28 responses to “Grey’s Anatomy Ableism: “How Insensitive””

  1. Ruchama

    Hmm. In the last few seasons of Life Goes On, Corky, the main character who had Down Syndrome, had a girlfriend who also had Down Syndrome, and I definitely remember a bunch of scenes with the two of them talking to each other about all the usual teenage relationship stuff.

    (I now realize that I don’t think I’ve ever seen that show in syndication, and it looks like only the first season is available on DVD, even though the show ran for four seasons. I wonder why.)

  2. amandaw

    Hm, I think it wouldn’t be “….about an abled person” I think a better analogue for disability would be: “….about something other than their disability/how much disability sucks.”
    .-= amandaw´s last blog ..I can’t count on anybody to understand. (Blogging Against Disablism Day 2010) =-.

  3. Katie

    Battlestar Galactica? Tigh and Gaeta were both disabled in the final season and interacted a fair amount, IIRC.

  4. lilpocketninja

    Hmm. The only possibility I could think of is if Toph (who is blind) and Teo (a “wheelchair” user) from Avatar: The Last Airbender, but I don’t remember if they talked to each other or not. :/

  5. Ruchama

    I’m trying to decide whether “A Swiftly Tilting Planet” should count or not. One of the (many) subplots in that book involves twin brothers living in the mid nineteenth century. One of them Matthew, had some kind of accident as a small child (thrown from a horse or something like that) and he had been paralyzed since then. The other one, Bran, grew up able-bodied, then goes off to fight in the Civil War, where he’s injured and his leg has to be amputated. (Or, something like that. It’s been a while since I’ve read it.) The two of them do have some conversations (and psychic twin communication) that aren’t about disability, but Bran’s entire character after the war is defined by his reaction to his injury and to the horrors of war that he witnessed, so there’s really nothing that he says or doesn’t that isn’t actually about disability on some level.

    Now that I think about it, Madeleine L’Engel’s books have a lot of characters with disabilities. I can’t really remember enough details to do much analysis, though — maybe I’ll reread some of them this weekend.

  6. AWV

    I agree amandaw, I wanted to say something like that but wasn’t sure how to put it.
    I mean, I think there are some ways of two PWDs talking about disability that would be really cool, but some that wouldn’t. Like it would be cool if they were talking in a non-educational way.

    Remember when they had the character with “Asperger’s” on Grey’s Anatomy? Vomit central.

  7. Nightengale

    On ER, Kerry Weaver was a disabled doctor who had non-disability related conversations with several other disabled characters over the run of the show. She interacted with a disabled medical student who was a recurring guest character over several episodes and taught him and evaluated his performance. She also interacted with Robert Romano, another physician who acquired a disability during the series. They communicated about civil rights, sexuality, patient care philosophy, the financial running of the hospital and many other topics. Of course, none of these characters were portrayed by an actor with a disability. . .

  8. KJ

    Many of the drama set in psych hospitals or treatment centers (Girl Interrupted comes to mind) pass the test, though most FAIL in other ways.


  9. Z

    Friday Night Lights would fit. The show has multiple wheelchair users who talk to each other about everything from their injury to sports to girls.

    But I agree with amandaw’s revised Disability Benchdel.

  10. Mel

    I just finished Kristin Cashore’s “Fire” (YA novel), and it maybe squeaks a pass–towards the end of the book, the main character, Fire has a conversation with her foster father, who uses a wheelchair. She had other conversations with him earlier in the book, but I’m not sure she’s exactly disabled until the last few chapters. It’s complicated.

  11. Kaitlyn

    What about this for the PWD Bechdel test – they don’t talk or exist to be inspiring.

    Malcolm in the Middle’s Stevie was not inspiring, though he didn’t talk to any other visibly disabled students. The “emotionally disturbed” class Dewey was later put in does pass the test though – they acted like kids for the most part… kids in the MitM universe, but still.

    [mod note: please take Glee talk to a Glee thread or current Chatterday. Thanks. ~L]

  12. lauredhel

    “Of course, none of these characters were portrayed by an actor with a disability. . .”

    Which would be a real interesting twist on the test, wouldn’t it?

    Life Goes On would pass, as noted above; so would Secret Life of the American Teenager (a man with Down Syndrome is in a relationship with a woman with an intellectual disability).

  13. lilacsigil

    So, the patient’s condition was blamed on his fat when in fact he was ill from something else entirely? Well, at least something about the episode was true to life…

  14. QoT

    Despite being a problematic show in many [many many many] respects, South Park actually passes – Timmy and Jimmy often talk to each other, not about able-bodied people or their own disabilities.

  15. Soft_Cat

    The Venture Brothers has quite a few disabled characters, although they’re treated with varying amounts of respect. Colonel Gentleman is diabetic, Billy Quizboy and Jonas Venture Jr. are both dwarfs with prosthetic limbs and Billy is hydrocephalic, Pete White is albino, although I’m not sure whether that’s a disability or not, Baron Ünderbheit uses a jaw prothesis, Cody Impossible needs to stay in an airtight container, Ned Impossible is cognitively impaired and insensitive to pain, Dr. Venture has an anxiety disorder, and both he and Johnny Quest suffer from drug addictions.

  16. Jayn

    I’m currently halfway through Ted Williams’ Otherland books, and there’s a pretty good variety of characters, including two with disabilities (okay, one gets the ‘disability superpower’ thing in the online world, but both go through a period of being disabled online because of their offline disabilities). They haven’t actually spent much time together yet, but as there’s more pressing issues to deal with–they can’t log off–I’d be surprised if the books didn’t pass the test.

  17. gamerchick

    I know I’ve mentioned Carnivale on other threads as a show that has some problems, but also an incredibly huge number of PWD characters. It definitely would pass the test. There’s a lot of scenes Samson (a dwarf) and Jonesy (who uses a leg brace due to a knee injury; the actor is able-bodied) talking about the operations of the carnival, the show’s Big Important Mystical Metaplot, and so forth. And I know there are others I’m forgetting.

  18. Penny

    Yes on Carnivale, gamerchick, good catch.

    Been thinking about books, and the ones that come first to mind are set in places where such conversations can be expected: Andrea Barrett’s “The Air We Breathe” is set in a TB sanatorium in the 1910s, most of the characters have TB in some degree, and they talk about all kinds of things together (some of the characters are in a study group specifically to talk about something besides their illness/treatment). There are scenes in Majgull Axelsson’s “April Witch” set in a hospital room shared by four disabled girls, and I think they have conversations, but again, the setting… hmmm.

    I think Salander in “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” has scenes with her hacker friend who is similar to her in many ways (in the context of the story, her character has been variously diagnosed and labeled and treated, and maybe so has he, not sure if that’s spelled out or just implied).

  19. Vi

    The movie Benny & Joon? I guess it depends on whether Sam is considered disabled.

  20. ohands

    IIRC Joan of Arcadia passes; the brother is paraplegic and has conversations with other people in wheelchairs.

    Also, according to essays I’ve read, the Percy Jackson series passes. According to one, you can tell who is the kid of a God because they have some kind of mental disability. (Never read it so I don’t know how well this is portrayed or much beyond that.)

  21. Ali

    House. No, seriously. House has permanent nerve and muscle damage in his leg, limps, and uses a cane–he is clearly portrayed as disabled. The past couple of seasons have also included Thirteen, who has early-stage Huntingtons, which is beginning to obviously affect her motor control. As the main and one of the more important supporting characters, they have many conversations about a variety of topics.

    Mel, I would definitely say Fire counts. I read the concept of “monsters” to be a metaphor for disability. I think it works better as a concept in the first book, Graceling, as the only visible marker of “disability” in that case is the eyes. Most “invisible” disabilities aren’t totally invisible–you might not be able to tell I’m autistic just by looking at me, but if you watched me in a social situation you’d know. Then again, I don’t know if that was how Cashore meant the books to be read.

  22. Ali

    Sorry, didn’t finish reading the comments before adding my own. ohands, the kids in that series are noted to be dyslexic (because their brains are made to read Anciet Greek!) and adhd (because they have super awesome god reflexes/need for activity). Seriously. I couldn’t make it more than 1/3 through the first one.

  23. Miriam Heddy

    ReGenesis had Bob Melnikov and Mayko Tran talking to each other often. Bob had Aperger’s and Mayko had a prosthetic leg, and they were buddies who mostly talked about work and stuff.

  24. morgana

    Wow. I already knew that disability is handled poorly in the media, but nothing brings it home like spending half an hour trying to think of television series that actually feature multiple disabled characters in anything other than a “very special episode” role.

    I’ll second Avatar: The Last Airbender, for Zuko and Toph’s (admittedly limited) interactions, if nothing else, and also Carnivale, which featured multiple disabled characters, several of whom were also played by disabled actors.

    You might be able to include “Quantum Leap” for Sam’s amnesia and Al’s depression and alcoholism.

    “Night Court” had multiple recurring characters with disabilities, but I don’t remember if any of them ever actually talked to each other.

  25. ahimsa

    One movie suggestion is Inside I’m Dancing, released in the USA as Rory O’Shea Was Here. I saw this movie years ago so I don’t remember all the details but thought it was a pretty good story. See http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0417791/ for details (check out some of the quotes to get an idea of the movie – http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0417791/quotes)

    I can’t think of any disabled characters on TV that have been done very well, let alone multiple characters who talk with each other, but maybe I just watch the wrong shows.

  26. Jesse the K

    More wonderful books which pass the extended-Bechdel test re: multiple people with disabilities interacting.

    Accidents of Nature by Harriet McBride Johnson. Mainstreamed teenager with CP goes to a “special” camp, reexamines her internalized disablism, learns how to bridge the gaps between “normal” and “abnormal.” YA.

    Skallagrigg by William Horwood. Teenager with CP moves out of institution to live with PC geek father; teaches herself to be alpha geek; creates thrilling adventure game based in part on the horror stories passed down orally in the institutions. SF

    Of Such Small Differences by Joanne Greenberg. Deaf-blind teenager battles with staff in group home, moves out on his own, challenged by deaf-blind community for moving in with sighted woman, drama ensues. Adult “literary”

    Getting Life
    by Julie Shaw Cole. Institutionalized woman with CP, trapped by inadequate resources, absent tech, and hostile staff, meets crusading “independent living” advocates from local ILC. Working together she breaks out of the institution and into the multiplicities of self-directed living. While it sounds like a political tract, it’s also a very lovely story.

    Published by the same folks who brought us the Disability Rag/Ragged Edge: Advocado Press

  27. Penny

    Just ran across mention of another novel that must fit: Bruce Marshall’s To Every Man a Penny (1949), in which both main characters, Father Gaston and Louis-Philippe Bessier, are amputees, friends both wounded in World War I. The plot is about their families and work between the wars; Gaston is a disillusioned priest, Bessier works for the French Communist Party. The Scottish author was also a WWI disabled veteran (leg amputated in 1918).

  28. beo_shaffer

    I hope nobody minds me resurrecting an old thread. I was reading this one and thought that this it could use some webcomic examples. Sadly even though I’m an avid webcomic fan I could only find two reasonably unambiguous examples.
    Riot Nrrd
    Beyond the Veil
    The first one is a really across the board progressive comic and I don’t [b]remember[/b] it having anything that would require a TW.
    The second comic is a new (military) science fiction series that is great as webcomic in terms of art interesting characters etc. and has the potential to be very very good(or a complete frame wreck) from a Feminist POV. The main character of the second storyline is gendernonconforming, disabled, and lives with an adopted family of “mutants”(his brother seems to have Kyphosis and damage to one eye). The main character of the first storyline inadvertently regenerated in a female body. As I said lots of potential to go either way. It also warrants a ton of trigger warnings, the characters face significant transphobia and ableism. Meanwhile the setting/premise involves large amounts of violence and verbal descriptions(so far nothing on screen) of (war)crime including but not limited to rape. I hope this is useful I’m pretty pants at this kind of analysis and disappointed I found so few examples.