People with cerebral palsy and other disabilities would like society to see them equally. Society has a way of giving people with disabilities the term “special” when all we really want is to be seen as normal — just needing to do some things differently. Depicting people with disabilities has been lacking in television and movies. But finally, now there is a new sitcom on ABC that sheds a whole new light on what having a disability is really about. Speechless is on 8 p.m. ET Wednesdays on ABC. I, and several people with cerebral palsy, couldn’t be more excited.
When I was growing up, I longed to see someone in a wheelchair star in a movie or television show. Yes, I could relate to characters that didn’t have any disability, but it’s important to see someone with a disability. It’s important because they teach indirectly that having a physical disability is also normal. Perhaps if people in media saw people with disabilities more than someone who is dying, incoherent, or mentally challenged, then they would expect them also to be just like themselves.
The show Speechless depicts a family that includes a mom, dad, two sons, and a daughter. One son is JJ and he has cerebral palsy that affects his ability to walk, to speak clearly, and his motor control. The actor who plays JJ is Micah Fowler — and it’s really cool that he actually does have cerebral palsy. Many times Hollywood casts people without disabilities to play characters who are disabled. Fowler’s cerebral palsy isn’t as severe as JJ’s, so he has to resist the urge to use his hands.
JJ uses a board with words to communicate with a laser pointer. He isn’t sick, mentally challenged, or suffering in any type of way. He’s just a normal kid trying to navigate his way in school like everyone else.
TV’s Speechless right on point
His mother, Maya, is played by Minnie Driver. Maya is JJ’s biggest advocate and support. She does everything possible to give him an equal playing field in life. She also has to learn how to let go a bit and tend to the needs of her other two children. She adequately depicts what most parents of children with disabilities do for their children on a daily basis. Her love and support of her son is right on point and hits a soft spot in many parents today.
I am very happy with the show overall. My parents also had to fight for me to be in a regular classroom. The fight was even a bit harder back in the 1980s when inclusion was still very much in the infantile stages. My parents fought for me, but I also had to learn to fight for myself. I knew what I’m capable of more than anyone, so I needed to let others know as well.
Like JJ in Speechless, I also had an aide in school. She helped me write, fed me lunch, and assisted me in any other physical aspect that I needed in my school day. Luckily, I was fortunate to have the best aide that I could imagine. I realized this every time my aide needed a day off and they would send in a substitute. Having clueless aides made me appreciate who I had!
One of the best things about the show Speechless is the use of humor. It is relatable and very much real for those of us who have disabilities. But the humor is for everyone. Sometimes the everyday challenges can be the most hilarious. For example, people who don’t know me and talk to me like I don’t understand anything do make me feel frustrated, but the situation can also be humorous. I love to laugh and sometimes in situations that seem unreal, all you can do is laugh.
Note: Cerebral Palsy News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Cerebral Palsy News Today, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to cerebral palsy.