Representation of Cerebral Palsy in Media

RepresentationAs of late, the importance of representation in the media has been a popular rallying cry for minorities of all types. Women call on the Bechdel test to determine the level of female representation in movies and TV shows. Last year, the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite drew attention to the dearth of people of color eligible to win the prestigious acting award.

Calling for better minority representation has also extended to those with disabilities. TV shows like Degrassi and Glee have depicted young people with physical handicaps who participate in everyday life with friends who care about them, include them, and are sensitive to their limitations. Arab comedian Maysoon Zayid has performed all over the globe doing stand-up related to her life with cerebral palsy. In her TED talk, she described how she auditioned for the role of a person with cerebral palsy but was turned down in favor of an able-bodied actor. When she asked why she wasn’t chosen, the casting director told her they were worried she wouldn’t be able to perform some of the actions for which the script called. This baffled her — if she, a woman with cerebral palsy, couldn’t perform the actions of the script, maybe the script didn’t accurately portray life with cerebral palsy.

Some children’s authors and illustrators have decided to take the battle for representation upon themselves and pen books about children with special needs and disabilities to help young people learn the facts about handicaps and normalize the idea of having friends and peers who look and behave differently. Especially for cerebral palsy, which can vary in severity and symptoms, representation in children’s literature can help able-bodied children recognize and normalize the appearance of the disability in their fellow classmates.

Shaila Abdullah wrote a book in 2014 called My Friend Suhana: A Story of Friendship and Cerebral Palsy to help children understand how to be a good friend to someone living with CP. In the book, an able-bodied narrator Aanyah shows how she loves and cares for her nonverbal best friend Suhana, who lives with CP, and how Suhana has just as many abilities as disabilities. The author and her 10-year-old daughter (on whom the narrator is based) volunteer weekly at a center for children with special needs, so the two of them wanted to demonstrate in a book that love and friendship transcends disability. This heartwarming books is a must-read for any child to help foster compassion and understanding.

Aaron Philip also wrote an autobiographical story called This Kid Can Fly: It’s about Ability (NOT Disability about his own life with Cerebral Palsy. A 14-year-old African American native of the Bronx, Aaron is a disability activist and advocate for helping the general public understand the reality of living with CP and how to help others with the condition. His memoir, written with the help of Tonya Bolden, delineates his life story and how he has embraced his different life.

By including books with a healthy representation of children with disabilities in schools, libraries, and homes, we can help normalize CP and make children more open and compassionate.  

Community Rallies Together To Build Accessible Playground For A Student With Cerebral Palsy

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Douglas Road Elementary in Bedford township has a brand new playground, inspired by Braden Gandee, 9, who has Cerebral Palsy.

NBC News first introduced the Gandee brothers’ story in June 2014 when the pair set off — with Hunter carrying Braden on his back — from their home in Temperance, Michigan, and walked forty miles to the University of Michigan’s Ann Arbor campus to raise awareness about cerebral palsy. Along the journey, people cheered them on.

The story of Braden and his brother Hunter made national news with what they called the “CP Swagger.”

All that attention brought generous donations from individuals across the country, including from teams of engineers who offered to build a new playground for the community, accessible to people suffering from disabilities.

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Braden Gandee always had a simple dream: to play at recess alongside his classmates.

“I just had to sit back and watch them [friends] have fun,” said Braden “I really wanted to do what they did.”

With the help of dozens of volunteers, including his big brother, Braden and all his classmates can now play together.

“Before at recess, Braden was only able to do a few things: ride his power chair around the blacktop or use his walker,” Hunter Gandee, Braden’s brother said. “He had one handicap accessible swing.”

But now the possibilities seem endless.

“It’s just a good feeling,” Braden said. “Now I can go out and play with my friends.”

Kids with all different abilities can set sail on the new pirate themed, inclusive playground set.

“What’s really cool about it, is that Braden is going to be able to play with his friends,” Hunter told NBC. “It’s got special equipment he can use with his friends and he’s going to have so much fun.”

“3 weeks ago it was a dirt pile and an empty field,” Donnie Stevens, the president of the Parent Teacher Association at Douglas Road Elementary said.

The playground idea started some 18 months ago. The PTA spearheaded the fundraising after being inspired by the Gandee’s.

“The moment it became reality is when you see Hunter walking with Braden down that long hallway,” Stevens said.

He says the community really rallied around the effort, donating time and money to make it all possible.

“Piece by piece we got to where we’re at now,” he said.

The Gandee’s hope this will encourage other school districts and neighborhoods and most importantly educate people about Cerebral Palsy.

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