Campaign pushes for more roles for disabled actors

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Although 54 million Americans ages 5 to 64 have disabilities, performers with disabilities are "virtually invisible" in entertainment media, contends I AM PWD (Inclusion in the Arts and Media of Performers with Disabilities), an advocacy campaign that's trying to change that.

Although the Screen Actors Guild has long had a committee on disability initiatives, it was not effecting much change until the I AM PWD formed in 2008, said Adam Moore, SAG's associate national director for affirmative action and diversity. "We were asking ourselves, 'How can we turn up the volume?' "

SAG, American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, and Actors' Equity Association -- with a collective membership of 250,000 people -- make up the new group.

Important recognition of the campaign came last September when the AFL-CIO, meeting in Pittsburgh, unanimously endorsed the effort and called for greater inclusivity for people with disabilities in the work force in general.

"The AFL-CIO understands that we're a workplace just like any other. Ours is just more visible," Mr. Moore said.

The I AM PWD campaign has other Pittsburgh connections -- John Siciliano, a Springdale paralympic athlete who graduated from Point Park University and has appeared in "ER," "Scrubs" and other roles, is a member. So is Tobias Forrest, an L.A.-based actor who came to Pittsburgh in 2006 to play the lead in City Theatre's production of John Belluso's "Pyretown," a drama about a man with a physical disability. City Theatre conducted a national search for an actor with a disability for the lead role.

Mr. Moore said that anecdotal reports indicate the I AM PWD campaign is producing results, especially through a summit held last fall with Hollywood directors, writers, producers and casting professionals.

"More actors are getting parts, more parts are being written, more minds are changed," he said. "We know we are helping because we get more phone calls for help before casting than complaints afterward.

"Sometimes when people do not know what to do, they do nothing. They need to feel supported. We are in a unique position to help employers understand that they may not have done the right thing in the past, but they have a fantastic opportunity to turn it around.

"Disability is the civil rights issue of the moment," added Mr. Moore. "This campaign calls attention to the power of images in the struggle. Without attention to those images, it's hard to make true progress."


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