Disabled Characters Decreased on Television

Georgia Tech’s AMAC Center
January 12, 2016
The Future of Braille and Advancing Technology
January 26, 2016

For the first time in two years, the number of characters with disabilities on prime-time television is on the decline, a new report finds.

There are just eight regularly appearing characters with disabilities expected this year on scripted prime-time programs on ABC, CBS, The CW, Fox and NBC, representing 0.9 percent of all characters.

Last season, by comparison, there were 11 such characters with disabilities. With the numbers going down, the inclusion of disabled characters causes the steps toward progress that disabled people have made take a turn in the wrong direction.

FOX leads the networks with four characters with disabilities on its schedule, while ABC is expected to have two and there are one each at CBS and The CW. NBC will have none, the report found.

On cable, ABC Family will feature two characters with disabilities and there is one on Showtime. The streaming service, Hulu, also claims a single character with a disability.

To determine the number broadcasted, characters were considered to have a disability if they would be covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Portrayals of disabilities have already appeared on Fox in “Empire,” “Rosewood” and “Scream Queens” in addition to ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Marvel’s Agent Carter” as well as CBS’s “NCIS: New Orleans” and “The 100” on The CW.

Cable shows include “Switched at Birth” and “Pretty Little Liars” on ABC Family and “Shameless” on Showtime. Hulu will feature a character with a disability on the Australian drama “Neighbours,” the report said.

The presence of a disabled person on a network television show does more than just include a disabled person. It gives people with disabilities something that they can relate to more. Television shows should be a realistic depiction of what life is really like, and not all lives are led by able bodied people. Hopefully, within the next few years, we will see the number of disabled people included in these programs rise to a realistic number that actually represents the disabled population in our country.