Quick Question: When Was the Last Time You Saw a Disabled Person on a Major Reality Show?


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If you’re a true trash TV buff, you might be thinking, Wellll, on the last season of The Bachelor…but let me interrupt: As the first-ever deaf contestant, Abigail Heringer was sent packing right before hometowns without ever getting a one-on-one date, despite having received the first impression rose (which, like, never happens). It was highly sus to me—but not that surprising. As a person with multiple sclerosis, I’m all too used to disabled people being overlooked.

But hello, there are some 61 million adults in the U.S. living with a disability. And reality TV is doing itselfand all of us—a disservice by ignoring that.

I mean, sure, some shows have dabbled in representation, like when Kelsey Owens supported her mom with MS on Siesta Key. But too often, sick people find themselves singled out as sob stories or inspiration porn, starting with an emotional photo montage set to tragic music. *Insert eye roll here*

There’s also this outdated yet pervasive perception that disabled people don’t party or aren’t romantic, desirable, or sexy. I can tell you that’s categorically untrue. As I often put it, I’m sick AF and I still like to fuck. We travel and make friends and might even “sell” “real estate” (or whatever they actually do on Selling Sunset). Like, there’s no reason not to have openly disabled people on Summer House. When they’re not drinking, the cast is usually napping or sitting around in their underwear, which is a pretty normal day in my life, tbh.

But it’s not just a matter of casting. It’s also critical to create an equitable on-set environment, including on competition shows. That’s why I took issue with last season’s Project Runway, when contestants made outfits for Paralympic athletes (presumably in an attempt to make the challenge “inclusive”). About halfway through the season, designer Dayoung Kim experienced health issues that were later diagnosed as a nervous system disorder, and she had to withdraw. True inclusivity would have meant modifications like extra time or assistance, but we saw none of that. And it sent the message—to me, at least—that anyone who isn’t able to keep up physically doesn’t have a place in a high-pressure situation. (And yes, I’ve had this kind of ableism statement directed at me IRL. On more than one occasion.)

I want to see reality shows cast disabled people without making it all about their conditions, without any of the inspo garbage about how we’re “so brave” when we’re literally just living our lives. This would make huge strides in normalizing all kinds of disabilities and maybe even eventually help make the world a less shitty place—hold the tragic photo montage.

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