It’s hard to find common ground in today’s whirlwind of news and chaos. It has become even harder to balance personal choices about things like identity and other core values. It’s everywhere we turn.
That’s all the more reason why we all must find a temporary escape – or at least something to help us balance reality. For me, that means gluing myself to my T.V. for a half hour every week to watch the award-winning TV show, Speechless.
The show follows The DiMeo’s, a fictional family whose son, JJ, played by actor and disability advocate Micah Fowler, has cerebral palsy. Fowler leads an incredible cast including Minnie Driver and John Ross Bowie as JJ’s loving but protective parents, Mason Cook and Kayla Kenedy as his brother and sister and Cedric Yarbrough as his trusty sidekick and personal care aide.
I don’t watch much TV, but this is a show that speaks to me in many ways.
I was intrigued from the start because I’m a daughter who has cerebral palsy with a family who goes the extra mile every day. I didn’t need much convincing other than that to tune in, but then I found out that Fowler has cerebral palsy in real life.
That made me feel like I had a responsibility to watch because everything I’d heard about it resonated with me on an intimately personal level. Not only that, but I wanted to see how all of this would play out on screen.
I didn’t have negative feelings about anything I was hearing. I was just curious and excited to see something like this on network television.
It was the first time I can remember a show having this much effect on me. My expectations were exceeded – and then some.
My eyes were fixed on my TV screen as I was introduced to JJ – an inquisitive, free-spirited teenager who wants to be as independent as possible. His disability is his biggest obstacle, but it doesn’t stop him from being who he is and living life to its fullest. When things don’t work out, his family comes up with another way of doing whatever it is JJ has his mind set on.
They adapt with care and compassion, together.
I slowly whispered to myself, “This is my life. Someone finally gets it!”
I couldn’t believe something that had been so heavily advertised in the media could capture the essence of my life so accurately and vividly.
I started watching intently after the pilot episode, paying attention to how beautifully the show addresses the topic of disability without overdoing it or making it out to be something that it’s not.
It is crafted with such heart, warmth and humor that I forget I’m watching a show about a family much like my own. The DiMeo’s tackle everyday tasks with humility—like helping JJ into the family’s wheelchair-accessible van or making sure his school has everything he needs. All while trying to get to work on time or realizing their van stalled in the middle of a road trip.
It’s scenarios like these that bring a sense of camaraderie and normalcy to what a typical family goes through. It also breaks away from the widespread idea that there’s very little “good” in the media these days, and that it only reinforces the negativity that’s being spread.
I was immediately hooked, and fell in love with the fact that the show also paints a very real, accessible portrait of life that happens to have someone with a disability at its center.
I appreciate that this show is for everyone to watch – not just those with disabilities. It shines a vibrant light on the importance of acceptance, diversity and inclusiveness – three core values that have been buried underneath shameful political agendas and irrational actions in society as of late.
Speechless is a shining example of what we need right now, as well as how we need to act towards each other regardless of our differences. In an article published in 2016, The Atlantic praised the authentic and heartfelt approach to the show:
“Speechless became one of the most important shows about disability in the history of television. That’s not hyperbole; rather, it speaks to the fact that shows that center characters with disabilities, feature actors with disabilities, and tell authentic and informed stories about disability are extremely rare.”
This message is bold, enlightening and still holds true about the show. Yet, it says so much more about society in America, where it’s going and what it desperately needs more of.