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TV Shows and Movies That Address Disability and Difference

Want to teach kids about empathy without preaching? Add these gems to your watch list

Tina Cha

Published on: February 10, 2021


Shows that leave a lasting impression

In the 2020 Netflix series, “Raising Dion,”​​​​​​ the main character’s best friend, Esperanza (played by Sammi Haney), has brittle bone disease and moves around in a wheelchair. Esperanza’s disability is not the main point of the story, or even the character (Esperanza uses her astute observation skills to help Dion fight a villain). A few years ago it may have been a big risk for a television show to feature a character with a disability. The tide is slowly turning.

GLAAD reported that in 2020, 3.5 percent of broadcast scripted shows included a main character with a disability. A USC Annenberg Inclusion study reports only 2.3 percent of all speaking characters across the 100 top-grossing films of 2019 were depicted with a disability. Meanwhile, the CDC reports as many as 1 in 4 adults in the U.S. have some type of disability.

If you’re looking for ways to talk with your family about differences and disabilities, media can be an accessible entry point. We reached out to Arc of King County, an advocacy group that supports people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, to help compile a list of shows and movies that bring awareness to people with disabilities and differences. 

Use the arrows above the image to see our picks for different age groups.

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