Micah Fowler, who has cerebal palsy, will be the first star of a sitcom with a disability since Chris Burke played Corky on Life Goes On a quarter of a century ago. Yes, you read that right, there has been no other lead in a sitcom with a disability in the past 25+ years.
There's already a lot written about this series and its trailer, which you can view here:
There is excitement and hope that this series will live up to it's historic potential. Many parents of children with disabilities can relate to Minnie Driver, who is intense in her quest for her son JJ to live the life she believes he is entitled to, and she'll stop at nothing to make this a reality. Others can relate to JJ's siblings, who feel frustrated and often overlooked as their parents devote much of their focus and energy to JJ. And still others will, finally, be able to relate to JJ himself.
Shows that center characters with disabilities, feature actors with disabilities, and tell authentic and informed stories about disability are extremely rare. In fact, 95 percent of all television characters with disabilities are played by abled actors. I am thrilled to "get to know" Micah Fowler in this new role!
I believe that a huge reason for this success will be the show's creator, Scott Silveri, who is far from grasping at straws to figure out how to do this.
Silveri's brother has cerebral palsy and significant cognitive disabilities, so he set out to write a comedy that reflected the kind of family he came from. Interestingly, the “JJ” character initially used a typical Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) device, which allows a person to select icons and words from a screen and have them spoken aloud in a flat, computer-generated voice. But then Silveri met Eva Sweeney, a woman with cerebral palsy who invented her own method of communication as a teenager rather than rely on typical AAC. At 16 she asked her mother to Velcro a laser pointer to a cap, and has been using it since. Silveri was so impressed that Sweeney now has a role as a paid consultant for Speechless. People familiar with AAC may find the technique unorthodox, but in the context of this comedy it should work to keep the story-line and dialogue moving.
I think this one will be a hit, and not just a television hit, but a show that can truly hit the mark with a community so significantly underrepresented on television.
Speechless premieres Wednesday, September 21, at 8:30 ET/7:30 CT on ABC.