Five Shows that Shift the Stereotypes of Disability

People with disabilities make up a significant part of our population, but that is not always reflected in the movies and TV shows we watch. And until recently, the roles reflecting the lives of people with disabilities have not often been realistic or positive.

Fortunately, that is beginning to change. From sitcom series to reality shows to full-length films, more pop culture productions are including people with disabilities as complex characters that go beyond stereotypes.

Here’s a short list of interesting, entertaining, and discussion-worthy shows that shift the stereotypes of disability:


Speechless follows the challenges, both humorous and serious, of a family with three children. The oldest is in high school, is smart and witty, and has cerebral palsy. He communicates with a laser pointer and word board. Zack Anner, this year’s keynote speaker at the Breaking Barriers Conference, writes for the show, and his humor and authenticity shine through. Three seasons of Speechless are available on ABC Online and on Hulu.


Born This Way

Born This Way takes reality TV in a new direction. The show follows seven young adults with Down Syndrome, each with unique ambitions, passions, and talents. Many reality shows focus on the drama of petty squabbles and personal flaws, but Born This Way takes a fresh approach. It’s still a reality show, but the seven friends hash out disagreements without the drama, and support each other through their challenges. The first season is available on A&E.



Atypical is a Netflix series that lets viewers glimpse inside the head of the main character, Sam Gardner. Sam is a high school senior who has autism, and lives with his quirky, overprotective family. While the show has been criticized for not including more actors and writers with autism, it’s also been recognized for capturing the experience of sensory overload in a way that people without autism can grasp.



Neurotypical is a documentary that follows three people with autism: a four-year-old girl named Violet, a teen-aged  boy named Nicholas, and a grown woman named Paula. Through each story the film explores how they live in and adapt to the neurotypical world, and the unique strengths they bring into that world. Neurotypical can be streamed on Amazon.



Radio is a classic movie from 2003.  It’s based on a true story about the friendship between a high school football coach and a young man with intellectual disabilities. The story explores how their relationship enriched both their lives, and brought more compassion and inclusion to the community. Available on Netflix, Amazon, and iTunes.