The number of TV and film characters with disabilities is increasing, but there still aren’t enough of them on our screens. The appearance of differently abled people in popular culture is important because it helps to normalize disability, and show that disabled people are no different from anyone else when it comes to the important things. Here are 7 of my favorite TV and film characters with disabilities.
1 Gregory House, House
One of the best known of all TV and film characters with disabilities is Gregory House, the drug-addicted narcissist who also just happens to be an incredibly talented doctor. Walking with a cane due to muscle death and chronic, severe pain in his right leg, House is interesting because he is not a character in whom disability is glorified in some way, or made all about ‘ability’: this portrayal of disability is more gritty and real.
2 Becky, Glee
Not many characters with Down’s Syndrome are on our screens, so the appearance of Becky, and especially her success in the cheerleading squad with all the other ‘normal’ teenagers, was a breath of fresh air. Becky is not the only character with Down’s Syndrome to appear in the show, either: Sue’s sister also has the condition, which is why she takes such an interest in Becky.
3 Raymond, Rain Man
One very memorable film character with a disability has to be Raymond, an autistic savant who inherits several million dollars after the death of his father, attracting the interest of his estranged brother. Hoffman does a fantastic job in his portrayal of autism, although viewers should be aware that the common belief that every autistic person is a genius is totally untrue.
4 Joe Swanson, Family Guy
Joe is the perfect example of a disabled TV character that does everything that able-bodied people can do. Despite being in a wheelchair, he fights crime on a daily basis as well as doing water sports, taking out the trash, and everything else that everyone else can do. We’re not presented with an idealised image of disability, though: he suffers from anger management problems, mainly due to his anger about being disabled.
5 Artie Abrams, Glee
The second Glee character to make the list, Artie is popular both with other characters on-screen and with viewers at home. A paraplegic because of a car accident in childhood that damaged his spinal cord, Artie not only participates in the singing aspect of the glee club but the dancing too, moving in time to the music in his manual wheelchair, often with quite complex routines. Artie is shown to be just like any ordinary teenager, dealing with girl problems and sex just like any other teenage boy.
6 John (Joseph) Merrick, the Elephant Man
The only character on the list based closely on a real person, John Merrick (whose real name was Joseph) plays the tragically deformed man who was displayed as a freak during the Victorian period. It’s incredibly sad to think of the way that those who were different were treated in a past era.
7 Forrest, Forrest Gump
This list certainly wouldn’t be complete without Forrest Gump, who more than makes up for what he lacks in intelligence through his courage and compassion. While there is a large element of humour to the film, a man with an IQ of around 75 having a successful army and athletic career and then becoming a millionaire sends out a strong message of hope. Forrest Gump teaches us that everyone can be successful, and that we should all try to be as good as him as people.
Do you think that we should see more disabled people on our screens and if so, how do we go about it? And who are your favorite differently abled TV and film characters?