According to the Center for Disease Control and Protection (CDC), there are more than 61 million people in America that are living with a disability. This represents 26% of the entire population. Yet when it comes to the characters in Netflix shows, there is a distinct lack of diversity and disability present. Only 2.1% of characters with a spoken part have a disability, 50% of which was a physical disability. Netflix however have dedicated itself to improve how disability is portrayed on screen, as well as actively hiring and training underrepresented communities within the industry. They have also brought some amazing TV shows to our screens, showing how people living with disabilities are living their best lives. 

A Special Show 

Where Netflix has stood out is by bringing well-rounded complex lead characters, living with disabilities to our screens. Special, written and starring Ryan O’Connell, is about a gay man living with Cerebral Palsy, navigating his way through life. Cerebral Palsy is caused by a brain injury at birth or during pregnancy. You can learn more about the condition at the Cerebral Palsy Family Network. Special is moving, funny, poignant and covers issues that haven’t been tackled in a mainstream TV show before, making it not only refreshing but revolutionary. In the show, Ryan is on a journey, moving out of his insular comfort zone and taking a (sometimes uncomfortable) journey towards adulthood. There is a strong message on the show, that no matter where you come from, we’re not all that different. Season 2 of Special premiered in May 2021. 

An Atypical Experience

Atypical has been a runaway success on Netflix, lasting for 4 seasons. The show follows Sam, who is on the autistic spectrum, and his family and friends. We watch Sam go from being an awkward teenager, learning social rules and conventions, to becoming a confident and remarkable adult. Atypical doesn’t shy away from the big issues either, including sex, adultery and drug use, but it does so in a very human way with a big dose of humor. You will also come away from watching Atypical with a newfound appreciation for penguins. They are truly remarkable animals. 

The Future for Netflix

A report that was conducted by the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, which analysed the diversity of Netflix shows, found that the representation of people with disabilities on screen was lacking. In response to this report, Netflix pledged to establish a fund of $100 million to help bring underrepresented communities into the film and television industries. The money will be for hiring and training new talent. Now that mainstream shows like Atypical and Special have come to an end, there may well be some new shows on the horizon featuring characters living with disabilities. 
There have been some amazing and diverse TV shows on Netflix in the last few years. Hopefully, with a substantial investment, there will be a lot more on our screens soon. 
Betty Bugle