The Importance of Disability Representation in Everyday Life

Hollywood and the Media: where disability is concerned, it’s been a long time coming

David Giuntoli as Eddie Saville in A Million Little Things

As a disabled person, it’s always encouraging to see disability being represented in television and film. We’ve come a long way since the days of only seeing wheelchair-bound characters depicted in a single, uniform way; now, more disabled people than ever before are being given the opportunity to share their stories. From characters with physical disabilities like cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, and spina bifida to those with mental disabilities such as autism and dyslexia, there has been an impressive increase in the visibility of disabled people in the media.

I have always been an avid fan of television shows and media. My first recollection of seeing someone on tv who remotely resembled me and my disability was Friday Night Light’s Jason Street. Scott Porter did a fabulous job portraying Street’s fall as a Texas star athlete who gets paralyzed in the pilot episode. The performance from Porter was realistic as someone who was once able-bodied having to re-learn to navigate around in a wheelchair.

A character I perhaps relate to on a fundamental scale is RJ Mitte’s character in Breaking Bad as Walter White Jr. Mitte, like me, has Cerebral Palsy (CP), and his depiction of a child with CP was spot on. Mitte’s character is an example of someone with a disability that can also walk. I wish this were shown more often in the industry because it’s common for people to have invisible disabilities or very mild disabilities. Walter Jr., like myself, can walk. By portraying characters with disabilities who can walk, the media can help to break down stereotypes and promote a more inclusive society. It is important that people with disabilities are represented in a way that reflects their individual experiences and challenges, rather than being reduced to a single characteristic or label.

More recently, in A Million Little Things, Eddie Saville (David Giuntoli), one of the main characters, was paralyzed after being hit by a car. Like Jason Street, Eddie must deal with losing his former body and realizes he is paralyzed. A particularly touching scene was when he explained to his son Theo that he will never walk again. While that situation doesn’t apply to me, it does apply to many wheelchair users, the acceptance and understanding that the life once lived is no longer the life moving forward.
With each character described above, their disability was only a storyline and not a story. While the storylines were similar, the way they were written was just a storyline, not the entire story. As I see it, yes, I have a disability, but it is just a part of my life, not my life.

A scene I related to the most was when Eddie tried to decide whether to show his wheelchair in his dating app profile picture. This may seem silly on the outside, but to wheelchair users, this is a real question we ask ourselves. I, too, have struggled with having my chair be front and center for a dating app photo because it becomes the center of attention when it shouldn’t matter.

As mentioned above, I have been an avid fan of television shows and media since I was young. The topic of representation in the media has been a topic that has piqued my interest for many years, so much so I have decided to eventually launch a podcast that discusses the roles mentioned above and many others and how disabled characters are now depicted in film and television. Through interviews and in-depth conversations, the podcast will explore the progress we’ve made and how we can do better.

*This post is not complete and will update as more stories and characters evolve.

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About Me

Hi, my name is Sabrina; I grew up in Mill Valley, California, and I love to visit when possible. I now live in Los Angeles, California.

Growing up using a wheelchair I knew my life would be very different. But I didn’t see people that looked like me until I started playing wheelchair basketball as a teenager. Then, in college, the visibility of disabilities grew (in my opinion and experience).

After graduation, I worked for the Jewish Los Angeles Special Needs Trust, which helps people with disabilities supplement their government benefits with affordable, professional special needs trust services.

After leaving that job, I eventually got my paralegal certificate and currently work in Family Law.

Throughout my life, I realized the importance of representation and of people who look like you and have a similar experience. My experience as a wheelchair user may be different than others, but it may prove helpful for someone else.

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