Adam Moore, is the National Director of the EEO & Diversity department at SAG-AFTRA, and is responsible for developing and implementing a national diversity plan of action to include groups that are often excluded from entertainment and news media—such as performers with disabilities and the LGBT population to name a few examples.
Moore mentioned that opportunities for performers with disabilities in the entertainment industry are rare and has resulted in people with disabilities often not seeking to become performers in the business. This is true, although those performers have received awards for their work, for example, Marlee Matlin being the only deaf performer who won an Oscar for playing Sarah in Children of a Lesser God. “If someone has a disability, our society is not good at dealing with that in an open, candid way,” Adam said. Adam, who joined the then Screen Actors Guild’s Affirmative Action & Diversity in 2005 continued to say, “Disability is something that is not talked about in our society.”
Adam works with performers who have either visible or invisible disabilities—such as those who are little people, deaf, blind, or are in a wheelchair—to name a few examples. Moore also served on President Barack Obama’s Disability Policy Committee during the 2008 Presidential Election and as liaison to the New York City Task Force on Diversity in Film, Television and Commercial Production. He advises that if performers with disabilities want to succeed in the business they, “have to have training and experience so you can build your audience, and you work with people over time who know you and know your work and want to work with you next time as you gain momentum in your career.” From this approach, performers might eventually not need to audition for roles but can create work for themselves or be known to the content producers and sought after for their skills. Adam also added that there are not many roles that involve characters with disabilities, but when those roles do come around, they often are not played by performers with disabilities in real life—as seen in A Scent of a Woman, Rain Man, The Blind Side, and Forrest Gump.
On the other hand, “Over the last several years, we have seen more and more people with disabilities in entertainment in roles that are specific for disability roles,” Adam said. This may be because of how the media tells show business that there are more stories to be told—such as what you see on Netflix or Amazon.
For example, RJ Mitte on Breaking Bad and several cast members on Switched at Birth and Robert David Hall on CSI: all of whom play their roles not because of who they are in real life, but what they could play for the show—not for the “political correctness.”
Another reason why performers with disabilities are not always hired might be because the industry may not be aware of the talent pool of performers—which is the whole point of “Meet the Biz” bringing people with disabilities to meet with the industry to expose them to the performers’ talent. The industry is often tight on time when they need to cast a show, and they need to do their own research to find the right people for those roles.
Adam also handles complaints and reports of harassment and discrimination for SAG-AFTRA members, and his department is also the primary liaisons to other member-led committees focused on issues specific to other underrepresented groups—LGBT, Seniors, Women, Asian Pacific Americans, Native Americans and other ethnic minorities. In addition to educating members on knowledge of what their rights, Adam also advises other organizations how to create effective equal employment opportunity programs and initiatives.
“The ultimate goal is to put myself out of a job—when you don’t need someone to advocate for full inclusion of the world around, including disability, we will have succeeded” Adam said. “There certainly, sadly, will always be people who, whether knowingly or unknowingly, violate someone’s rights so the union will always be there for protection but perhaps the advocacy will become unnecessary.” On the other hand, the more storytellers become more diverse, the more stories that will involve diversity characters. Adam also meets with staff from the Writers Guild of America, the Producers Guild of America, the Directors Guild of American and the Casting Society of America as well as all levels of content producers, and training programs to encourage them to create content that is more reflective of the American Scene. Those meetings are often done behind closed doors so people can be honest with what they say without any public scrutiny.
Adam also attends film festivals, acting programs, and various venues while encouraging entertainment industry professionals to develop content that fit the American Scene, so that there will be equal access to various roles for performers.