What to Watch: Top TV Shows & Movies Featuring Individuals with Disabilities
It can be difficult to find television shows and films that authentically and accurately portray people with disabilities, especially when the show or film isn’t centered around a character’s disability but rather the richness of the character’s entire life. It’s equally important to have shows and movies that help educate the public about what it’s like to have a disability that also provide comfort, information, and support for people with disabilities. Here is a list of some of the best shows and movies that feature people with disabilities as a major character or lead: Ramy centers around a first-generation American Muslim-Arab who is on a spiritual quest in a politically divided neighborhood of New Jersey. His best friend is portrayed by Steve Way, who has congenital muscular dystrophy. Way, an actor and comedian, said of the show: “What touches me the most is when someone with a disability tells me how refreshing and relatable it feels to finally see someone on TV that looks like them.” Ramy airs on Hulu. Everlasting Love is a brand-new YouTube series about sexuality and people with Spinal Cord Injury, ALS, and Multiple Sclerosis. This series is aimed at people with disabilities and people without disabilities who want to become more informed and educated about sex and disability. This ground-breaking series provides education and information, as well as a team of experts who answer questions. It is sponsored by Paralyzed Veterans of American’s Educational Foundation and presented by Sustain Our Abilities. Everlasting Love airs on YouTube. This series is not for the faint of heart and is for a mature audience. The main character’s teenage son, Walter White, Jr. is played by RJ Mitte. Both Mitte and his character have cerebral palsy (CP). Notably, the show rarely addresses directly the fact that the character is disabled but rather focuses more on the challenges and opportunities all teenagers face in this formative time of life. Mitte said of his role: "People with CP overcome hurdles every day. One thing I've learned from my disability is that when there is an obstacle, you adapt and grow. You can't let that obstacle break you down and discourage you." Breaking Bad (2008-2013) airs on Netflix, Amazon, Apple iTunes, and Google Play. This television series features the DiMeo family: parents and their three children, one of whom (JJ) has cerebral palsy and communicates through the use of headgear and a laser pointer to form words on a board attached to his wheelchair. Speechless is one of the only shows that features a lead actor who has a disability in real life as well as on-screen. It is also one of the only shows centered around having a disability that aired on a major network (ABC). Minnie Driver, the actress who portrays JJ’s mother on the show, said: “It’s a sitcom and balances the seriousness of challenging life with a disability with downright hilarious situations. [JJ] likes girls, wants to try beer for the first time, wants to hang out and get in with the cool kids.” Speechless is available for streaming on Hulu and Amazon. NCIS: New Orleans follows the usual format for these types of crime dramas, with one notable difference: the key role of computer genius Patton Plame is played by Daryl “Chill” Mitchell who uses a wheelchair both on-and-offscreen. Mitchell brings heart and humor to the show and even tracks bad guys in his tricked-out wheelchair van. While his wheelchair is, of course, part of every scene, the show doesn’t make it a focus of his character. In fact, it’s not even brought up until an episode in season 4. NCIS: New Orleans is available on CBS, iTunes, Google Play, and Amazon. Kiera Allen is the first real life wheelchair-using actress to star in a thriller in over 65 years. She portrays the daughter of a mother with Munchausen syndrome by proxy who needs to escape her mother’s terrifying grip. Run balances the day-to-day routines of wheelchair users with edge-of-your-seat suspense, revealing that being in a wheelchair isn’t a hindrance. Allen says of the role: “... to be part of [introducing a new generation to wheelchair-using actors] is really exciting. Authentic representation is so important”. Run is available on Hulu. Season two of Netflix’s Sex Education introduces us to the character of Isaac, portrayed by George Robinson who is a wheelchair user on-and-off screen. Isaac frequently uses his quick wit and sense of humor to navigate awkward situations, including those that involve using a wheelchair. While being in a wheelchair is part of Isaac’s character, his character doesn’t center around being a wheelchair-user. He is simply another hilarious character in a show filled with hilarious characters. NOTE: for mature audiences only. Sex Education is available on Netflix. This short Australian comedy flips the script and is set in a world where having a disability is the norm. People without a disability are referred to as “without specialty”. The show follows the titular character, Jeremy (portrayed by Nick Boshier), as he struggles to integrate into society. Jeremy is not only the only character in this short film without a disability, he’s also the only actor without one, lending authenticity to the irony found in this short film. Jeremy the Dud is available on YouTube.