Monday, 15 August 2011

The Last Cultural Taboo: A Wheelchair?

With my RampUp colleague and Editor Stella Young appearing on Q&A tonight, it brought something to my attention. When was the last time we saw a positive and intelligent representation of someone who has acquired a disability from birth on television?

‘Hang on’ you say. What about Glee? Well the guy in the wheelchair is actually able bodied and the girl with Down’s Syndrome is played like a dumb henchwoman with the nuance equivalent of a flying monkey in the Wizard of Oz. There is Walter Jr on Breaking Bad, who has Cerebral Palsy, but viewers are lucky if they hear four lines from him every episode. There have been a few rare examples of crips on reality TV. Crucially though none of those ever sat in a wheelchair.

If pop culture is meant to represent a mirror into society, why does this gap exist? There has been outcry of a lack of racial diversity in Australian soap operas. Fair point, but have you noticed that none of the houses on Ramsey Street are wheelchair accessible? You may think I’m being silly, but if there are no houses that are wheelchair accessible, there is even less of a chance that a teenybopper could invite her agility challenged friend over for a makeout session at the bottom of the caul-de-sac.

If stats are accurate one in twenty members of this country are classified as disabled. Nowhere near that number are represented on television. When I asked on Twitter which people who sat in wheelchairs my followers most admired, none of those mentioned acquired their disability at birth. Mention a famous person who sits in a wheelchair and responses can range from a pornographer to an arrogant self obsessed wheelchair athlete who uses his notoriety to be a poor little martyr. The latter I particularly find appaling.

So I ask society, when are the crips going to get their cultural dues?


  1. Such a good point Todd! More people with disabilities need to not only be written into tv shows and movies, but having movies and shows that do not have characters with a disability is almost giving people the perception that everyone in the world is perfect, which evidently is false!

  2. So, did I cut the mustard as a "positive and intelligent representation"? At least until I said that ridiculous thing about farmers?