Both my grandfathers had only one arm.
They each lost an arm in accidents on opposite sides of the Atlantic. It was a very curious coincidence that my father took as a sign that he should marry my mother…but that is a different story.
I do have strong memories of my grandfathers, and they left big impressions on me. Their one-armedness was curious and yet normal, as these things so often are with children. Despite my personal experiences, I’ve never suggested including a person with one arm in any shows I have worked on. But it’s something I am thinking a lot about now.
Every time we develop and produce a show, we are creating a representation of the future—the ideas, the stories, characters and designs that will be watched in three, four or more years. These decisions for our future audiences are often “locked” today. But are we able to project into that time a better place than we live in now? Because the world we’re presenting to today’s and tomorrow’s kids isn’t working. If you haven’t watched Netflix’s Crip Camp yet, it’s a good place to start this discussion about the “disability revolution,” which is referenced in its logline.
From what I’ve seen recently, I am hopeful now for content that is diverse in all ways in front of and behind the screen, representing an inclusive and less ableist world. We need more Marlee Maitlin stories for children, the Coda that is accessible to five-year-olds. Apple TV launched El Deafo (pictured) on January 7, and it’s a wonderful three-part story of a little girl who loses her hearing at a young age and how she copes at school. It’s great that there are a growing number of shows with characters with disabilities, but it feels like these lists are still too short.
Annie Liebowitz has turned a spotlight on Kyle Pease, and that family is doing everything they can to advocate for an inclusive experience in sports. Who is doing it for children in content? Wheelchairs seem to be represented, but can we go further?
I was so inspired by Rosie Jones. Such an amazing voice, and she clearly advocates for all of us to remember that disability is not a character! Her talk is worth watching.
I was also inspired to think beyond my grandfathers by this London tube seat:
So as I plan ahead for 2022, I’ve committed to do the following, and I hope this helps inspire you to think about change, too.
- I will be doing more reading, watching more videos and continuing to educate myself (check out a couple of my resources below).
- I will work harder at ensuring scripts are truly moving away from language that continues negative perceptions of disabilities. I have never liked the word “dumb” or “stupid,” but will expand beyond these and will continue to encourage others. I also want to avoid the word “normal” as it is not a word that means anything (and it never did). Words matter.
- I will encourage everyone I know to read this guide.
- The character I’m developing in a new show has a running blade, but I will do more research into how they work and find people to speak with about them.
- I am also keen to speak to others about inclusion and learn from my colleagues, and hopefully this is a conversation we can all continue at Kidscreen Summit in July.
So here’s to a better 2022 and including all those who have not been seen before in children’s programming.
Resources and references:
- 11 TV shows for kids featuring characters with disabilities
- Children’s TV pretends disability doesn’t exist
- Adam Saves Christmas from Kavaleer
- Holland Bloorview’s Let’s talk about Ableism and Identity
- 33 million people have watched Scarlett – a short about a little girl who has lost a leg
- The harmful ableist language you unknowingly use
- Liebowitz filming Kyle Pease and his brother
- What a new report says about disability representation in children’s TV shows
- Annenberg study on disability inclusion being a win-win for studios
- RespectAbility’s Hollywood Disability Inclusion Toolkit
- And words matter (Stanford Disability Initiative Board’s guide to disability language)
Mary Bredin is a creative development producer at TeamTO. (Her newest project, Jade Arrmor, will launch on HBO Max this year.) Bredin was previously an EVP of content and strategy at Guru Studio, where she developed and executive produced Justin Time and she is co-creator of Pikwik Pack.