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People With Disabilities on Television and In Movies

Did you ever think about how people with disabilities are portrayed on television or in the movies?   Scroll down to read more about images of people with disabilities in the media.

Here are some recent movies and television shows that focus on people with disabilities. If you know of any others, let us know!  

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'Freedom Machines' Looks at Disability Through the Lens of Technology (G) 2004 PBS Documentary - Non-fiction series.  Airs September 14, 2004 on PBS.  Narrated by Peter Dinklage, star of 'The Station Agent.'  Freedom Machines chronicles the lives of several people with different disabilities utilizing technology, assistive technology, and their environment to achieve their dreams.  This documentary takes a close look at new "enabling" assistive technology wonders, how society reacts and the contradictions in attitudes and social policy that make or brake the use of this technology by those who need or can benefit from them.


Miracle Run (G) 2004 Drama - Based on a true story, Mary-Louise Parker plays Corrine, a single mom, who finds out that her twin boys, who are seven years old, have autism.  As their family struggles with life and thinks that the rest of the world doesn't care, Corrine refuses to give up on her sons.  She believes they have the potential to be whatever they want to be and to do whatever they want to do.  Because of their mother's support, the boys go on to accomplish the unimaginable.  View the movie to see what they are able to do!  http://www.lifetimetv.com/movies/info/move3599.html

I Am Sam (PG-13) 2001 Drama - Actor Sean Penn plays Sam Dawson, a father with mental retardation.  Sam has a daughter, Lucy Diamond played by 7-year old Dakota Fanning.  Sam is raising Lucy on his own with the help of his friends when the child welfare board takes Lucy away from him because she is beginning to pass him in intellectual development.  Sam and his friends find a hot shot lawyer, Rita Harrison (Michelle Pfeiffer) who takes his case and struggles with them to prove that Sam is capable of raising his daughter and deserves to get his daughter back.  Sam loves his daughter and she loves him.  Sam's best friend Ifty played by Doug Hutchison, has severe Attention Deficit Disorder. Two of Sam's other friends (Joe and Brad) are actors who actually have disabilities, Joseph Rosenberg and Brad Allan Silverman.

At First Sight (PG-13) 1999 Drama - Loosely based on a true story, Val Kilmer plays Virgil Adamson, a man blind since the age of three.  At the urging of his girlfriend (Mira Sorvino), he undergoes an operation that restores his sight, but struggles with his new life.

The Other Sister (PG) 1999 Romantic Comedy - Juliet Lewis stars as 24-year-old Carla Tate who has mental retardation.  After years of special education classes at a private boarding school, Carla stands up to her mother by getting her own apartment and falling in love with Danny (Giovanni Ribisi), who also has mental retardation.

As Good As It Gets (PG-13) 1998 Comedy/Drama - Jack Nicholson stars as Melvin Udall, an author who suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder.  He is rude to everyone, including his favorite waitress, Carol (Helen Hunt).  After helping Carol's severely asthmatic son, Melvin seeks help to try and become someone Carol could love.

The Horse Whisperer (PG-13) 1998 Drama - Grace loses part of her leg after a horrible accident that also severely injures her horse and kills her best friend.  Grace's mother takes her and her horse to Montana to "horse whisperer" (Robert Reford) to see if he can calm the now savage horse and help Grace overcome her trauma.

Mercury Rising (?) 1998 Action/Drama/Thriller - An outcast F.B.I Agent Art Jeffries must protect Simon, a 9 year old boy who has Autism.  Simon has cracked a top secret United States government super code. The government thought that the code was impossible to break and now feel threatened by a 9 year old boy. The mercury keeps rising, as the government seeks to find Simon and bodies pile up as they try to keep the code secret.  Simon is played by Miko Hughes and the FBI Agent is played by Bruce Willis.  http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0120749/

The Mighty (PG-13) 1998 Comedy/Drama - This movie is based on the great book, Freak the Mighty, by Rodman Philbrick.  Elden Ratliff plays Max, a boy with learning disabilities who has failed eighth grade twice.   His life changes when Kevin (Kieran Culkin), a brilliant kid who has Morquio's Syndrome and walks with braces, is assigned to tutor him.  The two become fast friends who dream about becoming knights and decide to take on their real-life enemies.

Simon Birch (PG) 1998 Drama - Simon, an 11-year-old dwarf,  is sure he is destined to be a hero.  He sets out to find his destiny while helping his best friend Joe find his real father.  This film is loosely based on John Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany.

Mr Holland's Opus (PG) 1995 Drama - Mr. Holland (Richard Dreyfuss) dreams of becoming a composer, but is forced to become a high school music teacher when he can't support his family.  A major sub-plot of this movie is Holland's difficult relationship with his son, Cole, who is deaf.

Forrest Gump (PG-13) 1994 Drama - Tom Hanks plays Forrest, a boy with physical and mental disabilities, but manages to participate in many of the most important events in history during  the 1960's and 1970's.

Benny & Joon (PG) 1993 Comedy - Benny (Aidan Quinn) and Joon (Mary Stuart Masterson) are brother and sister who long for love and a "normal" life. Joon, although never specifically diagnosed, has mental retardation and the strain of caring for her shows in Benny. Their lives change when Sam (Johnny Depp) arrives. He is a whimsical, eccentric, goofy guy who falls in love with Joon and may just be able to provide the "normal" life Benny and Joon both want.

The Secret Garden (G) 1993 Drama - A young girl who has lost her parents goes to live with her uncle at a neglected Victorian house and finds a 'hidden' garden with the help of a raven. In the house she discovers her uncle has a son who has a disability. The two of them and the housemaid's brother make it their secret garden. From book by Frances Hodgson Burnett.

What's Eating Gilbert Grape (PG-13) 1993 Drama/Comedy - Johnny Depp plays Gilbert Grape, a young man who works in a small town grocery store. He also takes care of both his obese mother and younger brotherArnie (Leonardo DiCaprio), who has learning difficulties. When Becky (Juliette Lewis) comes to town, Gilbert falls in love but has trouble finding the time for a life of his own.

Roxanne (PG) 1987 Comedy - C.D. Bales (Steve Martin) is an intelligent, romantic Fire Chief of a small town who just happens to have a really big nose. He falls in love with an astronomer (Roxanne, played by Daryl Hannah), but believes she will not be interested in him because of his looks. Chris, a handsome young firefighter who is not very bright, also falls for Roxanne, and C.D. decides to help him win her over. Will looks or love win out? This movie is based on the French play "Cyrano De Bergerac" by Edmond Rostands.

Mask (PG-13) 1985 Drama - Eric Stolz plays Rocky Dennis, a teenager who has craniodiaphyseal dyaplasia, which causes his face to be mishapen because of tumors that grow on his skull. Cher plays his mother who battles her own drug addiction and the pressures of raising a child with a disability on her own.

To find more movies that involve characters that have disabilities, visit "Bob Lister's Films Involving Disabilities" webpage at http://www.disabilityfilms.co.uk

Television Shows

Dark Angel is a futuristic science-fiction drama of a young Hispanic woman who was genetically engineered to have cat-like superpowers. She and the male lead character, Logan Cale (Michael Weatherly) team up to fight for good in a future where the United States becomes a third-world country. As a result of a near-fatal shooting incident, Weatherly’s character uses a wheelchair. However, in a recent episode, he was given secret government equipment (an exoskeleton) which enables him to walk but only while wearing it.

Another minor character in the show uses intricate augmentative communication devices which are controlled by switches surrounding his head. These switches also appear to control his computer, which can display pictures and clippings of the people and events about which he is speaking. This character does not appear in every episode. (airs Tuesday nights on FOX)

ER Thursday nights NBC, Drama - Main character Dr. Kerry Weaver (Laura Innes) walks with a cane. In addition to being an excellent ER doctor, she also served as temporary ER Chief of Staff. The show has never explained the cause of Dr. Weaver's disability and it has never been made an issue.

Zoe, Duncan, Jack & Jane Sunday Nights, WB, Comedy - A new show, so not much information is available yet. However one critic mentions, "One very funny recurring character is a classmate in a wheelchair who terrorizes students during dodgeball games."

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Last Updated: 12/02/04.
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