their disability to define or restrict them (“wheelchair-bound” and “handicapped” are examples of non-people first language).

    For more examples and their alternatives, click on the following link to Arizona Bridge to Independent Living (ABIL), an advocacy organization for people with disabilities: http://abil.org/power-language-and-labels.

    Writing in people first language is a small change that makes a big difference.

    Cheers!

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