The Ruderman Family Foundation has awarded "Years and Years," "General Hospital," "Tales of the City," "Raising Dion" and "Loudermilk" with its latest Seals of Authentic Representation for casting actors with disabilities.
A leading advocate for disability inclusion, the organization bestows honors on TV series that "feature actors with disabilities with a speaking role of at least five lines" and "are in, or on the verge of, general release." This marks the third time the foundation has recognized inclusive projects this year, with ABC's "Speechless," Hulu's "Ramy" and Netflix's "Stranger Things," "Special" and "The OA" among past honorees.
"Given our belief that inclusion and understanding of all people is essential to a fair and flourishing society, the foundation's Seal of Authentic Representation is a simple yet crucial and indispensable affirmation of those in the entertainment industry who put these values into action," said Jay Ruderman, president of the foundation, in a statement provided to The Times.
"By giving credit where credit is due in Hollywood, we hope to inspire a broader, longer-term, industrywide sea change when it comes to authentically casting actors of all abilities."
ABC's long-running medical soap "General Hospital" this year qualified for the award by casting Maysoon Zayid -- an actress and disability advocate with cerebral palsy -- as Shiloh's lawyer, while HBO and BBC's "Years and Years" made the cut with Ruth Madeley's Rosie Lyons, a single mother who, like the actress who plays her, has spina bifida.
"Being cast as Rosie Lyons was an absolute dream and a huge step in the industry toward better portrayal of characters with disabilities," Madeley said in a statement. "Rosie was not initially written as a disabled character, which only made her development even more interesting and real. To have the opportunity to work with Russell T. Davies and Red Production Company in making Rosie as authentic as possible is an experience I will cherish forever."
Netflix's "Tales of the City" and "Raising Dion" garnered recognition for hiring a deaf actor and an actress with osteogenesis imperfecta type III, or "brittle bone disease," respectively. Dickie Hearts plays a deaf butler in "Tales of the City," while 9-year-old Sammi Haney portrays Esperanza, who uses a wheelchair in "Raising Dion."
"Authentic representation of people with disabilities allows us as actors with disabilities to add depth and nuance to the characters we're portraying by drawing on our own lived experiences," Hearts said in a statement.
Finally, Audience's "Loudermilk" nabbed the fifth seal for tapping Mat Fraser, who has phocomelia, as Roger. Fraser also coined the phrase "spacking up," which "laments how able-bodied actors all too often play roles that involve disabilities." The foundation estimates that 95% of TV characters with disabilities are played by able-bodied actors.
"Being acknowledged for hiring Mat Fraser feels redundant and unnecessary, as we've already benefited greatly from his brilliant performances," said "Loudermilk" co-creator and co-executive producer Peter Farrelly.
Throughout the years, the Ruderman Family Foundation has published multiple studies examining the lack of representation for the disability community in Hollywood. Its most recent report, "Disability Inclusion in Movies and Television," found that viewers have noticed the scarcity as well, and are open to greater authenticity.
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