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The Rookie’s Casual Inclusion of Learning Disabilities Fights Stigmas

Eric Winter as Tim Bradford wearing a police uniform with badge on The Rookie

Eric Winter as Tim Bradford on The Rookie

Los Angeles, Oct. 7 – For a highly regarded police officer, stating that you may have a learning disability may seem tough to do. But by including this as a new storyline on The Rookie, ABC primetime is highlighting a very common disability.

When Officer Tim Bradford (Eric Winter) orders Lucy Chen (Melissa O’Neil) to read him a newly assigned book, telling her “I memorize best when I hear it,” Chen hesitantly tells him, “you might have a learning difference.”

“Technically it’s classified as a disability, but it really just means that you’re wired to process information differently,” she continued. “In your case, through hearing, rather than reading.”

“I don’t have a learning disability,” Bradford was adamant in his response.

Chen pointed out how his ex-wife helped him in the academy, reading materials to him. Bradford ends the discussion.

However, later in the episode, she brings him a recording she did of the book for him. She tells him that his ex-wife said he is a kinesthetic learner, meaning he needs to listen while being active in order to internalize what he is learning.

This is important because negative stigmas surround the idea of having a disability. Individuals with learning disabilities can have average or above average intelligence, and the term does not include a learning problem that is primarily the result of another cause, such as intellectual disabilities or lack of educational opportunity.

Chen helps Bradford read the book, understanding that he processes information in a different way than others, needing to listen, rather than read, and being active while doing so. Parents watching The Rookie may learn to have a better understanding of their children’s learning disabilities – and how they can help them succeed.

While The Rookie is not known for including disability plot lines, it did employ a writer with cerebral palsy – David Radcliff – during the first season, and included Kurt Yaeger, an actor who is an amputee, as Graham Ross, a police officer who lost his legs in an accident in a March 2019 episode. The show cast authentically, as Yaeger himself is an amputee actor.

More than four million viewers watched the second season premiere. The casual inclusion of disability, like Bradford’s learning disability, is vitally important, as viewers tune in to the show week after week and are invested in the characters. That means they care about various aspects of the characters’ lives and are paying attention to how Bradford’s learning disability affects his studying – leading to real-life consequences and applications for viewers with learning disabilities and family members with learning disabilities. After all, what we watch on television influences how we act in real life.

The Rookie airs on ABC on Sundays at 10:00 p.m. ET.

Meet the Author

Lauren Appelbaum
Lauren Appelbaum

Lauren Appelbaum is the Vice President, Communications, of RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities for and with people with disabilities, and managing editor of The RespectAbility Report, a publication at the intersection of disability and politics. Previously she was a digital researcher with the NBC News political unit. As an individual with an acquired invisible disability - Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy - she writes about the intersection of disability, employment, Hollywood and politics. From entertainment professionals to presidential campaigns, journalists to philanthropists, she conducts trainings on the why and how to be more inclusive and accessible. Behind the scenes in the entertainment industry, Appelbaum engages decision makers and creatives to improve the quality and number of authentic, diverse and inclusive presentations of people with disabilities on TV and film so audiences can see people with disabilities as vital contributors in America and around the world. She and her team have consulted on projects with Amazon, Disney/ABC Television, NBCUniversal, Netflix, and The Walt Disney Studios, among others. Appelbaum also enriches the pool of disabled talent in Hollywood by nurturing and connecting them to those who can assist with their careers, both on the creative and business sides of the industry. She is the author of The Hollywood Disability Inclusion Toolkit, which was created to help entertainment professionals to be as inclusive of people with disabilities as possible, and the creator of an innovative Lab Program for entertainment professionals with disabilities working behind the camera. To reach her, email

1 comment… add one
  • Avatar Kelly Oct 17, 2019, 10:32 am

    I just want to say I noticed that they included this and am now researching it to see if maybe my son is this type of learner. thank you for adding it to the script!

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