Seen any good television shows lately? If you can look past the current spate of quasi-reality shows that seem to dominate the small screen, you may be
by Paula Patch
April 1, 2003

Seen any good television shows lately? If you can look past the
current spate of quasi-reality shows that seem to dominate the
small screen, you may be surprised at what you'll find —
especially as it relates to your customers.

The “reality” for the people you serve day in and
day out is the need for some type of medical equipment. In recent
years, your customers' peers have been showing up frequently on
well respected, long-running TV programs — and not just to
keep the laugh track rolling.

On NBC's “Ed,” two characters have physical
disabilities. “Eli” is a paraplegic bowling alley
manager, and “Mark” is an obese high school student. An
actor who is disabled portrays each character. Darryl
“Chill” Mitchell, who plays Eli, was paralyzed in a
motorcycle accident two years ago.

On CBS' “JAG,” Patrick Labyorteaux plays Navy Lt.
Bud Roberts, a lawyer who lost his right leg below the knee when he
stepped on a land mine in Afghanistan.

Both “JAG” and “Ed” treat the
characters' disabilities with sensitivity. For instance, when
Michael Genadry — “Ed's” Mark — decided to
undergo gastric bypass surgery in real-life, the show's producers
decided to have Mark undergo the surgery, too.

Several episodes of “JAG” have focused on Bud's
coming to terms with his disability, following him through surgery,
rehab and being fitted for a prosthetic limb.

People with disabilities also are showing up in less-weighty
television programs. On PBS Kids'/Scholastic's “Clifford, The
Big Red Dog” children's program, Clifford's friend Mary
— a cartoon girl — uses a wheelchair, and his friend KC
— a cartoon dog — has only three legs.

Educational materials related to the “Clifford” TV
show, books and other products use the Mary and KC characters to
stimulate conversations among parents, teachers and children about
what it means to be different from other people, and how to treat
those who are different.

On Fox's “Malcolm in the Middle,” supporting
character “Stevie” is an asthmatic adolescent who uses
a wheelchair.

Using “Malcolm's” Stevie as an example in a recent
article for Television Quarterly, the journal of the
National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, Christopher
Campbell and Sheri Hoem wrote “That [such TV shows] could
provide audiences with a more complicated notion of life for people
with disabilities is testament to the capacity of the medium to
transform the way people think about the world.”

At least for now, it seems TV is changing the way mainstream
America looks at people with disabilities.