Disability Representation – Part 1: TV Shows

The representation of disability in the media, through TV shows, movies, comics, video games has always interested me. This blog will be an examination of the disabled characters in media recently or throughout my life. These characters I feel are influential for me as a disabled person.

Recently I finally watched all 5 seasons of Breaking Bad. The story arcs of each character were incredibly detailed and the world building was brilliant.

The way Walter White (played by Bryan Cranston) evolved from a family man (ironically like a follow on to his character Hal in Malcolm In The Middle) into a psychopath was superb, the change was slow so I felt somehow I was changing or sympathizing with him. However, Walter ultimately still remained a family man as he performed every bad act to provide financial security for them, this subverted the family man stereotype brilliantly. Where does the line start or end? How far can you go for your family? All the family answered these questions differently so Walter’s family thought he crossed the line but he thought it was acceptable so showing that perspective is subjective. The way his cancer was handled was great, it demonstrated the difficulties of chemo but strangely, I am glad his cancer did not remiss fully, it would have ruined the shows tone and ending.

Jesse (played by Aaron Paul) grew as a person; his character was in juxtaposition to Walter, illustrating how people can be redeemed after bad decisions. The show seems to show the binary good vs. bad but in my opinion, it demonstrates that life is lived in the grey.

The character Walter White Jr (played by RJ Mitte) was a revelation, having a disabled teenager who has cerebral palsy with speech problems and crutches was something I have never seen before on TV. I was quite cynical at first, thinking the writers would use his character in a ‘being disabled is a negative’ way but he was portrayed in a naturally, still doing ‘normal’ activities. RJ Mitte has become an actor who happens to be disabled rather than just a ‘disabled actor’. Breaking Bad is progressive in the representation of disability in the media and we need more shows like this on TV, to make the public aware that people can live happily with a disability.

(Spoilers for the ending) The ending with Jesse deciding against shooting Walter and then driving away was emotional and leaving it open guaranteed Jesse a second chance at life. Ending with Walter dying due to his bad decisions rather than through his cancer was a masterstroke, all his decisions in the show were in order to escape accepting his cancer and ultimately he did escape it. Maybe the show was ultimately a metaphor for breaking the bad stereotypes around disability/acceptance, through Walter White Jr and through the evolution of Jesse as a character who slowly started to accept his bad decisions/depression in order to live positively and finally deal with his issues.

Next I wanted to explore season 1 of the Netflix series Daredevil (based on the Marvel superhero of the same name). Background of the show: As a child, Matt Murdock (played by Charlie Cox) was blinded by a chemical spill in a freak accident. Instead of limiting him, it gave him superhuman senses. Now he uses these powers to deliver justice, not only as a lawyer in his own law firm, but also as the vigilante Daredevil, the man without fear. His blind mentor Stick taught him to fight as a way to stop Matt becoming bitter over the accident.

Charlie Cox worked with blind consultant Joe Strechy in order to authentically portray being blind. This suggests that the producers find Daredevil’s blindness an important part of his character, rather than just a gimmick putting Charlie in glasses or just using a cane. The show does illustrate his blindness and how it affects him practically through filming him reading braille, using a cane, being disoriented by loud sounds, his apartment is always dark with lack of furniture. His colleagues Foggy Nelson (played by Elden Henson) & Karen Page (played by Deborah Ann Woll) treat Matt like anybody else, they argue with him but also help him to navigate new areas or find doors when necessary.

This series portrays disability in an empowering way rather than using it as a gimmick (which could have certainly happened) as Matt has utilized his ‘blindness’ as a useful superpower, instead of limiting him his disability enables him to see the world in a unique way. Furthermore the show demonstrates that disabled people can hold high-powered jobs like a lawyer or learn to defend themselves. I hope Marvel continue doing Daredevil justice in season 2!

Part 2 will be evaluating disability in comic books & videogames.

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Acceptance

This post is for World Duchenne Day, which was on the 7th September (It’s the 8th September today but please bear with me).

I want to share the truth about how Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD) has allowed me to become the man I am today and increase awareness of DMD.

It was a difficult road for me to initially accept my DMD as a child/teenager; I lost a huge part of myself so the loss of walking completely changed the trajectory of my life. I felt my life was over and I was worthless, this depression was more crippling to me than my DMD. My Mum has always been very supportive and open to giving me the truth to all my questions along with discipline when I became jealous on my sister doing what I could not. I am glad this stopped me letting bitterness or anger consume my family’s life or mine. It was not fair for me to be angry on able-bodied people, as they cannot help being born that way.

The years between the ages 13-15 when I was bed ridden due to the lack of a comfortable wheelchair, this period was tough but also strangely good for me. I discovered comic books and videogames so I finally found an escape from the all-consuming disease. It opened me up to imagination, which has now given me the ability to solve problems or understand my behaviour and others. Around this time, my parents divorced so I ignored the problems with my disease and I learnt to cope quickly so that I could support my Mum and sister. This reminded me that everybody has issues to deal with in life, be it physically, mentally or emotionally. I am not suggesting it is wrong to be upset about DMD but I have discovered that it should not tie into my self-worth or body image.

The periods of being alone in my room forced me to look inwards to discover my inner strength, strength that everyone possesses and it also enabled me to stay calm and focused to let my inner compass to guide my outer life.

I think what helped me start accepting my DMD was during college, I realised that I have the same abilities as able-bodied people. To put things in context I went to a special needs school before college. Initially the school helped me to accept being a disabled person but towards the end, I lacked confidence and had a belief system that I was not as good as able-bodied people.

Joining Muscular Dystrophy UK & Trailblazers was the reason that I found my confidence and worth. Over the many campaigns, I have been part of: Cinemas, Transport, and Airlines. So, the faith MDUK had in others and me pushed me to use my voice and fight for my rights. The reason I become an Advocacy & Peer Support Ambassador was to honour my life experiences and realise that everything I’ve been through could help my peers cope or create awareness to improve the lives of disabled people.

I’ve finally found the secret, that self-image is not what people think about you but how you see yourself. Changing your thinking can change your life. You can turn the worst into the best by thinking of hurdles as opportunities to test how well you can adapt. It is in the darkest time that your power is illuminated.

The man I’ve evolved into now would not have happened without Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, I can now finally say that it is a positive part of me and that I’m grateful for all my strength or abilities.

Thank you for allowing me the chance to reveal my inner self in a constructive way that increases awareness of Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy.

Gaming

One of my big passions in life is gaming.

The first game that hooked me was Super Mario World on the SNES, I played it for hours trying to complete everything and being amazed by the secret levels. Now that I look back, I realise the simple act of running & jumping allowed me the freedom of movement that was limited to me in the ‘real’ world.

Adventure games or RPGs are my favourite genres, anything sci-fi or with strong stories is important to me. The Mass Effect series is my number 1 game franchise, creating your own character, great story, brilliant squad members and immersing yourself in an incredible universe.

I’ve owned a variety of Game Boys, an Xbox, PS2, Xbox360, PS3, PS4. Over the years I’ve slowly had my Duchenne affect my gaming enjoyment. I’ve been unable to quickly press R3 or L3 buttons on my PS3 controller but I could press them if I held the controller in a twisted position or I just didn’t use those buttons so it was slightly limiting or made me a better gamer.  During my teenager phase this impact would have created anger & frustration but now I feel that it’s always a new challenge to find a workable solution. This epiphany was brought on by purchasing a PS4 and catalysed the disappointment I felt after holding the controller. The problems I observed were: Pressing the Options button, R3 & L3 buttons, the gap between the R1 & R2/L1 & L2 being too big to slide my finger quickly between them and the convex shape of the R1 & L1. It seemed liked a colossal task to face, I thought I wasted my money, (this feeling was echoed by friends).

Who could adapt my PS4 controller? I searched the internet and found this page (www.instructables.com/id/PS4-Controller-Modified-for-a-Disabled-User). The amazing thing was that the adaptation was done by ReMap who have been an important part of my life as they have created many items such as a table that went over my bed or adapting my wheelchair over the years. I never realised that ReMap could adapt electrical equipment or game console controllers.

A ReMap engineer visited my house after I completed a referral form, he listened to all my issues and took the PS4 controller away for a week.

The pictures above illustrates the wonderful adaptations. The analog sticks are used as normal but the gold sticks I tap for R3 or L3 and the R1 & L1 are modelled concave using SuGru. I’ve now shared this with my friends or Muscular Dystrophy UK. ReMap have since adapted my friend David’s controller by moving the R1 & R2 underneath so now I’ve stolen the idea (Haha) and asked ReMap to do the same for me.

I want to praise the wonderful engineers at ReMap for improving my quality of life. I will never stop being a gamer!