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How the Wheelchair Fits Into Popular Culture

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How does the wheelchair fit into popular culture? I’ve been asking this question for a while now. Today the wheelchair is still going through the motions as a symbol of dependency and weakness at least in the eyes of some. However, inroads are being made to show the lives of people in wheelchairs as successful and powerful, specifically in my eyes Zach Anner and “Speechless.” But before I get to the positive, let me first talk about the negative.

There’s a statue in Washington, D.C. that speaks to me clearly and profoundly — the statue of the 32nd President of the United States, Franklin Roosevelt, in a wheelchair. When I look at it, the first thing that comes to my mind is that the wheelchair is hidden with a blanket. I understand this was done to  symbolize Mr. Roosevelt’s desire to hide his polio, but as a young kid it got me thinking, is my wheelchair a symbol of weakness? I’ve asked able-bodied people if they ever wanted to feel like what being in a wheelchair means, and I was always met with the same answer. “No, I want to be able to move.” I soon thought there were no positive perspectives for a disabled male to look up to. Then I found my guiding light in one individual: Zach Anner.

Zach Anner is an icon in my mind. A person in a wheelchair who created his own path and succeeded in it. It wasn’t your typical success, but this unorthodox way of describing your disability through viral workouts and travel guides always put a smile on my face.  Zach discusses his doubts about succeeding because of his disability, but then he found an unorthodox way of pushing past the -m- just like I did with wrestling. He remains an inspiration to me and his humor and wit never go out of style, whether he’s pimping his wheelchair or just trying to do a simple workout routine. I hope his videos continue to go viral and he remains an internet sensation. Keep climbing, Zach!

Now I want to talk about the TV show “Speechless.” “Speechless” is probably the most prominent show that incorporates a person in a wheelchair. The show centers around J.J. DiMeo, his family and aide Kenneth. The show features things I can relate to, like a mom who is constantly advocating for her son, brother and sister relationships and some high school experiences. However, the show, while portraying a person in a wheelchair, hasn’t fully shown the difficulties of being in a wheelchair. The emotional stress, the difficulty transferring and how JJ feels about being in a wheelchair. Despite this, I feel that “Speechless” is a good way to introduce a person in a wheelchair, and one of the staff writers is, wait for it… Zach Anner!

I feel the wheelchair is still not well-represented in popular culture. However, the world is growing through the ability of people with disabilities and their gift to speak about their life on a bigger platform. I look towards the future as a day where disabilities can be a trendy topic and we can all learn together. Until then, I will continue to speak up and keep climbing like Zach Anner! I will also remember to watch “Speechless” every Wednesday. Keep rolling, and remember we must use our voices to create change!

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Photo screenshot from “Speechless.”

Originally published: November 29, 2017
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