What Season 6 of 'This Is Us' Gets Right About Disability Representation
With only a handful of episodes left in the final season of NBC’s “This Is Us,” the show continues to tackle complex topics while producing compelling television. This season, viewers were introduced to new cast member Johnny Kincaid, the young actor who plays toddler Jack Junior. According to Johnny’s mother, the 3-year-old has albinism and low vision.
Although it seems to make perfect sense that the role of a visually impaired character would go to a visually impaired actor, it is still a relatively new phenomenon for actors with disabilities to be cast in these roles.
According to The New York Times:
“Significant depictions of disability on film and television shows have nearly tripled over the past decade compared with the previous 10 years. Almost all of those titles, however, still don’t feature disabled actors.”
While they obviously made the right call with recent casting decisions, that wasn’t always the case. The twins who originally played baby Jack Junior back in seasons four and five were not visually impaired.
After Kate and Toby’s baby was born at 28 weeks, he was diagnosed with retinopathy of prematurity. Several episodes and many storylines have had to do with Jack Junior being visually impaired, including helping him navigate in a sighted world along with Kate finding a job at a music school for the blind.
Season 4 also introduced viewers to the adult character of Jack Junior, played by blind actor and advocate for artists with disabilities Blake Stadnik, who viewers are happy to see is back in season 6. Stadnik also recorded the beautiful song “Memorized,” performing it in season 4’s premiere, which hit number one on the iTunes soundtrack chart afterward.
The recent episode of “Saturday in the Park” opens from toddler Jack Junior’s perspective, with blurry scenes of him listening to his parents arguing and making his way around the neighborhood with a cane. It is refreshing to see actors with disabilities on primetime TV, and with such a popular and beloved show leading the way, I hope to see more.
Edited to add: After we shared this story with The Mighty community, we learned that visually impaired second grader Karl Seitz plays 7-year-old Jack Junior. His mother Katrina has been part of the Mighty community since Karl was born. More on Karl and his experience on the set of “This Is Us” to come!
Image via This Is Us’ Instagram