Have you ever read “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens? You may have, or you may have not. I, however, in a years’ time, will have read it more than I care to admit to. This is because I will study it for my GCSE English Literature exam. I will have been incessantly fed information about themes and characters. As written by the BBC, Scrooge is miserable. Bob Cratchit is hardworking. Fred is generous. Tiny Tim?
Yes, on the character traits of Tiny Tim, the beloved child of the Cratchit family, they have put “disabled”.
“Disabled” is not a personality trait.
In the media nowadays, there are too many stereotypes of disabled people. They are often portrayed as pathetic or pitiable, evil or arrogant, or a hero who overcomes their disability. In “Elephant Man”, you are supposed to feel sorry for John Merrick, who, as a result of his disability, is exhibited in a Victorian freak show. What about more common characters, though? Think about it. Captain Hook has a prosthetic hand. Dr No has steel fists.
These stereotypes of people with disabilities, whether they are the heroes or villains of the story, can have negative effects. Some people simply don’t think about the tiny little things that people who are less able go through on a day to day basis.
But, on a different note, how many of these characters were portrayed by people with disabilities?
The answer? None.
More actors with disabilities should play bigger roles on screen, whether the characters themselves are or aren’t disabled. The fact is, that sometimes, non-disabled actors playing people with disabilities can’t fully understand what it is like to have this disability. It’s not a matter of finding talent either. There are plenty of talented actors with disabilities or special needs, some of whom have played major roles in film and TV.
Jamie Brewer is one of the most famous and well-respected actors with Down Syndrome today. She’s been in “American Horror Story”, where she plays a feisty, determined woman. Her disability is barely ever mentioned, and she is given as much respect as the other actors.
We need more of this. We need to get rid of the stigma around media and those with special educational needs and disabilities. We need to be heard. Not as someone who has a disability, not as someone who has special needs, just as someone who has to fight on a daily basis to be given the same chance as others.
I am not a villain. I am not a hero. I am just me.