Tim GilmerIt seems the image of the ideal American woman begins with a standard of beauty that is either naturally unattainable or cosmetically enhanced. In this skin-deep world, positive traits other than physical beauty get pushed far into the wings, and all women — but especially those who use wheelchairs — are diminished by it.

We see it most emphatically in our mainstream media images. Once in a blue moon a wheelchair-using female character appears in a leading role in a movie. Almost without exception, she is played by a nondisabled actor. In 2004, Hilary Swank’s “Maggie” — in Million Dollar Baby — got a lot of attention, but not for her beauty. And certainly not for any “inspirational” quality she brought to her role as a high-level quad. So pathetic was her contrived surrender to hopelessness and despair that, like a crippled horse, she had to be put down. What a waste of talent. An Academy-Award winning actress lies in bed and gives up.  We don’t even get to see her imitation of an authentic quad in a power chair.

Then last year a movie, My Own Love Song, came out that might have helped us forget that unfortunate image. Renee Zellweger, another Oscar winner (Best Supporting Actress, 2004), plays Jane Wyatt, a 30-something paraplegic woman who goes on a road trip with Joey, a mentally confused man she met in rehab (played by Forrest Whitaker). As they wander from one unlikely scenario to the next, we learn that Joey has a secret plan — to reunite Jane with the young so