Special.jpg

“Special” is a memoir of Ryan O'Connell, an actor, writer and comedian with cerebral palsy. 

October is recognized for several events such as Halloween and Breast Cancer Awareness Month, but some might not realize it’s also Disability History Month. Although October is coming to an end, there’s still time to check out some of the following movies and shows about people with disabilities.

“Crip Camp” (Netflix)

This documentary follows a group of people who attended Camp Jened, a camp for people with disabilities in the ’70s. The campers have different stories that revolve around the similar theme of judgment and limitation that comes with being disabled. The producers then went into how these campers became activists and began protesting for equal rights as Americans with disabilities. 

This documentary shows actual footage of people protesting, speaking in front of government officials and even some people getting out of their wheelchairs and crawling up the steps of the U.S. Capitol. It’s a powerful documentary that educates viewers about a movement that doesn’t always come up in history books or classes. 

“Special” (Netflix)

“Special” is a memoir of Ryan O'Connell, an actor, writer and comedian with cerebral palsy. The story follows Ryan going through life with a disability. He deals with a new internship, trying to persuade his mom to let him move out and his struggles of being gay with some physical challenges. This is a funny series that shows how people with disabilities can be like everyone else.

“The Miracle Worker” (Amazon Prime)

This is a classic movie that came out in the ’60s. It follows the story of Helen Keller (Patty Duke), a young girl who became blind and deaf from having a severe fever as an infant, which causes her to go into violent rages. When her parents decide to send her to an institution, they enroll her in a school for the blind. There, she meets a teacher who figures out a way to communicate with her. This movie shows viewers the importance of giving others a chance even if they experience life differently.

“Glee” (Netflix)

When Will Schuester (Matthew Morrison) realizes the high school Glee Club is falling apart, he steps in as the adviser and revives the club. “Glee” is a diverse show and stars a character named Artie (Kevin McHale) who’s in a wheelchair. The show portrays him as a typical high schooler with an incredible singing voice. In the episode “Wheels,” Mr. Schuester rents wheelchairs for each of the Glee members so they can understand what Artie goes through on a daily basis. During the episode, the writers introduce a new character named Becky (Lauren Potter) who has down syndrome and becomes the girl who takes Quinn’s (Dianna Agron) spot on the cheer team when she gets pregnant.

“The Theory of Everything” (Netflix)

Based on the life of Steven Hawking (Eddie Redmayne), the story takes viewers on a journey through his adulthood. He attends college as an able-bodied student but suddenly develops a rare neurological disorder. As the story progresses, his muscles begin to stiffen, he becomes nonverbal and starts using a wheelchair. However, it doesn’t stop him from completing his research on the theory of a black hole. It’s an emotional and eye-opening movie that everyone should watch because it shows the concept of miracles and also is based on an iconic figure in the world of science.

“The Peanut Butter Falcon” (Hulu)

A young man with down syndrome named Zak escapes the nursing home he lives in so he can pursue his dream of becoming a wrestler. Along the way, he meets a man who decides to train and coach Zak while running from his own problems. Together, they become friends, and Zak finds someone who doesn’t judge him for having down syndrome. It’s an uplifting movie, and Zak Gottsagen became the first person with a disability to be a presenter at the Oscars.

“The Good Doctor” (Hulu)

Although he’s diagnosed with autism and had a difficult childhood, Shaun Murphy (Freddie Highmore) is a high-functioning smart young man living in a small town. He suddenly surprises people in a train station after saving somebody’s life. After that, he gets hired as a surgeon at San Jose St. Bonaventure Hospital. At first, he’s underestimated by the other doctors until they realize he has savant syndrome, which gives him the gift of being exceptionally knowledgeable in the medical field.

“Speechless” (Amazon Prime)

The DiMeo family is constantly moving to a new town in order to find the best school system for their son, JJ (Micah Fowler). They decide to end up in the most expensive part of town in order for JJ to attend the local school. When they feel like it’s not the best fit for him, they meet the school janitor who gets along with JJ who ends up as his new aide and helps him get through high school like everyone else. The show teaches viewers what it means to a person when they’re not judged based on a characteristic such as a disability.

“Finding Dory” (Disney+)

Dory is an outgoing fish who loses memories within 10 seconds. Suddenly, she remembers the last time she saw her parents even though she was a guppie. With the help of Nemo and Marvin, Dory goes off to find her family. It’s a touching story and introduces kids to a cognitive disability such as memory loss as well as a physical disability like Nemo’s smaller fin.

“Dolphin Tales” (Amazon Prime)

When a small dolphin loses her tail because of a fishing trap, the workers at Clearwater Animal Hospital try the best they can to save her. The dolphin survives, but the trap affects her tail’s movement. It takes a team of marine biologists to help the dolphin figure out an alternative way to swim. This is a heart-warming movie portraying the importance of supporting those when they need it the most.

Disability isn’t the most common theme within popular shows and blockbuster films, but there are some that people can enjoy as well as understand that people with disabilities go through life like everyone else.

Contact Gracie Brogowski at brogowsx@dukes.jmu.edu. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Instagram and Twitter @Breeze_Culture.