Changing the Narrative of Disability in Documentary Film: A Toolkit for Inclusion & Accessibility

Mar 18, 2023

“I think we are all looking for this day in which people with disabilities are in films not because of their disability but because we are a part of society, and part of the fabric of life. That’s the world I’m really shooting for us to see.” – Jim LeBrecht, Co-Director of Crip Camp

There are 61 million disabled people in the USA today but despite making up over 25% of the US population, D/deaf and disabled people are chronically under-served on-screen, behind the camera and as consumers of screen storytelling.

Currently, there has been no reliable data gathered about the percentage of D/deaf and disabled people who make up the film workforce behind the camera. Meanwhile, on screen “according to GLAAD’s Where We Are on TV ’18- ’19, only 2.1 percent of primetime broadcast TV series regulars — or a total of 16 characters — have disabilities. A recent Annenberg study found that, across the 100 top-grossing movies of 2016, only 2.7 percent of characters were depicted with a disability, only 2.5 percent of characters were depicted with a disability over the past 10 years, and nearly half of the films across the top 100 did not include a single character with a disability. Of those small numbers of characters, 95 percent are played by non-disabled actors on television.” The National Conference of State Legislatures states that “Unemployment rates for people with disabilities are higher across all education levels compared to those without a disability.” And those of us that experience multiple forms of oppression – including women, Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) and LGBTQ+ people – are significantly underrepresented within D/deaf and disabled filmmaking.

D/deaf and disabled film audiences are also chronically underserved and consistently underrepresented across all film platforms. A minority of distributed films have been made accessible with high-quality captions and audio description.

Meanwhile, “the total disposable income for working-age people with disabilities is about $490 billion” in the USA. We find ourselves in an unprecedented moment of creative and financial opportunity for the film industry if we engage with authentic disabled-led storytelling and talent, make our media genuinely accessible, and better understand and cater to the 61 million D/deaf and disabled people in the USA who together make up an underserved, hungry and financially-resourced audience.

This Toolkit for Inclusion & Accessibility has been created by FWD-Doc: Documentary Filmmakers with Disabilities in association with Doc Society and supported by Netflix, to help the film industry do just that with a view to best practice, not just compliance.

Access The Guide Here

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