From a character who’s “just like everyone else” to one who models the acceptance arc of coping with a disability, here are my picks for the five most positive portrayals of disability in the media.
“Lieutenant Dan” in Forrest Gump
Forrest Gump is a classic everyone loves, and Lieutenant Dan is one of the most memorable characters in this film. He was in charge of Forrest Gump’s regiment in the Vietnam War, and during the war he sustained injuries that led to the loss of both his legs. He is very angry about this for a long time. As the movie progresses, Forrest reunites with Lt. Dan and they decide to work on a shrimping boat together. Eventually, Lt. Dan refuses to sit home and feel sorry for himself any longer.
While many people disabilities were annoyed when Lt. Dan started walking again on prosthetics, the overall portrayal of Lt. Dan’s journey toward accepting his disability was done quite well. The film showed him angry, yes, but it also showed him overcoming his demons and carving out a fulfilling life for himself.
“Roland” in Saved!
A high-schooler with paraplegia, Roland in Saved! is by far one of my favorite portrayals of disability in the media. What’s so great about this character is that it shows him being real. He has awesome self-confidence, which attracts lots of people.
The film shows Roland doing all the things a teenager does — learning to drive, fighting with his sister, smoking and hanging out with bad girls. I just love that he’s shown embracing life just like anyone else.
“Artie” in Glee
Artie from the television show Glee is another character with a disability done in an awesome way. He may be shown as bubbly a lot, but Glee also show all sides of his life, from dealing with bullies to having love interests. Overall, the message from this character is the most important — you can participate in life just like everyone else.
“Phillipe” in The Intouchables
Last year the French film The Intouchables broke box-office records across Europe. The main character in the movie is a rich man who becomes paralyzed after a hangliding accident, and as result hires a street-smart ex-con to be his PCA. The film highlights what these two men have in common, despite their different circumstances, which is a huge lesson for both of them. Full of humor and scenes that deal with tough situations honestly, this movie is awesome.
“Detective Robert Ironside” in Ironside
A NBC crime drama from the ’60s, Ironside features a paralyzed detective who still works in the field despite being a paraplegic. The original version of this series starred Raymond Burr as Ironside, and most recently NBC made a remake with Blair Underwood. The strength and determination Ironside possesses to continue doing what he loves is a great portrayal of someone with a disability.
While positive disabled characters aren’t flooding the media, they are becoming more numerous, and that’s a very good thing.
Which characters with disabilities did I miss?