Differently abled actors are often ignored by mainstream media.
Although representation for disabled people on television and film is still far from where it needs to be, there are many actors working today who are helping to combat this issue. Not only do these actors not let their disability get in the way of their careers, they use their positions as a platform to change the way the world views disabled people. Here are three actors who can encourage all of us to appreciate, celebrate, and respect the disabled community and all of the individuals who are a part of it, both on and off screen.
Star of the hit ABC show Switched At Birth, Leclerc began her career at the age of nine in a small part on Veronica Mars. At age 20, she was diagnosed with Ménière’s disease, which includes intermittent hearing loss, ringing and pressure in the ears, and chronic dizziness. “My ears ring probably 80 percent of the time,” Katie revealed to Women’s Health Magazine. “My ears are full probably 60 percent of the time, where you feel like you have to pop them. There’s lots of pressure. Probably 60 percent of the time I get a severe head rush, like when you stand up too quickly. The full-blown vertigo attacks where it’s miserable, those only happen I would say maybe once every six weeks.”
Despite her diagnosis, Leclerc continued to pursue her dream of acting, landing the role of deaf teen Daphne Vasquez on Switched At Birth just a few years later. Since her rise to stardom, Leclerc has stayed active in the deaf community, becoming an advocate to raise awareness about the disease and also through supporting her sister, who also has Ménière’s disease. Leclerc is also an anti bullying advocate, acting as a spokeswoman during National Bullying Prevention Month.
Sherer is an actress, writer, and advocate from Knoxville, Tennessee. Sherer was involved in an automobile accident at the age of 14, leaving her with paraplegia which requires her to use a wheelchair to get around. Tired of seeing able bodied actors play characters in wheelchairs, Sherer created her own web series entitled My Gimpy Life to speak out about the challenges disabled actors face in the entertainment industry. The series tackles subjects like going on auditions as a disabled actor and has featured guest stars like Felicia Day.
Although Sherer is an advocate for disabled characters being played by actual disabled people, she also does not want to be type casted based on her paraplegia. “If we lose an opportunity to audition, then we lose an opportunity to move forward in our career,” she said in an interview with NPR. In addition to her web series, Sherer was also a part of the web series The Guild.
With over 150 television and film appearances under his belt, Woodburn is a veteran character actor. Most well known for his role as Mickey Abbott on Seinfield, he has gained respect and notoriety as an actor who refuses to let his disability dictate the path of his career. Woodburn is an advocate for both other people with dwarfism and disabled actors in general as a co-vice chair of the SAG-AFTRA Performers with Disabilities Committee. Woodburn says that “People with disabilities are systematically excluded from the topic of diversity and inclusion,” even though they make up “twenty percent of the population of the United States.”
As an activist, Woodburn has been vocal about pushing the television and film industry to become more inclusive of people with disabilities by refusing to act in parts that are derogatory to little people, giving lectures to college students, and serving as an occasional columnist at the Huffington Post.
Cover Image courtesy of Getty Images.