Performers and advocates are outraged after casting directors were able to list roles as unavailable to D/deaf and disabled actors.
A casting company will review its practices after its new online platform gave directors the option to exclude D/deaf and disabled performers.
Calls to boycott Spotlight emerged on Tuesday after the company said plans to build a more inclusive casting system had backfired.
A disability section, which has since been removed, asked casting directors to identify whether they welcomed or were specifically seeking actors with disabilities.
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However, they also had another option: "Whilst understanding my responsibilities in relation to Schedule 9 of the Equality Act, 2010, unfortunately we are unable to accept submissions from D/deaf or disabled performers for this role," some listings on the site read.
This has provoked outrage among performers and disability arts advocates, who said the error exemplifies discriminatory attitudes towards D/deaf and disabled artists and undermines efforts to increase representation and employment.
Disability arts coalition We Shall Not Be Removed tweeted:
"At a time when disabled performers are facing unprecedented exclusion as a consequence of the pandemic, Spotlight UK's attempt at inclusion has misfired badly and caused huge offence. There can be no place in our industry for discrimination, intended or unintended."
Others went further, submitting formal complaints to the company, threatening to end their memberships, or calling for a boycott.
"Stop your payments to Spotlight for one month. It's not like we're getting work at the moment anyway," actor and filmmaker Alex De Luca suggested.
"We understand that our D/deaf and disabled members have rightly been upset by this issue, which we unreservedly apologise for.
"We are heartbroken ourselves that such a major project for us, built to promote inclusivity within our industry, has caused such upset for our members."
Out of context
A spokesperson for Spotlight said the tool aimed to "better represent our D/deaf and disabled members" and give casting directors the ability to "express their commitment to inclusive casting".
The option to exclude disabled applicants included a box for directors to explain why they were able to do so under the Equalities Act. However, it appears most did not fill this out.
"As the feature is very new, it may have been unclear to casting professionals how to use this part of the site," the spokesperson said.
Spotlight included this feature based on feedback from industry members and took advice on including it.
"We included it with the best intentions of promoting inclusivity in casting, but realise there have been issues with the execution of it."
However well intentioned, commentors believed Spotlight's actions were damaging and needed careful scrutiny during the review process.
While Spotlight intends to consult the industry group it initially liaised with when developing the feature, some have suggested casting a wider net.
Autistic actor JJ Green asked: "How many actually disabled people worked with you in the creation of the add on to your platform?"
He said an opt-out on disability as it was presented was "a truly insulting idea".
"You stated this option was only to be used in rare circumstances. However, the reality is it [would] be frequently used.
"Casting directors themselves already know the restrictions on their projects and do not need your assistance to deny those opportunities to [disabled] artists."
Spotlight's spokesperson said the company will consider in the review how best to improve transparency around disability in casting - or whether to ask questions about it at all.
Is it legal?
Several people questioned whether actively excluding and discouraging disabled actors from applying for a role is illegal.
Akim Jayda, a hard of hearing actor, made the comparison with race.
"Imagine if this was under the race section and read: 'Whilst understanding that I must not be racist, unfortunately we are unable to accept submissions from Black and Asian performers.'"
Section 9 of the Equalities Act allows for exemptions to the law's general purpose of preventing discrimination based on protected characteristics like disability.
Acting is one of few exempt occupations where employers can exclude applicants for not having the preferred age, gender, sex, race or ability.
This does not allow employers to exclude disabled actors in all cases; exclusions are permissible when the role could only be filled by an able-bodied or non-disabled performer.