When Will We See Visible Disabilities on TV?
Most people have met someone with a visible disability, such as an amputee or a person who uses a wheelchair, but if you were to look to television only, you might think that visible disabilities don’t exist at all. It may be because on television, while every character may have a flaw, they certainly all look flawless and those with visible disabilities are not seen that way. Casting directors seem to believe that those with visible disabilities are “lesser than” their able-bodied counterparts.
Everyone knows that in Hollywood and on television the pressure to appear perfect is immense. Women starve themselves and develop eating disorders to attain impossible figures and men may spend more time in the gym than with their families. The standard set by popular culture is very, very high, indeed. And through the eyes of popular culture, someone who doesn’t stand tall and statuesque may simply never be good enough.
And while the average person may respect an acquaintance who uses a wheelchair, if that acquaintance were to be cast as a leading man or woman, that average person may feel that it didn’t “look quite right” because it didn’t fit his or her preconceived notions about what a star should look like. This is the stigma that people with disabilities face every day.
Reflection of the Disabled Experience
And, perhaps, the saddest part about this stigma and drive for perfection is that real people don’t see their experiences represented in film and on TV, and this is especially true for those with disabilities. When was the last time you saw a show where the lead was someone who used a wheelchair? When was the last time you saw an amputee cast as a stunning love interest. In the rare event that people with visible disabilities are seen, they are background characters and their disabilities may always be the focus rather than the person themselves and television shows almost always get what living with a disability is really like completely wrong.
But the truth is, people with disabilities are fully-functioning, complex, multi-faceted, everyday people who have the same triumphs and challenges as everyone else – plus whatever their disabilities may bring. People with disabilities own the starring roles in their lives and are leading men/women, love interests, and every other type of character as well. What you may not see on television you will see if you look around in real life.
So why don’t we see that on television? Why can’t writers and television executives see that those with visible disabilities are just as beautiful and perfect as anyone else? When will people see that disabled characters reflect an important, underrepresented segment of society?
People will likely only come to this realization when we, the viewing public accept it and even demand it. Because as much as the fault lies at the feet of television bigwigs it also lies with all of us as people with disabilities must be determined to be seen and tolerate no less than acceptance when they are.
“This article was written by award-winning mental health writer and speaker, Natasha Tracy.”