Living with a disability in America means that I’m well aware of being in a minority group and being sensitive to how said minority group is portrayed in the public. I can only speak for myself.
Context maps where we stand. If I was born in the 1800s instead of the 1900s, I probably would’ve died at birth. If I lived, I would’ve been visually impaired, leading to full blindness as a young adult. As a person with a visual impairment, I would’ve been a burden, someone to institutionalize–there was no hope for me. Centuries of tradition would mark my blindness as a curse for something me or my family had committed. I would be marginalized.
With the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, widespread changes started in America, but like most legislation, it doesn’t magically cure the problems it tries to address. My ignorance about living and working with a disability hit that home to me a few years ago as I began navigating the world of state agencies and employment laws and the lack of public awareness to overcome stereotypes about people with disabilities. We haven’t reached that Utopia, that world designed with everyone in mind no matter what they look like, how they feel, or how much money they have, but I can dream, and so can you.
Ok. Have you seen Growing Up Fisher? It’s a TV show that premiered this year. NBC airs the family comedy on Tuesdays at 9:30. I watch it regularly. I like the show for the things it doesn’t do. It doesn’t take itself too seriously. It doesn’t exploit women or violence for ratings. It doesn’t speak for all families; instead it tells the story of one family in the midst of a divorce with two kids and a narrator looking back on his childhood like Kevin in The Wonder Years. It doesn’t feature the dad as someone who is a superhero or a charity case, but rather he’s a contributing member of society who loves his family and who happens to be blind.
Sure, I can nitpick and ask why isn’t an actor who is blind playing the dad in Growing Up Fisher. But, I don’t know what I’m talking about when it comes to casting for network television. I do know that the creator of the show, DJ Nash, based the show on his childhood and his father, who is indeed blind, has enjoyed the show.
If you step back for a minute, what the people on Growing Up Fisher are doing is acting. When Meryl Streep pretends to be a bakery owner or a nun we don’t insist that her background includes experience with either, we want her portrayal to be believable and entertaining. Streep isn’t applying to be my accountant without a high school diploma. My accountant must have the proper education and experience to manage my money. What my accountant looks like or what her political affiliations are or what her sexual orientation is bears no merit.
What I want from TV is to see as much diversity as possible and be entertained and educated by the program, not see stereotypes. Everyone likes seeing people like themselves. We come in all shapes and statuses. I don’t want to be known for my disability any more than I’m a wife, a writer, a friend, or any role I claim. There are endless options to portray on TV without indulging stereotypes, which never entertain, but demean and limit the people portrayed. Growing Up Fisher–with a diverse cast and layered plots–is an example of a show striving to falsify stereotypes.
What I want from Growing Up Fisher–as a person with a visual impairment, as someone who likes to laugh, as a women, etc–is to watch a family comedy which happens to feature a guy who is blind. It has done that so far with the family dynamics and work issues and social situations it delves into every episode. It’s one way to raise public awareness and dissolve misconceptions about people with disabilities. I look forward to watching more as I tune in on Tuesdays.
Have you watched Growing Up Fisher? What do you think? If not, check it out and let me know what you think. Leave a comment or find me on twitter @adventuresinlv