Show 67 - Hate Crimes and Entertainment

Listen to Show 67

If you've been following me on Facebook ( or Twitter (, you know I have been fighting a throat infection for the last couple of months. When I've had any voice at all, it hasn't been one you'd want to listen to! So Day Al Mohamed of the "Day in Washington Podcast" ( kindly stepped in to record this for you all to listen to.

Any of you are welcome to contribute to the show, so if you have an idea, please email me ( and let's talk!

On the upside, I think we have finally found an antibiotic that's working, and I hope to be back to recording episodes soon!


Day Al-Mohammed: Hello and welcome to the Disability 411 podcast, your podcast for disability information.

If this doesn’t sound like your usual host, Beth Case, you would be right. This is Day Al-Mohammed from the Day in Washington Disability Policy podcast acting as guest host for this episode. Unfortunately, Beth has come down with a terrible infection in her throat and has completely lost her voice. Never fun for a podcaster. If you get a moment, send her a quick note at She’d love to hear from you.

One of the most recent events that I’m excited to tell you about is the final passing and signing of the Hate Crimes Prevention Law. The official title of the bill was “The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act”. It was named for Matthew Shepard, a gay Wyoming teenager who died after being kidnapped and severely beaten in 1998 and James Byrd, Jr., an African-American man who was dragged to death in Texas that same year. The expanded hate crimes law now makes it a federal crime to assault an individual because of their gender, sexual orientation, gender identification or disability.

Now why is this such a big deal for people with disabilities? Research has shown that there is a horrifically high rate of crime against people with disabilities. Let me give you some data from a few of those studies. One, forty percent of women with physical disabilities reported being sexually assaulted. Two, fifteen thousand to nineteen thousand persons with developmental disabilities are raped each year in the United States. Three, only three percent of sexual abuse cases involving people with developmental disabilities are ever reported. And four, a recent Department of Justice report indicated that people with disabilities are fifty percent more likely to experience violent crime than people without disabilities.

I bring this up because I had the great pleasure of being invited to the White House for the commemoration of the signing of this legislation and I have the privilege of sharing with Disability 411 listeners some of President Obama’s remarks, which I was gratified to hear specifically included disability.


President Barak Obama: To all the activists, all the organizers, all the people who helped make this day happen, thank you for your years of advocacy and activism, pushing and protesting that made this victory possible. As a nation, we have come far on the journey towards a more perfect union. Today we’ve taken another step forward.

This afternoon I signed into law The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. [applause and cheering]

This is the culmination of a struggle which has lasted more than a decade. Time and again we have faced opposition. Time and again the measure was defeated or delayed. Time and again we have been reminded of the difficulty of building a nation in which we are all free to live and love as we see fit.

But the cause endured and the struggle continued, waged by the family of Matthew Shepard, waged by the family of James Byrd, by folks who held vigils and led marches, by those who rallied and organized and refused to give up, by the late Senator Ted Kennedy who fought so hard for this legislation [applause and cheering] and all who toiled for years to reach this goal.

You understand that we must stand against crimes that are meant not only to break bones but to break spirits, not only to inflict harm but to instill fear. You understand that the rights afforded every citizen under our Constitution mean nothing if we do not protect those rights both from unjust laws and violent acts. You understand how necessary this law continues to be.

In the most recent year for which we have data, the FBI reported roughly seventy-six hundred hate crimes in this country. Over the past ten yeas there were more than twelve thousand reported hates crimes based on sexual orientation alone. We will never know how many incidents were never reported at all.

That’s why, through this law, we will strengthen the protections against crimes based on the color of your skin, the faith in your heart, or the place of your birth. We will finally add federal protection against crimes based on gender, disability, gender identity and sexual orientation. [applause and cheering] And prosecutors [applause and cheering], prosecutors will have new tools to work with states in order to prosecute to the fullest those who would perpetrate such crimes.

No one in America should ever be afraid to walk down the street holding the hands of the person they love. No one in America should be forced to look over their shoulder because of who they are, because they live with a disability. At the root, this isn’t just about our laws, this is about who we are as a people. This is about whether we value one another, whether we embrace our differences rather than allowing them to become a source of animus.

It’s hard for any of us to imagine the mindset of someone who would kidnap a young man, beat him to within an inch of his life, tie him to a fence and leave him for dead. It’s hard for any of us to imagine the twisted mentality of those who would offer a neighbor a ride home, attack him, chain him to the back of a truck and drag him for miles until he finally died. But we sense where such cruelty begins the moment we fail to see in another our common humanity, the very moment when we fail to recognize in a person the same fears and hopes, the same passions and imperfections, the same dreams that we all share.

We have, for centuries, strived to live up to our founding ideal of a nation where all are free and equal and able to pursue their own version of happiness. Through conflict and tumult, through the morass of hatred and prejudice, through periods of division and discord, we have endured and grown stronger and fairer and freer. At every turn we have made progress, not only by changing laws but by changing hearts, by our willingness to walk in another’s shoes, by our capacity to love and accept even in the face of rage and bigotry.

In April of 1968, just one week after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, as our nation mourned in grief and shuddered in anger, President Lyndon Johnson signed the landmark civil rights legislation. This was the first time we had signed into law federal protections against crimes motivated by religious or racial hatred, the law on which we build today. As he signed his name, at a difficult moment for our country, President Johnson said that through this law the bells of freedom ring out a little louder. That is the promise of America.

Over the sound of hatred and chaos, over the dim of grief and anger, we can still hear those ideals even when they are faint, even when some would try to drown them out. At our best, we seek to make sure those ideals can be heard and felt by Americans everywhere.

That work did not end in 1968, it certainly does not end today, but because the efforts of the folks in this room, particularly those family members who are standing behind me, we can be proud that the bell rings even louder now and each day grows louder still.

Thank you very much. God bless you. God bless the United States of America. [applause]

Day: That was President Obama’s remarks on the passage of The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. You’re listening to Day Al-Mohammed, sitting in for Beth Case on Disability 411.

Coming up next, some comments on people with disabilities on television. But before we move on to that, just a reminder for all Disability 411 listeners, you can submit content for the show. If you have an interview you’d like to do or a segment you’d like to record yourself, just email Beth at

This last month was something of a dust up in regard to the news regarding people with disabilities in television and entertainment in general. It involves the most recent episode of the television show “Glee” which is something of a musical drama sit-com that takes place in a high school with its, you guessed it, glee club. In the episode, the glee club members twirled their chairs to the tune of “Proud Mary” in joyous solidarity with Artie, a fellow performer who is a paraplegic.

The response from those in the entertainment industry with disabilities was less than joyful. Once again, television and film casts a non-disabled actor to play a character with a disability.

Just a few weeks prior to that, in the theater world, Abigail Breslin from “Little Miss Sunshine” was cast as a young Helen Keller in a Broadway revival of “The Miracle Worker” and a hearing actor was selected for the deaf role in the off-Broadway play, “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter”.

I can understand the frustration of actors with disabilities who, because of lack of access and outright discrimination, often don’t get the opportunity to even audition for roles, but there is a bigger issue at hand. There are very very few roles for people with disabilities. Period. There just are not people with disabilities on television. Television and film have a unique role in shaping our culture and television in particular is entrenched in our daily lives and has the power to reinforce attitudes or reshape them. So when you see that fewer than two percent of the characters on television have a disability and yet the represent more than twenty percent of the population, something isn’t right.

A campaign was begun just last year, sponsored by three major entertainment guilds, to create equal employment opportunities for actors, broadcasters and recording artists, called IAMPWD,
which stands for Inclusion in the Arts and Media of People With Disabilities. I was fortunate to get some audio from their Washington, DC kick-off event last year. Speaking is the national president of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, Roberta Reardon.

Roberta Reardon: [applause] Thank you. It is really an honor to be here today and speak to you about this really really important topic. This has been a number of years in the making and I’m very proud to be the spokesperson here in Washington, DC and it’s really wonderful to see all of our friends and allies here in the audience.

Over the years, this country has faced and met head-on the challenges of discrimination, exclusion and an inequality of its citizens. Women, racial and ethnic minorities, seniors and even our lesbian and gay brothers and sisters are realizing the promise of civil rights protections that enable them to be fully integrated partners in the American dream, at home and in the workplace.

We see this progress whenever we turn on the television, go to the movies, listen to the radio and attend a stage performance or concert. The power of the media to shape public perceptions of people, places and things cannot be denied. The entertainment and new media also reflect back to us who we are, what we do, whether we’re living the American dream or are erased from it entirely and cease to exist.

In 1999, when the fall television season was announced and it was learned that none of the twenty-six news shows set to debut on the four major networks featured any minority characters in leading roles, a furor erupted. Calling it a virtual whitewash, the NAACP’s Kweisi Mfume went on to say that this glaring omission is an outrage and a shameful display by network executives who are either clueless, careless or both.

By pinning his comments on the 1934 Federal Communications Act that states that the airwaves belong to the public, he pulled together a broad and diverse coalition of major civil rights organizations representing African-Americans, Asian Pacific Islanders, Latino/ Hispanics and Native Americans, help public hearings in Los Angeles that made national headlines, and received unprecedented commitments from the networks to place diversity as a primary principle of doing business both in front and behind the camera.

The networks went on to hire diversity officers to work with outside organizations and labor unions to help them meet their new commitments. And to keep them on track, this grand coalition of civil rights organizations issues annual report cards on the networks, publically grading their progress.

Progress? Yes, but only for some. When asked at a recent forum if people with disabilities were included in the networks’ diversity programs, a senior executive said their definition of diversity in those areas only included women and minorities, which is why we are here today.

The UN estimates that there are six hundred and fifty million people in the world living with a disability. The U.S. Census cites that there are fifty-six million Americans with disabilities. As our Baby Boomer population continues to age, that would be me, and more disabled veterans return from abroad this number will only grow.

While progress has been made in the disability world as well as the recent signing into law of the ADA Amendments Act to help restore protections that were lost by legal challenges, people with disabilities remain virtually invisible in the entertainment and news media. Actors, broadcasters and sound recording artists with disabilities have not experienced the same progress in their employment situations. For over fifteen years, members of the Tri-Union Performers with Disabilities Committee have met producers at the bargaining table to formally negotiate for accessible and inclusive working conditions. After numerous forums, panel discussions, showcases and events meant to highlight the wealth of talent within the community, performers and broadcasters with disabilities are still not working as much as their able-bodied counterparts.

We still see characters with disabilities portrayed by able-bodied performers, a situation our members find just as troubling as the former practice of blackface. In many cases, performers with disabilities face excessive challenges at auditions and sets because of the lack of reasonable accommodations. We now say, “enough!”

It is time to change the status quo. This discrimination has to be challenged loudly, with unity, and with a global effort to educate the public to the lack of inclusion and universal access in an entertainment industry that shapes our ideas of the world around us and reflects an image of who we are. This must be our priority.

Today, in honor of the National Disability Employment Awareness Month and on behalf of the Tri-Union Performers with Disabilities Committee of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, Screen Actors Guild and the Actors Equity Association, I am very proud to announce the creation of a landmark global disabilities rights initiative, IAMPWD, Inclusion in the Arts and Media of People With Disabilities.

Created by the unions and their nonprofit civil rights advocacy community, IAMPWD is uniting with a growing network of entertainment industry advocates, news journalist associations, media and telecommunications labor unions, civil rights organizations and government allies in seeking equal employment opportunities for artists and professionals with disabilities throughout the entertainment and news media. You will find the inaugural list of partners, supporters and participating organizations in your press kits.

The IAMPWD campaign will launch in January 2009 and will complement on-going discussions and negotiations with our industry partners. The campaign will focus on several areas. Access. Employers need to remove all physical and emotional barriers at every level of the employment process. This means making sure sites are physically accessible, that vision impaired individuals can freely ask for scripts in Braille or large print or that hearing impaired persons can ask for sign language interpretation. Access means that PWDs are free from real and virtual discrimination and can equally compete for jobs without bias or exclusionary practices.

Inclusion. The fifty-six million Americans with disabilities would like to see themselves portrayed and reported within the American scene. Performers with disabilities should be able to portray a wide array of characters. Journalists with disabilities should not be relegated to the disability beat, but should have the opportunity to report on the community at large. Inclusion also means that PWDs are counted in employment statistics that TV and film producers collect on people of color, women and seniors. Finally, inclusion means addressing issues of disability within the broader conversations on diversity.

Accuracy. The general public, with and without a disability, does not have to witness and endure stereotypical or false depictions of people with disabilities in the media. They must be portrayed realistically and reported on accurately.

At the end of the day, though, this campaign will only work if we are successful in creating a global network of advocates united in the vision that disability rights are equal rights. You’ll hear today from leaders in the disability rights community and from allies in the labor movement. You’ll also hear from someone who is directly impacted by this campaign.

The campaign we’re waging is not only for them, but for the world at large. Disability rights are human rights. Children will grow up seeing themselves and knowing they are not alone or different. People with vision, hearing and mobility impairments and those with cognitive, intellectual and hidden disabilities such as HIV/AIDS, diabetes, autism or ALS will finally become part of the American scene in the media.

On behalf of AFTRA, SAG and Actors Equity and all of our partners and allies we demand that people with disabilities no longer remain in the invisible minority. This is a call for change and we ask for your support to remove any and all barriers on the path to true equality for people with disabilities. I have to say, as the president of AFTRA, I am so proud to be able to speak to you today about this issue. I know that my union that I am president of has been at this work for a very long time, but I’m actually a member of all three of these unions and I know all three of them have been working diligently to get this done. So join us in this effort. Thank you. [applause]

Day: And that wraps us up for this episode. Remember you can visit our website at especially if you’d like to do your own segment for this show or if you have any questions or comments, ideas for future shows, anything. I know as a podcaster, we all love hearing from you. So, until next time, this is Day Al-Mohammed from Day in Washington sitting in for Beth Case on this week’s Disability 411 podcast, telling you to stay well and stay informed.

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