Seeing Yourself on the Big Screen – Disability Friendly Shows To Add To Your Watchlist

It’s the new year and – hopefully – you’re taking some time out to recharge and relax, and perhaps catch up on some viewing.

It’s often easier to engage with what you’re watching when your own experiences are depicted on screen. Thankfully there are a range of TV and movie options which represent people with a disability in an open and honest light, or which give us a chance to laugh.

Here are some suggestions for your disability friendly summer viewing:

  • Atypical: A fabulous series which centres around teenager Sam, who is living with autism. But this is not just about Sam’s growth as he tackles college, lives with a roommate and finds a girlfriend. It also delves into the individual lives of his family, showing that everyone is dealing with something in their lives.
  • Special: A comedy series about a gay man with cerebral palsy, whose workmates think his mobility issues were caused by a car accident. It was written, produced by and stars Ryan O’Connell, a gay man living with cerebral palsy.
  • The Healing Powers of Dude: After being homeschooled, 11-year-old Noah and his emotional therapy dog Dude – who supports Noah to manage his social anxiety disorder – attend a regular school. Noah’s new friends include Amara, who uses a powered wheelchair. Amara is portrayed by young actor Sophie Kim who has Ullrich congenital muscular dystrophy. The character of Noah was based on the series co-creators’ own experiences with social anxiety disorder.
  • The Fundamentals of Caring: A road trip story centred on Ben who, after a personal tragedy, becomes a carer for Trevor, an 18-year-old with Duchenne muscular dystrophy. This is an honest, open, heart-warming film based on the true-life story of carer Jonathan Evison.
  • Raising Dion: Dion, who has ADHD and chronic asthma, moves to a new school where he befriends wheelchair user Esperanza – played by Sammi Hany who has brittle bone disease but who won the part for her witty, wonderful personality.
  • Feel the Beat: Failed Broadway dancer April returns home to teach a group of amateur dancers including hearing-impaired Zuzu, who dances by feeling the vibrations of the music. It features American sign language in the choreography of the final dance.

Other characters or  actors with a disability, where the disability is not central to the story include:

Dustin in Stranger Things: Actor Gaten Matarazzo has a rare genetical condition known as cleidocranial dysplasia which is evident in his missing teeth and lisp. But while these bring his character extra “attention” from the school bullies, his friends are also equally targets as geeks and Dustin is otherwise just one of a group of teenage friends fighting paranormal monsters.

Isaac in Sex Education Season 2: Isaac uses a wheelchair after a spinal cord injury but is simply another character known for being sarcastic and unembarrassed. He is portrayed by George Robinson, who sustained a spinal cord injury in his teens while playing rugby. Comedian Rosie Jones, who has cerebral palsy, was a writer on this second season.

Walter White Jr in Breaking Bad: It’s the typical teen struggles that are central to the character of Walter Jr, rather than his (and actor RJ Mitte’s) cerebral palsy, in this series which is very much for mature audiences only.

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