Tune in to abilities

Last month I posed the question “Are disabilities represented enough on TV?”

Recap: I came up with 7 shows (and 2 reality shows) that featured disabled characters, in the last year—in the United States! Sounds pretty great, right? But let’s do some math…The average American watches over 13,000 hours of TV a year. 13% of Americans are severely disabled.  Is 9 shows really all that impressive after all?

The thing that alerted me to this discrepancy is learning how disabilities are represented in the media of other countries. The UK is doing far more to make disability part of mainstream media than the US, and they have only one fifth the population!!

I don’t want to dwell on how the US was founded on the principle that all men were created equal (except on film). Instead I want to look at the example the UK has set for the rest of the world (even on film)!

Because (a) reality TV makes up 2/3 of TV watched, (b) I am not as intimately aware of British TV series, and (c) I want to make a fair comparison, let’s focus on Reality TV in the UK this past year (2012-2013) instead of sitcoms and dramas.

The Last Leg with Adam Hills

The Last Leg – Stand-up comedy, by Adam Hills, that originally integrated 2012 Paralympic coverage. Hills has a prosthetic foot and he, along with the rest of his team of presenters, offered a new perspective to the Paralympics. The coverage and humor appealed to all sorts of audiences and is one of the ways the UK made hosting the Paralympics have the biggest impact on mainstream viewers. The series was so well received that it had a New Year’s special and is currently in it’s second season!

I'm Spazticus UK prank series

I’m Spazticus – A prank show where disabled people are the pranksters. The plots that I’ve been able to find are really really funny. Unfortunately, I think I agree with some critics that this would have a far superior show if it were a sketch comedy instead. I’ll have to watch and decide for myself (the things I have to do for this blog.. 😉 ) Regardless, this is already the second show depicting the personalities of people with disabilities.

The UndateablesThe Undateables – A reality dating show for single people with disabilities. This show, too, has been picked up for a second season! It’s latest viewership data (posted on the ever reliable and accurate Wikipedia.org) shows viewership tops 3 million! (Math lesson: 3 million views in a country with 63 million people = 5% of the population watches!)

Katie: The science of seeing again

The Science of Seeing Again – Katie Piper was a victim of a horrible acid attack in 2008. She’s had 109 facial surgeries since then and this series follows her 110th as she tries to restore vision to her injured eye in a cutting edge stem cell procedure.

Now this is absolutely incredible! I think it highlights a really important difference between our celebrity cultures. The US has a few disabled characters on TV, but most aren’t even played by disabled actors. The UK, on the other hand, has entire shows centered on the premise of living with disabilities. They address the struggles of dating with a disability, thriving after a traumatic event and tackling the aftermath, and overall show that these disabled people are people first! With personalities, emotions and a sense of humor!

I’m curious how the response would be if these series were shown in the US.

Just a thought, but…maybe American’s are too quick to be offended and that’s the reason the media has to be so afraid and always err on the side of caution when it comes to political correctness. Hollywood can be so easily affected by a scandal; careers can be ruined and companies sued to oblivion. It’s a sue-happy nation. Maybe that is why Britain can take more risks on the silver screen. Maybe it’s the audience that is to blame. Perhaps we need to show that we like this type of programming, that it’s relevant to our lives, and that we can have a sense of humor.

I, personally, would LOVE to see these programs! It appears that the episodes are not accessible in America (with the exception of Season 2 of The Last Leg which is on YouTube) so I will keep looking and let you know what I find!

To satisfy your curiosity. All these shows are on Britain’s Channel 4, which has been around since 1982. In fact, Alex Brooker, one of the presenters on The Last Leg, was discovered by the channel’s Half a Million Quid Talent Search–he was one of the winners of this contest that was designed to “identify the best new disabled sports reporters and commentators to front the London 2012 Paralympic Games, which Channel 4 will be broadcasting for the first time next year.” Kudos Channel 4 for committing to make disabilities more visible on the telly! And boy did they find a talent in Brooker!

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