Media Portrayal of Persons with Disabilities: A Possible Step in the Right Direction

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It’s no secret that the media shapes how we think about our world, and ourselves. The media often inundate us with what eventually becomes our way of seeing the world. Cultural inculcation of values that we have, in most cases, have not consciously accepted or rejected. For me, being a disabled male with cerebral palsy, I had not found someone I can completely relate to in the media until I watched the Richard Pimentel biopic Music Within. It seems as though the major television networks are starting to catch on that it might be a good thing to portray main characters who have some type of disability, while this is good for 50% of me, the other half of me who likes good writing and good stories is somewhat worried that this is just a gimmick, and that the major networks will continue to rely on unsophisticated genre specific tropes rather than striving to create original and compelling content. Only time will tell. What follows is an article I found on a website called Disability Scoop, giving us the rundown on a small portion of the upcoming fall lineup, that will feature prominent characters with disabilities of some kind.

Fall TV Lineup Puts Focus On Characters With Disabilities
May 15, 2013
Television appears to be embracing disability more widely with network executives announcing this week a handful of new shows that prominently feature characters with special needs.
Of the 17 new shows NBC plans to debut during the 2013-2014 season, three have main characters with disabilities.
The crime series “Ironside” is built around a detective who uses a wheelchair. On the comedy, “The Family Guide,” the father is blind. And, “The Michael J. Fox Show” will feature the actor, who has Parkinson’s disease, playing a news anchor who’s also dealing with the condition.
Meanwhile, ABC executives said they will air a new show titled “Mind Games” that focuses on a man with bipolar disorder who, along with his brother, solves people’s problems using psychological manipulation.
Traditionally, people with disabilities have been underrepresented on television, with a 2011 report finding that fewer than 1 percent of characters on prime-time network shows had disabilities.
The entertainment industry has also faced criticism for often failing to cast actors with disabilities in the roles that do exist. Of the actors featured in the new shows this coming season, Michael J. Fox appears to be the only one who actually has the disability he will portray.
“While I’m disappointed that not all the characters will be played by people with disabilities, the fall lineup appears to be a big step in the right direction,” said Mark Perriello, president and CEO of the American Association of People with Disabilities. “I anticipate that these characters will open a window into the everyday realities of people with disabilities, and help shift public perceptions about our capacity to live, work and raise a family just like everyone else.”

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