You really have to search, but there are a few disabled performers working on current network and basic cable TV shows at the moment. Some of them even appear on decent programs. I am nothing if not a consumer of popular media, so I’ve pretty much seen them all.
Here are ten you can find on your TV or Megavideo or wherever, either this week or very soon:
1. Zach Anner – Oprah made Zach one of the most famous comedians with cerebral palsy, ever, after she made him beg the internet public for votes so he could win a TV show on her new network, OWN. Then, more embarrassingly, she made him beg Arsenio Hall, Gayle King, and Carson Kressley on Oprah’s Search for the Next TV Star. Second time was a charm: his travel show, Rollin’ around the World with Zach Anner, will air this summer.
2. Chuy Bravo – Are you as sick as I am of professional sycophant Chelsea Handler? Tell it to little person (and former Fantasy Island stunt double) Chuy Bravo, who’s suffered through over 500 episodes as her on-screen sidekick.
3. Robert David Hall – I’ve never gotten through an entire episode of CSI, so I guess maybe that’s why I never noticed the dude with crutches who plays Dr. Al Robbins. But I’m feeling what he told The Hollywood Reporter in an article about the fact that there were just six disabled characters on primetime network shows last fall (of the six, Hall was the only one with a real-life disability):
Hall acknowledged that many activists have mixed feelings about seeing disabled characters played by nondisabled actors — such as Hugh Laurie, the nondisabled actor who walks with a cane on the Fox series “House.”
“Do I think Hugh Laurie is a great actor? You bet,” Hall said. “I love him and I’m glad to see a character — this is me speaking personally — with a disability portrayed. But to some of the more active members in our group, it’s similar to saying, ‘What do you think of that Caucasian actor playing the role of the African-American guy?’ I’m not criticizing actors without disabilities playing disabled characters. I am saying every time that happens, there’s an actor with a disability who loses a slim chance to play a character who he might be.”
4 and 5. Luke Zimmerman and Michelle Marks – On Secret Life of the American Teenager, Tom Bowman is played by Luke, who has Down syndrome, and Tom’s girlfriend Tammy is played by Michelle, who has cerebral palsy. I haven’t actually seen this one, so I can’t really comment, although I will say that I’m not a teenager, nor can I keep secrets very well.
6. James Durbin – He could be voted off your TV any week now (and based on past winners, even if he makes it to the end, few people will care enough to buy the album), but the dude who looks like Adam Lambert on a show that is way past its prime (American Idol) has Asperger’s and Tourette’s, y’all.
8. Marlee Matlin – In addition to being cast as a secondary character on Switched at Birth, the deaf role-hog has so far won a milli on Celebrity Apprentice for the Starkey Hearing Foundation. Props to her for putting up with evil money-grubber Donald Trump, who comes off as a tad condescending toward her in the promos I’ve seen. (I’ll give her more props if and when she calls him on it.)
9. Peter Dinklage – [To be read with a King's English accent] Peter plays outcast Tyrion Lannister, the youngest son of Lord Tywin and Lady Joanna Lannister in HBO’s new medieval epic series, Game of Thrones.
10. RJ Mitte – A castmember of the only show on this list that I’ll actually admit to having seen and liked, RJ has CP, just like his character on Breaking Bad. And like Switched at Birth’s Katie Leclerc, he, as Liz Carr would say, “crips it up a bit” (a.k.a. acts “more disabled” than he would out of character) for the role.
Who’s missing from this list? Let them be known in the comments.