Must-See TV

Must-See TV – discussion of physically-disabled people on television shows

Paula Patch

Byline: Paula Patch

Seen any good television shows lately? If you can look past the current spate of quasi-reality shows that seem to dominate the small screen, you may be surprised at what you’ll find – especially as it relates to your customers.

The “reality” for the people you serve day in and day out is the need for some type of medical equipment. In recent years, your customers’ peers have been showing up frequently on well respected, long-running TV programs – and not just to keep the laugh track rolling.

On NBC’s “Ed,” two characters have physical disabilities. “Eli” is a paraplegic bowling alley manager, and “Mark” is an obese high school student. An actor who is disabled portrays each character. Darryl “Chill” Mitchell, who plays Eli, was paralyzed in a motorcycle accident two years ago.

On CBS’ “JAG,” Patrick Labyorteaux plays Navy Lt. Bud Roberts, a lawyer who lost his right leg below the knee when he stepped on a land mine in Afghanistan.

Both “JAG” and “Ed” treat the characters’ disabilities with sensitivity. For instance, when Michael Genadry – “Ed’s” Mark – decided to undergo gastric bypass surgery in real-life, the show’s producers decided to have Mark undergo the surgery, too.

Several episodes of “JAG” have focused on Bud’s coming to terms with his disability, following him through surgery, rehab and being fitted for a prosthetic limb.

People with disabilities also are showing up in less-weighty television programs. On PBS Kids’/Scholastic’s “Clifford, The Big Red Dog” children’s program, Clifford’s friend Mary – a cartoon girl – uses a wheelchair, and his friend KC – a cartoon dog – has only three legs.

Educational materials related to the “Clifford” TV show, books and other products use the Mary and KC characters to stimulate conversations among parents, teachers and children about what it means to be different from other people, and how to treat those who are different.

On Fox’s “Malcolm in the Middle,” supporting character “Stevie” is an asthmatic adolescent who uses a wheelchair.

Using “Malcolm’s” Stevie as an example in a recent article for Television Quarterly, the journal of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, Christopher Campbell and Sheri Hoem wrote “That [such TV shows] could provide audiences with a more complicated notion of life for people with disabilities is testament to the capacity of the medium to transform the way people think about the world.”

At least for now, it seems TV is changing the way mainstream America looks at people with disabilities.

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