July 2, 2019

Pixar’s “Toy Story 4,” which debuted in theaters worldwide June 20, introduces a new character—a child with a green cochlear implant (CI).

Two aspects of this child are notable: He is part of a mainstream classroom and is smiling. Inclusivity and happiness are often missing in media portrayals of people with hearing loss, and this positive portrayal has sparked a hubbub of celebration online from audiologists, parents, and people in the deaf and hard of hearing community alike:

Belinda Barnet, mother of a 6-year-old CI user, shares her daughter’s reaction to seeing a child with a CI on the big screen:

Jay Ruderman, president of the Ruderman Family Foundation, which advocates for inclusion for people with disabilities, shares his thoughts:

However, despite this showcase of inclusivity in the animated blockbuster, there is not enough visibility for and inclusivity of people with disabilities in the media, according to a recent report from the Ruderman Family Foundation, “The Ruderman White Paper on the Challenge to Create More Authentic Disability Casting and Representation on TV,” or in short, the Ruderman TV Challenge.

Though 20% of the U.S. population has a disability, less than than 2% of all TV characters has a disability, notes the report. The foundation urges entertainment companies to pledge to improve disability inclusion in Hollywood.

CBS Entertainment became the first company to answer the call, signing the agreement on June 19. The company has committed to auditioning actors with disabilities for each new production. "It is our hope that other major media companies will follow their lead and foster opportunities that will lead to more authentic representation of people with disabilities in popular entertainment,” Ruderman says. “Enhanced visibility of disability onscreen will help reduce stigmas people with disabilities face in everyday life."

Regina Escano Zappi, AuD, CCC-A, is an associate director of audiology professional practices for the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. [email protected].

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