Disney's 'Raven's Home' Season 2, Episode 13 'Head Over Wheels,' Features a Character With a Disability
The following is a review of “Raven’s Home” and contains spoilers.
I have three girls who enjoy watching Disney Channel, so when we watched the latest episode of “Raven’s Home,” titled “Head Over Wheels,” it especially caught our attention. The episode features a new character, Isabella, a girl who uses a wheelchair, played by Eliza Pryor. The episode centers around accessibility, or more specifically, inaccessibility.
My middle daughter, Nina, is in sixth grade and uses a wheelchair like Isabella, so this episode was especially relatable. I asked her, and my oldest, E.R., to help me review this episode. E.R. is in seventh grade and shared her thoughts about the episode as someone who has experienced the difficulties a lack of accessibility can cause because she has two sisters with disabilities
In this episode, Levi, one of the main characters in the show, has a crush on Isabella and invites her over to his apartment. Isabella never shows up and the next day Levi finds out it is because she was unable to access the building.
Isabella: I just couldn’t get in, your building does not have wheelchair access.
Levi: It doesn’t? I never even really realized that.
Isabella: Why would you, it’s accessible to you. It’s just not accessible to people like me.
This line was so relatable to Nina, she repeated it a few times. She said people don’t think outside their own experiences and this often keeps her on the outside and feeling left out. “I think Isabella is right,” she said. “I would say the same thing.”
Later, Isabella says, “I kinda like that you don’t see me any differently. It’s just annoying that there’s still so many inaccessible buildings in Chicago.”
Nina did not agree here. She said people don’t really see her the same, and the show did not show an accurate portrayal of what it is like to be disabled in school.
“People treat people with disabilities like they were babies,” she said. In the show, everyone treats Isabella with dignity and respect, like an equal. For Nina, being a student with a disability is quite different. Not only do other students treat her differently, some teachers do as well.
Isabella’s character says at some point, “I’m in a wheelchair, not a prison,” and Nina said this is something she feels like saying sometimes when people make ignorant comments about her chair or her disability.
In the episode, we find out the building does have a hidden elevator, but the building manager (portrayed by a child) refuses to make the elevator accessible to everyone.
Nia: You need to make this place accessible to everybody.
Mitch: Why should I? Nobody uses a wheelchair in this building.
This is not an unlikely scenario — outside of a building manager being a child. Our family has heard a fair share of absurd comments regarding accessibility, so the “argument” from Mitch did seem realistic and a reason why someone would not make a building accessible. This is the reality for many people with disabilities.
The episode ends with a protest, with the kids and building tenants demanding everyone have access to the elevator. Mitch, the “bad guy” hurts his foot and realizes why the elevator would be necessary. “How am I supposed to get up to stairs,” he asks. Isabella responds, “Good question. Now imagine if you had to ask yourself that every day, like I do.”
Nina related to another quote of Isabella’s, “Having a disability is no joke.” Nina added to this and expanded on that feeling, “Having a disability… you can’t change that, you are born with it and you don’t have to be sad about it.”
After the episode ended, we all had different reactions.
E.R. thought it was good. For her, the most important thing was the characters didn’t pity Isabella and she didn’t pity herself. Not being pitied is something she knows her sisters wish they could experience. She felt Isabella seemed realistic in the things she said, as she has heard her own sister express similar sentiments.
“It was fun to see a character like my sister on Disney channel, they never do that, really,” she added.
Nina said it was cool to see a person with a disability and a wheelchair, and she could relate to her character in some ways. Because of how the character responded to other people, she wondered if the actress was actually disabled. We did a quick search and found out she is not. One more instance in which an able-bodied character is cast for a disabled role. For anyone who thinks this is not a big deal, both my girls were quite disappointed that the girl playing Isabella was not actually disabled.
For Nina, who had felt finally there was someone like her being represented in a show, she had pretty strong feelings about it as she felt cheated and betrayed:
I am crushed because she is not a real person with a disability. I thought she was, but hearing she is not makes me really mad, she acted like she had a disability. I wish they had found an actress with a real disability.
We are excited Disney and “Raven’s Home” brought disability into its storyline, especially since accessibility is such an important issue for people with physical disabilities, like my daughter. Like Nina said, “In real life, there should be more wheelchair accessible places.”
We need to let disabled actors play disabled characters. The authenticity they bring through their life experience makes it a more genuine portrayal. While the character of Isabella did OK with a wheelchair, that chair was obviously not fit to her. Her “ease” using a wheelchair was not the ease of a child who is actually disabled and has been using a chair for years.
So Disney, if you have any shows with a disabled character — and I hope as a mom of two kids with disabilities that you have many more — please consider accurate representation and casting kids with disabilities. There are many talented kids with disabilities who can act and diverse representation also means casting actors with disabilities.
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