Reality television has taken America by storm. It may not often look like the reality we know, but it’s enormous reach and popularity gives it the ability to broadcast messages, both positive and negative, to a diverse group of people. “The Biggest Loser” shows people how to live a healthy lifestyle, “Teen Mom” teaches teenagers that having a baby at 16 can make you famous, and “The Bachelor” demonstrates that people will do almost anything to find love.
At it’s best, however, reality tv has the ability to teach valuable lessons, and we are excited to see the recent inclusion of people with disabilities on reality tv shows. Watching a television program that incorporates the daily challenges faced by people with disabilities promotes awareness by giving viewers a glimpse into lives they otherwise couldn’t imagine.
Here are a few popular examples:
- Deaf actress Marlee Matlin on “The Celebrity Apprentice”
- James Durbin, who has both Tourette’s and Asperger’s syndromes, on “American Idol” [source: https://abc.com/shows/american-idol/contestants/season_10/james_durbin/]
- Heather Mills, who has one prosthetic leg due to an accident, on “Dancing With The Stars”
- Deaf competitor Luke Adams and Zev Glassenberg who has Asperger’s on “The Amazing Race”
- Zach Anner [http://therealzachanner.com/], who has cerebral palsy on Oprah’s “Your OWN Show”
New shows are taking it to the next level by featuring disabilities rather than simply including people who have them. Universal Sports has a new cable series called “Take a Seat,” in which documentary filmmaker Dominic Gill shares a tandem bike with physically challenged partners during a cross-country trip. BBC has a show called “Dancing on Wheels” as well, in which competitors in wheelchairs team up with able-bodied UK celebrities in a dance competition.
Shows like these not only serve to educate people about the lifestyle of those with disabilities, but also inspire others with disabilities through the strength and perseverance of those on the big screen. Sarah Reinertsen realized the impact of her appearance on “The Amazing Race 10” when a stranger recognized her in the street and they were able to bond over her fearlessness despite her prosthetic leg. The man said his friend, a recent amputee, had gained hope from her example. “His friend had been totally depressed, but watching me on the show had totally renewed his hope,” she said. “He thanked me for changing his (friend’s) outlook and his life,” Reinertsen said. “That’s when I realized just how powerful the show really was and that it could help change perceptions and lives.”
Shows like these are giving viewers a valuable dose of reality. We are thrilled to see television used as portal to educate and inspire.