Thursday, August 04, 2016

The Handi-capable Quandary

"My disability exists, not because I use a wheelchair, but because the broader environment isn't accessible."
 - Stella Young



If you've been reading recent blog posts here, you probably know that I have spent most of my summer in bed after a bad leg break.

If not - well - I have.

Because of this, I have been watching copious amounts of Netflix.

Also because of this, in the past little bit I have been learning how to crutch walk with a knee that is healing but is still very much sore when I push myself (which I have to).

As such, I have done and noticed a couple of things.

First of all…I have gone out a few times - and have noticed that certain public places of business (restaurants, stores, etc) are not all totally wheelchair-friendly. And I'm only on crutches. Some doors were not automatic. Some had steps with no ramp. I needed help from the person I was with or relied on the kindness of strangers.

This is 2016 people! I actually have been pretty passionate about this topic as throughout my childhood, my academic studies, my career and just in general, I have met and worked with many people who use wheelchairs - for different reasons - and I am sensitive to some of what these people deal with.

To be clear, I am not saying I know anything about needing to use a wheelchair on a permanent basis. My broken leg is a big inconvenience and a pain in my ass…but it will heal.

But I didn't all of a sudden become interested in issues pertaining to people who have physical (or mental) disabilities because of a few observations I had using crutches.

I did do my final major report for my Sociology degree at University on "Wheelchair Accessibility in an Urban Setting" and was told with a little editing it could be published. But with my professor in Guelph and me and my report partner both had jobs to attend to back in Toronto so unfortunately it never happened. (Sorry. Me tooting my own, little rusty horn from over 20 years ago - yay me. But I digress.)

This means different things to different people.

In any case, we spent a lot of time on this - interviewing people, each spending a day in a wheelchair in different Toronto settings to try to assess as best we could how different people and businesses defined  "accessibility'. Many were lacking. A ramp and door opener simply does not always cut it. It was an eye-opening experience.

I also grew up with a mother who worked as a physical and occupational therapist and I also worked both with people with special needs (physical and mental) in different City of Toronto summer camp programs and I now work with a number of people who have spinal cord injuries or use wheelchairs for other reasons.

That just gives you a little taste of my background.

Back to my copious TV watching for a sec.

(I promise that - I think - my point will come together eventually. Trust.)

Perhaps you have heard of a little show that used to be on regular TV and is now on Netflix called Glee.

Members of the cast of the TV show Glee.

Despite my love of musical theatre, music in general and clever film/TV writing and concepts, I had admittedly assumed Glee was kinda lame and while I checked it out a few times, I never really got into it.

Then again, I religiously watch The Bachelor, so who am I to say what is lame TV?

But then - with all this sitting and TV watching, I kinda got into Glee. It's sort of like musical theatre without having to go to the theatre. It's fun. The actors are talented singers and it is actually very well-written and parts of it are funny and parts are touching even.

Those of you who are familiar with Glee will know that there is a regular character on the show named Artie Abrams.

Glee character Artie Abrams.

We learn in the show that his character had had an accident when he was a child and as a result became paraplegic. He is a member of the central group of characters in the show - a high school show choir or "glee club".

Now let me start by saying this. Artie Abrams is played by an actor named Kevin McHale.

The talented actor/singer Kevin McHale.

Kevin is as good an actor as anyone else on the show. He is a very talented singer…and as it turns out (through research as well as a few dream sequences on the show where he could walk) - a very good dancer too. He has full use of his arms - which is a requirement of the show given the dance numbers and moves he does with his chair and arms on pretty much every episode.

But here is my caveat.

Kevin McHale does not use a wheelchair in real life.

Was he the best actor/singer for the role? I don't know - maybe he was.

But I can't help but think that there must be some very talented actors/singers out there who do use wheelchairs and who are therefore very limited in the roles they are offered.

Another thing I want to make clear. I am now very aware - and very happy - that Glee is a show like no other that I know when it comes to representing people of different races, religions, sexual orientations, gender identifications and such.

They also have two recurring characters with Down Syndrome - both of whom are played by actors with Down Syndrome. The show even has a teacher - and main character - who has a gripping mental disorder - OCD - and it deals with her struggles in a very real and sensitive way.

Glee even regularly refers to people with disabilities as "handi-capable" - which I think is awesome.

The show has a strong anti-bully message and I think they do an excellent job of promoting that everyone is their own person and has the right to be who they are as long as they are kind (although I do wish they had a strong Muslim character - especially with the current world landscape - but that is a whole other post).

So why not hire an actor/singer for Artie's character who actually uses a wheelchair? Short of the two dream sequences I noticed - which I'm sure could have been re-jigged - I just don't get it. It actually kind of pisses me off - as much as I really do enjoy Kevin McHale on the show. Again - absolutely nothing against him.

Does anyone else feel this way, or is it just me?

Again - I don't know who auditioned for the role - but I find it very hard to believe that there are not actors/singers who use wheelchairs who dream of a part like this. In fact, the character Artie struggles with this himself on the show.

At one point he dreams of being able to walk so he would be considered for more roles as a performer one day!

Hello!

Anyways…I don't mean for this to be a rant but rather an observation and food for thought because I, for one, have been thinking about it for a while.

The world ain't perfect and there perhaps are bigger fish to fry - but something compelled me to write this.

I would love to hear your thoughts.

Smiles,

Lora






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