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Nielson to Track Disability Representation in Entertainment Content

Mar 24, 2023

Disability representation is important — and from a practical perspective, brands can’t afford to ignore consumers with disabilities. 

In December, Nielsen announced an expansion to Gracenote, the company’s content solutions pillar, which will add new disability representation data. The goal is to provide media creators with tools for creating equitable, accurate representation of the disability community.

“More than one in four adults in the U.S. today are living with a disability, yet actors without disabilities are still cast to portray them in TV shows and films,” Halleh Kianfar, VP, Product at Gracenote, said in a press release. 

“This is one example pointing to the large opportunity to create and invest in more representative content. Initiating positive change starts with measuring the diversity of talent featured across a range of identity groups and intersectionalities, and we’re proud that Gracenote Inclusion Analytics serves this critical purpose.” 

The new dataset includes will track representation for different disability and identity groups

As Nielsen notes, audiences are more likely to engage with inclusive content. Nielsen’s 2022 Attitudes on Representation on TV study found that 48% of viewers are more likely to watch content in which their identity group is represented. However, 34% of people with disabilities surveyed indicated they felt under-represented in the media, and 52% said they were inaccurately represented.

Ultimately, while 26% of U.S. adults live with one or more disabilities, popular media doesn’t reflect this reality. 

Nielsen Gracenote worked with disability nonprofit RespectAbility to create metrics to track representation, focusing on five categories of disability:

Per Nielsen, these broad categorizations aren’t tracked exclusively (an actor may be tracked in more than one category).

Nielsen’s data shows that disabilities are chronically underrepresented in most media

In a website accompanying the press release, Nielsen notes that the total current share of screen time for people with disabilities is 8.8%. However, people with visible disabilities make up only 0.4% across all media channels. 

Cable television stands out as having the best disability representation on screen, with a total screen time of 9.5%. Unsurprisingly, people with disabilities are 23% more likely to say that cable is the most relevant platform to them, compared to the general population.

“The inclusion of disabled talent does not happen by accident. It is critical to have representation behind the scenes to ensure better and more authentic representation on screen,” said Lauren Appelbaum, SVP of Communications and Entertainment & News Media at RespectAbility. 

“We need people with disabilities in a position to influence storylines and narratives, help make decisions about casting and talent, and represent the disability community throughout the creative process.”

And while disability representation is an ethical issue, it’s also a vital concern for marketers and brand advocates. According to Nielsen, individuals with disabilities are 17% more likely to engage with a brand when an advertisement is placed within inclusive content and features people from the disability community.

Related: Inclusive Accessibility Themed Emojis Arrive

Online content creators can help promote disability representation

Many disabilities are heavily stigmatized, but every organization can play a role in removing those stigmas. 

That’s particularly true in online spaces. Whether you’re developing a mobile app or redesigning your website, you can build an inclusive approach by taking a few simple steps:

  • Consider using inclusive stock photos. Look for photos that don’t portray disabilities as a problem that needs to be solved. One fantastic resource is Disabled and Here, a disability-led stock image and interview series that celebrates disabled Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC).
  • Don’t be afraid to discuss disabilities in blogs and marketing materials. Follow our style guide for writing disability-focused content.
  • Talk about your commitment to inclusive design in your website’s accessibility statement.
  • Start thinking about users with disabilities during the planning stage. Consider creating user experience (UX) personas with disabilities to make more inclusive design decisions.

Finally, make sure you’re providing the best possible experience for all users. Evaluate your content to make sure that it follows the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), the international standard for web accessibility. 

To learn more about digital accessibility, send us a message or get started with a free, confidential automated web analysis.

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