Jessica Tomko: Disability representation in the entertainment industry

triblive.com
5 min read
fairly difficult
Representation. We see this word used a lot these days. It has become associated with the fight for social justice, a quantifiable goal, a hashtag, a marketing effort. In short, it has become a buzzword. I am a 31-year-old disabled woman, and I can safely say that I didn't even
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Representation. We see this word used a lot these days. It has become associated with the fight for social justice, a quantifiable goal, a hashtag, a marketing effort. In short, it has become a buzzword.

I am a 31-year-old disabled woman, and I can safely say that I didn't even understand the importance of representation until recently. Throughout my childhood I was involved in disability advocacy efforts. Despite my involvement, or perhaps, because of it, it took me some time to realize where one of the largest gaps in disability representation lies, and how significant that gap is: on our screens.

It's an odd sensation to finally recognize something that you didn't even know you were missing for so many years, and to realize the power that missing piece holds. While I spent my childhood representing the disability community, my list of disabled role models growing up was frighteningly short. Though some may criticize the negative influence of the entertainment industry, the possibility of disability-positive societal impact from film and television is a largely untapped resource.

It makes me wonder — if I had seen people like me in film and television in my formative years, could I have spared myself years of insecurities and unidentified internalized ableism?

Despite being surrounded by supportive friends and family, my existence still tends to feel like an anomaly sometimes. It feels like I wasn't meant to be this way. I'm here now and I'm assured that we'll make do, but I'm constantly being told by society-at-large: Don't forget — your existence isn't normal.

The thing is though — my existence isnormal. The percentage of people with disabilities is significantly higher than the media portrays. According to the Ruderman Family Foundation, 20% of the population is disabled, and yet disabled characters make up a paltry 1% in television. Of…
Jessica Tomko
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