Writing this story finally had me sit down and watch “Crip Camp,” the 2020 documentary, produced by the Obamas’ production company. Ever since watching it I walk my usual dog walk route along the neighborhood and think, “those campers at Camp Jened is a big reason why this corner is wheelchair accessible.” Or, I think, “Why is this sidewalk intersection NOT wheelchair accessible?”
I have certainly noticed the uptick in TV shows featuring characters with disabilities. Last week we were watching “Nancy Drew” on The CW and a main character is using ASL with his hearing-impaired father. It’s not even mentioned, they just start doing it, which is such a change from the days of “on a very special Blossom.” We still have a ways to go, though.
GLAAD reported that just 3.5% of broadcast scripted shows include a character with a disability. Compare that with the CDC reporting 1 in 4 adults in America live with a disability. It is wildly disproportionate, and will likely be years before more accurate representation is met.
I enjoyed writing this piece and I learned quite a bit. I was also nervous that as an able-bodied person, I could not fully represent the community. I reached out to a mom I know who advocates for this community, who put me in touch with another mom, and also reached out to an organization that supports the intellectually and developmentally disabled in King County. Advocates from Arc of King County gave me more suggestions than I could use (many of theirs focused on movies or TV shows that were a bit older than the audience I was writing for), so I wanted to list them out here.
The Reason I Jump (2021)
The Reason I Jump, was a 2020 film festival favorite. It follows the experiences of five young nonspeaking autistic people around the globe. The title comes from the best-selling book by Naoki Higashida, who, at the age of 13, gave a voice to his experiences as a nonspeaking autistic child.
With narration of portions of Higashida’s book, alongside interviews with family members, the film provides viewers with a sensory experience that highlights the emotions within these young adults from India, Britain, the U.S., and Sierra Leone, to empathetically convey to a neurotypical audience what it is like to live within a neurodivergent mind.
A young man stricken with polio, finds love, refuses to give up on life and the couple spends their lives helping other polio patients. Andrew Garfield and Claire Foy star, with Andy Serkis in his directorial debut!
Wretches and Jabberers (2011)
Two men with autism travel the world with the goal of changing attitudes about disability and intelligence. One of the women I messaged with emphasized the impact this film had on her, as she raised a nonverbal child for a while.
I also wished I could have written about “Raising Dion” and the “How To Train Your Dragon” series. Perhaps there is a second installment that needs to be done…
Anyway, read the first installment here: TV Shows and Movies That Address Disability and Difference