Most of the television for children that is currently airing is something that can keep most kids occupied for at least a few minutes. As you watch, you slowly begin to realize something that is extremely unfortunate and that is that all of the children that are depicted in television shows are seemingly perfect. Perfect in the way of they don’t have any discernable disabilities or disorders. Sure, a few of the more “nerdy” characters may wear glasses or use an inhaler, but how many characters in children’s TV can you recall that are currently in a wheelchair or are blind? It’s tough, not only to remember, but to accept because there are children out there who are missing out on this early childhood connection to cartoons and children’s television.
As stated earlier, there are only a few disabled characters airing currently, like Fireman Sam and How to Train Your Dragon feature the only disabled characters currently on long-running children’s television franchises. Other characters pop up occasionally, like the Disney Channel double-amputee Aussie explorer, Wildlife Will on Doc McStuffins and a wheelchair user, Johnny McBride (voiced by Shia LaBeaouf) on The Proud Family, but both of which only were featured on one episode only.
The public service broadcaster’s remit to “reflect a wide mix of children and presenters in terms of disability, gender, and ethnicity”, means inclusivity is expected. What shouldn’t be expected is the commercial sector’s relative lack of interest.
Among the major commercial producers, the Disney Channel and Nickelodeon did not have a single current children’s show with a prominent disabled character on any program. The lack of representation of disabled characters could have negative impacts on children viewing the programs. Children should be informed about people, more importantly children, with disabilities and varied handicaps, and these children’s programs are the perfect way to introduce this tender subject to them.
Many people in the disabled community agree that there is a great need for positive role models and that it is “profound and necessary.” There are stories of parents using the few disabled characters that are out there to explain to their children the importance of acceptance for people with disabilities.
There remains a great deal of fear and ignorance around disability. The use of disabled actors or characters is sometime seen as a financial risk or a leap of faith. This could mean that producers and television franchises are missing out on a potential commercial opportunity.
Neglecting to include any type of disabled character in a program for children is a mistake; plain and simple. These children’s programs provide an easy way to inform children that there are different types of people in this world, but that does not mean that they are necessarily any different. Inclusion would also allow children with disabilities a chance to connect with a character who may have the same disability as them in a way that they haven’t been able to before. If we can provide a way for children to normalize their disability, future generations can potentially do away with the stigma attached to disability and difference.