Speechless Creator Wants More Roles for Actors with Disabilities
Speechless creator Scott Silveri took to the stage at the Television Academy Honors to call for the casting of more actors with disabilities in Hollywood. ABC's Speechless is a sitcom about a family who has a son with cerebral palsy, and not only tackles important issues, but is also funny while doing so. One of the major sticking points of portraying disabilities in Hollywood is that more often than not, the actors playing the character don't have an actual disability. While Hollywood argues for a diversity push for race and gender differences, people with disabilities have been left out in the cold.
Variety reports that Speechless was celebrated at the Television Academy Honors along with five other shows for their drive to inspire change and change lives. Silveri used his time on stage to make a point about the lack of people with disabilities in Hollywood. Read Silveri's comments below.
"The number of Americans with disabilities is a lot, people on TV with disabilities is not a lot, and the number of those people portrayed by actual performers with disabilities is like next to none. Sorry to beat you down with statistics, but the numbers don't lie,"
And unfortunately, those statistics are true. Speechless is currently carrying the torch, so to speak, for advocating for the rights of people with disabilities on television. Silveri went on to say that he hasn't always been aware of the situation. Silveri explains.
"Please believe me that I'm on no high horse talking about this stuff, because before I was part of this show I didn't care a lick about this stuff. I am very late to the party. In the 20 years I was doing this before, the number of people I cast with disabilities was a whopping zero, and I should know better. But I'm here to share from my very positive and fortunate firsthand experience that barriers to casting those with disabilities are false and imagined, and the rewards are great."
We've seen people with Down's syndrome, cerebral palsy, and autism portrayed in Hollywood by actors with the disabilities. But it's time to start seeing these people play roles that aren't dependent on their disability.
Actor Micah Fowler stars in Speechless as Jimmy J.J. DiMeo as a high school student with cerebral palsy who has a great sense of humor. J.J. is unable to speak so he uses assistive technology to communicate, pointing out words or letters with headgear and a laser pointer attached. Fowler, unlike his character is able to speak and has recently expressed interest to play parts in Star Wars and The Flash. Fowler has recently said that actors without disabilities play 98% of the disabled roles in movies and television and that people have a lot of misconceptions about people with special needs. He has been quoted as saying "Many people tend to generalize the functioning levels of people with disabilities," which is unfortunate.
The numbers are low, but the number of actors with disabilities in Hollywood is slowly starting to crawl up. One of the major factors in the rise is because Speechless is showing America a relatively realistic way of dealing with special needs. People get up in arms about actors who are straight playing gay roles and white actors playing people of color, so why not able-bodied actors playing people with disabilities?