Kevin McHale as Artie on GLEE

‘Glee’ Actor Kevin McHale Angers Disability Advocates

In the television series “Glee,” Kevin McHale plays the role of Artie Abrams who uses a wheelchair. Many disability advocates and individuals are upset that a more suitable actor was not chosen for the role due to McHale not using a wheelchair in daily life.

Mixed opinions abound about the subject.  Glee producers did audition actors who are always in a wheelchair, but the person best fitting the role outside of whether or not they have a disability was chosen. Many feel that they should have embraced the opportunity to hire a person with real disabilities who truly fits the role.


Recently an episode aired where the advisor/teacher William Schuester requires everyone to spend at least 3 hours a day in their wheelchair as well as perform a song-and-dance number.  Many people are happy that the episode is intended to raise awareness of the challenges people in wheelchair might face in going about their daily business, but they are still rather unhappy that Kevin McHale is not really in a wheelchair.

“I think there’s a fear of litigation, that a person with disabilities might slow a production down, fear that viewers might be uncomfortable,” said Robert David Hall, longtime cast member of CBS’ “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.”

All of that is nonsense, said Hall: “I’ve made my living as an actor for 30 years and I walk on two artificial legs.”

There can be added production expenses, said veteran casting director Sheila Manning, such as hiring a translator for a performer who is deaf.

“It costs a little more, but look at the positive reaction they’re (the networks) getting. I think that more than offsets the cost,” Manning said, adding that it’s the morally right thing to do.


The executive producer of Glee, Brad Falchuk, wants to represent America as a whole with getting the best performers possible.

“We brought in anyone: white, black, Asian, in a wheelchair,” he said. “It was very hard to find people who could really sing, really act, and have that charisma you need on TV.”

He understands the concern and frustration expressed by the disabled community, he said. But Kevin McHale, 21, who plays Artie, excels as an actor and singer and “it’s hard to say no to someone that talented,” Falchuk said.


About one-fifth of Americans age 5 to 64 have a physical or mental disability – more than 50 million, according to U.S. Census figures. But fewer than 2 percent of the characters on TV reflect that reality, according to a 2005 study of Screen Actors Guild members conducted by researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles.

The cause has union support: A campaign sponsored by three major entertainment guilds and aimed at creating equal employment opportunities for actors, broadcasters and recording artists just marked its first year.

More is at stake than actors’ careers, say advocates.

“When a person with a disability sees a positive image on TV that looks like them, their whole attitude changes. It gives them hope for what they can do in the future,” said Castaneda of the Media Access Office.

What do you think?  Do you believe an actor portraying a person with a disability should always have that disability when possible?  Or should the best person for the part get the role?

See a snippet from the “Wheels” episode featuring the cast of Glee performing Proud Mary below:


22 thoughts on “‘Glee’ Actor Kevin McHale Angers Disability Advocates

  1. Pingback: "Glee" Wheelchair Actor Kevin McHale Angers Disability Advocates … « Better Disability

  2.'Michael L. Hayes

    I often wondered if this actor was diabled. It does not matter that much that he is able to walk without using a wheelchair in real life since he does have the disablility of 2 artificial legs. Disabled is disabled as I am also. Disabled people are just like all the rest of society. We are all different from eachother and have different problems and afflictions. I was happy to see the Glee eposode that addressed wheelchairs and disability. We(the disabled) csan use all the attention we can get!

  3.'Dean Kelley

    Can we just cut all of this P.C. stuff out. How many people complained about Raymond Burr in “Ironside” or James Franciscus in “Longstreet,”or perhaps more currently, Matt Damon in “Daredevil” or Patrick Stewart in the “X-Men” franchise. Please remember that fiction DOES NOT always have to mirror reality in every aspect. That’s why it’s called fiction. Yes, perhaps it would be more “accurate” to have a limited-mobility role filled by a limited-mobility performer, and would make some people feel better about their personal situation seeing a TV show match their personal experiences, but does the lack of
    “truth” really diminish the value of the show or the performer? BTW, I am personally on the road toward needing such assistance within a couple of years, so I’m not some insensitive jerk or A-hole spouting off an uncaring rant

  4.'Tami Lynn

    I agree with Sheila Manning…it is morally the right thing to do. I am a producer in Los Angeles. I have pitched series treatments, and reality TV series treatments for years now featuring a lead with a ‘disability’ with no luck. I get the same reaction from every major and cable network…PASS. In my opinion, the networks feel people might not be interested in watching someone with a disability, and the network is concerned they might lose their viewers. Unfortunately the networks just don’t get it. I firmly believe, not only would the viewers embrace this subject, but the disabled finally would be given a chance as equals in society. I am a producer but I am also a mother with a daughter with cerebral palsy. A person may use a wheelchair or someone may use a cane occiasionally, but those are just tools to move around…that is not the being. The being is in the spirit and the soul, and that is what we have to nurture and allow to grow. They might be a little differenct, but not less.
    Tami Lynn

  5.'randy z

    We were happy to see Wesley Snipes, John Leguizamo and Patrick Swayze in Too Wong Foo. Hugo Weaving, Guy Pearce, Terrance Stamp in Pricilla and other movies get made.
    What would the PC requirements be for the role of John Locke in Lost?
    This is starting to sound like the TeleTubby nonsense of yesteryear.


    That’s got to be the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard? Should we only hire cowboys to play cowboys? Astronauts to play astronauts? Cancer survivors to play cancer survivors?

    It’s acting, people. They’re actors. The whole IDEA is that they “act” out a multi-faceted character.

    Good grief. PC gone crazy, is what all this criticism is….

  7. Pingback: Disabled Actors and Acting Disabled » - Because Doing "GOOD" is not enough


    Does it really matter if a person is disabled or not? Disabled, not disabled, so what, big deal! We are all the same species. A person in a wheelchair may be able to do something that a person that has full use of their legs can’t do and vice versa. Sheila and Tami, possibly (and hopefully) without meaning it by not cindicating using able bodied people for disabled roles you going against your own principles and being discriminative. Honestly as a viewer all I care is the right actor is chosen for the role and I dont care if they are disabled or not. I dont watch a tv show to see someone’s prowess in a wheelchair. I watch tv shows because I like them.


    @Michael L. Hayes – You misunderstood. Kevin McHale doesn’t have artificial legs. That was Robert David Hall who was interviewed for this piece.

    “I think there’s a fear of litigation, that a person with disabilities might slow a production down, fear that viewers might be uncomfortable,” said Robert David Hall, longtime cast member of CBS’ “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.”

    All of that is nonsense, said Hall: “I’ve made my living as an actor for 30 years and I walk on two artificial legs.”


    so should we go back to the days where Whites put on “Black face”? Check out the movies from the “olden days” when White folks were made to look Asian? If I recall correctly, in the original Hawaii Five-O, Ricardo Montalban was madeup to look Asian. Do we go back to those days? actors with disabilities can bring their experience and insight to the role. we are in the 21st century. actors with disabilities should be playing the roles of folks with disabilities.

  11. Pingback: Disability on TV–Where Are We? « Arlene on the Scene


    If you are an actor and cannot walk…you have a very limited amount of roles open to you. If a role requires a person to use a wheelchair, then there are plenty of talented actors out there who are wheelchair users. Kevin McHale can walk, so could have auditioned for any other role of an able-bodied character. However, a wheelchair user cannot audition for any other role. So, basically, the show had one spot for a wheelchair user, and a bunch of spots for able-bodied actors, and they gave the reserved spot away to someone who could have had one of the other roles. If 2% of the roles are open to wheelchair users, that means 98% are open to non-wheelchair users. Why not have able-bodied actors audition for those? Leave the 2% to the actors who are talented but would not be able to get an able-bodied role.


    People that”s why it”s called “acting” it”s all fake.
    I think it”s ridiculous people are a-puled. It”s TV..
    Get over it! Even reality TV is fake.


    People it is called acting for a reason. Get over it and this is coming from someone with a son in a wheelchair. If my son was the best actor than give him the job, but if someone who can walk did a better job than give it to him. My son would hate that anyone gave him any special consideration because of his chair and he would expect the best person to get the job. After all we are all people and that does not change whether you walk into the room or wheel in.


    I agree it would be the right thing to do to hire a wheelchair user to do the acting in Glee. I appreciate the show has attempted to use a wheelchair user character. However, for people who use wheelchairs, as I do, there is a certain quality of movement and authenticity that comes with people who spend their days pushing a manual wheelchair in the community. There are scenes in Glee that exclude “Artie” due to architectural barriers (a full flight of out-door stairs). This may be more visible to the wheelchair user community than to people who are acting the part. There are companies in US and internationally which perform wheelchair dance. This can be incorporated in scenes.


    It”s wrong to discriminate, except when it benefits me.

    “Positive” discrimination is still discrimination. You can”t have it both ways.

    If I was in a wheelchair and going for the role, I know I would loathe getting the part for being in a wheelchair, rather than being the best actor that went for the role.
    Just like I would hate getting a role for being able to walk, when someone in a wheelchair was the better actor.

    By making it so only wheelchair users can act the “2%” wheelchair roles, you”re effectively saying they can”t go for the other 98%.


    I believe and knw dat its d best thing 2 use anyone dat is suitable4 d role.hw many times do u c a dancer n singer as wel as a disabled?u do not let emotions cloud ur judgement.if a disabled suits a role too well den let him/her have it but if otherwise,d best person shuld get dat part.Its a movie…sending a mssg.This is acting…”AcTung”…so long u fit d xter in a gi¿en role den u are good 2 go.kevin was good n deserved d role.pls y”all don”t send him 2 a wheel chair.he only did as he was told.He gat d talent.


      This is a complicated issue that touches on so many sensitive bones. As a gay man I was somewhat offended when broke back mountain came out starring two straight dudes. Plenty of people thought I was crazy, but the movie was ABOUT GAY STRUGGLES, could you imagine if roots was put on my a white cast in black face? Or Martin Luther King Jr played by George Clooney? I would think it would contaminate the message of empowerment. Same here with glee, but less so. But if glee wants to profit off the sometimes two dimensional maxim that people can succeed despite their adversities I think it’s a little bit of a copout to say there wasn’t a wheelchair bound person who could sing act and have charisma. Then they probably could have looked even harder. If the role is about a mad scientist who happens to be in a wheelchair I don’t think it dilutes the message if the actor isn’t handicapped. It has to take the aim of the message into context.


    Well if they had cast an actual wheelchair bond actor then we wouldn’t have all the great fantasy scenes where Artie is not in a chair ps he’s a great dancer nough said!


    Who cares if he’s not really in a wheelchair, he fits the part so that’s who they chose. Does that mean they should have picked someone else to play Blain because Darren Criss isn’t really gay? No. Leave it be. If you don’t like it then make your own damn show.


    They checked off every stereotype box. Disabled, gay, fat, black, Asian, entitled white girl….seriously?

  21.'John Boy

    Frankly! Wheter this actor is actually disabled or not his role is a major contribuition of disabled people’s acceptable contribution to the effort of life wittout people cateogorizing them as excluded, incapable and unable or a hinderance to provide their unique talents. It’s not a perception that they have to work harder or achieve more or that they detract and hinder the achievements of society as a whole. This role transends the value of a disabled person’s integral part of life’s efforts. Everyone deals with and struggles with a form of disability of their own that tugs at them each day. Being in a wheelchair is a psychological transferance of who we are onto to who they are. Kudoos for this portral on Glee. Disabled groups have to assign the impact of this role on the already discriminatory tendencies of most of society and herald this as an achievement for inclusion, appreciation and concepts of talents and abilities of disabled person’s impact on the unknown or pre-assumed concept of the non-disabled. Kudoos!

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