Invisible

Posted by Allen Rucker in Life After Paralysis on September 30, 2015 # Quality of Life

Did you watch the Emmys a few weeks back? Did you enjoy them? Andy Samberg is not a professional TV award-show host a la Billy Crystal or Whoopi Goldberg, but he was pretty darn good, right? It was a big, breakthrough night for two groups of perennial outsiders – black women and transgenders. And no doubt a great night for actress Laverne Cox of "Orange Is The New Black." She is both black and transgendered.

Award show recognition has been a long time coming for actors of color and though I am one who doesn't think a Best Actress award for Viola Davis will change the ethnic landscape of Hollywood all that much, it can't hurt. Transgenders, who, according to Wikipedia, make up .3 (read 'point three') percent of adults in the US, got enormous exposure. I don't mean to be facetious, but my guess is that a huge chunk of the people watching the Emmys at home didn't know exactly what a transgender was six months ago, before Caitlyn Jenner and the Amazon cult hit, "Transparent." Thanks more to TV, I would think, than everyday reality, now they do.

If you note a slight tone of peevishness in my voice here, you're right. People with disabilities – which make up 20% of Americans, or anywhere from fifty to sixty-five million people – were MIA on that Emmy stage, which is pretty much the same sad story year after year. There was one notable exception this year, of course --. Peter Dinklage, winning Best Supporting Actor for "Game of Thrones." Peter Dinklage is a great actor, without a doubt, disabled or non-disabled, but if you listened to his acceptance speech, he certainly didn't hold up his award and announce, "This is for the disability community!, or any community, for that matter.. Unlike the aforementioned Viola Davis or Jeffery Tambor, the transgender character in "Transparent," he didn't see himself as a spokesperson for anything bigger than his own performance.

Be that as it may – and I'm sure he has his own reasons for this – at least one fifth of the American population tuning in could only feel that as far as television is concerned, they were invisible. Non-existent. Or, like the disabled son up in his own room, playing video games and keeping to himself, simply not present for most family events.

"Why is this!!!?" he says, pounding his fist on the table.

Why, in the year 2015, twenty-five years after the signing of the historic ADA, is there not just one glamourous disabled presenter or more than one disabled nominees among a total of 567 nominations. If the world were fair – which it will never be – then there should be arguably 20% or so nominees with disabilities to roughly approximate the makeup of the audience. That works out to 113.4 disabled nominees.

No, I'm not smoking anything, just trying to get a glimpse of what could be.

Actually, what stood out for me during the whole three-hour brag-a-thon was one startling commercial. It was hard to miss. A group of famous black women – Kerry Washington, Mary J. Blige, and Taraji P. Henson, among them – gather in someone's living room to listen to a right-off-the-computer mix tape and boogie away the afternoon. That kind of well-placed media redundancy – these are the same women up for an Emmy -- is both good marketing and perhaps socially relevant.

As a quick afterthought, the TV commercial business is much more inviting to actors and characters with disabilities than TV programmers. Watch closely. You will see kids in wheelchairs in Target Back To School ads, along with box store and beer spots, among others. Wells Fargo recently hired Kathy Martinez, the former top Labor Department disability chief, as their in-house disability strategist. Look for Wells Fargo ads featuring "our" people in the not-too-distant future.

Just to leave on a high note – okay, not so high -- the upcoming fall TV season, new shows included, is almost completely devoid of prominent characters with disabilities. Only two years ago people were crowing about a kid with CP on "Breaking Bad," or the kid in the chair on "Glee," or the kid with Asperger's on "Parenthood," or Michael J. Fox getting his own sitcom. I like to think of those examples as the new, long-term TV trend and this year as just a misfortunate aberration, an industry-wide creative fumble.

This year the transgender community got its moment in the media sunshine. You can only hope that somewhere in the wings, nervously waiting to be announced, a new star with a disability, or a whole cast of them, will soon be ready to walk or roll out and change the world.

And the Emmy goes to...US!

© 2015 Allen Rucker | Like Allen on Facebook

Purchase Allen's book:
The Best Seat in the House:
How I Woke Up One Tuesday and Was Paralyzed for Life