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12 Shows and Movies That Feature Disability

BY KELLY DAWSON

MAY 6, 2024


As we get closer to the celebration of Disability Pride Month we want to highlight some of Netflix writer, Kelly Dawson, shows to watch. This original article was published on May 6th in observance of Global Accessibility Day, May 16th.


For the 1 billion people on the planet with disabilities, access is essential for inclusion. If a disabled person cannot reliably use public transportation, go to school, easily navigate a store, work, or be comfortably seated at a restaurant, then their life is much smaller than it should be — and the rest of society is diminished, too. The same is true of the digital world and the communities within it, which is the focus of Global Accessibility Awareness Day, taking place this year on May 16. 


Storytelling also benefits from increased access and inclusion. The wide range of experiences seen on screen can provide insight and perspective and prompt deeper conversations around more diversity IRL. 


In keeping with the mission of Global Accessibility Awareness Day, here are 12 shows and movies to watch featuring disability within a wide range of universal experiences: ambition, friendship, dedication, love, and more. You can find even more great stories on Netflix here


All the Light We Cannot See

Based on the Pulitzer Prize–winning 2014 novel by Anthony Doerr, All the Light We Cannot See is a four-part limited series following Marie-Laure, a blind French teenage girl (played by a blind actor, newcomer Aria Mia Loberti) who sends out forbidden radio broadcasts during the tail end of World War II. She and her father, who worked as a locksmith at a museum in Paris, flee the city after it surrenders to the Nazi regime and find shelter at her uncle’s home in Saint-Malo — secretly concealing a diamond called the Sea of Flames that Marie’s dad took from the museum. Werner, a German teenager, is listening to Marie’s broadcasts as a radio operator for the Nazis, knowing that her storytelling is putting her in danger. 


Love on the Spectrum

In the decades since “finding love on reality television” first emerged as a force of entertainment, it’s taken many forms. But it rarely broaches the topic from the perspective of disability directly, which is why Love on the Spectrum stood out when it premiered in Australia in 2019Its success spawned an American version three years later, which currently has two seasons. This show follows the lives of love-seeking singles experiencing a range of neurodiversities — including autism, dyslexia, and ADHD — across different age groups and identities. By showing the cast’s personalities alongside the intimate details of their disabilities, Love on the Spectrum follows the familiar rulebook of dating shows with an added and oftentimes misunderstood layer of complexity. 


Forgive Us Our Trespasses

A young boy with a limb difference is living at a time when hundreds of thousands of people with disabilities are being murdered by Hitler’s regime. When Nazis arrive at his door, he has to fight to survive. This short film manages to create an immersive dramatic experience in all of 13 minutes, and, while this is a work of fiction, it’s based on the very real horrors disabled people — including children — experienced during World War II.


Deaf U

In this reality series about Deaf and hard of hearing students at bilingual (ASL and written English) Gallaudet University in Washington, DC, ,some of the students are from deaf families who use ASL, while others were not raised within a signing community.  Regardless of their cultural and linguistic upbringing, like any undergrads, they’re all enmeshed in new social situations: friends, crushes, lovers, not lovers, and maybe lovers but we’re not sure. There’s a casualness to this show that likely stems from the cast’s overall shared reality. The result? The audience is thrown into an almost immediate intimacy on screen, where individual experiences are prominent and Deaf culture is center stage. 


All Together Now

This heartwarming, yes-you’re-going-to-cry teen movie centers around high school senior Amber Appleton as she strives toward a goal of attending Carnegie Mellon University despite experiencing some very difficult situations, including homelessness, abuse, and alcoholism. Through it all, Amber’s friends keep her motivated and support her (while supplying some mood-lifting laughs). Within her tight-knit group are two friends who have disabilities and drive around in an adaptive car. 


Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution

In 1951, a summer camp for disabled youth opened in the Catskills Mountains in New York as a place for friendship, fun, and a little romance. But Camp Jened’s built-in inclusivity turned out to have bigger implications for its tight-knit campers, particularly when a group of them moved to Berkeley, California, and learned that inclusion could be the spark behind political activism. Watch this Oscar-nominated documentary if you don’t know the history behind the Americans with Disabilities Act and the groundbreaking work these activists did to increase equality for future generations. 


The Healing Powers of Dude

Noah is an 11-year-old with an anxiety disorder who’s about to start middle school in this family-friendly series. To help with the big transition, his parents get him Dude, an emotional support dog who shares his thoughts on their daily lives with the audience. The show also features Noah’s friend Amara, who uses a wheelchair. And considering that less than 1% of children’s television portrays characters with disabilities, this level of inclusion is a major win. 


Raising Dion

Calling all sci-fi lovers. In Raising Dion, a series based on Dennis Liu’s short film and comic book series of the same name, widowed mom Nicole discovers her son has superpowers. Alongside her late husband’s best friend, Pat, she tries to keep Dion’s powers a secret from the public while protecting him from enemies. Dion also has ADHD and chronic asthma, and his best friend, Esperanza, has osteogenesis imperfecta. While Dion and Esperanza trust and help each other, they also have conversations around accessibility and support for disabled people without “making it weird.”


Special

For those who are looking for a fun-yet-introspective series that’s geared toward grown-ups, turn to Special. Based on the memoir of actor and writer Ryan O’Connell, a gay man with cerebral palsy, the show follows his character as he learns to accept himself and go after the relationships and career he wants. This show cuts through stereotypes by using humor, even in difficult situations. 


Atypical

This comedy-drama series, which has four seasons, focuses on Sam Gardner as he navigates his teenage years with autism. Sam’s therapist, Julia, tells him that people who have autism can date, which encourages him to get out there and try — even though he has no idea what he’s doing, and his family isn’t quite sure if they’re comfortable with his budding romantic life yet. Atypical shows the many ways its characters live with grace. It can be found in parents who give themselves permission to let go and in friends who help each other navigate new experiences. Most importantly, grace can appear when we step outside our comfort zones, even when it’s scary. Nearly everyone who’s ever been a teenager can relate to that. 


Maria Bamford: Old Baby

A comedy special that finds wry humor within the very real experience of mental illness and depression is the most rewarding part of Old Baby. So is the skill comedian and actor Maria Bamford exhibits alongside her musings on pop culture and social norms. As numerous audiences take in her set, and viewers get to watch her delivery improve, Bamford shows the power and self-confidence that comes from claiming your truth. 


My Beautiful Broken Brain

In November 2011, filmmaker Lotje Sodderland was living and working in London when she had a stroke. She initially lost the ability to read, write, and speak — a condition known as aphasia. In My Beautiful Broken Brain, she documents her recovery, and the process of rebuilding her life.. People may experience a change in health at any point in their lives, and Sodderland’s intimate and honest perspective shows how jarring the transition can be at first, and how she moves forward 


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