Commentary: ABC’s New Sitcom about Disabilities Left Me Speechless!

September 27, 2016

Last Wednesday was the premier of ABC’s new sitcom, Speechless. Although only the first episode has aired as of this writing, the show has already received many favorable reviews. Speechless is about JJ, a teenager with a disability, and it revolves around how his mother is constantly seeking an inclusive community for her son. JJ is played by Micah Fowler, an actor who has a disability in real life. His mother, Maya DiMeo, is played by Minnie Driver. Maya is in search of the best school for her son, where he will feel included and find the right person to “be his voice.”

What really struck me about the show is the accuracy of some of the situations JJ encounters. During the first day of school, for example, JJ and his mother realize that the only accessible entrance is located at the back of the building near the dumpster. I could not help laughing out loud during this scene, because all of my friends who use wheelchairs have encountered this situation at least once in their lives! When JJ enters his classroom for the first time, he is viewed as “inspirational” by his classmates. This reminded me of the time when a college advisor told me I was his “hero,” simply because I went to class and was independent!

Another aspect about living with a disability covered in Speechless is the need to advocate for what you want or need as someone with a disability. In this case, Maya is constantly advocating for JJ to be fully included in school. In some instances, like when she got in an argument with the school principal after finding out where the accessible entrance was located, Maya can be somewhat extreme in her advocacy endeavors. Many parents of children with disabilities face similar situations in their daily lives, and have to advocate for their child’s needs.

The fact that JJ, the main character of the show, is played by an actor with a disability is what makes Speechless very realistic. That in itself is still a rarity in 2016, because the entertainment industry does not hire very many actors with disabilities. If more of these roles were played by actors with disabilities, representation of this community would be more accurate. It seems as if the entire production team and cast of Speechless took the time to look at some of the issues faced by people with disabilities. Never before had I seen a series focused on this population and covering the topics of accessibility and inclusion.

Although it is too soon to tell if Speechless will be popular, this sitcom is off to a great start. As someone with a disability, I think the show has a great potential of educating the public about the issues – both good and bad – we constantly encounter. All too often, I am disappointed by the misleading messages the media gives about people with disabilities. It is nice to see a show where the actors actually “get it,” and the realities of disability are accurately depicted! Want to watch the show? You can tune in on Wednesdays at 7:30 CST, 8:30 EST on ABC.

sandy speaking

Sandy Murillo works at The Chicago Lighthouse, an organization serving the blind and visually impaired. She is the author of Sandy’s View, a bi-weekly Lighthouse blog about blindness and low vision. The blog covers topics of interest to those living with blindness and vision impairments. Being a blind journalist and blogger herself, Sandy shares her unique perspective about ways to live and cope with vision loss.

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