Disabled TV Character and Positive Outcomes

One Person At A Time

I wrote about this before but I want to emphasize a few points.

I am talking about the effect of television, or any media, on how disabilities, and disabled people, are perceived by the non-disabled world.

Specifically, I want to emphasize the – hopefully – positive effects of one TV show on its fans’ views on disability and disabled lives.

The show is X Company and this article contains spoilers.

I will talk, again, about the character “Ulli”. Quick recap: Ulli was a young boy with Down Syndrome, being kept as a secret by his parents. His father is a Nazi official who killed the boy because he could not bear the thought of Ulli being murdered by the authorities after the secret is discovered.

This happened in the last episode of the show’s first season.

In the second season, the writers kept the theme alive by exploring Ulli’s absence in his parents’ lives, and also by making his life and death part of the very intense season finale, with many twists and turns, ending with a heartbreaking, jaw dropping scene.

Throughout the season, we hear the devastating words used to describe disabled people during that time (something the disability community knows well, has not really changed). We listen to the words “defective” and “undesirable”, we get sad and angry, and we miss Ulli.

To be clear, I don’t think that the writers’ intention was to advocate for acceptance of disabled people. I do know that they value and respect us because they have said, and shown, this. But X Company is a TV show and there are many stories being told at once. Even though advocacy wasn’t an objective, it worked, in a way, as such. Ulli’s story is special to me and I am optimistic that more than a few fans will start paying more attention to how they react and act around us, and hopefully be more accepting of the disabled people living today. I am optimistic that the love they have for the character can be translated to empathy for, and acceptance of all disabled people they encounter in their lives.

NOTE: empathy is NOT pity.

Through social media, X Company fans, writers and cast formed a very passionate community. Because I am an unabashed activist, and because this community is open to information related to what we see in the show, I reached out to them with facts, stories and tried to show them how society’s view of disabled people is generally biased.

So this happened: people who, perhaps, never thought about disability rights, accessibility, discrimination and the still very real devalue of disabled lives, started paying attention to this. They were outraged by stories of discrimination, they learned about the Day of Mourning, when we remember disabled people murdered by their parents or caregivers. Some of them began reading what I write about disability rights.

TV, and the media in general, play an important role in how minorities are perceived.

In most cases, the media fails because it is not accurate and unbiased. Disabled people are usually seen as pitiful, dangerous, undesirable and as causes for charity. We are objectified and silenced.

Recently, the Pope said that disabled people are a gift to the families. Wrong. We are not gifts, we are not teachable moments. We are PEOPLE.

I can say that, in the X Company social media community, some minds have changed. I have noticed that the message is reaching them. Maybe it is reaching many of them, subliminally.

I am optimistic that at least a few of them are not going to remain silent when they see discrimination.

I am optimistic that they have learnt and understood that we aren’t, and don’t want to be, charity causes, or objects of inspiration porn, or “gifts”, or “angels”.

I am optimistic that they will pay attention and support us, as we demand our civil and human rights.

I am optimistic that they will value all disabled lives. Lives like Ulli’s. Lives like mine.

I am optimistic that they see us for who we are: human beings, with rights, and fulfilling, valuable lives.

One person at a time.

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About the Author:

Amy Sequenzia is a non-speaking Autistic, multiply disabled activist and writer. Amy writes about disability rights, civil rights and human rights. She also writes poetry.
Amy has presented in several conferences in the US and abroad, and her work is featured in books about being Autistic and Disabled. Amy is deeply involved with the Neurodiversity Movement and has been outspoken about the rights and worthy of disabled people.
Amy serves on the Board of Directors of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN), and the Florida Alliance for Assistive Services and Technology (FAAST). http://nonspeakingautisticspeaking.blogspot.com and Autism Women’s Network. You can also follow Amy on Twitter at @AmySequenzia.

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