I have been ranting off and on in various forums about a distinct lack of people in wheelchairs in popular culture. What I want to see are things like a McDonald’s ad, where one or more of the patrons just happen to be in a wheelchair. No need to make even a small fuss about it, just include people in wheelchairs in crowd scenes, or advertising or regular TV shows. I’ve seen people in Wal-Mart (yes, I admit it, I sometimes venture into the Evil Empire) in wheelchairs – why are those people not represented in their advertising? Where are the TV shows that include a cripple in their cast (Artie on Glee doesn’t count – he’s not really a cripple.) (And yes, we who are cripples can call each other that, like black people can use the “N” word but we whities can’t.) Maybe they are out there and I just don’t watch enough TV to have seen them.
I did see a trailer for new series on the Sundance Channel called “Push Girls,” about a group of women who, as far as I can tell from the trailer, all suffered spinal cord injuries that put them in wheelchairs. Kudos to Sundance – as far as they went. Now, I have not seen the show, only the trailer, but I have several bones to pick with them.
First of all, all these women are young, thin, pretty, sexy and on the glamourous side. Not that I don’t like looking at young pretty women, but the cast looks more like “Hollywood Housewives,” than the typical wheelie chick. They all drive their own cars, go to the gym to work out, drive top-of-the-line wheelchairs (I wonder who bought them?). They don’t appear to be struggling to make ends meet on SSDI, or to scrounge up rides to doctor’s appointments. At least from the trailer, the only struggle was for one of them to drive her chair up over a curb on the way into a night club.
Once again, maybe I am being unfair for not having actually seen the show. But not everyone in a wheelchair is there because of a spinal cord injury. Many of us have MS or Lupis, and struggle daily with muscle fatigue and chronic pain. We deal with physical weakness, cognitive impairment, and financial difficulties. Many struggle to get into a restaurant or a nightclub or a public restroom. (Kudos to the Harn Museum in Gainesville, Florida for having automatic opening doors going into and out of, the restrooms! Never seen that before.) I don’t know if any of these women have jobs (that wasn’t part of the trailer, though one of them was trying to revive her fashion model career), so I don’t know who pays their bills.
Hell, from the perspective of the show’s trailer, I would hardly call these women disabled at all, and maybe that was at least part of the point. They just can’t walk. Some of us can’t even tie our own shoes. One of the women does have a full-time personal care assistant. Again, I wonder who pays for that?
So yeah, this is a great start, and, again, kudos to Sundance, and I’d love to find a way to watch more of the series. But I still wait to see more disabled people on TV. I don’t need a regular series (I don’t know that I’d want to see a regular series about people like me). Just let me just see a character on a show – drama, sit-com, game show, whatever – who struggles just a bit every day. And not an actor pretending to be a cripple. Maybe a supermarket or Amtrak or McDonald’s customer in an ad wheeling up to the counter. No need for pity or sympathy. No big deal needs to be made. Just as the women in “Push Girls,” show that there can be a full, normal life even as a cripple, I’d like to see more of us scattered around.
Artie from Glee was a refreshing, if pretend (like Ironside) inclusion. And Walter, Jr. from Breaking Bad (played by RJ Mitte, who actually does have a mild case of cerebral palsy) as well. Just as we don’t think it odd or startling to see people of different ages, races and genders everywhere in popular culture, I’d like to see cripples included as well.
How about the next season of Survivor feature all crippled contestants? Naw, I think that’d be too much even for me.