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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 is the VP, Communications and Entertainment & News Media, of RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities so all people with disabilities can fully participate in every aspect of community. As an individual with an acquired nonvisible disability – Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy – she works at the intersection of disability, employment, Hollywood and politics. She regularly conducts trainings on the why and how to be more inclusive and accessible for entertainment executives throughout the industry. Appelbaum partners with studios, production companies and writers’ rooms to create equitable and accessible opportunities to increase the number of people with lived disability experience throughout the overall story-telling process. These initiatives increase diverse and authentic representation of disabled people on screen, leading to systemic change in how society views and values people with disabilities. She has consulted on more than 100 TV episodes and films with A&E, Bunim-Murray Productions, NBCUniversal, Netflix, ViacomCBS, and The Walt Disney Company, among others. She represents RespectAbility on the CAA Full Story Initiative Advisory Council, Disney+ Content Advisory Council, MTV Entertainment Group Culture Code and Sundance Institute’s Allied Organization Initiative. She is the author of The Hollywood Disability Inclusion Toolkit and the creator of an innovative Lab Program for entertainment professionals with disabilities working in development, production and post-production. She is a recipient of the 2020 Roddenberry Foundation Impact Award for this Lab. To reach her, email

1 comment… add one
  • 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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