It seems as if those of us in wheelchairs are rarely seen in the media at all except to be used as gags. I have noticed that whenever someone in a wheelchair is portrayed, he or she is almost always shown falling out of his or her wheelchair for some reason. I guess the writers only think of us as being dramatic or accident prone. Here are a few examples:
During the movie Forrest Gump, Gary Sinise’s character was shown losing control and sliding down a ramp in his wheelchair. In another scene, I believe he fell out or jumped out of his chair entirely.
Jude Law’s character jumped out of his chair in Gattaca only to crawl up a staircase with his arms.
As for TV, on Seinfeld, there was an episode with a woman in a wheelchair which was supposed to be defective, and sure enough, she lost control and went rolling quickly down a steep hill.
And lastly, on Monk, there was an episode where he was injured, used a wheelchair, and also went rolling down a very steep sidewalk.
As a disabled person, I find it insulting and quite untrue that all we do is fall out of our wheelchairs. I’m sure people think it is funny, but I think it sends a message that this is what disabled people are like, that it is a common experience and our situation is something to be used to laugh at in the media.
A lot of disabled people do the same things that everyone else does. We drive, we go to college, we work, we volunteer, we get married and raise families. It is a shame there are no characters on TV or in the movies that portray the positive and very normal things that we do.
When we are portrayed as bumbling idiots who lose control, it just reinforces a negative stereotype that is extremely hard to overcome. I wonder why it is not okay to portray racial stereotypes in the media, but it IS okay when the group is the disabled community.