Thursday, August 25, 2016

Yet Another Problem With Disability Representation in Entertainment.

This isn't going to be about Hollywood blowing off disabled actors or reinforcing the inspiration/burden stereotypes. It's about something troubling I realized recently that has kind of crawled into my brain and refused to leave.

Last week I saw an independent film called The Happys and I very excitedly wrote this take on it - The Happys or Holy Crap! Someone Did It Right I was so thrilled to see a disabled character that not only could I relate to but that was written as a human being with strengths and weaknesses. What I did not expect was to discover that others interpreted the story line as unrealistic because it did not follow the usual stereotypes. Here I had hope that characters like this one could educate people about the realities of being disabled while entertaining but it appears to have missed the mark.

I spend a great deal of time reading articles about disability and am reminded daily about just how misunderstood it is to much of the population. This creates problems for us because a lot of the misinformation and misunderstanding leads to hostility toward the disabled community. For example, some wheelchair users are able to stand or walk for short distances. Not understanding this leads to charges of 'faking' and even angry attacks. It gets even more complicated when it comes to invisible disabilities.

I am autistic. I have an autistic child and dozens of autistic friends. We are all very different from one another. There are enough commonalities to establish a basis for diagnosis but we are still individuals with different abilities. How can film makers portray an autistic character 'realistically' to a society that believes we're all either non verbal 5 year old boys or 'Rainman'? "A person with x disability would not be able to do y." We can and we do. I loathe haircuts. I'm 44 years old and I literally sit there fighting the urge to scream. My 6 year old autistic child loves them. She would get a haircut every week if it could be possible.

Saying we're all different is stating the obvious but it still seems to escape the grasp of so many non-disabled folks. On one level it is understandable as it is outside of their realm of experience but at the same time it's troubling because it demonstrates that, at least subconsciously, we are not seen fully as human beings. This affects everything from how strangers treat us on the street to what accommodations businesses are willing to make for us. Maybe if over the next decade every disabled character was portrayed in a realistic manner the rest of the world would begin to get a more accurate picture, but I'm afraid that these rare gems we have now will continue to be misunderstood.

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