Disability Pride Month is an annual celebration held in July dedicated to honoring the accomplishments, experiences, and challenges of people in the disability community. Cable TV networks recognize the power behind the programming they produce, which can have considerable influence in shaping societal perceptions and dismantling stereotypes. Over the past decade in particular, TV networks have advanced their efforts in increasing the representation of the characters portrayed on their shows, including casting authentic disabled actors and telling stories that resonate with people with disabilities.
In honor of Disability Pride Month, here are a handful of shows that underscore the importance of appreciating all types of disabilities.
In recent episodes, Disney Junior's animated "Firebuds" series about first responders and their talking vehicles shone a spotlight on wheelchair use and cleft palate disorder. The series introduced a new vehicle character with a cleft hood, and in another episode focused on a young girl, Jazzy, with spina bifida and her wheelchair car named Piper.
- “Playing a character like ‘Jazzy’ and having characters like ‘Castor’ [a vroom-mate with a cleft hood] who reflect the differences of real people and show the importance of embracing others regardless of those differences, is truly an honor. I’m grateful that I can help spread such an important message," said voice actor Lauren Lolo Spencer, who was diagnosed with ALS at 14.
The network's TV show "Unbelievable Me" debuted last year and tells the real-life stories of people overcoming severe medical conditions. In the series, these inspirational people refuse to allow their disabilities to dominate their lives.
- Stories include teenager Tilly Lockey, who lives with Meningococcal Septicaemia and uses bionic arms, and Nick Smith, who has Microcephalic Osteodysplastic Primordial Dwarfism, a rare condition with a short life expectancy.
Hallmark Media broke down barriers last year with its movie, “Color My World With Love,” which centers on the love story of a young couple who both have Down syndrome. Critics and fans on social media have praised the network for including people with developmental disabilities in its lineup and ensuring they have a place in the rom-com genre.
- “I believe that not only can Down syndrome people be leads in a movie, but also we want to be like typical people. We want to fall in love, get married, get a job, go to college and all that. So I think it’s definitely a big step that Hallmark made by making me and David the two leads of this movie. And I think it’s definitely going to show really well,” said actor Lily Moore.
Last month, ESPN covered the Special Olympics World Games Berlin 2023, bringing over 220 hours of live-streaming competition coverage from 13 sports on ESPN+ and ESPN3. The coverage featured five Olympic and Paralympic athletes who totaled 11 Olympic medals, along with multiple original features and stories. ESPN serves as the official media partner for Special Olympics World Games.
- “It’s an absolute privilege for all of us at ESPN and The Walt Disney Company to tell the stories of inclusion, unity, and teamwork by athletes with intellectual disabilities competing from around the world at Special Olympics World Games in Berlin,” said Vice President of ESPN Corporate Citizenship Kevin Martinez.
Nickelodeon has shown a commitment to include ASL in their programming, found in the network's long-running show "Blue's Clues & You!" The show introduces new ASL words in each episode so preschoolers can begin to learn the language. The show's regular "Mailtime" segment was also inspired by the Paralympics. The segment often portrays children with disabilities, including athletes with disabilities, to showcase their skills.
In the movie "Christmas Ever After," Lifetime made TV history with Tony award-winner Ali Stoker who starred as the first wheelchair user in a holiday movie.
- "I'm really excited that this narrative now exists, because when I was a kid I didn't have that. I went to see theater and watched TV and movies, and I never saw anybody like me. Those narratives are so powerful for young people, because you understand that that can be you. You can have your love story," said Stoker.