Is television finally feeling willing and able when it comes to portraying more disabled characters? It certainly appears that way.
According to GLAAD’s 2016 “Where We Are on TV” report, the percentage of series regulars with disabilities this year has risen to 1.7 percent (15 characters), up from last year’s 0.9 percent (eight characters). It is an “amazing” accomplishment, according to Ryan O’Connell, a gay and disabled TV/film writer and author of “I’m Special: And Other Lies We Tell Ourselves,” a memoir based on his life as gay and disabled–but still not enough.
“We are limping our way very slowly into the mainstream, honey,” he tells Queerty.
Even still, O’Connell is determined to be part of the solution, no matter how long it takes to limp there.
In May 2015, The Big Bang Theory’s Jim Parsons and his partner, Todd, optioned the rights to turn O’Connell’s book into a TV show. After that, O’Connell spent the next 18 months working with Parsons to get TV’s first gay and physically disabled male character on the small screen. Things didn’t exactly go according to plan.
“I ended up going to six networks and they all passed,” O’Connell says. “Here’s the thing: Putting a gay disabled character on television is very hard. Hell, putting a gay character as the lead of a TV show is hard. We’ve come a long way in the past few years, especially with shows like Transparent, but the reality is that Hollywood is still living la vida Kevin James.”
It doesn’t help that Hollywood is “very focused” on looks either, he adds. While many shows seem eager to portray hidden disabilities (such as bipolar disorder), the same cannot be said for people with physical disabilities.
“I think Hollywood is largely not interested in disabled people because they don’t view us as ‘sexy’ or ‘cool,’” he says. “To [Hollywood], we are just sad and something to be pitied.”