“The worst thing about a disability is that people see it before they see you.”—Easter Seals
Speechless is a new television show on ABC Network that made its debut on September 21, 2016. The show focuses on a main character who is not your typical protagonist—a teenage boy named JJ Dimeo, who has cerebral palsy. Cerebral palsy is a congenital disorder of muscle tone, movement and posture. Accurately showing the real struggles of many with cerebral palsy, JJ is unable to speak and uses a word-and-letter board to communicate, which is why the show is titled “Speechless.” By covering how JJ’s disability affects his family, his community and his own life as his family moves to a new school district so he can be in a school with more resources, the show brings attention to the issues facing disabled people and their families.
This is the first series I have seen in which the disabled main character is actually played by an actor with that disability. The actor who plays JJ is Micah Fowler. Like JJ, he has cerebral palsy which restricts him to a wheelchair and prevents him from communicating by speech. His role in the first episode will leave a delightful smirk on your face as he portrays the trials, expected and unexpected, of his condition. Speechless is listed as a comedy, but I believe it has much more potential. It doesn’t shy away from sensitive topics. At first glance and through public endorsement, the show comes off as your typical family-oriented television show, the one everyone has seen and grown to love, but this one—this one is different. Speechless may seem like an average ABC Family series at first glance, but the idea, the perspective and the meaning this program contains has the potential to make it a great.
People tend to look at a disability as just that—a disability. But inside the word “disability” still lies the word “ability”—the ability to perform, to achieve and to dream. The pilot is an example of such, where JJ’s mother advocates for something people may see as minor—better wheelchair access. One of the other main issues that JJ faces is that in his new school teachers and students alike patronize him when he wants and deserves to be seen as an average person with a full personality, instead of being represented only by his disability. His mother gives reason to see that people who face disabilities should be given a fair shot at success and the environment in which to do so. Those who do not face such a hurdle tend to overlook that idea: that no matter the path given to an individual, they still have the right chose their destiny, whether they are disabled or not.
Speechless gives a warm welcome to a new perspective that may not be such a bad thing to adopt, that disabilities do not define ability. The show includes a loving family, one that supports and encourages while pushing new limits, containing hope through and through. Even from the very first seconds of the show, it focuses in on not obeying the limitations put on you. Why aim for the ceiling when you can aim for the sky, right?
As this show progresses I look forward to seeing our protagonist develop as we watch the struggles of someone who represents a group the majority neglects and misunderstands. Coming from an old school where he had no voice and that hindered his growth instead of nurturing it, I look forward to see where this new step takes him. Maybe in his growing, we as a people can grow too, becoming more aware, more acknowledging and more encouraging. High hopes for you Speechless, very high hopes.