A few weeks ago, the hit show "Glee" started airing the second half of its first season on FOX. It's one of the few shows on television that has taken a character with a disability and completely integrated him within the storyline. Artie, played by 21-year-old Kevin McHale, is a high school student who uses a wheelchair. In his school, and the glee club he's a part of, Artie's disability is never thought of as a big deal. The following is a clip from an episode in which the glee club director has each member use a wheelchair for 3 hours a day in order to put themselves in Artie's wheels and see what life is like for those with a disability.
This clip, and the message the show is portraying, is fantastic. None of the characters are being pushed around by others, Artie is shown as being "just another student," and there's never any excuses made if there's something he can't do. This is the first mainstream show I can remember where a person with a disability is seen as just a part life, just as many of us are in our workplace, school, etc.
However, many in the disabled community are upset that an actor with a disability was not chosen for the role of Artie (McHale is able-bodied). In an article published in USA Today, Gloria Castaneda of the Media Access Office says, "There are very talented performers with disabilities. ... We just don't know what producers are thinking." I know what the producers are thinking. He or she is trying to find the best actor for a specific role. The producer should not be forced to limit himself by solely searching for an actor that uses a wheelchair. Are there actors out there who use a chair? Sure! But that doesn't mean they could sing, dance, and fit this role as well as McHale does. Think about it this way. As much as I don't want to be passed over for a job merely because I use a chair, I also don't want to get a job merely because I use a chair. We can't have it both ways in the disabled community. We can't want special treatment (such as being chosen for a specific acting role), while at the same time push for full assimilation into mainstream society.
It seems that there are some in the disabled community who constantly point out the negative in any situation. We should be celebrating the message sent by "Glee," not criticizing the creators for choosing an able-bodied actor. If we constantly criticize the able-bodied community, even while they are making strides towards equality, what incentive is there for them to continue their efforts? They will start to believe that the disabled community will never be pleased. Because of that, we need to choose our battles wisely, and give credit where credit is due. In the end, baby steps are okay. And what "Glee" is doing is not just a baby step, but a fairly sizable leap towards acceptance of those with disabilities. So good work "Glee," keep it up!