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Speechless: Disability is not an Excuse

Rockville, Md., Sept. 29 – In the season two premiere of Speechless, the DiMeo family is trying to discover new things about themselves as J.J. (Micah Fowler) was away at summer camp. In doing so, the episode had an important theme: Don’t blame your problems on your kid with a disability for “disability is not an excuse.”

Last season introduced viewers to the interesting lives of the DiMeo family, and Kenneth (Cedric Yarbrough) who essentially “speaks” for J.J., who has cerebral palsy and is unable to talk. Fowler has cerebral palsy in real life but is able to talk. Speechless is one of the only shows in television where the actor has a disability in real life.

More than 95 percent of characters with disabilities on television are played by actors without disabilities. Fowler bucks that trend and is one of the rare actors in Hollywood who has a disability, despite the fact that one-in-five Americans has a disability.

In the season two premiere, the Dimeo’s decide not to use J.J.’s disability as an excuse (with the exceptions of parking tickets) to why they do not do certain things. They ask Kenneth tell them “all the madness that they have gotten use to that they don’t see anymore.”

Maya (Minnie Driver), who is normally taking care of all her children’s needs, decides to try a more scheduled routine with time for herself. Jimmy (John Ross Bowie), who is probably the least organized and least put together character (thought that is part of the charm to his character) decides to be on time for work – and reaps the rewards. Dylan (Kyla Kennedy), the youngest of the three siblings, decides to earn money by mowing grass. With his family having their act together, J.J.’s brother Ray (Mason Cook) is lost without having anyone to criticize.

When J.J. returns from summer camp he see that everything is different; however, it does not take long for the family to return to their old ways when they take off on a road trip for J.J. to kiss a girl from camp.

Through typical sitcom humor, the DiMeo family eventually achieves their goal. While their son has cerebral palsy, the activities the family members take are not different from any other sitcom family. In doing so, Speechless provides a window into what it is like for a teenager with a disability and his family. This show is not just comedy; it touches on important conversations.

Speechless airs on Wednesdays on ABC 8:30 p.m. ET. 

Meet the Author

Katie Townes

Katie Townes is a Communications Fellow at RespectAbility and a graduate of City University of New York City College. She wants to break perceived thoughts people might have about a person with a disability. She created a platform for gamers with and without disabilities to come together in a judgement-free environment.

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