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.”