Children with disabilities often are severely underrepresented in movies, books, and pop-culture. If they are featured, the portrayal can often be inaccurate and the character is often played by a person who does not have an intellectual, developmental, or physical disability.
In recent years the film and television industry has been making strides towards more authentic and frequent representation of characters with disabilities. However, there is still a long way to go because characters with disabilities still are an extremely small percentage (only 2.7% as of 2016!) of characters portrayed in children’s media (USC Annenberg). Here are a few movies and television shows that proudly feature characters with disabilities!
Sesame Street: Meet Julia
Sesame Street had a new muppet join the cast recently. Her name is Julia and she has autism. The probability of a young child having some sort of relationship with someone who is on the autism spectrum is pretty high. The show has been on for 50+ years now, and over the years has done segments to teach kids about challenging subjects such as divorce, death, prejudice, incarceration, and now autism. By watching the other muppets interact with Julia, Sesame Street producers hope that their interactions will educate young children on how to interact with their peers with autism.
The goal in creating Julia was to portray what autism looks like, which proved to be difficult because autism is different for every person who has it. In order to create Julia and decide which characteristics she should have, Sesame Street producers worked with their usual educators and child psychologists, but also with autism organizations. The puppeteer who controls Julia is actually a mother to a boy with autism. She loves that she is able portray a character with autism and show her son that there can and will be others like him on television.
Finding Nemo (2003) & Finding Dory (2016)
Nemo’s trademark is his undersized “lucky fin.” Although it challenges his mobility, he wears as a badge of honor rather than looking at it as a set-back. Dory has short-term memory loss, which is the central plot point of the 2016 film. Neither of these characters is isolated as a result of their differences, and Pixar shows movie-watchers that it’s good to be different!
Memory loss is not a common symptom of autism, but a lot of parents of children with autism find her character to be relatable. Her constant apologies for her forgetfulness (despite it not being her fault), resonate with caregivers of people with autism as they often find themselves in a similar situation. Parents and caregivers also related to Dory’s parents, who want to create a supportive environment for their child, but also want them to grow and explore on their own.
This superhero comic was created by Atlanta-native Josh Leonard when he noticed that there weren’t any cartoons featuring characters with disabilities. Many of his friends have children with disabilities and they didn’t have a superhero to look up to that was like them. That’s when he realized that his cartoon was needed. Team Supreme is made up completely of characters that have some sort of disability.
The main character is a boy with autism named Zeek, whose superpower allows him slow down time and accomplish more than usual during that time. His powers are inspired by “splinter skills” which allow some people with autism to retain large amounts of information in a very short time, a very real-life superpower. Other characters have albinism, paralysis, blindness, hearing loss, or have amputated limbs. Each of their deficits is presented alongside a superpower. For example, although one of the characters is blind, he has supersonic hearing.
- Newest “Sesame Street” Muppet Has Autism: Meet Julia
- Hollywood is talking about inclusion more than ever, but not for disabled actions
- Hollywood sticks to the script: Films aren’t more inclusive, despite a decade of advocacy
- What Animated Films Can Teach Us About Intellectual Disabilities
- This Superhero Cartoon Shows Kids with Disabilities How Powerful They Really Are