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  • Emily Lickman

The Disability Community Deserves Real Representation

Updated: Mar 27

My name is Emily Lickman, I’m 18 years old, and as a member of the Disability Community, I am tired of TV shows that keep hiring nondisabled people to play disabled characters. A little bit of background, I first discovered this issue, which is near and dear to my heart, while watching a TV show called Superstore which has a character named Garrett who is a wheelchair user. I said to myself, “This is cool representation for the Disability Community, how awesome to have such a good representation of disability.” I loved that the character’s storyline focus was not about his disability and instead just depicted him in his day to day life. His character did not convey that it was depressing to have a disability, but instead he had a sense of humor with being disabled.

A young white woman with long brown hair and glasses smiling at the camera

One day after seeing many episodes with my parents, I was watching a behind the scenes interview video on YouTube, and they introduced the actor and I was confused as to why he was walking. I looked at the comments and many other people were shocked by the same discovery. Then I watched another interview where he shared about how big of a responsibility it was to play a character that was disabled. The actor shared that they had auditioned disabled actors but ended up going with him.

This was not the first time a nondisabled actor played a disabled character. I noticed it happening again when I watched Glee and I realized that Artie was played by an actor who is not in a wheelchair. Then I saw it again with Magda in Jane the Virgin. These are just three examples in a long list of disabled characters played by nondisabled actors. I thought to myself, “Seriously, what is going on with TV productions?” I hate seeing nondisabled actors in these roles. It fills me with so much frustration and I am certain that other people with disabilities must feel the same way.

The executive producers of the movies and tv shows may try to make characters who are good or neutral representations of disability, but they lose the message they are trying to send about disability representation by letting a nondisabled person play that character. In my opinion, it is even worse when casting directors and networks let disabled people audition then decide to go with a non-disabled actor. It is not actually inclusive. There are already so few disabled characters on television that it’s disappointing to see all of these opportunities taken away from actors with disabilities.

Seeing all of these nondisabled actors playing disabled characters started to make me actually question whether disabled people can even act, but then I am reminded how many barriers actors with disabilities have and the way ableism makes people think it is okay to cast nondisabled actors.

I hope that tv networks, directors, and casting agents stop hiring non disabled actors for disabled characters. The acceptance of this practice excludes amazing disabled actors and is not true representation. There are talented disabled actors who already do not get a lot of opportunities just waiting for roles perfect for them. Disabled actors should be treated equally.

Emily Lickman is 18 years old and graduated from EmpowHer Camp in July as a member of the Class of 2023. During her camp experience, Emily educated her school leadership on the issues with ALICE drills and helped to implement a plan for students with disabilities during active shooter drills.


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