On-Screen Representation

Children’s entertainment properties, particularly television series, are increasingly including characters with visible disabilities—that is, they use wheelchairs, leg braces, or crutches—as part of the main friend group portrayed on screen. They are shown living their everyday lives and participating fully in the group’s activities, modeling inclusion and normalizing disabilities for young viewers.

Some examples:

  • MixMups is a series set to debut in March 2023 on Milkshake! in the U.K., centered on the lives of a group of children who live in a wheelchair-accessible home. They and their assistive pets use creativity and flexible thinking to solve problems. Not only do the characters have physical disabilities, so do the show’s creator and other behind-the-scenes staff. A global licensing program, handled by Raydar Media, will also launch in 2023.
  • Sesame Workshop introduced Ameera in Ahlan Simsim, the version of Sesame Street that airs in the Middle East and North Africa region, in April of this year. The green muppet uses a wheelchair or crutches due to a spinal cord injury. The character will also be featured globally in Sesame Workshop’s Watch, Play, Learn videos that teach children math, science, health, safety, child-protection, and social-emotional issues. Sesame Street has featured characters with wheelchairs in episodes in the past, including Rosita’s father, who was injured in a military deployment.
  • In Alma’s Way, the Fred Rogers Productions series that debuted last October on PBS and is inspired by actress Sonia Manzano’s childhood in the Bronx, main character Alma Rivera’s cousin and friend, Eddie Mambo, has cerebral palsy and wears leg braces. Known for his dance moves, he uses crutches when he has to walk any distance.
  • Paw Patrol debuted Rex in 2020 as the latest pup on the team. He joined in the Season 7 episode “Dino Rescue: Pups and the Lost Dino Eggs.” A Bernese mountain dog and dinosaur expert, he uses a wheelchair for his back legs, along with assistive technology, as he participates with the others in the team’s adventures.
  • Peppa Pig has featured a friend named Mandy Mouse, who was born with legs described as not working very well, since 2019. Using a wheelchair, she not only loves to show off her skill on the recorder but also plays basketball. She is often depicted holding a basketball when she appears in scenes on the show.
  • One of Daniel Tiger’s friends on Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood is Chrissie, the niece of King Friday and Queen Sarah Saturday. She is based on Chrissy Thompson from Mister Roger’s Neighborhood (from which Daniel was spun off), who was Mr. McFeely’s granddaughter and had spina bifida, resulting in her wearing leg braces. On Daniel, Chrissie also uses leg braces and crutches and first appeared on the series in 2013, a year after its premiere on PBS.

These characters with physical disabilities join a number of characters in children’s television that are on the autism spectrum, including Julia on Sesame Street; Dennis on Dinosaur Train; AJ Gadgets on Hero Elementary; Carl on Arthur; and Theo on Thomas & Friends.

Some of these featured characters have bigger roles than others, and the programs deal with their abilities in different ways, some directly and some more indirectly. Several of the characters have appeared on licensed products, especially as part of toy lines and book publishing programs. As for MixMups, its full cast consists of characters with disabilities, and it has a comprehensive licensing program planned.

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