13 TV Shows and Movies That Feature Characters (and Actors) With Disabilities You Can Watch
Finding a movie or TV show with authentic representation of disabilities is difficult, even more so when you’re looking for an actual actor with disabilities. Approximately 95 percent of the characters with disabilities you see on TV are played by actors without a disability. But this is only one issue with disability representation onscreen. Too often, when a person with disabilities does get a featured part, the show is all and only about their disability.
While having a disability does affect many facets of your life, it isn’t everything — you’re also maybe a sibling, son or daughter, parent, creative thinker, lover of dogs or champion dartboard player. We could go on. Although when done well it can be interesting and even inspiring to see movies centered around a disability, sometimes it’s nice to see people who just happen to have a disability living their day-to-day life — and getting into hijinks right alongside everyone else.
With this in mind, we asked The Mighty’s disability community for recommendations regarding movies and TV shows that feature characters with disabilities (portrayed by actors with disabilities) where the main plot doesn’t only revolve around their disabilities.
Here are some of their suggestions:
1. “Breaking Bad”
Walter White Jr.
“Breaking Bad,” which ran from 2008 to 2013, is a crime drama about high school chemistry teacher, Walter White, who is diagnosed with lung cancer. To secure a stable financial future for his family, he manufactures and sells methamphetamine with a former student, Jesse Pinkman. White’s teenage son, Walter White Jr., is played by RJ Mitte. Both Mitte and his character live with cerebral palsy (CP). The series shows him learning how to drive, navigating high school and working at the front desk of a car wash.
“Everybody, if they have CP on their resume, it looks like, ‘Oh this kid is wheelchair-bound’ or, ‘He’s slow,’ or something like that, which is not true,” Mitte said in an interview with AMC. “It is important for someone who is playing this role to really do the role.”
Where to watch: You can stream past seasons of “Breaking Bad” on Netflix.
“My favorite would be ‘Glee.’ They rarely harp on [Becky Jackson’s] disability and most of the time she’s treated as a very real person,” Mighty community member Bin T. said. “She’s a cheerleader, she’s not the nicest person, she even dates neurotypical boys. And her character is played by an excellent actress.”
“Glee” is a coming-of-age musical comedy-drama that aired on Fox from 2009 to 2015 and centers around members of a glee club. Becky Jackson (Lauren Potter) has Down syndrome and is the school’s head cheerleader. The series shows her going through typical adolescent life, such as dating and adjusting to college. “Glee” also featured actress Robin Trocki, who had Down syndrome, as the sister of the cheerleading coach, Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch).
Where to watch: You can catch up on the drama of “Glee” by streaming past seasons on Netflix.
“Speechless” centers around the colorful family of J.J. DiMeo (played by Micah Fowler), a teenager who lives with cerebral palsy and is non-verbal (hence the title). “It’s a sitcom and balances the seriousness of challenging life with a disability with downright hilarious situations,” said Mighty community member Maria G. Minnie Driver, who plays J.J.’s mother on the show, said in an interview, “He likes girls, wants to try beer for the first time, wants to hang out and get in with the cool kids.” Along with this, the sitcom also shows J.J. going through physical therapy, working with an aid and attending a summer camp for people with disabilities.
Where to watch: You can watch episodes of “Speechless” on ABC. New episodes air Fridays at 8:30 p.m. ET/PT.
4. “Stranger Things”
“Stranger Things” is a science fiction horror series set in the 1980s in a small town in Indiana that premiered on Netflix in 2016. It begins with the disappearance of a young boy and the town’s attempts to withstand supernatural events. One of the main characters, Dustin Henderson (played by Gaten Matarazzo), has cleidocranial dysplasia, a rare genetic condition that affects the development of bones. Aspects of Henderson’s character development, such as dealing with bullying, were inspired by real-life events Matarazzo experienced. Note: One Mighty contributor warned some of the flashing lights in the series can cause seizures.
Where to watch: You can check out the “Stranger Things” horror for yourself on Netflix.
“Fargo” is a crime-drama anthology with each season set in a different time frame with a different story and cast. The first season, which aired in 2014, features deaf actor Russell Harvard portraying the intimidating but charismatic deaf hitman Mr. Wrench. He and his accomplice, Mr. Numbers, communicate via sign language.
“The character is not really specific about being deaf, or having any related deaf issues,” Harvard told NPR. “This character is really nice because he doesn’t have to use his voice; the communication skills are just through signing.”
6. “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation”
Dr. Al Robbins
“CSI” is a popular crime drama that ended its long run in 2015. Robert David Hall, the actor who played Las Vegas police department’s chief medical examiner for all 15 seasons, had both his legs amputated in 1978 after he was injured in a car accident. He and his character Dr. Al Robbins use prosthetic limbs. He has accommodations at work due to his disability, like having others visit crime scenes in his place. Otherwise, he is well-known for his wit and knowledge.
Where to watch: You can catch up on past seasons of “CSI” on Hulu.
7. “NCIS: New Orleans”
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The Mighty’s disability editor, Karin Willison said her favorite character is “Patton Plame, the computer expert on ‘NCIS: New Orleans.’ He’s smart, has a great sense of humor and is a well-rounded character. His disability is rarely the focus of the story. The actor Daryl ‘Chill’ Mitchell is actually a wheelchair user due to a motorcycle accident.”
Plame spends each episode of the hit series aiding the police department in solving cases thanks to his computer knowledge. He has played an integral part of each episode by looking through security footage, hacking various databases and even making a few jokes here and there.
Where to watch: Catch up on “NCIS: New Orleans” by streaming episodes on CBS All Access.
8. “Sue Thomas: F.B.Eye”
“Sue Thomas: F.B.Eye” is loosely based around Sue Thomas (played by deaf actress Deanne Bray), the first deaf person to work as an undercover specialist for the FBI. It ran for three seasons in the early 2000s and also features a service dog. Along with portraying her daily work grind expertly solving cases, the series also shows her enjoying hobbies such as playing the piano and skating. Thomas herself later appeared in two episodes of the show.
9. “Silent Witness”
Mighty community member Suswati B. recommended “Liz Carr in the BBC drama ‘Silent Witness.’ She uses a wheelchair owing to arthrogryposis multiplex congenita, but she’s just another member of the cast. She’s also an international disability rights activist and comedian.”
“Silent Witness” is a long-running British crime drama that first aired in 1996 and is currently in its 22nd season. It centers around a group of forensic pathologists, police officers and officials solving crimes in Nottingham, England. Liz Carr plays Clarissa Mullery, a disabled lab assistant who is an integral part of the team.
10. “Switched at Birth”
Daphne Paloma Vasquez
After two teenage girls, including Daphne Paloma Vasquez (played by actress Katie Leclerc, who has hearing loss), discover they were switched at birth, their families attempt to understand what happened. Paloma Vasquez is deaf as is her best friend Emmett (played by deaf actor Sean Berdy). The show explores deaf culture, maintaining relationships and audism, the discrimination against those with hearing loss. Leclerc has appeared in other TV shows, including “The Big Bang Theory,” “Veronica Mars” and “CSI.” “Switched at Birth” ran from 2011 to 2017.
Where to watch: You can catch past episodes of “Switched at Birth” on Netflix.
11. “Life Goes On”
Charles “Corky” Thatcher
“Life Goes On” was the first TV series to feature a main character with Down syndrome. The show focuses on the Thatcher family, who has a teenage son with Down syndrome, Charles “Corky,” portrayed by actor Chris Burke, who also has Down syndrome. The beginning of the series focuses on the family’s attempt to integrate Corky into society, his job at a movie theater and his relationships. The show aired from 1989 to 1993.
Where to watch: You can watch the classic “Life Goes On” on Amazon Prime.
12. “A Quiet Place”
“A Quiet Place” is a 2018 film about a family attempting to survive a world filled with blind creatures that possess a heightened sense of hearing. Regan Abbott, a deaf daughter to hearing parents, is portrayed by deaf actress Millicent Simmonds. When talking about this casting choice, director John Krasinski told IGN: “I didn’t want a non-deaf actress pretending to be deaf. … I wanted someone who lives it and who could teach me about it on set.”
Where to watch: “A Quiet Place” is available to rent or purchase from YouTube.
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TGIF everyone! We’re especially excited because we start shooting in 1 WEEK! We’re so excited to bring the story of Malarkey to life. If you’re just as excited as us, we’d love it if you would consider donating to our Seed&Spark! Click the link in our bio to find out more info! ✨????????????✨ • • • #womeninfilm #femalefilmmakers #disabilityinfilm #seedandspark
“Malarkey” follows two sisters — Mauve, who has Down syndrome, and Mallory — who are having a hard time getting on the same page. Mauve wants to prove her independence, which she does by inviting a boy to the prom, while Mallory struggles with making a big decision about her dream college. The film, which is still in development, will star Alana Hibbs, who has Down syndrome as Mauve. “Malarkey” is directed by Lindsay Allen, whose older brother grew up with a disability. She utilizes both her and her sibling’s experience with discrimination and disability to craft this film.
Where to watch: It’s not ready yet, but if you’re interested in hearing updates about the film, check out their website!
Bonus: “Jeremy the Dud”
“Jeremy the Dud” is a short Australian comedy set in a world where having a disability is the norm. Those who don’t have a disability — referred to as “without specialty” aka “dud” in this world — face discrimination on any given day. The story follows Jeremy (Nick Boshier), a person “without specialty” as he goes through difficulties integrating into society. This short film turns disability stereotypes on their head because Jeremy is the only character (and actor) in the film who doesn’t have a disability.
Where to watch: You can watch “Jeremy the Dud” on YouTube.
Have any shows or movies you would recommend? Let us know in the comments below.