South Park certainly doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to sensitive issues. The issue of disability has come up several times and they even have several regular characters that have some forms of disability such as the school nurse, Timmy, and Jimmy. My favorite episode is the Krazy Kripples episode from season seven. As a wheelchair user and the mother of a severely autistic child, I howled with laughter. In that awesome way that only South Park can, it explained some issues in the disabled community while being completely hilarious. There really are people who pity people who were disabled by an accident while treating those of us who were born different like freaks of nature. Neither is the proper way to see us. I love the way Timmy and Jimmy are treated by the other characters. Most of the adults are overly sensitive which is a little patronizing. The kids are brutally honest like children often are, but they always treat them like normal kids and make sure they are part of the group. This is how people who are different want to be treated — like people.
As a wheelchair user and a mom of a special needs child, I really thought I was going to hate this show when I saw the first previews. These types of shows are always a hit or a miss with nothing in between. Thankfully my husband convinced me to give it a shot and now I am hooked. Usually shows with disabled characters remind me of After School Specials that either portray us as pathetic burdens on everyone around us or call us inspirational for doing everyday tasks. Speechless is very realistic and it still manages to be funny while being relatable to disabled people, caregivers, and able bodied people alike. It doesn’t tiptoe around such issues as siblings who feel a little neglected, the tendency to feel overprotective of a special needs child or parents who sometimes disagree over the care plan. It is also very rare to see a disabled actor playing a disabled character. My only complaint is the reasoning for his assistant. If he was supposed to help him with other things I could understand, but why would he need someone for the sole purpose of reading from his communication board? They made a point of saying that the mother is constantly chasing new developments in therapy so why wouldn’t he have an IPad with a speak for yourself app? In the first episode she said he was finally getting at a voice. He’s in high school and practically a man! Don’t you think it’s a little late for that especially when an app can do the same thing? Despite a few missteps, I urge you to check it out because it really is a great show. Below is a link to the episodes on Amazon or you can find it on ABC.
Part of the reason why disabled people are misunderstood is the way we are shown in movies or TV shows . Despite being 10% of the population , we are scarcely part of normal shows. We often become a part of “a very special episode” in which the main character complains about their mundane lives until they meet some sad freak of nature and then they realize that life could be so much worse; they could be disabled. Usually the actor is able bodied and made-up to look like Quasimoto. The hunchback in question is so pathetic, yet inspirational and praised for accomplishing normal tasks in the most slapstick way possible. A few shows and movies are doing it right by treating disabled people as actual people. We will explore some of these examples in the upcoming posts.