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Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Rob’s Rants on Looking Forward to Speechless, Designated Survivor; Three Good Reads; Three Good Messages on Disability

Here’s some of what grabbed my attention while the sun set on a really good summer and fall rolls in:

  • Consider this a public service announcement since the new shows I end up liking often get cancelled. I’m eagerly awaiting Speechless, which features a kid living with cerebral palsy. The preview suggests producers “get it,” meaning that we might actually be able to watch a show that includes a disabled character without a weekly dose of “oh my God, it’s so wonderful that he goes outside.” Designated Survivor looks interesting, though I already have doubts. The President and Congress are lost in a terrorist attack during the State of the Union. I’m just wondering where it can go after a few weeks of hysteria. I don’t think it can leave the devastation behind and become the next West Wing. Hopefully, it’ll be fun finding out.

  • I recently read a great article by Michael Smerconish on the decision by to stop allowing comments on their stories. He suggested more sites should follow NPR’s lead. The statistics he quotes reveal, not surprisingly, that a few obnoxious people generally dominate comments sections. He argues that people hide behind the anonymity that sites offer commenters to say things they very likely wouldn’t say in person. Despite adding a commenting system to this site, I agree wholeheartedly with Smerconish. I think perusing a comments section on a major news website can often ruin the experience of reading a good article. My guess is that publications allow comments because it increases hits to their site, but in some ways they end up giving Joe Public as much of a forum as they give to their staff writers. Ultimately, I think the bigger problem is that people are becoming desensitized to the type of outlandish things that are said online, and they are more and more willing to say the same types of things in person and find them acceptable from others. See television news and our current presidential election as evidence.

  • I caught another article worth reading on Daryl “Chill” Mitchell, an actor living—and working—with a disability. He became paralyzed from an accident and now uses a wheelchair. With a major role in NCIS: New Orleans, Mitchell might be the most recognizable actor with a disability currently on television. The writing in the article gets a touch hokey in places, but I think Mitchell delivers a great and somewhat unique message. He talks about going into auditions ultra-prepared, knowing he must get casting people to focus on him—and not his disability—almost instantly. There’s a great, albeit brief, story about Mitchell showing up for an audition that was being held in a room that was only accessible by going up a flight of stairs. He ended up reading for the part in his car, instead of ranting and raving about inaccessibility. It’s a very tough balance to find sometimes—pursuing the right to access versus keeping an eye on the goal at hand. I’ve struggled with it many times, and it was good to read a perspective different from the typical message of raising hell about every slight to people with disabilities. Mitchell does fit the main image society projects of someone with a disability—a person with a “normal” upper body who uses a manual wheelchair quite well—but his character on NCIS: New Orleans offers a positive image of disability on prime time television. I’m not a huge fan of this particular version of NCIS, but I did watch the first season. I think Mitchell’s character is a good step in the right direction to having more images of disability in mainstream media.

  • The Paralympics recently wrapped up. A late-summer vacation precluded me from judging the type of coverage they received. But I started to wonder why they aren’t just combined with the Olympics, even before I read this excellent article by Mik Scarlet (which I originally found here). He put it well when he wrote on the U.K. Huffington Post, “I doubt that fans would take their seats for a day of their favourite sports only to jump up and leave every time disabled competitors readied to take compete.” I don’t agree with those who, at times, try to fit a square peg into a round hole in the name of inclusion, but this is a natural. There are numerous categories within Olympic competition. What’s the difference when they are related to disability? As Scarlet points out, no one’s suggesting that able-bodied runners and wheelchair racers compete in the same 100-meter dash. But having a track event for able-bodied athletes followed by an event for disabled athletes would be awesome. My only question would be logistics—is there enough room in the Olympic village for all the athletes, enough time for the events, etc.? In fact, if there’s not, they should find it.

  • I loved seeing this image (below) of a Coke can featuring Paralympian Tatyana McFadden in her racing wheelchair. Getting strong, non-patronizing images of disability into mainstream media is key to changing the often misguided portrayals of people with disabilities that are seen too frequently.

(Above image is from the Facebook page of Life After Spinal Cord Injury [SCI] using the embed code provided on the image.)

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