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BWW Blog: An Open Letter to the Entertainment Industry on Disability Inclusion (From a Woman on the Spectrum)

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Can you paint with no color?

BWW Blog: An Open Letter to the Entertainment Industry on Disability Inclusion (From a Woman on the Spectrum)
Disability Pride Flag.
(Designed by Ann Magill. In the Public Domain.)

Can you paint with no color?

During this year's Disability Pride Month and beyond, many companies have continued to pledge their support for disability inclusion.

But, where is the walk behind the talk?

Ours is a society that is daily becoming more and more dependent on technology and media. With knowledge literally at our fingertips, one would think people with even a modicum of curiosity and initiative could readily educate themselves. Unfortunately, few actually take the initiative. Most choose to get their information from what they see on TV and social media. As a result, media literally becomes the reality.

Only 3.5% of on-screen characters have a disability, and 95% of those actors are not disabled in real life (source). In the rare instances when you do represent disabled communities, you do so inaccurately, and it becomes a slippery slope of harm. Let's take autism as an example.

The few autistic characters that exist perpetuate a stereotype that those on the spectrum are emotionless, incapable, unintelligent, and need to be "cured". The "court of public opinion" reflects the same. According to UN Rights experts, "As part of human diversity, autistic persons should be embraced, celebrated and respected. However, discrimination against autistic children and adults is more the rule rather than the exception." (source). Countless people still believe the many times disproven theory that autism is rooted in vaccines. Think about that for a moment: some people are so afraid of autism that they will opt out of providing living-saving medicine to their children. This fear leads to inhumane medical treatment of those on the spectrum such as heavy prescribing of powerful mood altering or anti-psychotic drugs (source). Applied Behavorial Analysis (ABA) forces neurotypical behaviors and suppression of autistic traits, which leads to extreme exhaustion, anxiety, depression, and self-harming behaviors (source). Autistic individuals have an unemployment rate of 80% (source). 70% of autistic adults have reported sexual abuse (source). Overall, individuals on the spectrum are at a significantly higher risk for interpersonal violence victimization due to stigmas (source). In July 2021, a Massachusetts court overturned the FDA's ban on shock device use on autistic and disabled students (source).


Autistic people are THREE times more likely to commit suicide and are at increased risk for self-harming behaviors as a result of a society that doesn't accept them for who they are (source). When a society doesn't accept it first marginalizes, next it rejects, then ultimately it ejects.

In reality, autism is not something to be "cured". It is simply a different way of thinking that may require extra support, which is nothing to be ashamed of. "Neurodiversity refers to the idea that neurological differences, such as those seen in autism or ADHD, reflect normal variations in brain development." (source). If we represent neurodiversity in media in this way instead of the "us and them" ideology, beliefs begin to change, and injustices begin to lessen.

If you have the power to change representation in the media and choose not to, you're hurting us.

Imagine Van Gogh's masterpiece Starry Night, one of the most beautiful paintings in history. Its blue, yellow, green, black hues and more were arrayed with exquisite beauty through the mind and hand of an artist.

Now, imagine with me, that Van Gogh was told this: "you have ONE shade of blue, and you must produce for me a masterpiece for the ages." One color and only one shade. How would he do it?

It would be impossible.

The same goes with media.

When limited to one color, you rob the world of a masterpiece.

Luckily, in this instance, you have a choice.

Not only is proper representation vital for the safety and well-being of disabled communities, but it is a smart move economically. From the Ruderman Family Foundation's 2019 Study, "Disability Inclusion in Movies and Television: Market Research, 2019": "about half of US households support accurate portrayals of disabled characters and would sign up for a content distributor committed to disabled actors. Their spending power is estimated at $10.4 billion per month for US households." (source) That's 125 billion dollars a year. Compare that to the 2021 net worth of The Walt Disney Company. Disney's net worth is 130 billion. By telling disabled communities' stories, the potential revenue per YEAR is almost that of the ENTIRE worth of one of the world's largest and most influential companies! "When you include their families, friends and associates, that total expands to more than $1 trillion." (source).

1 in 4 Americans has a disability (source). It's high time for the media to step up and deliver on empty words with meaningful follow-through: Hire disabled people. Let THEM share their authentic stories. LISTEN to them when they say what you're doing is wrong, and change your ways.

People fear what they don't understand. Educate them with proper representation in media and watch the world bloom in living color. When you let the colors in and change the narrative in media, everything begins to change, and the world is better for it.

Without diversity, there is no art.

Can you paint with no color?

Yours sincerely,

Bea

19 years old

Autistic & T1D & Proud

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From This Author Student Blogger: Bea Mienik