Conversation about disability is often somber and serious while attempting to be a voice of education about grim circumstances surrounding issues people with disabilities face on a daily basis.
However, as dire as conditions may be perceived for both a person with a disability and their caretakers, there can be a balance between serious and joyful experiences.
In steps humor. No, not the kind that makes light of a disability or uses inappropriate comments just to sound funny, but the kind of humor that produces laughter and a lightened heart.
What’s so funny about disability, you ask? Nothing; but a healthy sense of humor can often encourage and help get through an otherwise difficult time.
Television and movies have finally stepped up to portray people with disabilities as a significant part of the entertainment world, and to hire individuals with disabilities as actors.
One breakthrough actress who entered the scene many years ago is Marlee Matlin who is deaf. Her radiance and personality shines in each of her roles, yet she is not defined by being deaf. And she laughs! Her laughter and sense of humor allows us to see past her disability and experience her as the beautiful human being she is.
A recent popular television series, Speechless, is based on a family with teenagers, one with non-verbal cerebral palsy seeking someone to be his “voice.” Not only does Speechless portray a mother/advocate who tests the limits, but the dynamic of a family whose world is consumed by caring for the sibling with a disability.
Speechless portrays the sacrifices of the parents and the frustrations of the other siblings, however, what comes through this fictional family is love for each other, truth, and humor about their everyday obstacles and how they overcome.
The character of JJ, who has cerebral palsy in real life, is depicted by actor Micah Fowler and, truthfully, he is the funniest character. As his character develops, we see he has teenage thoughts about girls, beer, and pranks, all played with heart and humor. JJ and his disability bring the family to the brink of some unsettling situations, but he is also the glue that holds them together.
Kudos to Speechless creator, Scott Silveri for urging others to cast individuals with disabilities in upcoming roles. Silveri, whose brother is the inspiration for the ABC comedy,…. “acknowledged that despite his personal experience he has not always done his part to include people with disabilities on screen.”
By honestly portraying the joy and laughter experienced by individuals with disabilities in a public arena, it allows those who are not disabled to better understand the richness their lives can hold. It doesn’t change everything, but often it can begin a desperately needed dialogue, one that crosses the barriers of disability.