Some may argue that Disney uses a fair amount of artistic license in other areas, why not do the same when it comes to race? I don't always disagree. When a story can be adapted to another culture well, Disney can and will do it. Look at The Princess & the Frog. In general, there is nothing wrong with taking a story from one culture and placing it into a different setting, with a different cast. Would it have been appropriate to take the story of Pocahontas and change the race of the main character? Absolutely not! So, the standard is to keep stories in their cultural setting.
That may mean that Disney should cast a wider net when looking for stories, and I think they have done a fairly good job of that in the past several decades. Since the late 80's, there have been ten princesses; six are Caucasian, one is Asian, one is Native American, one is Arab, and another is African American. I'm not saying those numbers could not be improved, but I am saying that Disney is not as whitewashed as many may claim. There are still many cultures that are not represented, but I'm sure Disney also has many more films to make.
One group that is not represented are those with disabilities. The 2010 U.S. Census shows that 18.7% of the U.S. population is living with some sort of disability. That means the subset of our population living with a disability makes up a greater percentage of our population than African Americans. The are more people with disabilities than there are those of Hispanic or Latino descent. Obviously, disabilities are not constricted to one race or ethnicity. So, with nearly one in every five people in the United States having a disability, you would think one of the last ten Disney princesses would have a disability (having to wear gloves for fear of freezing everything doesn't count).
Right now, there's a petition going around the internet, and I do not disagree with its aim. The goal is to convince Disney to make a movie that represents a child with Down syndrome. I think that would be great. It would be awesome if all children had a Disney hero they could see a little of themselves in. But, I don't think it would be without its problems.
Cartooning typically relies on exploiting a stereotype or a prominent feature in order to create characters. It requires more to draw characters of different races than simply changing skin color. Disney has had some trouble with this before. Many lauded Disney for making the characters in Lilo & Stitch less skinny. But, doing so also created a backlash. There were Pacific Islanders who were offended that many of the characters were drawn on the thick side. They saw it as racial stereotyping. I fear this would happen if Disney animated a character with Down syndrome. How would they clearly depict the character as having a disability, without overgeneralizing, or playing to stereotypes? They could have the best of intentions, and there would be those who would still get upset.
But, I think there is another solution. Right after Guardians of the Galaxy came out, I read tumblr post written by the sibling of a child with autism. The author was thrilled that her little brother was able to connect with Drax, who is not necessarily autistic, but does exhibit some common traits. In particular, her brother identified with Drax's inability to comprehend metaphors and uncanny ability to take everything in the most literal sense. I think Disney could do a great job of portraying disabled characters in their live action films. While Drax does not have any disability explicitly mentioned, Disney could certainly use characters that do explicitly portray different disabilities.
I wish this cause the best, and I hope they get the disabled character they seek. I just hope Disney is able to do it in such a way that it does not trivialize the hardships these individuals face, and in such a way as it does not cause offense—a very difficult thing to do in this day and age.