Television shows with a positive portrayal of disabled characters are far more common now than they used to be. A number of television dramas also have a character who has disabilities — sometimes it’s one of the leading characters and their disability is not the main plot point, but simply a part of their broader character.
We look here at some of the leading TV shows that have done a great job featuring characters with disabilities.
Disabled characters on screen were unknown until one of the leading characters in daily teatime soap Crossroads became a wheelchair user. The character Sandy Richardson was the son of the Crossroads motel owner, Meg Richardson, and played a prominent role in the soap from the start. Played by Roger Tonge, Sandy became a wheelchair user following a car accident in 1972.
This made him the first regular character in a British television soap who had paraplegia. At the time this was seen as a breakthrough in portraying characters who were wheelchair users. This character development was made to accommodate Roger Tonge who had developed Hodgkin’s Disease which limited his mobility.
The short-run soap Eldorado, produced by the same team that brought EastEnders to the screen, had a disabled character from the start. Disabled actor Julie Fernandez played Vanessa Lockhead, a wheelchair user. Julie was born with osteogenesis imperfecta. After Eldorado, she went on to play Sean Maguire’s girlfriend in the BBC drama Dangerfield before playing Brenda in The Office. She is also a prominent disability rights campaigner.
In 2014, actor Lisa Hammond was cast in the role of disabled market trader Donna Yates. Donna was not originally going to be a disabled character but Lisa impressed producers so much at her audition that they gave her the part. Lisa has a restricted growth condition. She is the second disabled regular in the soap; David Proud, who played Adam Best, was the first. Both David and his character live with Spina Bifida. He was introduced as part of a series of measures by the BBC to raise the profile of disabled actors.
Call The Midwife
Actor Sarah Gordy, who has Down’s Syndrome, played Sally Harper in Call The Midwife, the BBC drama about midwives in the 1950s and 1960s. With 10 years experience on stage and television, Sarah’s aim is to play roles where people see her as a woman and actor first rather than someone with Down’s Syndrome.
Co-staring with Sarah Gordy was Colin Young, a disabled actor with Cerebral Palsy. Colin played the role of Jacob Milligan who had an on-screen relationship with Sally Harper.
Liz Carr is an actor and performer who has used a wheelchair since the age of seven owing to arthrogryposis multiplex congentia. She plays character Clarissa Mullery in the BBC crime thriller series Silent Witness. Wheelchair user Clarissa is the forensic examiner with an encyclopaedic knowledge of forensic breakthroughs and advancements in the field.
Strictly Come Dancing
The talent show teaming up celebrities with professional dancers has featured several disabled contestants who have often done extremely well, lasting a long way into the show, indicating they are judged on their ability to learn dance routines with their disabilities not being the focus.
Cormoran Strike is the lead character in this drama series based on the books by J.K. Rowling. Strike is a war veteran turned private detective who lost the lower half of his right leg in an attack in Afghanistan. One of the adaptations, The Silkworm, also featured Sarah Gordy as the character Orlando Quine who has a learning disability as the result of a complicated premature birth.
As he gets older, Orlando is heavily dependent upon her mother, Leonora Quine, and is deeply distressed when Leonora is arrested as the prime suspect in a murder investigation. Orlando has a crucial role in the plot and Sarah was praised by critics and viewers for her performance.
TV presenters and reporters
Wheelchair user Steve Brown is a Countryfile presenter and Mark Lane, also a wheelchair user, is a recent addition to the Gardener’s World presenting team. TV reporter Ade Adepitan is a wheelchair user and basketball player and he is often used for items not necessarily related to disabilities. And Peter White, a broadcaster who is blind from birth, covers many consumer topics, not just those related to visual impairment. The BBC also has a disabled weather presenter, Lucy Martin.