Disability Inclusion in the Media

An important part of raising awareness and acceptance for people with disabilities is making their stories part of popular culture. Doing this will encourage society to move towards disability inclusion.

Here, we take a look at television shows or movies that have successfully made the move towards disability inclusion.

American sitcom Speechless, following the experiences of a teenager with cerebral palsy and his family, has just been renewed for a third season after averaging 4.3 million viewers.

Speechless stars Micah Fowler, who has cerebral palsy in real life, as a teenager with the developmental disability who is nonverbal. The comedy focuses on Fowler’s character, JJ DiMeo, along with his brother, sister and parents.

Cerebral palsy refers to a number of neurological disorders that appear in infancy or early childhood and permanently affect body movement and muscle coordination, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. People with cerebral palsy can exhibit a variety of symptoms.

Speechless’s creator Silveri says there was never a question of whether or not an actor with cerebral palsy would be cast as the key role. Having grown up with a brother with cerebral palsy, Silveri considered it the right thing to do, politically and artistically.

Minnie Driver, who plays mum Maya DiMeo on the show, posted on Twitter that the upcoming season will include 22 episodes.

While the show is currently without an Australian broadcaster, you can purchase the DVD or watch online by purchasing from iTunes.

Watch the trailer for Speechless:

There has been an influx of characters with disabilities on TV shows in recent years, indicating hope for the future of disability representation and inclusion in the media. However, a 2016 paper compiled by the Ruderman Foundation found that, despite making up a fifth of the population, only 2% of characters in the top 10 Nielsen-rated shows and the top 21 streaming original shows have disabilities. Of those characters, 95% are played by non-disabled actors. While living with a disability is being written about and shown on television shows, it’s usually not by those who have firsthand experience. Micah Fowler, playing the character JJ in Speechless, bucks that trend and is one of the very few actors living with a disability in Hollywood.

The report mentions a list of characters who are portrayed as living with a disability- whether that’s a visible or non-visible disability. The research into disability representation also mentions shows such as Daredevil, where character Matt Murdock is blind, Jessica Jones, where the lead character Jessica suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Orange Is The New Black, where character John Bennet has an amputated leg, among other shows.

While there’s still more work to be done to achieve disability inclusion in the media, the shows mentioned, and many others, are raising awareness and acceptance for people with disabilities by making their stories part of popular culture. The last few years of progress with disability inclusion in the media indicate that we’re moving in the right direction.

Do you have favourite tv shows or movies that encourage disability inclusion?

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