Twenty percent. People with disabilities are twenty percent of the population. That’s a huge number! Yet we are invisible on the screen, either screen, take your pick. Actors with disabilities are working hard to change that, though.
In 2016, RJ Mitte spoke out about the issue ahead of the Paralympic Games in the UK.
“I’m really looking forward to co-presenting the Paralympics and I truly hope Rio 2016 will open up further opportunities for other disabled actors in TV,” he said at the Edinburgh TV Festival. He knew that Paralympics coverage was in a unique position to help raise awareness about something that matters to us all: representation.
At the festival he explained how his disability informed his work on Breaking Bad—and not just in the way you’re thinking.
“I wouldn’t be in the position I am in today without my disability. I utilized everything I know about living with cerebral palsy for my role in Breaking Bad,” Mitte told the Irish Examiner. “It was my acting ability that landed me the role, although my disability helped get me the part of Walt Junior—like everyone else, I went through a grueling audition process.”
In other words, yes, his disability was essential to the part, just like his excellent acting. But his disability also informed his experience and made him into the actor he is. A person who has never experienced pain, fear, or rejection is not going to be able to draw on relevant experiences as an actor, but having disabilities in an ableist world are teachers in that department. Actors with disabilities can show us this, if we only cast them.
Mitte also appeared as part of a panel discussion with a team of amazing actors with disabilities in 2016. Seeing things like that can make a person feel. . .well, hopeful. But in the meantime, there’s still lots of work to be done.
“I would love to switch on my TV and see a disabled person talking about something they are genuinely interested in or acting out a part that doesn’t just focus on their impairment,” Mitte said.
Read more about The Hollywood Problem and actors with disabilities here.