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Disabled Character, Disabled Actor

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Christopher Reeve in Smallville (top) and in real life (bottom).

"We always had a deaf character in the script, but John [Krasinski] really pushed for them to hire Millicent [Simmonds]. She came to set and taught everyone sign language. It was really amazing and brought an extra depth to the film."
Scott Beck on casting for A Quiet Place
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This is about when an authentically disabled person is cast, rather than an able-bodied performer. For a long time in film, theater, and television, when a work called for a character with a disability, it was the norm to cast perfectly able-bodied actors in those roles, especially if the role was one of the leads (you still want to cast a big name star in the lead role, despite the character's disability, after all). This was such a norm that the casting of authentically disabled actors as disabled characters has only become more commonplace since the late 1980s, though normally such actors are in supporting or background roles.

It should be pointed out that there are times when the use of a non-disabled actor in such a role is justified. For example:

  • If the character is not disabled throughout the whole story. Generally involves the following variations:
  • Filming conditions would be very impractical for the degree of disability such as location travel, stunt work, number of lines, or long shooting hours.
  • The level of disability is too bizarre or exaggerated for any living person anyway, like Half the Man He Used to Be, Covered in Scars, and general Body Horror.

Related to Cast the Expert. See Written-In Infirmity for cases where a performer became disabled during the run of a show and this was acknowledged in-universe.

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Examples

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    Anime 
  • The English dub of A Silent Voice has Shoko voiced by deaf actress Lexi Cowden.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The River featured Thomas Breen as "Captain John", a man who lost a leg in World War I. Thomas Breen lost a leg fighting in Guam in 1944.
  • In i am sam, the intellectually disabled protagonist is played by the neurotypical actor Sean Penn, but many of the actors who play his housemates are disabled like their characters.
  • The Farrelly Brothers movies often use real handicapped people to play handicapped parts (for example, the mentally handicapped Special Olympians in The Ringer). The Farrellys are heavily involved with working with organizations for the handicapped and disabled and portray them favorably as real, grounded, and likable people, but also without playing up their disabilities, with those characters accepting their handicaps as part of their everyday life, such as Hal's friend with spina bifida in Shallow Hal. This usually also highlights a dichotomy with their protagonists, who have grievances in their lives that seem very superficial compared to the physical and mental disadvantages their friends have.
  • In Children of a Lesser God, every deaf character is played by an actual deaf actor.
    • This is true of any role Marlee Matlin plays; notable as she's often the lead.
  • The only role that Oscar-winning actor Harold Russell ever played that was intentionally written as disabled was his role in The Best Years of Our Lives. He played a sailor who lost both hands during World War II (just as Russell himself had in real life, though in a training accident rather than in combat like the character). He ended up winning an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor and another honorary Oscar, having never acted before, becoming the only person who has won two Oscars for the same performance. In all his other roles, he played men who just happened to be disabled, but the disability wasn't the point of the character. (Originally, the role had been intended to be a portrait of post-traumatic stress disorder, but it was rewritten once he auditioned.)
  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest used actual patients in the institution where they filmed as extras.
  • The 1932 movie Freaks featured many legitimately disabled actors, including "Prince Randian" (who was born without limbs), Simon Metz (born with microcephaly, a smaller skull and brain) and Minnie Woolsey (who suffered from Virchow Sekel Syndrome, a combination of skeletal malformation and dwarfism).
  • Likewise, the deformed and maimed characters in El Topo are played by real amputees and people with actual deformities. Of particular note is a legless man who rides on the shoulders of his armless companion.
  • In the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan, a soldier who had just had his legs blown off was played by an actor who had lost his legs years before. In fact every soldier who was dismembered on the beach was portrayed by actors missing the appropriate limbs
  • The anti-drug Jesusplotation horror film Blood Freak has a scene where a guy's leg gets cut off, which they managed to make a bit more convincing by hiring a guy with a prosthetic leg to play the victim.
  • Similarly, one of the "found footage" moments in the Mondo film Faces of Death IV involves a junkyard worker whose left leg is severed below the knee while he is attempting to retrieve parts from a wrecked Oldsmobile. The actor was a colleague of the film's producer who had lost his left leg in real life a few years earlier.
  • In Monty Python and the Holy Grail they hired a man with only one leg to play the Black Knight after Arthur chops one of his legs off. Amusingly, the man happened to be named Richard Burton. John Cleese would joke later about having Richard Burton as a stunt double.
  • The villainous albino in End of Days was played by the genuinely albinistic actor Victor Varnado.
  • Jade Callegory, who played the disabled main character in Mac and Me suffers from spina bifida in real life. When the film was featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000 they noticeably completely avoided any jokes touching on his disability, likely in deference to this.
  • In Soul Surfer it is both averted and played straight. Bethany Hamilton, whose life story the film was depicting, was played by AnnaSophia Robb in the dialogue scenes. However, when they wanted a stuntwoman to play a one-armed surfer, they of course got a one-armed surfer. Guess who she was...
  • In the 2010 film of True Grit, a woman missing her left forearm was hired to play the older version of Mattie (whose arm was amputated due to a snake bite near the end) in shots where her face is not seen. She wound up having more screen time than the actress credited with playing older Mattie.
  • The Thing (1982) has a particularly infamous scene where a man's arms are suddenly bitten off by the titular monster. For two shots that each lasted only a few seconds, there was an actual amputee standing in the actor's place wearing a mask in his likeness.
  • Deaf actor Russell Harvard plays an adult H.W. Plainview (rendered deaf from an explosion) in There Will Be Blood.
  • Lonely Are the Brave has Kirk Douglas' character fight a one-armed barroom tough played by one-armed actor Bill Raisch.
  • The Belgian film The Eighth Day has Pascal Duquenne (born with Down syndrome) playing an institutionalised man with Down syndrome.
  • The two eponymous martial artists of The Crippled Masters. Both actors had developmental disorders which had resulted in a lack of legs and a lack of arms respectively and both had since trained in martial arts despite their disabilities.
  • The actor Jay C Flippen lost a leg to diabetes in the 1960s. He plays a political operative in a wheelchair in The Seven Minutes, and in Hell Fighters, his character, Jack Lomax, is written in as a man who is in a wheelchair, having broken his back while fighting an oil-well fire.
  • For The Toxic Avenger, Lloyd Kaufman hired an amputee so Toxie could rip his arm off. Of course, the SFX team still had to make a fake stump to put over the man's actual stump, to compensate for the difference between a freshly ripped-off arm and a healed stump.
  • In Precious, Precious' child with Down syndrome is played by a child with Down syndrome.
  • In Resident Evil: Retribution, the deaf girl Becky, is played by Aryana Engineer, who is deaf in real life. The character Becky was not originally to be deaf, but after an outstanding audition, the role was given to her.
  • In Spy Kids Juni and Carmen Cortez's grandfather Valentin is played by Ricardo Montalbán, who used a wheelchair in real life.
  • In Four Weddings and a Funeral lead character Charles often has conversations in sign language with his deaf-mute brother David, played by real-life deaf actor David Bower.
  • Ben-Hur: One of the more memorable scenes in The War Sequence is a galley slave escaping with a bloodied stump where his hand used to be. The director noticed the man had only one hand, had it splashed with fake blood, and reshot the scene with him.
  • In the 1963 film If A Tree Falls, multiple deaf characters (who played supporting and background characters) are portrayed by real-life deaf actors. It is the first movie of the 1960s ever to have actual deaf actors cast in the film.
  • Shaun of the Dead also used amputees for several of the zombies, most notably a one-armed bridegroom, and a legless zombie Shaun and Ed accidentally run over.
  • Similarly, Dawn of the Dead (2004) used several real-life amputees to make some particularly noteworthy zombies, including the Asian man with a chewed off arm that tries to fight his way through the door and the legless zombie that swings across the ceiling pipes monkey-bar style to pounce on one of the survivors.
  • Rain Man, similar to I Am Sam and Cuckoo's Nest (see above) where many autistic extras were used, though the main autistic character, Raymond Babitt, was of course played by neurotypical actor Dustin Hoffman.
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, the Battle of Helm's Deep features a quick shot of a soldier turning his head toward the camera to reveal an empty eye socket. From IMDb: "The performer who played him showed up as an extra, wearing an eye patch; director Peter Jackson politely asked to see what was under the patch and then inquired if the gentleman would be interested in appearing in the film sans eye patch. The gentleman was reluctant at first and quite self-conscious, but afterward said the experience had made him more comfortable with his condition."
  • Mad Max: Fury Road, the very small and mobility-disabled Corpus Colossus is played by Quentin Kenihan, who had the same disabilities due to severe osteogenesis imperfecta (brittle bone disease).
  • Tiny Tiptoes plays this straight for the most part by casting actors with dwarfism (including Peter Dinklage) as little people — but bizarrely, Gary Oldman of all people also plays a little person.
  • X-Men: Days of Future Past, Peter Dinklage play's the X-Men villain Bolivar Trask, in the original comics the character didn't have dwarfism, but Dinklage's audition was just so good that he got cast due to Ability over Appearance, making it an example of Initially Able-Bodied Character, Disabled Actor.
  • Baby Driver cast deaf actor CJ Jones as Baby's deaf foster father Joseph.
  • In A Quiet Place, deaf child actress Millicent Simmonds plays a deaf girl.
  • Unfriended: Dark Web: Amaya, who's deaf, was played by Stephanie Nogueras, who really is deaf.
  • Midwinter Night's Dream stars Jovana Mitić, a real autistic child. She couldn't be directed, so Goran Paskaljević shot massive amounts of footage in order to get what he wanted.
  • In the 2008 TV film adaptation of the Jacqueline Wilson novel Dustbin Baby, both the character of Poppy and the actress who plays her, Lizzy Clark, have Asperger syndrome. Enforced as the BBC specifically searched for an actress with Asperger's to play Poppy.
    • Shortly after the film's release, Clark's mother began the Don't Play Me, Pay Me campaign, which encouraged disabled actors to play characters with the same disabilities. She has compared non-disabled actors playing disabled characters to blackface, and Clark herself has stated:
      "It is not just mentally disabled actors who lose out when non-disabled people are employed to act them. Audiences think they are getting an authentic portrayal of a mentally disabled person, but they're not. It's not like putting on a different accent or learning what it was like to be raised in a different era. You can't understand what it is like to have a mental disability unless you've really lived with it. When non-disabled people try to portray us, they tend to fall back on stereotypes that have done our community so much harm in the past."
  • David's Mother: Steven Ivany, who plays the child David in flashbacks, is really autistic, although Michael Goorjian, who plays him as a teenager, is not.

    Literature 
  • An in-universe example: In the novel Dream Park by Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, and Stephen Barnes, during the course of an amazingly elaborate Live Action Roleplaying Game that utilizes high-tech special effects, the players encounter (among other things) a one-armed, one-legged zombie played by a one-legged, one-armed actress. The fact that she's real and not a special effect (most of the zombies are holographic) shocks one of the players into inaction enough to allow the amputee zombie to "kill" her.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Kurt Dykhuizen, who was born deaf, played Jason on Barney & Friends. He shared some ASL, but his hearing aid never came up in conversation.
  • Pictured: Christopher Reeve's appearances as Doctor Virgil Swann on Smallville.
    • Even earlier than that, Reeve appeared in a TV Movie remake of Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window.
    • His last film role before he was paralyzed ironically had inverted this trope, playing a man who faked the condition (the real-life accident happened only five days after the film premiered).
  • Shoshannah Stern plays deaf hunter Eileen Leahy on Supernatural.
  • Clark Middleton, whose struggle with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis retarded his growth and prevents him from having full range of motion, spent two years on Law & Order as Doctor Ellis, one of the show's Medical Examiners. Ellis's lab has access ramps, lower counters and examination tables, and is built to "little person" scale, something once remarked upon by Lennie Briscoe. Most of Middleton's other roles, however, were characters who just happened to be disabled.
  • Geri Jewell, who played Jewel on Deadwood and Geri on The Facts of Life, actually has cerebral palsy.
  • S. Robert Morgan, who played Butchie on The Wire, is actually blind. The only difference is that Morgan lost his sight to macular degeneration while Butchie lost it to a gunshot wound.
  • Corky from Life Goes On had Down syndrome, as did Chris Burke, the actor who portrayed him.
  • Darryl Mitchell: paraplegic in real life as well as on Ed and Brothers.
  • Actor Michael Patrick Thornton, who is partially paralyzed and uses a wheelchair regularly (though he can walk for short distances), can regularly be seen playing a doctor who just happens to be in a wheelchair on Private Practice.
  • Sue Thomas: F.B.Eye, based on the true story of a deaf FBI agent, features numerous deaf actors playing deaf characters. Most of them, excepting Deanne Bray in the title role and Sue Thomas in a cameo, act entirely in American Sign Language.
    • Heroes would later cast Deanne Bray as the deaf character Emma, with her power of enhanced synesthesia being tied into her disability.
  • Grandma Esther Walton was depicted as suffering a stroke on The Waltons, after Ellen Corby, the actress who played her, suffered one in 1976.
  • During the fourth season of Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Captain Deakins suffered through a bout of Bell's Palsy and was forced to wear an eyepatch for several episodes. This was because the actor playing Deakins, Jamey Sheridan, was actually suffering through a bout of Bell's Palsy and was forced to wear an eyepatch.
  • This trope is both invoked and subverted in the Law & Order: Special Victims Unit episode "Competence." The episode is about a young woman, Katie, who has Down syndrome. She becomes pregnant after being tricked into having sex by her boss (she doesn't understand what's going on - he tells her it's "exercise" and her mother sheltered her enough that she didn't know better). She wants to keep the baby, but her mother fears she isn't mentally capable of raising a child. While Andrea Fay Friedman (who plays Katie) does have Down syndrome, her mentally-handicapped boyfriend is played by a non-disabled actor.
    • Both played straight and subverted with two-shot character Amy Soleway, portrayed by deaf actress Marlee Matlin. Soleway is deaf (as most of Matlin's characters are), but in her second appearance in "Parts", she is also unable to walk and uses a wheelchair, an additional disability that Matlin did not have.
  • All the major deaf characters in Switched at Birth are played by actors with some sort of hearing impairment, most being profoundly deaf.
  • Breaking Bad: RJ Mitte has mild cerebral palsy in real life. Walt Jr. was conceived from the start as having it, and Mitte had to learn to walk with crutches and speak less clearly to portray the level of affectation that the show's creator had in mind.
  • CSI:
    • Robert David Hall, who lost his legs in 1978 when an 18-wheeler crushed his car, played coroner Dr. Al Robbins. His character's legs were lost when he was hit by a drunk driver; both Hall and Robbins walk using prosthetics and a cane.
    • Deanne Bray played the head of a school for the deaf and Grissom's ex-girlfriend in "Sounds of Silence."
    • In "The Two Mrs. Grissoms," Marlee Matlin played a professor at an institute for the deaf.
  • CSI: NY:
    • Grant Albrecht, who played wheelchair-bound Dr. Leonard Giles in five season 1 episodes, has a spinal cord condition that leaves him reliant on crutches or a wheelchair himself.
    • In "Silent Night," Marlee Matlin played a deaf mother whose deaf daughter was murdered by the girl's deaf boyfriend (played by Russell Harvard, who is also deaf).
    • Bryan Anderson, who lost three limbs in the Iraqi War, played a triple amputee in the season 4 episode, "DOA for a Day."
  • Highlander: The Series has Jim Byrnes as Joe Dawson, and both he and his character are double amputees.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation featured an episode called "Loud as a Whisper," about a deaf mediator named Riva. The actor who portrayed Riva, Howie Seago, was actually deaf. In fact, he had petitioned the producers of the show to make an episode about deaf people, mostly to dispel myths about them. He suggested the resolution after the initial script had a quite different ending, which had Riva learning to speak overnight after being unable to use a translator.
  • In the Monk episode "Mr. Monk Gets a New Shrink," when Dr. Kroger throws in the towel and quits his profession after his cleaning lady is killed in his office, Monk is redirected to a colleague of Dr. Kroger's, Dr. Jonah Sorensen, who has an amputated right arm as the consequence of a boating accident (though Dr. Kroger appears unaware of this, given that in a later scene he states "I heard he lost some weight"). Dr. Sorensen's actor is an actual amputee, and the idea as to what kind of physical abnormality he should have was Tony Shalhoub's.
  • Actor Mitch Longley was paralyzed in a car accident his senior year in high school. Despite this, he went on to be a very successful actor, with roles on several TV shows and Soap Operas, including one where he played a physician. He was written as "normally" as possible. Any difficulties in mobility were also incorporated into the show; a narrow-minded supervisor was reluctant to let him participate in a surgical rotation, and he was given a groundbreaking storyline in which his character embarked on a romance with another — it was made clear that his injuries had not affected his sexual abilities.
    "My disability is a huge thing to some people, but to me, it's just a personal characteristic like hair color. I'm hoping that in a few years, it won't even be an issue for me as an actor because it will be so commonplace."
  • Guiding Light: actress Amy Ecklund, who is deaf, was hired to play deaf Amish girl Abigail. Towards the end of her tenure on the show, both actress and character received a cochlear implant.
  • Glee has both played this trope straight with one-off character Sean (played by paraplegic actor Zack Weinstein) and Becky and Jean (both actresses do have Down syndrome) and (to much controversy) averted it with Artie. This was because there were multiple dream sequences where Artie was able to walk, which would not have been possible with an actual paraplegic actor.
  • American Horror Story: Murder House has one of the lead character's daughters, Adelaide, with Down syndrome; she's played by Jamie Brewer, who has Down syndrome. Brewer went on to become the first person with Down syndrome to model at New York Fashion Week, in 2015.
    • The series' anthology set-up, in which they bring back actors in new roles in later seasons, means that Jamie Brewer appears in American Horror Story: Coven and American Horror Story: Freak Show as well. Her roles in these later seasons do not expressly require an actor with Down syndrome, but Brewer is included the same as her colleagues because it's the nature of the show.
  • American Horror Story: Freak Show played this trope straight, but also averted it. Legless Suzie, Paul the Illustrated Seal, Ma Petite, and Meep are all played by actors that share their conditions. In contrast, Jimmy, Pepper, Elsa, and the Twins are all the result of elaborate special effects. Notably, Jyoti Amage, the actress who plays Ma Petite, has been listed in the Guinness World Records book as the shortest adult woman in the world.
  • My Name Is Earl, Didi the one-legged woman that Earl slept with (and stole a car and prosthesis from) is played by an actress that does, indeed, have only one real leg.
    • Didi's unnamed boyfriend is played by an actor/motivational speaker who is missing both legs and one of his arms.
    • Marlee Matlin also played Joy's deaf lawyer, who used sign language interpreters to help with her work. They playfully made a gag where Earl loved her "accent."
  • The West Wing had Marlee Matlin as Joey Lucas. Both Matlin and Lucas are deaf.
  • In Plain Sight has actor J. Grant Albrecht, who uses a wheelchair due to a spinal condition, play an Assistant District Attorney who just happens to be in a wheelchair. His disability has never been mentioned on the show.
  • Sonny Spoon has Jim Byrnes as the main character's sometimes-sidekick. Both actor and character have no legs.
  • The Paul Reiser Show attempted this, with Paul's older son being played by Brock Waidmann, who has spina bifida. He wasn't in either of the two episodes that aired.
  • Michael J. Fox, who has Parkinson's Disease and had retired from major acting roles, has returned to a lead role by playing a TV News reporter with Parkinson's who is returning to his news show after retiring when he was diagnosed.
    • He's also played Louis Canning on The Good Wife, a lawyer who has a similar condition and shamelessly plays it up for sympathy before juries.
    • He also played himself on an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, where Larry David is convinced that Fox intentionally shook up a soda Fox had given him and used his Parkinson's as an excuse (they had gotten into a bit of a shouting match shortly before Fox offered the soda as a peace offering).
    • In a lot of his characters these days, the character is given the same condition to explain Fox's movements, but it's more "We want Michael J. Fox" than "we want a disabled character and if the actor's the same it'll tug at the heartstrings all the more." Which is pretty awesome when you think about it.
    • Played with in Scrubs, where Fox played a surgeon with OCD; a psychological rather than physical condition, but one that could result in the same visible symptoms.
  • Coronation Street has had a few wheelchair-using characters in its time, though previously they were played by able-bodied actors. Currently, however, both Izzy Armstrong and actress Cherylee Houston, who plays her, suffer from a rare connective tissue disorder, Type III Ehlers-Danlos syndrome.
  • New Tricks introduced Holly Griffin (daughter of retired cop Danny Griffin), played by Storme Toolis, in series 9. Both Griffin and Toolis are wheelchair users due to cerebral palsy.
  • In the Game of Thrones episode "Blackwater", the Baratheon lieutenant whom Tyrion surprises from behind by chopping his leg off with an axe was played by a one-legged war veteran with a fake leg for the special effect. In the commentary track, Peter Dinklage muses that he didn't feel particularly heroic, ambushing an 80-year-old cripple. Also if you think of dwarfism as a disability, which some do and some don't, you'll of course notice Tyrion is played by Peter Dinklage who actually has dwarfism.
    • Also in Game of Thrones, the blind Maester Aemon is played by Peter Vaughan, who is visually impaired.
  • Doctor Who:
    • Mid-eighties recurring villain Sil is a mostly-aquatic sentient amphibian who is very clumsy on land and has to be carried around on a litter by flunkies. In reality, Nabil Shaban, who played him, has severe osteogenesis imperfecta and uses a wheelchair.
    • In the 2015 story "Under the Lake"/"Before the Flood", the deaf military scientist Cass was played by deaf actress Sophie Stone.
    • In the 2018 story "It Takes You Away", blind character Hanne is played by blind actress Ellie Wallwork.
    • "The Pyramid at the End of the World" has a quite impressive inversion where guest ally Erica is played by dwarf actress Rachel Denning, despite absolutely nothing about the role requiring a non-average height.
  • Kids Incorporated averted this with one-off blind character Suzanne, whose actress Angela Lee is actually sighted in reality, but played it straight with another one-off, a clown played by Henry Holden - both the character and actor are crippled. As this link proves, the show had several more disabled characters after Holden's guest appearance, such as Jade Calegory of Mac and Me fame in the episode "The Guitarist".
  • The Fugitive cast Bill Raisch as the One-Armed Man, who'd lost his right arm in World War II.
  • The Colbert Report's host, "Stephen Colbert", is deaf in his right ear. So is the comedian who plays him, the actual Stephen Colbert.
  • Fargo: Actor Allan Dobrescu has cerebral palsy, as does his character, Charlie Gerhardt. Similarly, Mr. Wrench, a season one antagonist and fan-favorite character, is a deaf hitman played by deaf actor Russell Harvard.
  • Stranger Things
    • Averted with Aimee Mullins, who plays Terry Ives. Mullins is a double-legged amputee who has given TED talks about prostheses, while the character is disabled in a completely different way but (presumably) has both of her natural legs.
    • Played straight with Gaten Matarazzo (Dustin). In the first episode, Dustin states he has cleidocranial dysplasia, which is also true of Matarazzo. That's the reason for his missing front teeth and being able to do "that thing" with his shoulders.
  • Twin Peaks has Gerard, a.k.a. The One-Armed Man, who cut off his own arm as penance and to rid himself of the tattoo that allowed the demon MIKE to possess him. He is played by Al Strobel, who lost an arm at the shoulder in a car accident as a teenager.
  • Speechless has Micah Fowler playing J.J. DiMeo, both of whom have cerebral palsy and normally get around in a motorized wheelchair. J.J.'s disabled friends are also played by disabled actors.
  • NCIS: New Orleans has the Black and Nerdy Genius Cripple Patton "Triple-P" Plame, who uses a wheelchair. His actor, Daryl "Chill" Mitchell, has used a wheelchair since being paralyzed in a motorcycle accident.
  • Class (2016): the character Jackie Maclean, April's mother, was in a car crash that left her in a wheelchair. She's played by the wheelchair user and disability consultant Shannon Murray.
  • The fifth season of Engrenages featured a traffic accident investigator played by an extremely short actor. He was shown to use various aids to use normal-sized furniture but his stature was never discussed in dialogue.
  • The BBC Made-for-TV Movie Don't Take My Baby plays the trope straight and inverts it. The story revolves around a disabled couple - one in a wheelchair and one visually impaired. Wheelchair-bound actress Ruth Madeley plays Anna (the former). The latter is played by visually abled Adam Long - but a counselor who advises him on his condition is played by Ross Grant, who actually has that eye condition.note 
  • One Life to Live features Michael Zaslow, who played David Renaldi; he was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease and confined to a wheelchair. The character, who was absent from the show for several years, was given the same diagnosis when he returned. Also a case of The Character Died with Him, as David was written to have passed away in 1998 when Zaslow did.
  • Titus had an episode where Christopher was in a bad car accident and in the hospital, with the family trying to figure out what to do. A one-off gag had a kid in a motorized wheelchair harass Dave by blocking his path and eventually chasing after him. It so happens the kid was legitimately disabled and was on-set because of the Make-a-Wish Foundation as he was a big fan of the show, and the producers wrote in the gag as a surprise for him.
  • A fifth-season episode of Drunk History entitled "Civil Rights" discusses the 1977 504 Sit-in, in which disability rights activists staged a protest in a California federal building; all of the activists were played by actors with disabilities, including Sean Berdy (Switched at Birth), Lauren Potter (Glee) and Ali Stroker (Spring Awakening), among others.
  • The Murdoch Mysteries episode "8 Footsteps" features Historical Domain Character Helen Keller, who was deaf-blind, played by deaf Canadian actress Amanda Richer.
  • M*A*S*H several episodes had blind actor Tom Sullivan playing a blind character.
  • Grimm: Deaf actress Stephanie Nogueras plays a deaf naiad named Elly.
  • Titans (2018) cast deaf actor Chella Mann Joey as Wilson/Jericho (son of supervillain Deathstroke), who is mute and communicates with ASL.
  • St. Elsewhere: Like his character Lee Tovan in "Hearing", Robert Daniels is deaf.
  • This Is Us deliberately went searching for a genuinely blind actor to play Blind Musician Jack Damon. They ended up finding Blake Stadnik, a musical theater actor who'd never done any onscreen work but immediately impressed everyone by having everything they needed for the role, in particular, his singing skills. He's one of the first visually impaired actors to have a major role in a network TV series.
    • At the same time, the crew also created the character Gregory, who is physically disabled after a stroke, specifically for Timothy Omundson for his return to acting after a similarly debilitating stroke.
  • Raising Dion: Dion's friend Esperanza is wheelchair-bound because she has Type 3 brittle bone disease. Her actress, Sammi Haney, also has this condition in real-life.
  • Timothy Omundson returned to his role on American Housewife after his stroke, after initially being written out leaving his wife for a younger woman...who then ditched him after he had a stroke.
  • Call the Midwife tends to cast disabled actors to play disabled patients of the week. For example, June Dillen (a deaf mother) was played by Genevieve Barr, who is profoundly deaf in real life and Marion Irmsby (a blind mother-to-be) was played by Ellie Wallwork, who is blind in real life. As regards recurring characters: Reggie Jackson has Down syndrome, as does his actor Daniel Laurie.
  • Everything's Gonna Be Okay: The autistic character Matilda is played by autistic actress Kayla Cromer. Since this trope is relatively uncommon when it comes to casting autistic characters, Cromer's performance is notable for wholly averting the Hollywood Autism trope, and being a Rare Female Example of such to boot.For instance...  This also goes for Lillian Carrier, who plays Drea, Matilda's classmate and eventual love interest, and is also an autism consultant on the show.
  • Season 9 of The Walking Dead introduces Connie, who is deaf and played by deaf actress Lauren Ridloff. Her sister, Kelly, begins to lose her hearing in Season 10 and is played by the hard-of-hearing Angel Theory.
  • In several episodes of 7th Heaven, Matt has a deaf girlfriend named Heather. She's played by Andrea Ferrell, who is deaf in real life.

    Pro Wrestling 
  • Professional wrestler Gregory Iron genuinely has Cerebral Palsy. Most bad guys he feuds with will either mock his disability or claim he's faking it.
  • Professional wrestler Zack Gowen lost his left leg to cancer at the age of eight. He usually wrestles without a prosthetic.

    Theater 
  • This trope is discussed in-universe and played with in Martin McDonagh's The Cripple of Inishmaan, where the disabled main character attempts to get cast in a film about a crippled boy. He doesn't get the part because the filmmakers would rather "cast a normal fella who can act crippled, than a crippled fella who can't act at all." It's also a moment of Leaning on the Fourth Wall, as the actor who plays Cripple Billy is almost always able-bodied.
  • In a subversion of this trope (Abled Character, Disabled Actor), wheelchair-using actor David Adkins often appears in stage productions playing characters who aren't wheelchair users normally and usually does so to rave reviews. He was even once cast in a production of Julius Caesar as Octavius and performed the entire part from his wheelchair, which the rest of the cast simply pretended was not there.
  • The 2015 revival of Spring Awakening reimagines about half the characters as deaf and cast actual Deaf actors to portray them (with separate performers singing and speaking their lines on their behalf, with the entire show simultaneously performed in American Sign Language). The revival cast also includes Ali Stroker, the first Broadway performer to be in a wheelchair.
  • The Czech actor Jan Kašpar was paralyzed after falling from a tree. All future plays of his theatre group (Jára Cimrman Theatre in Prague) specifically included either a part of a wheelchair-bound man or a part where the actor spends the whole play sitting in one spot and never moves from it. (Which also led to aversion — Kašpar often alternated his parts with another, able-bodied actor.)
  • Deaf Broadway actor Joshua Castille, who debuted as Ernst in the aforementioned Deaf West production of Spring Awakening, went on to play deaf teenager Billy in Nina Raine's Tribes, and Quasimodo in the 5th Avenue Theatre production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, the latter's singing voice being provided by EJ Cardona. Castille also portrayed a deaf Romeo in ACT's 2019 adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, along with fellow deaf actor Howie Seago playing Friar Laurence.

    Web Comics 
  • In Unintentionally Pretentious, the actress playing Mia is blind, and that it was simply written into her character.
  • Leif & Thorn: In-universe version: the historical Brod had dwarfism, and so does the actor who portrays him in Leachtric.

    Web Videos 
  • In the web series, The Guild, both the character of Venom and the actress who portrays her, Teal Sherer, are paraplegic.
  • The Irish Short Film Nobody's Perfect is about autism. A minor character Anthony, who has an autistic meltdown when the protagonist antagonises him, is played by Bobby Calloway (who has Asperger Syndrome). Ironically he had to be coached on how to do the meltdown the way the director wanted (the director Joseph Stephen Fuller himself is autistic).

    Western Animation 
  • In the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode "Trade Ya", one of the vendors in the Chain of Deals plot is a pegasus character with his legs fitted into something similar to "Walkin' Wheels". The character is voiced by a young fan with spinal muscular atrophy, and this was the result of a Make-a-Wish charity effort.
  • Family Guy:
    • In the episode "Extra Large Medium", Chris dates Ellen, a girl with Down syndrome. Ellen was voiced by Andrea Fay Friedman, who has Down syndrome in real life.
    • Peter's deaf co-worker Stella is voiced by deaf actress Marlee Matlin.
  • Porky Pig was originally voiced by Joe Dougherty, who suffered from an actual stutter. He was eventually replaced when the stutter made recording too difficult. His replacement, Mel Blanc, reproduced the stutter, and it has since become one of Porky's defining characteristics.
  • Punky Brewster has the Emmy-nominated episode "Bright Eyes", which featured a deaf boy whose voice was furnished by an actual deaf child. Cherie communicates with him through sign language.
  • CJ Casagrande from The Loud House and The Casagrandes has Down syndrome, just like his voice actor Jared Kozak.
  • Zuma from PAW Patrol has the Elmer Fudd Syndrome, preventing him from pronouncing his R's correctly. Same goes for his first Voice Actor Alex Throne. Subverted in later seasons due to new voice actors for the pups.
  • One of the puppies in 101 Dalmatian Street, Delgado, is in a wheelchair like his voice actor Jack Binstead.
  • In the SparkShort Loop, one of the characters is a non-verbal autistic thirteen-year-old named Renee, who communicates through her phone and making approving and disapproving noises. She's voiced by Madison Bandy, who's also autistic and mostly non-speaking.
  • The Fancy Nancy episode "Nancy's New Friend" introduces Lionel's cousin Sean, who has autism. He's voiced by George Yionoulis, who's also autistic.
  • The BBC children's show Pablo is notable for its voice cast, which consists entirely of autistic actors. However, it downplays this trope for the most part as although each of the title character's imaginary animal friends personifies a different sign of autism, only Pablo himself is actually supposed to be autistic. Additionally, Pablo is portrayed by twins William and Oliver Burns in the live-action scenes; whether or not either twin is autistic in real life is unknown.

    Real Life 
  • During his time on MacGyver, the late, great supporting actor Dana Elcar's slow descent into total blindness due to glaucoma was written into the show as a part of his character's life. But even after Elcar went completely blind, he still played a lot of sighted characters, because he was just that good an actor.
  • Another inversion: veteran British actor Eric Sykes went deaf in the early 1960s and was registered blind in the early 1990s (his distinctive glasses had no lenses, and were a bone-conducting hearing aid). This didn't stop him appearing in post-2000 films like The Others and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and on the West End stage.
  • In addition to the already mentioned Marlee Matlin and Deanne Bray, Soshannah Stern is one of Hollywood's go-to people when a production features a deaf woman (although her deafness is often just a character trait and not the whole point of her being there — she has also inverted this trope by playing a hearing person at least once, in the TV movie Against Her Will: The Carrie Buck Story).
    • In fact, the Hallmark Hall of Fame movie Sweet Nothing In My Ear brought all three of these actresses together. The plot was about whether Matlin's character's deaf son (played by another deaf actor, Noah Valencia) would get a cochlear implant.
    • And more recently, Katie Leclerc can be added to the list (she's worked with Marlee Matlin as well on Switched At Birth), though she's less disable than Daphne, her character-merely hard of hearing, not deaf.
  • Alvin Law was born without arms. You may have seen him on an episode of The X-Files wherein he played a minister who... had no arms.
  • Amputees In Action is a casting agency specializing in amputee actors and stuntmen, including the actor from the Saving Private Ryan example above. In their words, "The graphic reality of our amputations translates to stunning results on-screen."
  • Actor Michael Berryman was born with Hypohidrotic Ectodermal Dysplasia, a rare condition that caused him to have no hair, fingernails, or sweat glands. His distinctive appearance led to a career in horror and science fiction movies, usually playing villains, aliens, or monsters, most notably Pluto in The Hills Have Eyes (1977).
  • Similar to Berryman would be Rondo Hatton, who acquired acromegaly from being gassed in WWI, and played a number of villains with his condition.
    • Richard Kiel, best remembered for his portrayal of the James Bond villain Jaws, also built his acting career on playing the "heavy" due to his acromegaly. His disabled status was compounded by a car accident in 1992, which left him with balance problems and need of a cane or, at the end of his life, a wheelchair.
    • André the Giant was better known as a wrestler, but he also put his acromegaly to good use in Hollywood, playing roles like the Eldritch Abomination Dagoth in Conan the Destroyer and the Gentle Giant Fezzik in The Princess Bride.
  • Javier Botet has Marfan syndrome, which has made him extremely tall and thin, with very long, thin fingers. Due to this, he's been cast in a ton of movies as super creepy monsters. Peter Mayhew was an even taller actor with the same disorder, but unlike Botet, he was best known for playing one specific creature in one specific film series: Chewbacca in Star Wars.
  • Lionel Barrymore, from 1938's You Can't Take It with You onward, due to arthritis and hip injury requiring use of a wheelchair (he used crutches in You Can't Take It with You).
  • The U.S. military uses real amputee actors to play wounded soldiers in training simulations, to accustom trainees to the shock of dealing with limb-loss casualties.
  • Actor Don Stroud had his face mutilated by a mugger and then played many characters who also had mutilated faces.
  • Michael K. Williams has a large facial scar he received during a bar fight in New York City on his 25th birthday, in which he was slashed with a razor blade. The scar became his signature feature and resulted in offers to perform as a thug in music videos, and ultimately landed him the role of Omar in The Wire.
  • When he was younger, the late Richard Lynch suffered 3rd-degree burns over nearly 80% of his body, including much of his face. He made a career playing villains in both movies and TV, most of whom turned to villainy after being intensely burned in a fire. According to Lynch, putting his scars on display helped him get over the stigma of carrying them.
  • Characters with Down syndrome are almost always played by actors with Down syndrome due to the characteristic facial features of the syndrome, which are hard to fake.
  • Characters with dwarfism are also usually played by little people like Peter Dinklage and Warwick Davis; one notable and downright bizarre exception is Tiny Tiptoes (see the Film section above), although even there it's the exception, as most of the character are played by real little people.
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