Why We Need Better Disability Representation On TV

Why We Need Better Disability Representation On TV

We've come a long way, but there's still more to do

Since the beginning of TV, physically disabled characters have been severely underrepresented. Quite often when there are disabled characters in a TV show, they are portrayed by non-disabled actors ("cripface") and/or exist only to inspire the main characters or teach them lessons about life. It is important to acknowledge that not all representation is good representation. Some representation does more harm than good.

The popular and more recent show Glee received a great deal of criticism from the disabled community regarding the disabled character, Artie, portrayed by non-disabled actor Kevin McHale. In one particular episode, Dream On, Artie dreams of being a dancer and enters a dream sequence in which he dances to the Safety Dance, sans-wheelchair. It was as if the writers were unaware that people in wheelchairs can and do dance. There are competitions worldwide. By ignoring this fact entirely, Glee failed to represent disabled people as functioning human beings who can do anything they want.

Diff'rent Strokes is a sitcom that ran from 1978 to 1986. The show was already ahead of its time, as it dealt with themes such as race, gender roles, poverty, drugs, sex crimes, and even eating disorders. Melanie Watson, who was born in 1968 with osteogenesis imperfecta, a disease in which a person's bones fracture easily and occasionally causes smaller stature. When she was thirteen, she made her debut on the show in an episode called Count Your Blessings as Kathy. In this episode, the main character Arnold finds out that he will never grow taller than five feet. To make him feel better, Mr. Drummond invites his friend's daughter, Kathy. Kathy is small in stature and uses a wheelchair, but has a sunny disposition despite her day-to-day challenges. She wants to be an architect, and all of her designs include accessibility. She and Arnold become fast friends, and Kathy makes appearances in three more episodes after that. Diff'rent Strokes succeeded in casting a disabled actress to play a disabled character and to include her in more than one episode, but her purpose is to inspire Arnold and to remind him that his life isn't so bad. This trope is extremely harmful to the disabled community. In reality, disabled people are just normal people with jobs, families, likes and dislikes, and are living life the same as able-bodied people.

The 2016 Brazillian Netflix Original 3% featured a paraplegic character, Fernando, portrayed by Michel Gomes. 3% is a dystopian series about a world divided between the Inland and the Offshore. The Inland is a land of poverty and overpopulation. The Offshore is a sort of utopia that is never seen in the show, but described as the best place in the world that hardly anyone is good enough for. Every 20-year-old in the Inland has an opportunity to participate in the grueling "Process." Only 3% of candidates will pass on to the Offshore. 3% goes above and beyond most TV shows in the dystopian genre by addressing disability. Fernando's father conditioned him throughout his life to take his chance in the Process, and made him feel like he couldn't return home to him if he failed the Process. A doctor confirms that Offshore medicine can cure his paraplegia, if he passes. He doesn't want to accept the treatment, however. He says to his love interest, Michele:

It took me years to accept that I would never walk again. But I did it. I've spent my entire life in this wheelchair. This is who I am. And now they tell me that everything can change? That I don't have to be myself? That all the effort I've put in up to now was for nothing? F*ck walking, Michele. That's not why I came to the Process. I came here because I can pass. End of story.

Fernando resists being seen as pitiful or as an inspiration by the other candidates, despite having to play the "my life is miserable and this is my only chance" card at one point to pass one of the tests. He makes it into the 3%, proving that he is capable as he is. He also debunks the stereotype that paraplegics can't be intimate. His relationship with Michele is an essential part of the plot. The only problem is that he is portrayed in cripface. The actor that portrays him is able-bodied. Otherwise, he is an exceptional character and should be noted every time progress in disability representation is discussed.

Breakin Bad featured a disabled character in all 62 episodes: Walter White Junior, or Flynn, portrayed by RJ Mitte. Mitte was born with cerebral palsy. He said in an interview about his condition and getting the part:

I have a very low case of cerebral palsy. With CP, the responses to the brain are a little bit slower because at birth, the brain is damaged due to a lack of oxygen. Every type of brain damage is different. Mine affects my motor skills and the controlling of my muscles. Like, my arm jumps. While we were looking for the perfect part where I could use my disability to enlighten others, we were also looking for a good job. And when Breaking Bad came up, when I read the script, which was so well-written, I immediately thought, “I have to go for this.”

Walter Jr.'s purpose in the show is not to inspire the other characters, or to portray disabled people as pitiful burdens. He is a normal teenager who occasionally resents and rebels against his parents. Putting aside the fact that his father cooks meth, he is among the most normal teenagers on television.

Since Breaking Bad, there has been a shortage of disabled characters on TV. But in the fall of 2016, ABC delivered with a show called Speechless. The show is a sitcom that follows the DiMeo family. The parents, Maya (Minnie Driver) and Jimmy (John Ross Bowie) are severely disorganized and lead their three children in wacky misadventures. Their oldest son, JJ, has cerebral palsy. He uses a wheelchair and communicates with a board of words and letters that he can point to with a laser pointer attached to his glasses. JJ is portrayed by 18-year-old Micah Fowler, who also has cerebral palsy.

Speechless accurately portrays teenagers with disabilities as just teenagers with the same problems as everyone else. JJ's aide Kenneth (Cedric Yarborough) helps him navigate girls, popularity, and growing up. Like any older brother, JJ teases his younger siblings, Dylan and Ray, and also supports them in their own endeavors. JJ is a character with his own opinions, ideas, and quite a wit. He is not there for the able-bodied characters and viewers to be inspired by or to pity. He's just a regular kid who uses a wheelchair, and we need more people like him on TV.

The show beautifully addresses a major problem that the disabled community faces that Glee and Diff'Rent Strokes incorporate and 3% and Breaking Bad reject: inspiration porn. In the 12th episode, Ray participates in an essay contest. The winner of the contest who writes the best essay about his or her hero wins a hoverboard. Ray wants to take the easy way out for a guaranteed win by lying about how JJ inspires him, but they both know that JJ is not Ray's hero. Ray writes about Albert Einstein. One of JJ's classmates, Donald, who isn't even friends with him, writes about JJ being his hero. Being inspiration porn aggravates JJ, and he says to Kenneth and Ray, "I blame Tiny Tim." JJ and Kenneth confront Donald and tells him, "It's insulting. I don't exist to make you feel better about yourself." Donald refuses to change his speech for selfish purposes. JJ then allows Ray to write a speech about him being his hero and encourages him to put in the clichés that he hates. In the end, Ray abandons the speech he, JJ, and Kenneth wrote together. He tells the audience:

My brother isn't a hero. I know him better than anyone. And I can tell you, in all honesty, he can be a real jerk. He teases me and tortures me, runs me over with his wheelchair. He told me I was adopted and my real mom was Nancy Grace! He isn't brave, either. He's just living his life. And there's nothing brave about that.

This is the kind of representation that we need. Ray says it well. Disabled people are just people who can be funny, mean, smart, brave and cowardly. Only mobility equipment sets them apart, but the people who are making that a significant factor are able-bodied people who don't know any better. This is why there needs to be more representation of disabled people like this in more shows and movies. It's the best way to reach all people and to normalize disability. Shows like 3% and Breaking Bad are definitely exceptional and on the right track, but Speechless never fails. It proves that disability representation is growing and can and will continue to thrive. In our lifetime, we might just reach more acceptance than ever before. Let's keep at this.

Cover Image Credit: deadline.com

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Yes, It Took Me 21 Years To Get Over My Fear Of Rollercoasters

There's nothing like screaming in terror and crying in laughter at the same time.

Facing your fears is a big feat for a person to try to conquer.

Some are fearful of spiders. Some are fearful of clowns. Some are fearful of the doctors. Others are fearful of scary movies. Then there are those like me who are fearful of many things. Some of those things include heights, high speeds, and being strapped into a trap that flings me around with no control.

Yes, rollercoasters have been one of my most terrifying fears. The thought of being locked into a cart, traveling at high speeds through the air too many feet off the ground, and not knowing what turn is coming next is absolutely not on my bucket list to do before I die. To me, riding a rollercoaster means death. I am not being dramatic; I am deathly fearful of those things.

So as I said, riding a rollercoaster is not on my bucket list. I have never had the interest to face my fear... until spring break of 2018.

My boyfriend decided it would be a great idea to gang up against me with my best friend and her boyfriend at Universal Studios in Orlando. I told him in the car before that I did not want to ride any rollercoasters. But being the angel he is, he decided to turn against me and team up with my dear friend and her boyfriend, becoming persistent in trying to convince me to ride the famous "Rip-Ride-Rocket" rollercoaster.

I laughed every time they tried to throw shade at me for my fear, and every time they tried to throw a hint my way as if I was going to take the bait. I did a very good job with standing my ground, for a little bit. But as the day went on, the more "childish" I felt for never riding a rollercoaster in my first 21 years of life.

My friend said, "Come on, you're a strong, independent, life-chasing 21-year-old. You can ride a rollercoaster." And my friend's boyfriend said, "It is really not that bad, and it is less than a minute, so you won't even realize it has started before it ends."

Both were very good at convincing me, I give them an A for effort. What really sealed the deal for me was when my boyfriend said, "If you ride the rollercoaster, I will buy you the biggest bucket of popcorn and as much butter-beer as you want." I immediately turned to the rollercoaster and began my march to the ride. I stalled multiple times, but my mind was made up. I had said yes to death – all for my friends.

*10 minutes in line. 1 minute on the ride. 30 seconds later.*

Turns out I did not die. With my friend next to me holding my hand and our boyfriends behind us, we soared up into the sky, plummeted to the Earth, and went spiraling around to the tunes of Fergie's "Fergalicious". I lost a lung from screaming so hard, and I think we were all on the ground crying out of laughter while watching the replay video.

After all the unnecessary hype of nerves, after all those years of fear left my body through my screaming, and after we howled at how embarrassing I was, I realized I had just ridden my first rollercoaster. And I had survived. I now understand why normal people love them so much. I respect the art of the collaboration of fear and fun. And I will still happily decline ever riding another one again.

Cover Image Credit: Aaron Burden

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My Reaction To Star Vs. The Forces Of Evil Season 3 Part B Episode 2

These were jam-packed with possibilities of what will come in the next few weeks of this season, and I can’t wait for them all!

Spoiler warning for reader: Please be aware of the spoilers that await you. This article contains information in regards to the second half of the third season of “Star vs. the Forces of Evil,” including “The Battle for Mewni” two-hour movie special, and is meant to give my own thoughts, ideas, and possible theories based on this information as well as the previous material that’s presented as canon to the series as a whole, which can refer to the show itself as well as its published book entitled, "Star and Marco's Guide to Mastering Every Dimension." If you haven’t seen any previous content of this show, I suggest that you leave the remainder of this article unread, as it’s only directed towards fans of the show and its canon.

Welcome back to my “Star vs.” reaction articles! These episodes… Both are definitely worth the watch, probably even the best of the show’s second half of season three, although we are only a couple episodes in and got a few more weeks’ worth of episodes to go, so it’s still too early to say. So, here are my general thoughts as well as possible things interesting enough to note.

Episode 2A: “Butterfly Trap”

Oh. My God. This is the biggest plot twist within a single episode of “Star vs.” that I have ever witnessed! Even after the shocking reveal that Miss Heinous, the strict former headmistress of St. Olga’s Reform School for Wayward Princesses, is the daughter of Eclipsa, the carefree wielder of dark magic throughout Mewni’s Butterfly history! If you haven’t seen this segment as of this point, take this second spoiler warning to heart and exit this article as quickly as you can and come back when you have in fact watched it. Okay, here we go with my spoiler-y details…

Most interesting/important details:

1. This episode is the actual trial of Eclipsa, not the season three finale! I will reveal in a later article about the recently released titles for the last two episodes of the season…

2. I mentioned in an earlier article when I analyzed the “Trial of the Century” promo that Star says to the Magic High Commission, “How was it all y’all’s faces when you realize how wrong you were?” What she actually says, however, is, “I wanna see all y’all’s faces when you realize how wrong you were!” So, I slightly off by the exact phrasing, likely due to the music used in the promo drowning some of it out.

3. When Moon sets a stack of evidence out in front of her, she says that’s it’s all “second-hand accounts, histories, folk stories…” none of which were verified. Given what we later learn, that the trial was a “set-up” by the Butterflys against the Commission, this evidence might very well be fake, only for show as unverified accounts so that the Commission members wouldn’t bother leafing through it all.

4. Apparently, the Box of Truth, as I expected, comes in many modes: Party (the one Star and her friends played in “Sleepover,”) Intervention, Bachelorette, Trial, and many others we don’t know (yet…)

5. When the Box is set on the Party mode and asks, “Who do you have a crush on?” Rhombulus admits that he has one on Moon. Well, there’s something we didn’t know about him. Did it build up since “Moon the Undaunted,” when Moon was only around Star’s age? This would be a question that I wouldn’t mind not knowing the answer to…

6. When Hekapoo asks Eclipsa if she abandoned her Mewman husband to run off with a monster, the Box displays a hologram of this as Hekapoo describes it, which causes Eclipsa’s spade cheek marks to glow when she sees the hologram version of her monster husband. I was actually secretly hoping that a Butterfly’s cheek marks will light up while in the presence of someone she really likes. I’m still waiting Star’s heart marks to glow under these conditions (possibly around Marco…)

7. Eclipsa admits that while she never ate a single baby (Rhombulus keeps confusing her with Bobipsa, the baby eater,) she did psychologically hurt teenagers that “deserved it” on occasion. Eclipsa, this doesn’t exactly help your case! What exactly did you do to those teens?

8. HUGE SPOILER HERE: It is revealed by Omnitraxis that after Eclipsa’s crystallization, her Mewman husband didn’t want to raise her half monster daughter, so the Magic High Commission swapped out Mteora for a peasant girl (Festivia) to be given the royal magic wand and crowned the next queen of Mewni. The bottom line is this: not only did the Commission cover this up for several generations (at least 300 years’ worth) but neither Moon nor Star is not actually related to Eclipsa! In other words, Moon, Star, and all their ancestors since Festivia are not real Butterflys! Trust me when I say, I still can’t believe it…

9. After coming to this realization, Star uses her wand to free Eclipsa from her chains, which is just as I predicted from my analysis of the “Butterfly Effect” promo, knowing that whatever risqué things Eclipsa did in the past cannot come close to the evilest deed committed by the Commission.

10. This last point is just a parallel I noticed: as Star frees Eclipsa and runs out of the courtroom, we hear saddening and gradually intensifying music in the background and we catch a glimpse of Star running out the door, all of which is all too similar to how “Starcrushed” ends, in which when Star admits her crush to Marco and runs off to go back to Mewni, we hear a similar kind of music, both sad and intensifying, and catch Star running through the door to her room right before leaving through a dimensional portal to Mewni. Coincidence? I would certainly think not!

Episode 2B: “Ludo, Where Art Thou?”

This episode segment, although not as heavily dramatic as the previous segment, is still very heartfelt, packs plenty of character development for Ludo as well as Dennis, and can resonate with anyone who has ever experienced growing up in an abusive household of any kind. All in all, I wouldn’t call this episode completely filler, because it deserves much better than that. This is probably one of my favorite Ludo-centric episodes of the show. Plus, I only saw Dennis once before (at the tail end of season two) and I have to say, I really love Dennis since seeing this episode! I truly admire his devotion to his older brother, despite his parents always looking down on him because of it. One of my personal favorite characters of the show, just saying! Anyway, here are the details I gathered from it…

Most interesting/important details:

1. When Ludo’s package is being delivered to his family’s house, the deliverer calls his horse “Trot Fudge Sundae.” Can I just say how much I love this name for a horse? That’s really adorable!

2. So, not only do we see Ludo’s family as well as his King Ludo merch and dimensional scissors but we also see Bird and Spider have been hiding out in Dennis’s closet since Ludo got tossed back into the Void. At least they’re in good hands (or feathers…)

3. Dennis tries the same technique (with Ludo’s dimensional scissors) that Miss Heinous (Meteora) used (with Marco’s bobby pin) in trying to track him down back in season one: judging a concoction’s color to determine from which dimension it is. However, Dennis’s turns several colors at once, shattering the beaker, so does that mean that the Void is a mixture of all the dimensions out there?

4. Dennis’s parents want him to wash his hands, so he could help them scratch their scratch and sniff stickers. Wait, does this mean that the parents are so poor that they are desperate enough for food to have to live off from the smell of food-scented stickers? That is sad.

5. When Dennis goes into the Void to get Ludo, he retrieves Ludo’s old skull-hat, which we haven’t seen Ludo wear since season one, but when Dennis gives it to him, he just throws it away in his trash, which upsets Dennis, knowing that that was a piece of his legacy (a part of his past life that Ludo decides to leave behind.)

6. We can see that within the Void Ludo had built a whole house for himself that is almost identical to their parents’ house but is made entirely out of garbage, on top of what I can guess is either a random planet or a stationary space rock.

7. Ludo, aside from growing out his beard even longer than before, has also grown more insane than before: he thinks that Dennis is exactly as tall as he is though Ludo is far shorter; he remembers Spider when she comes with Dennis on this mission but later reveals to not at all have remembered Bird (who stayed back in Dennis’s room;) and, the most likely reason for my claim, he had built garbage replicas of the people in his life (his parents, Star and Marco, possibly more) and actually believes that they’re real.

When Dennis constantly tries to get Ludo to leave for their home, he starts to hear the garbage versions of his parents talking to him in Ludo-fied versions of their voices. Does this mean that Dennis may be going insane, too? Although this turn in events of the episode sparks major development in Dennis when confronts the garbage doppelgangers of their parents for everything that they put him through due to their hatred for Ludo, the question remains: are these replicas real or not? Is this part of Ludo’s plan, whatever that may be? Because when Dennis leaves without him, Ludo puts on his skull-hat and goes to his closet, where his garbage replicas of Star and Marco are. First sign of his reverting back towards evil??

8. Tiny note here: when Ludo tucks in his garbage dummies of his parents (meaning the replicas,) he says to them, “Good night, my darling,” which interestingly enough, is what he preferred to have Glossaryck say to him back in “The Hard Way,” since Ludo though highly of him as a stand-in dad for him, despite the fact that Ludo kidnapped him to teach him how to perform magic from the spell book. Does he have a garbage replica of Glossaryck as well? It wouldn’t be too surprising if he did…

I could go on about these episodes and how they will greatly impact the episodes that follow, but to spare everyone’s sanity, I will have it end here. These were jam-packed with possibilities of what will come in the next few weeks of this season, and I can’t wait for them all! Stay tuned for another article with upcoming news as well as another article covering the long-anticipated “Is Another Mystery” and “Marco Jr.”! Stay weird and stay wild!

Cover Image Credit: YouTube

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