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Fall TV Lineup Puts Focus On Characters With Disabilities

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Television appears to be embracing disability more widely with network executives announcing this week a handful of new shows that prominently feature characters with special needs.

Of the 17 new shows NBC plans to debut during the 2013-2014 season, three have main characters with disabilities.

The crime series “Ironside” is built around a detective who uses a wheelchair. On the comedy, “The Family Guide,” the father is blind. And, “The Michael J. Fox Show” will feature the actor, who has Parkinson’s disease, playing a news anchor who’s also dealing with the condition.

Meanwhile, ABC executives said they will air a new show titled “Mind Games” that focuses on a man with bipolar disorder who, along with his brother, solves people’s problems using psychological manipulation.

Traditionally, people with disabilities have been underrepresented on television, with a 2011 report finding that fewer than 1 percent of characters on prime-time network shows had disabilities.

The entertainment industry has also faced criticism for often failing to cast actors with disabilities in the roles that do exist. Of the actors featured in the new shows this coming season, Michael J. Fox appears to be the only one who actually has the disability he will portray.

“While I’m disappointed that not all the characters will be played by people with disabilities, the fall lineup appears to be a big step in the right direction,” said Mark Perriello, president and CEO of the American Association of People with Disabilities. “I anticipate that these characters will open a window into the everyday realities of people with disabilities, and help shift public perceptions about our capacity to live, work and raise a family just like everyone else.”

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Comments (7 Responses)

  1. Rachel Douglas says:

    “Of the actors featured in the new shows this coming season, Michael J. Fox appears to be the only one who actually has the disability he will portray.” the title of this should be Not About Us Without Us.

  2. jaime says:

    Hopefully it won’t be like the adopted child on Greys Anatomy who had spinal bodies but was walking and lofty training early. Smh

  3. Vince Staskel says:

    Michael Perriello these doors have been opening for too many years by now. It is time for honest portrayals of disabled characters played by real disabled actors. Enough is enough already. There would be extreme outrage if some white actor portrayed Mr. Underwood in black face. Join the DON’T SHOOT IRONSIDE Facebook page to show NBC we want media inclusion right now not some vague time in the future.

  4. Heather Cameron says:

    I am a person with ADHD and Non-Verbal Learning Disorder and would be more than happy to portray a character with those disabilities on television as long as it was for a family friendly program.

  5. marie camp says:

    I like this article very much. I think Michael Fox will help open the doors hopefully a bit wider for the cause. He is a very good role model. Let us pray it works.

  6. Justyna says:

    @jaime: ” spinal bodies”? I’m guessing your auto correct did a doozy on the words spina bifida. But I agree with you, although, as someone who has it myself, I know that spina bifida affects everyone differently, and in order to make the storyline more effective, they should’ve delved into the differences between MMC and Occulta. The two can be quite different symptomatically speaking.

  7. Eley Driggers says:

    I’m old enough to recall the embrassement the original “Ironsides” was to me — as a PWD — as well to all Black Americans, of that time. And if I were not so old now, I would not believe anyone — with any good intentions — would want their name associated with anything remotely related to that Title.
    As MJ Fox, I hope he “keeps it real” and not “reality TV” real.

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