The latest pilot script I wrote includes a lead male character on forearm crutches (like Dr. Kerry Weaver on ER). He's not a token - his disability is an integral part of his character. I loved sending him to a dark place over his limitations, but I wanted to make sure I wasn't misrepresenting people with similar disabilities.
So when I heard the WGAW’s Writers with Disabilities Committee was teaming up with Hollywood Health & Society last month to sponsor a panel called "People First: Real Disabilities, Reel Stories – A Conversation About the Portrayals of People with Disabilities in Film and Television," I RSVP'd right away.
The panel featured an incredible lineup, including screenwriter Ben Lewin who wrote The Sessions, actress and wheelchair dancer Auti Angel from the Sundance Channel’s Push Girls, and Eric Guggenheim, writer/co-producer of Parenthood.
I loved hearing them all speak frankly about the disabled clichés they hate seeing in film and TV and what they want to see in authentic storylines.
I appreciated learning that stories when disabled characters long to be "normal" are particularly offensive to them, because it implies that they are not already normal. Point taken.
I came away from the panel with a better context for framing my story, not to mention a writer-crush on Margaret Nagle, who wrote the HBO movie Warm Springs about Franklin Roosevelt's struggle with his disability.
I approached her after to give her props for nailing women's voices so authentically on her short-lived Lifetime drama Side Order of Life, and she actually recognized me from the small co-star I did on the show! She was a wicked cool lady - I so want to work for her someday.
Watch the entire panel below!
Related article from The Talking Box - "Television Characters with Disabilities"