LOS ANGELES—The glee club members twirl their wheelchairs to the tune of "Proud Mary" and in joyful solidarity with Artie, the fellow performer who must use his chair even when the music stops.
The scene in Wednesday's episode of the hit Fox series "Glee," which regularly celebrates diversity and the underdog, is yet another uplifting moment - except to those in the entertainment industry with disabilities and their advocates.
"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."
Hall, 61, chair of a multi-union committee for performers with disabilities, is part of a small band of such steadily working actors on TV that includes Daryl "Chill" Mitchell, star of Fox's "Brothers"; teenager RJ Mitte of AMC's "Breaking Bad"; and ABC's "Private Practice" newcomer Michael Patrick Thornton.
Veteran actress Geri Jewell, who has cerebral palsy, appeared on HBO's now-departed "Deadwood."
Mitchell, 44, whose credits included "Veronica's Closet" and the film "Galaxy Quest" before he was injured in a motorcycle accident and "Ed" after he began using a wheelchair, is also a producer on the Sunday sitcom that's in need of higher ratings if it is to survive.
For Mitchell, "Brothers" represents more than just another show: He calls it "a movement" that deserves support from the wider disabled community as well as the industry.
"This is what my life is. This is what I want the world to see," he said. "I want to hold the networks accountable. If I can come out and do what I'm doing, they can come to the table."
It's not just TV that falls short of what Mitchell and others seek, including auditioning those with disabilities for roles that echo their situation and for roles in which it is irrelevant. (Then it's up to them to prove they deserve the job, Hall said.)
In the theater world, advocacy groups for the disabled recently objected to the casting of Abigail Breslin ("Little Miss Sunshine") as young Helen Keller in a Broadway revival of "The Miracle Worker," and a hearing actor's selection for a deaf role in the off-Broadway "The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter."
In films, Daniel Day-Lewis received an Academy Award for his portrayal of a man with severe cerebral palsy in "My Left Foot" and Tom Cruise was nominated for an Oscar for playing a paralyzed Vietnam veteran in "Born on the Fourth of July."
Television, however, has a unique place in the country's cultural and social fiber. It deals in volume, is entrenched in most lives as it consumes hours of leisure time and has the daily power to reinforce attitudes or reshape them. Increasingly, it's been expected to reflect America in whole and not just the so-called mainstream.
That was the intent in assembling the cast of "Glee," said executive producer Brad Falchuk, along 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.
"Glee" isn't alone in using an able-bodied actor for a wheelchair role: "Curb Your Enthusiasm" did it twice in a recent episode.
While TV has grown more inclusive of ethnic and gay characters, those with disabilities represent a sizable minority that hasn't fared as well - whether with genuine or fake portrayals.