I want to be the person I didn’t see on TV when I was disabled
This first-person column is written by Dylan Ayres, a graduate of the University of Regina School of Journalism. For more information about first-person stories, see common questions.
Growing up, I watched a lot of TV. I have a physical disability and unfortunately I was stuck inside a lot, so the TV was one of my companions.
As I was flipping through the channels, I noticed something rather obvious. Almost everyone on screen was standing. There was no one in a wheelchair who looked like me.
I already felt marginalized in life, and now that I look back, I don’t think TV helped me feel better.
My television can have over 40 channels and I was not an actor on any of them.
Then I found a light in the darkness. I started watching a show called malcolm in the middle, Because not only was it funny, but because it showed a character with a disability. Malcolm’s friend Stevie was in a wheelchair.
I was so excited. Finally, someone like me appeared on TV. I had to learn more about Stevie. Do we share the same disability? How did this affect his daily life? Did he feel marginalized by society like me?
A quick internet search has shattered my world. Craig Lamar Traylor, the actor who played Stevie, did not have a physical disability. The joy I initially got from seeing Stevie on screen turned into a disappointment that stuck with me for a long time.
It wasn’t until I started watching Too bad That my view of people with disabilities on television changed forever.
Before I premiered the first episode, I thought I knew what I was getting into. The series revolves around a chemistry teacher who is diagnosed with cancer and ends up cooking and selling drugs to support his family. Given the show’s dark subject matter, I wasn’t expecting to find something that would have such a profound and positive impact on my life.
But the main character’s son is a person with a physical disability. It’s not just about any disability, it’s about cerebral palsy.
I have cerebral palsy!
He uses crutches to get around. I use a cane!
Going back to Stevie, I was afraid this was too good to be true. The character looks like he has a disability, but is he? I was worried that I would discover something I didn’t like.
After another quick Google search, my fears turned out to be in vain. RJ Mitty, who played Walter White Jr., has cerebral palsy.
I couldn’t wait to tell everyone I knew.
The sadness I felt when I saw Stevie and learned he didn’t have a disability was replaced by the joy of watching Walt. Son on screen.
It turns out that this joy was quickly replaced by the joy I felt when watching someone else.
Stand up for acting
It was late Monday afternoon. I was in my motorized wheelchair, rolling alongside two of my classmates.
As students at the University of Regina’s School of Journalism, we had just finished interviewing people for a mock television news report about flu vaccines. We were looking for a place to do our parking, when we settled on a place just outside the flu shot area.
Once my classmates did their poses, I thought we were done for the day. I turned to go when my colleagues asked if I wanted to try one of my own.
I thought about this for a short while before saying yes.
She twerked in front of the camera. The irony was not lost on me. There I was doing standing while sitting.
When I watched the footage myself, it was the first time I had seen a person with a disability doing a stand-up in a news article. That reinforced for me the desire to report what RJ Mitte did for entertainment Too bad. Yes, there was Journalists with disabilities like Tara Weberwho uses a wheelchair, but we don’t see nearly enough representation in the media when People with disabilities make up approximately 22 per cent of Canada’s population.
I want to be a person with a disability and report on disability issues.
I want people with disabilities to look at me the way I looked at RJ Mitte, not the way I looked at Stevie.
I feel like I’ve already started this journey, but I know there’s a long way to go.
I look forward to every step.
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