Boston – May 7, 2019 – The Ruderman Family Foundation, a leading advocacy group promoting the rights and representation of people with disabilities, including in popular entertainment, has selected the first four recipients of its Seal of Authentic Representation, Foundation President Jay Ruderman announced today. The Seal, which will be awarded when television or feature film projects featuring actors with disabilities in substantial speaking roles, has been conceived as the premier recognition for those in the entertainment creative community who show the commitment toward full inclusiveness in popular culture.
The initial recipients are:
- “Speechless,” on ABC. Now completing its third season, this comedy centers around the family of a young man with cerebral palsy navigating school and life;
- “NCIS: New Orleans,” on CBS. This long-running drama has featured actor Daryl Mitchell, who uses a wheelchair, as investigator Patton Plame for all of the series’ five seasons;
- “Special,” on Netflix. This new series was recognized for showcasing and celebrating its star/creator, Ryan O’Connell, who spotlights his cerebral palsy as a key part of his mildly fictionalized character;
- “The OA,” on Netflix. Actress Liz Carr, an actress using a wheelchair, has played Dr. Marlow Rhodes on two episodes of Netflix’s fantasy mystery, with the potential for her to appear in more.
“Each of these television programs has demonstrated a commitment to inclusion of actors with disabilities, reflecting a deeper belief in the importance of representing diversity in all forms in popular entertainment,” Jay Ruderman says. “We hope this Seal, along with the example set by each recipient program, inspires the rest of the entertainment community to provide real opportunities for people with disabilities to be part of popular culture’s great storytelling tradition.”
“We at ‘Speechless’ are deeply grateful to the Ruderman Family Foundation for this honor, and we continue to applaud the foundation’s efforts in bringing visibility to disability as a deserving and essential part of the conversation about diversity in media,” the series creator and executive producer Scott Silveri says. “We hope that, one day soon, representation of those with disabilities on our TV and movie screens will be less novel, more the norm. For now, we’ll do our part and keep telling our stories, and cheer on the foundation for their tireless work, opening eyes to their most worthy cause. Sincere thanks to Jay Ruderman and all our friends at the Ruderman Family Foundation for their dedication and for recognizing ‘Speechless.’”
“Daryl ‘Chill’ Mitchell is a charming and talented actor who brings to life the endearing and intelligent character of Patton Plame. We couldn’t imagine anyone else playing that role,” CBS Entertainment Executive Vice President, Current Programs, Amy Reisenbach says. “We are thankful to have such an outspoken and motivational advocate for diversity and inclusion in entertainment be a vital part of the ‘NCIS: New Orleans’ cast and CBS family.”
“On behalf of the whole family of creative people who made ‘Special’ possible, I want to thank the Ruderman Family Foundation for this important honor. We hope we show that people with disabilities, and who are gay, and every other part of my personality, all have a place in popular entertainment,” the show’s creator, producer and star Ryan O’Connell says.
The Ruderman Family Foundation Seal of Authentic Representation will be awarded when productions meet two simple, specific, highly achievable, criteria:
- The Seal is awarded to television shows and movies that feature actors with disabilities with a speaking role of at least five lines;
- These productions must be in, or on the verge of, general release.
Notably, no feature films satisfy that requirement at this time. The film business has a lamentable track record of hiring actors without disabilities to play parts calling for visible or unseen disabilities.
“The inauthentic representation of disability in both studio and independent releases reinforces ongoing prejudices and stigmas that are preventing people with disabilities from opportunities to represent themselves in the entertainment industry,” Ruderman adds. “And since this industry impacts public opinion, it is reinforcing the continued segregation of people with disabilities in our society. Actors with disabilities rarely, if ever, even get a chance to audition for those roles. This continuing discrimination has gone on long enough; it’s long past time for it to stop.”
Recipients of the Seal of Authentic Representation will be selected by a diverse and highly qualified panel of experts, from the Foundation, academia, actors with disabilities and cultural institutions.
Future Ruderman Family Foundation Seal of Authentic Representation recipients will be announced when the standards are met. The Foundation hopes that before long, there will be an abundance of qualified productions. That’s because it believes that inclusion and understanding of all people is essential to a fair and flourishing society.
About the Ruderman Family Foundation
The Ruderman Family Foundation is an internationally recognized organization that advocates for the full inclusion of people with disabilities in our society. The Foundation supports effective programs, innovative partnerships and a dynamic approach to philanthropy in advocating for and advancing the inclusion of people with disabilities throughout the United States and the world.
The Ruderman Family Foundation believes that inclusion and understanding of all people is essential to a fair and flourishing community and imposes these values within its leadership and funding.
For more information, please visit www.rudermanfoundation.org