|Photo Credit: Sarah Feinstien Photography|
I've been a part of the special needs community via Christian for about six and a half years, and the shift is noticeable from the time Christian was born until now. We, as a society, have come a long way. We still have a ways to go, don't get me wrong, but I am proud of the strides we are making in accepting people with differences and disabilities into our society as a normal and integral part of it!
Last night while I was getting the boys to sleep, I had the TV on but muted. It was on America's Got Talent (I think. The one with Simon Cowel, whichever show that is) and there was a person on stage who looked like she was singing. Since the TV was muted I couldn't hear her, but I grabbed the remote to turn the volume up because I knew I had to hear her voice!
This person is the beautiful and wildly talented Kechi Okwuchi, who actually survived a plane crash that caused burns on her entire body. For me, the thing that caught my attention quickly about her was her appearance. I always notice when I see people with differences on any sort of main stream media. Not in a bad or judgement way, but in a curious and studious way. I pay attention to how people respond to them, how they respond to being in the spot light, and just sort of take in who they are and what they are about. I think I'm just drawn to others with differences because of Christian. Sometimes I find that people avoid or turn away from folks with differences. I tend to gravitate toward them.
So, not only did Kechi Okwuchi catch my eye, but the audience and their standing ovation also put me all in my feelings. I was honestly a little surprised to see Kechi so accepted and celebrated. Not because she doesn't deserve it. She is so talented! But because so often I see the other side of the isle, the harsh reality that people with disabilities are often shunned because of their appearance or difference, of how people with differences are cast down or set aside or ignored.
I have seen it all of Christian's life. Not that it's every reaction, but it's definitely way too many. So I was a little overwhelmed to see an audience standing on their feet and cheering wildly for Kechi. I was pleasantly surprised at it. It was good for my mama heart. Of course, I thought to myself that maybe that same love from others applies to Christian, too.
I am noticing more and more normalization of disabilities and differences in outlets that will matter, outlets that will reach the masses and say without words that this is a normal part of our society and should be accepted.
(www.drewlynch.com) is a comedian, and a hilarious one at that, who happens to have a stutter. He is well known for cracking jokes at himself and allows others to feel okay to relax around someone with a disability and not feel that they have to be afraid of saying the wrong thing. Drew says all the things we have learned are inappropriate to say to or around people with disabilities and invites us to laugh about it. He invites people to laugh at the hilarity that his stutter brings about, because sometimes it is funny! That makes folks feel comfortable and I think, puts Drew in a light of just a normal guy, because he is.
The ABC TV show, Speechless, boasting the likes of Minni Driver in the cast, portrays the hilarious lives of the DiMeo family. The oldest son has cerebral palsy, is non verbal, and uses a wheel chair. He is a integral and main character of the show. The real life actor who plays JJ is actually disabled and not just acting disabled for the show. That's important. An actual disabled person was cast for the show.
Not only does the show portray JJ's life and give folks a (sort of) real life look at what it's like to have a disability, it also shows what other family members experience, or might experience, in a family where a member has a severe disability. The thing I love the most about it is that it shows the family being a family, doing typical and not so typical things, experiencing things that other families experience, and loving each other in ways that everyone can relate to. It shows a sort of over exaggerated idea of a family living with disability that makes everyone laugh and makes disability look normal, because it is. The over exaggeration makes me burst out laughing, because there is always an element of truth intertwined in the over exaggeration.
Once, Minnie Driver screamed at JJ's principal for not having wheel chair access to the school except through a back garbage ramp. She threw a total fit, threw things, got in people's faces, and of course, I laughed. It was meant to be funny. I can't say I've ever went as far as Minnie Driver did in the show, but I did come over a bed at nurse once. So, I was able to relate and laugh at the fact that I feel like Minnie Driver at times.
Belinda Downes, was on that particular show and has good things to say about it! It opened up a platform for her to share about her life and living with a facial difference, in fact, one very similar to Christian's!
One of my FAVORITE things I have seen recently in the news is Shaholly Ayers and her modeling career. Shaholly was born without part of her right arm. She is beautiful and talented and does an amazing job as a model! She is not the traditional model, but she is real life and she is representing people with differences in a world where, just 20 years ago, they would have never been accepted or welcomed! The Today Show just did a feature on Shaholly that you can read here!
Another show that comes to mind is The Good Doctor. I haven't seen the show, but apparently the premise is that a young boy with autism is a genius doctor who saves lives. I've heard the show is great. I simply don't have time to catch it. But, the main character of the show is a person with a disability who is portrayed in a positive light, and I think that's great. When Christian was born, the most you saw in the realm of disability on TV was Dr. House with his crutches or evil villains with facial disfigurements. We have come such a long way.
Something else that is amazing, that I'm not sure others realize is amazing, is that I actually got a book published no the topic of disability and that it's doing well. I have been told that "disability is a hard sell," so the fact that a publishing company took a chance on me and agreed to publish my book is amazing. I was able to write a book and have it in major outlets like Amazon and Books A Million on the topic of disability. Ten years ago, I probably never would've gotten a book deal. You can get a copy of Through the Eyes of Hope here!
There were so many more examples I could list, but I will stop here for sake of time. So, why is all this important? Why have I spent my time showing you all these places in media where people with differences are being shown instead of hidden?
Because 1 in 5 people in the US has a disability. That is real life. Chances are you know someone with a disability. And those people are a normal, important, and integral part of our society. Yet for so long they have been massively underrepresented in media. What that has done is continue a stigma and narrative about disability that simply isn't true, and doesn't come from people who actually have disabilities.
Those of us in the disabled community need to be the ones telling the stories, sharing about what disability is like, and letting the world know what having a disability really means. Otherwise, we get kids being bullied for things they can't help. We get adults growing up thinking they somehow matter less than others because that's what society has said. We get an entire group of people, which encompasses both genders, every race, and every nationality, being underrepresented and spoke for instead of being allowed to speak for themselves. And mostly, what is said about them isn't true.
That is one of the reasons I speak out like I do. To not only change the narrative, but to also be the one speaking the narrative, instead of having someone speak it for me who doesn't have the experience or knowledge I have. Christian has given a beautiful glimpse into a world I was never a part of before him, the world of disability. It's not always easy. Life is hard, and having a disability is no exception to that, but it is beautiful. It is amazing most days. I am thankful for the perspective it has given me on life. I am thankful that I get to be a part of it in a small way.