Los Angeles, Jan. 14 – If you had told me that CBS’ decade-long cop show, Blue Bloods, would tackle the issue of disability employment, I would have assumed you were from a parallel universe, but here we are.
In the episode properly titled “Redemption,” Blue Bloods introduces Detective Allison Mulaney, a feisty and well decorated detective paralyzed from the waist down due to an injury sustained in the line of duty. Mulaney is portrayed by Tony award-winning Broadway star Ali Stroker. Stroker’s first critical success came in 2019 when she won a Tony for best supporting actress for her role in Oklahoma! making her the first woman in a wheelchair to win a Tony.
Like the woman portraying her, Detective Mulaney set out to shatter the NYPD’s disability glass ceiling by going toe-to-toe with Frank Reagan (Tom Selleck) in the fight to keep her job as a field detective post-injury.
Detective Mulaney‘s tenacity in ensuring her space in the workplace is one that people with disabilities know all too well. From the beginning of the episode, she used her medal ceremony to advocate to keep her NYPD position.
Throughout the episode, we follow Mulaney as she struggles to convince the New York Police Department that her disability doesn’t define her. Despite constantly being told no, Mulaney‘s determination prevails over the doubts of Reagan and the rest of the department.
People often have preconceptions about what people with disabilities are capable of, especially physical disabilities in a physical world. Detective Mulaney refuses to allow others to define her capabilities. Mulaney’s struggle for acceptance in the workplace is something that Stroker can identify with all too well. As an actor with a disability, Stroker faced unique obstacles breaking into the industry.
“I remember it being very hard when I graduated college and not even getting very many auditions,” she said in an interview with Mashable. “I was like, gosh, they won’t even see me? They won’t even get me in the room? And that to me was very frustrating because it was like I wasn’t even given a chance.”
Characters with disabilities only make up 3.1% of media representation in television, even though we make up 25% of adults, and 95% of the time, it’s portrayed by someone who doesn’t have a disability. Additionally, characters with disabilities are often straight, cisgender, white men. This is why it is so notable that Detective Mulaney was played by Stroker.
Much like Stroker herself, Detective Mulaney took on the frustrations of trying to maintain her place in an industry that doesn’t accept her. She stays true to herself and her fight until they give her a seat at the table.
This episode is a must watch and, in my opinion, a step in the right direction toward nuanced stories of the disability experience, that the community craves to see.