Type to search

Hannah Jones

French podcaster, Atlanta actor talk disability representation in media

Villa Albertine Atlanta hosted Léa Hirschfeld and Ajani ‘AJ’ Murray. (Photo by Hannah E. Jones.)

By Hannah E. Jones

In an era of non-stop content creation and consumption, disability representation within our media is still severely lacking. 

Hirschfeld and Murray met years ago at Zeno Mountain Farm in Vermont. (Courtesy of Villa Albertine Atlanta.)

That was the topic of conversation at a recent event hosted by Villa Albertine Atlanta, a French institution for art and ideas. The Feb. 23 discussion was led by French Podcaster Léa Hirschfeld and Ajani ‘AJ’ Murray, an Atlanta-based disabled actor, podcaster and public speaker.

Villa Albertine, established by the French Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs, aims to deepen cultural connections between France and the U.S., with permanent locations in ten major American cities. 

This year, Villa Albertine Atlanta is hosting 14 creative thinkers, and Hirschfeld was selected for her podcast “Décalés,” which roughly translates to “out of sync.” She started the project in 2020, building a platform for open conversations about living with mental or physical disabilities, considered through various lenses like navigating work, family, friendships and romantic relationships. These interviews are pertinent to her own life, as Hirschfeld’s brother has a cognitive disability.

“The thing that’s really important with representation in the arts and media is that it helps people stay aware, it raises conversation and it’s an environment where people with and without disabilities can express themselves,” Hirschfeld said during the event.

The podcast features intimate talks about disability. (Photo courtesy of Léa Hirschfeld, Villa Albertine Atlanta.)

Hirschfeld and Murray met eight years ago at Zeno Mountain Farm, a Vermont retreat that fosters friendships and connections amongst people with and without disabilities. The two friends came together to discuss representation — or lack thereof — within the arts.

A Nielsen report analyzed the screen time of disabled characters on film and TV shows from 1918 to 2022, finding that only 4.22 percent of 163,230 titles featured the content. Even then, about 95 percent of the characters on TV are played by able-bodied actors. This is especially striking considering 26 percent of the U.S. population is living with some type of disability.

“Everybody should see themselves on our screens, our commercials or our cereal boxes,” Murray said. “If you don’t, you feel like, at least from a societal standpoint, that you don’t matter.”

He continued: “Diversity is disability. Oftentimes, I think we’re left out of the conversation because disability is not seen as an identity. It’s seen as a health issue or something you have to get over or deal with.”

He referenced the medical and social models. The former asserts that a person’s impairment is the issue, and the latter gives equal attention to what the person can do, while also removing social barriers like prejudice and inaccessible infrastructure. 

That’s why media representation is crucial in the effort to increase visibility and diversity, Murray and Hirschfeld agreed, both in front of and behind the camera. This is something Hirschfeld strives to do through her podcast.

The discussion felt especially poignant given its location — Constellations ATL on Auburn Ave, the same building where John Lewis once had an office with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. The topic continues a tradition of working to further social equality around the city and beyond.

Villa Albertine is hosting another event on March 4, “Night of Ideas, More Justice! Defending Rights, Realizing Dreams” in partnership with the National Center for Civil and Human Rights and Atlanta Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs.

Hannah E. Jones

Hannah Jones is an Atlanta native and Georgia State University graduate, with a major in journalism and minor in public policy. She began studying journalism in high school and has since served as a reporter and editor for two newspapers. Hannah managed the Arts and Living section of The Signal, Georgia State’s independent award-winning newspaper. She has a passion for environmental issues, urban life and telling a good story. Hannah can be reached at hannah@saportareport.com.


You Might also Like

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.