The importance of disability representation.
Social Inclusion week is happening this month between the 19th and the 27th of November, and the quote “You can’t be who you can’t see” is so relevant when we think of social inclusion.
When Michelle Obama became the first African American First Lady, possibilities opened up for young black girls. Laverne Cox became the woman for transgender kids to aspire to. When you can finally see someone like yourself, it’s not only about seeing but also about the conversations, opportunities, sense of belonging and normalisation that follows.
As a disabled person, disability representation is essential to me. Not just because of the job opportunities it provides people with disabilities, it avoids cripface — yes, Sia, I’m looking at you. For example, I cannot watch Superstore because I know the actor playing a character who is a wheelchair user is not disabled. I tried to get past it because it’s a funny show otherwise, but this particular issue irks me and ruins the show.
Therefore, when I see authentic representation and storylines to go along with it, it means the world to me. Here are my three favourite representations, which cover physical disability, invisible disability and mental illness — all of which I have a lived experience —
- Jillian Mercado, who portrays Mirabel on The L Word Generation Q.
- Sterling K. Brown, who portrays Randall Pearson on This is Us.
- Chloe Hayden portrays Quinni on Netflix’s reboot of Heart Break High.
Here’s why I chose these three. In the L Word, Mirabel, a wheelchair user, hooks up with the character Micah. The thing about this particular hook-up which gave me all the feels was that they showed Mirabel and Micah having sex. This was the first time I had seen a character like me (a wheelchair user) in such a storyline. A storyline normalised as if we see it every day on television. It was beautiful and powerful.
If you haven’t seen This is Us, it’s a family drama which gets me in the feels every episode. The one episode that had me pointing to the television and yelling ‘that’s me!” was when the character Randall Pearson had an anxiety attack amidst a nervous breakdown. Until then, I could never explain the feelings I experienced having a nervous breakdown until that scene. It was an experience of being consumed by all the feelings until they were just one big bundle impossible to contain and ultimately unable to function, feeling like a shell. When I saw his face going through that, it was like looking in a mirror.
Finally, we come to my favourite representation on television at the moment. Quinni from Heart Break High is an autistic character played by autistic actor, author and advocate Chloe Hayden. It’s been nearly three months since my diagnosis, so I’ve gone through life not knowing I was autistic and having experiences I struggled with and never knew why. I have never liked social situations, finding them anxiety-inducing (high school socials were the absolute worst). Then there’s the experience of auditory/sensory overload that has become more prevalent the older I get. I never knew what to call it at the time or why I was experiencing what I was experiencing. Watching Quinni going through these experiences and explaining to someone why she behaves the way she does had me pointing at the tv and yelling, “yes, that!!!” as it was explained so well both visually and verbally.
So you’re probably wondering what this has to do with social inclusion. Visibility — It’s not just for those of us to see people like us on screens. Visibility helps address negative stereotypes, remove invisible barriers, and in the end, ensure everyone is heard, seen and included in society.
What’s your favourite representation and why?