10 Movies & TV Shows That Increased Disability Visibility

Photo: FOX/ Getty Images.
This weekend, Me Before You will open to hordes of excited book fans. Featuring a main character paralyzed from the neck down, it adds to the canon of films that portray disabled characters. Film and TV have a history of being less than exemplary when it comes to showcasing diverse characters, and characters with disabilities are no exception. Yet over the years, well-rounded characters who have disabilities, but aren't defined by them, have emerged on screen.
Sometimes they're a main character of a TV show going through most story lines naturally, with just a mention or two of how they explore the unique challenges they face. Occasionally, an entire show will focus on bringing a community of disabled characters to light. Films tend to favor true stories that are dramatized. While they can have a tendency to be maudlin or condescending, some of these films have proven to be sensitive portrayals of men and women struggling with disabilities.
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Whether you're into comedy, drama, or tearjerkers, you can always make room for shows and movies that don't solely feature able-bodied characters. Click ahead for our top 10.
1 of 10
Switched At Birth (2011-2017)

The teen drama about two high school girls who discover they were switched at birth features a main character with severe hearing loss (Daphne, one of the switched kids), and several recurring characters with other disabilities throughout its run. Over the course of the show, they tackled the challenges deaf kids face in mainstream schools, the frustration of well-meaning hearing people trying to speak for them rather than allowing deaf people to be their own advocates, and even featured an entire episode in ASL.
2 of 10
Saved! (2004)

Though Roland (played by Macaulay Culkin) often uses his disability as a punchline, the film does explore his need to be independent as someone in a wheelchair.
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3 of 10
Glee (2009-2015)

Glee didn't always handle all subjects with grace, but there were multiple episodes that really examined Artie's dueling feelings of isolation and empowerment.
4 of 10
The Theory of Everything (2014)

Though Stephen Hawking was already an incredibly well-known figure before the release of this biopic, the movie offered a glimpse not only into the world of someone dealing with a degenerative disease, but how his disability effected his loved ones.
5 of 10
The West Wing (1999-2006)

In early episodes, President Bartlet's MS was mostly present as a secret (or later, as a scandal). But as the disease progressed, the show began to examine how someone, even with all the assistance in the world, could struggle to do their job while dealing with a disability.
6 of 10
Joan of Arcadia (2003-2005)

Since the action of the show took place soon after a car accident that left Kevin (Jason Ritter) paralyzed from the waist down, there was a lot of time spent on his anger and frustration over his lack of mobility. But there were plenty of moments, like the one when he decided to perform comedy at an open mic night, that showed him learning to live with his disability.
7 of 10
The Fault in Our Stars (2014)

Though the uninformed might know this classic tearjerker as the one where the kids have cancer, Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort) lost his leg to bone cancer, and his best friend Isaac (Nat Wolff) lost his eyesight. There's even a great moment that points out that, even among friends, poking fun at someone else's disabilities can be hurtful.
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8 of 10
Covert Affairs (2010-2014)

Auggie, who lost his eyesight while serving in the military, is never seen as a less competent addition to the CIA.
9 of 10
The Intouchables (2011)

Based on a true story, the film focuses on a man paralyzed from the neck down, who forms a friendship with his aide — mainly because he's one of the first people not to regard him with pity due to his disability.
10 of 10
The Way He Looks (2014)

This adorable teen love story hits all the main beats of any adolescent drama, and explores the particular challenges a blind teen would face — from bullies to helicopter parents.
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