Yesterday, I was watching a television program, one that I really love, and was enjoying the fact that they finally had a character with a disability. Now I didn't look up to see if the actor was also disabled, sometimes I just want to be an uninformed member of the public, but I did notice that he certainly knew his way around a wheelchair, using at different times 2 of the 3 preferred pushing strokes that wheelchair users typically use. So back to the program.
He was introduced in the second episode. Killed in the third as victim number two of a serial killer. I was so mightily disappointed, I liked the character and how badass, yet complex, he was. So we watched as the cops went through his apartment looking for hints and clues. Weirdly, Joe and I too became detectives.
We wanted to see if the set designers got it right. Could this actually have been the apartment of a wheelchair user? The first shot of the bathroom was too quick to make any kind of assessment. There did seem to be enough room for a chair to get around but then, the cops went into the bathroom. One with absolutely no adaptation for a wheelchair user. Not a bar in sight, no adaptions to the toilet at all, no possibility of shaving at the sink, the tub had a impossibly high step in with no grab bars to steady oneself.
The show completely missed an opportunity to show what an adaptive apartment is, what it looks like. At no time did the cops say anything about wheelchair spaces or tire marking, or anything related to the wheelchair. The spoke of him as a character, but if you read the dialogue you'd never know that he was in a chair. Some see this as progress, I see this as erasure. Of course cops would be talking about his disability, his vulnerability to an attack like the one that killed him, the patterns of his movements and what his level of mobility was - it would matter to determine where he might have been before the murder and where he was planning to go that night.
I'm glad that there was a character on the show, I wish he could have been around a little longer and I wish his life had been better represented.
Is it wrong that I'm still a bit grateful to have seen a character on a show that I like that I could identify a little bit with, even if they made a lot of mistakes about living with a disability?
It's also a missed opportunity to talk about how a lot of wheelchair users don't live in very accessible apartments.
Well, it's a start...and my sense is that most entertainment media does not get a lot of the details right..and that anyone who is very familiar with the subject/setting of the piece can identify errors and omissions easily.
you are correct that it is a plot failure/editing failure to realize the impact of WC mobility on the part of a key person in a crime that is being investigated.
It's true, many wheelchair users don't live in apartments that are really accessible. In my city, and in many cities, there are not many choices if you can't stand up and walk into and around the bathroom, and you can't get up any steps. There are some newer places built after 1992, all on the expensive side, leaving out many. Public housing/subsidized housing has wait lists and leaves you out if you are over income for your family size, some senior citizen places are accessible but most have wait lists/need to be low income and fit the proper age category. For years I lived in a place where I had to keep the door off the bathrooom to be able to get into it and there was no turning space inside. I work two full time jobs to be able to afford the place I have. Even one job, and I would be over income for subsidized housing, and leave too little to pay the bills after paying market rent. Last time I saw a disabled character on TV, I was watching a show in the hospital. Nurse thought I would be upset because the character, a wheelchair user, turned out to be a killer. I was bothered more by the fact that he was portrayed as incapable of having a satisfying sex life.
You are right to be pleased. You are also right to be disappointed.
And this is why we need disabled actors to play disabled roles, so they can mention these details to the writers (though if the character was killed off before the apartment showed up on screen, if the actor who played the part might not have seen that part of the script, and was sitting at home watching the episode and facepalming just as hard as you were).
So we also need disabled people behind the camera, too: in the writers' room (says the writer).
As a writer with several disabilities, I have written a mainstream novel with a disabled character - and it is incredibly difficult to market.
But the whole novel wouldn't be the same otherwise - the characters make the difference.
I had a reviewer say, "I couldn't think of any book I'd read, recently, involving a character with a disability or chronic illness – a significant hole in terms of diversity."
There are some other books/movies, but they promote the disabled character taking him/herself out of the way - a 'solution' that infuriates me.
We LIVE. We love. We have things happen to us. We make things happen - all of which should be reflected in the entertainment we use to relax.
It's not like it's hard for the concept of an accessible apartment to escape the writers' minds - they are few and far between, laws or no laws. I was very lucky to get into this one and I know it. It was also built just a few years ago; older complexes don't have them.
It would be so much easier for everything to be built accessible from the get-go.
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