Transcript: “Hi everyone, this is Ashley Jacobson I’m a disability rights attorney, as well as a disability counselor and assessment specialist, a disabled woman. And this is the Legally Abled Podcast.
I mentioned that one of the things I was really excited about doing with the podcast is reviewing media that involves the disability community in some way shape or form. Historically, TV and movies have gotten disability wrong. And so I’m really thrilled that lately, there has been a push for disabled writers creators, producers and actors to be more involved in TV and movies. I think especially with streaming services, this is allowed more diverse content to reach the masses.
And one thing that I love with the show I’m going to talk about today is that it talks about disabled adults. Often when you see disability in the media, it involves kids, and then the non disabled community doesn’t have a full picture of what it’s like to live with disability as an adult. And so they might not see disabled people dating getting married boating like all of these things that non disabled adults do.
And when they don’t see that in the media, and they’re not hanging out with disabled people in their social circles, they might not realize that we’re a lot like everybody else. And so, the show I’m going to talk about today is special on Netflix, it’s such an excellent show. It’s for adults, I would say, it has adult themes in it. So if you’re listening to this podcast and kids around being put in headphones. And I would recommend watching it first before you have, especially like young children, watching it, But I wanted to talk about the show special because it has one season already the new season comes out, may 20. Very soon. It’s based on a book that was written by Ryan O’Connell, who is one of the executive producers writers he’s the main actor and he has cerebral palsy.
And I love how funny the show is, and I also love how it touches on intersectionality. Because, Ryan is a gay disabled man and he’s learning how to navigate this new season in his life, where he’s starting a new job, and fading and he’s putting himself out there more and making new friends at work and pushing himself to be more independent and even move out on his own. And it does all of this with such humor that I love.
So I’m going to dive into season one episode one. The title of it is Cerebral LOLzy, like Cerebral Palsy but with LOL, which is great. And there’s such a brilliant opening the main character Ryan so it’s the same name as Ryan O’Connell and but Ryan is a young white man. He’s about medium height and builds he’s not he’s wearing these really trendy super cool glasses and he’s walking along listening to headphones, happy as can be, and falls.
And as he falls, he gets up and keeps going. And I say, a pretty young kid, maybe like seven or eight walks up to him and asks if he needs help if you need him to go get his parents, and the character says no and just start swapping way we can send your walking funny you need to go to the hospital. He and Ryan stops and walks back and says, “Oh, it’s, it’s not my fault I had a thing. And it’s disability resulting from damage to the brain before, during, or after birth” and the kid start screaming and runs away.
And it’s such a classic, really funny well written scene. Because so often, kids especially have their first interaction with somebody with a specific disability and they assume that they need help or there’s something seriously wrong that they need to step in and get a parent to assist with, and, you know, it’s also just for me I could relate to the following sighing and getting up, because there are many things throughout the day where I might lose balance have muscle weakness, have my pain, get worse and be like, “Oh, here we go.”
So it just really touched on how disability can just become even the things that are hard and annoying can become a normal part of our day-to-day life and we just keep it going. And so then, the next scene in the shovel Ryan’s with at the time I wasn’t sure if it was a personal trainer physical therapist, I think it was a physical therapist type of guy. He’s white and bald. He’s stretching Ryan’s leg out, and he’s explained to the trainer or the physical therapist what happened. And the guy says, people don’t really understand your disability, it looks different on everybody which is true.
And then, one of the first signs that we’d be touching on dating in the show and sexuality is when in this scene Ryan is admiring another person’s backside in the facility where he’s getting the physical therapy, and the therapist is something like say that for grinder, and that’s when we learned that Ryan is day and I love how the show in the first one minute 40 seconds hits on disability and sexuality and a really authentic way, and doesn’t hide that at all. really is upfront about it, which is great because that’s the reality if you’re an adult with a disability.
Sometimes on disabled people think, “Oh, you don’t date or you don’t go on dating apps,” and that’s not the case. And so, I just really appreciated that from the start they touched on dating and disability and sexuality. And then, in this same scene you see, I’m still getting over Covid so if you hear me coughing. That’s why, but in the same scene. Ryan says something that I think a lot of disabled people can really relate to and he says, sometimes we wish I were more disabled like I’m not able bodied enough to be cool in the mainstream world, but I’m not disabled enough to be cool in the disabled or the PT world, and his physical therapist says you’re lucky, privilege and you need to get over it.
And Ryan says it’s hard out here for again. And I just thought that was so funny.
That he responded like that but it also touched on how in the disability community. There’s such diversity when it comes to disability type of symptoms and how it can be affected by things like access to resources medication and therapies and treatment, education, and sometimes it’s easy as human beings to get competitive with one another, or to compare to other people situations. And so, for example, I know, living with autoimmune disease.
There are times when my symptoms are things where I’m feeling internally, but other people aren’t seeing. And other times, there are things I’m feeling internally, and people are seeing because I’m having an tremors like tremors muscle weakness, I’m using a cane. But there are people who have disabilities where they are never passing as able bodied. And so for example if I’m in an interview, or a meeting somebody over zoom, or video conferencing. They might not realize right away that I have a disability. And so these differences among us and the disability community are great, were intended to be just as diverse as the non disabled world, but it is sometimes, easy to compare and say I wish I fell more into this certain category or this community because I feel that would be better understood.
And we all know that people say the grass is always greener on the other side. There are pros and cons to each symptom that you might have. Nobody is more or less part of the disability community if their disability symptoms don’t more or less effect them on a certain day. And I know all of that and still sometimes we feel like we’re misunderstood, even within the disability community.
So again, this is the first few minutes of the show, and they’re talking about disability dating sexuality identity, within and outside of the disability community. And then suddenly, as Ryan’s leaving the physical therapy session, you start to see. Ryan, the person’s act acting chops, the physical comedy that he does on the show is amazing.
It’s something that you don’t often see with disabled characters, usually because traditionally in the media they didn’t feel like writers and directors didn’t feel comfortable poking fun, and having like these comedic elements.
But as he’s leaving. He gets just suddenly hit by a car. And this car accident is something that repeatedly comes up throughout season one. And it’s a source of comedy in a sense where of course if you get hit by a car, it’s not usually very funny, it could be very serious but Ryan gets hit any false, again, and he fractures and elbow and Josephs first car accidents goes pretty chill.
And, but then as the show goes on, you see how people just assume that has cerebral palsy symptoms are from the car accident and the assumptions that they make from that are classic, classic non disabled people comments and I say that with love, sometimes. Sometimes people without disabilities, truly just make natural assumptions that they’re not intending to be insulting about. But anyway we’ll get into that later.
So the next thing Ryan and his mom are hanging out around the house and he’s in the bathroom and he’s shooting himself and he cuts himself and his mom is right around the corner and starts like blogging with the tissue where he’s kind of space. Ryan explains that he’s excited to start his internship at egg yolk, which is that kind of millennial site that publishes funny articles and such.
And his mom says, but what about your CPE your cerebral palsy, they’re going to ask you to do these really difficult things like facts and print and Ryan jokes. Well, the thing no one’s had to access the 90s. And, you know, it’s funny that one faxing and printing to people of a certain generation might seem like really difficult things, whereas nowadays. They’re more common, like, well, not the faxing but the printing is more commonplace and emailing and taping all of these things that weren’t so common back in the day and so it’s just funny that his mom jokes about that. But then it’s also kind of hinting a little bit too, when parents, raise a child with a disability, they’re used to advocating for them and stepping in and helping them when they are themselves, and preparing them for these life situations and Ryan is really branching out on his own and you see that as an episode goes on.
But it makes really funny jokes, his mom like jokes about him being unpaid and it was like that’s rude. And he says it’s time for him to branch out because the kid died in a car accident, his obituary would have been Bleak Lively. And so there’s a lot of really great writing. Brian, we learn at this point is 28 years old, and he feels like he just wants to do more. You know I think a lot of people with disabilities can relate to this. I know when I was in college is when I acquired disability. And I was it was right before my, my senior year really not it was formally diagnosed. But in grad school I was learning how to adapt to disability while going to get my masters in counseling people with disabilities, and learning things like about disabled identity and culture.
And I had those feelings like am I going to be able to do what I want to do and I want to branch out I want to have a career and I don’t know exactly what that’s going to look like, but I know I need to go for it and push myself in a way that’s appropriate for me and my disability. And so I could really relate to that with Ryan.
The show cuts to Ryan at egg row, which is that website that he works for and his supervisor is demanding viral content. And so, Ryan walks in and his supervisor sees him, kind of walking in with a little bit of a limb, and she says sorry hon cedar Sinai is around the corner and cedar Sinai. For those who don’t know, is a hospital, medical center, and he explains that now he’s actually entered and he still does it. And so, the supervisor is asking for a funny story and Ryan provides kind of a cutesy funny thing, and the supervisor puts him on male duty and so he’s like, oh, shoot, like I don’t I, my first day, my first meeting, and I was put on meal duty.
And there are some complications to him being on the Ltd, with his cerebral palsy, but in this meeting before we get to him opening the mail, his coworker who is this really funny outgoing smart. Open appearing to be I think she’s Indian American woman, I would say she’s probably in her mid to late 20s, also on the show. She’s a writer gets a ton of traffic on her articles, she was really successful but these articles are super open about like female genitalia. I will say, and so she essentially because she gets so many hits on her articles for the website.
She pushes back on the supervisor, more than most people who work at a globe and it’s really very funny and integrated example of, you know, a really strong funny, talented woman, not taking crap in the workplace. But anyways, his coworker who we don’t know her name at this point. But she explained to Ryan that the supervisors, natural thing is exploiting the personal stories for page views.
And she says it’s really scary to write about it but it can be healing once you own it, no one can take anything away from you. And so, Ryan doesn’t know what he’d write about because he says his life is so boring, which, again, is very poignant because non disabled people might think that living with disability is so traumatic and devastating always, and it’s always terrible, but this just shows that when you live with a disability, you know, disabled life can be just as boring as non disabled life. It’s just a different experience.
And so during this week I was hit by a car, and his coworker assumes that his disability is from that and, of course, and he and she was like what happened, expecting this devastating car accidents story. And he says, oh, it just grace my elbow and she looks so confused that he doesn’t you know maybe walk the way he does because of the car accident.
But then she doesn’t really push it too much. Very accurate. Sometimes when you share an injury or an illness or any other form of disability. People feel uncomfortable sometimes asking more questions and so there can be these awkward silences sometimes. But that being said don’t feel like you need to over share about your disability. I’ve had moments where I felt like I needed to over share. And sometimes I regretted it and sometimes I didn’t, but I just realized that if other people are uncomfortable with what I share about my disability that’s their problem and not mine.
Anyway, Ryan returns to work, and his supervisor confronts him about how she sees him opening the mail. And he is really trying to open the envelope, and it’s difficult for him because of dexterity with his hands. And it’s an even when he’s trying to open it and when his supervisor confronts him about like Why aren’t you opening the mail. Right. And he says, I have a dexterity issue and she goes over you homeschooled.
And it’s just, again, perfect writing on the show on how disability can be misunderstood and how symptoms that were used to talking about all the time like dexterity and fine gross motor skills and mobility and accessibility. These things that can affect come up often in our daily lives. Sometimes I do this we’re all talk about it, because it’s just another thing it’s just another time mobility is brought up it’s just another time accessibility is something that needs to be addressed.
And then I’ll forget sometimes that non disabled people don’t know these terms. But then the co worker apologizes for the supervisor and it’s like, oh, it’ll be fine, like don’t worry about the supervisor being a jerk, and not understanding it’ll be okay. The show then goes to Ryan, who he’s at home, and is practicing opening mail with a letter opener over and over again. This reminded me of a lot of things that I went through. Prior to becoming a lawyer, especially.
I have talked on my social media a little bit about how I was really. I wanted to be very prepared for when I would be in a courtroom. And what that would be like with my team with getting your security at the courtroom, with feeling comfortable in a courtroom with accessing the bench and all of these things that are already it wasn’t going to court for anybody can be intimidating.
And so when I was in law school I wanted to make sure I felt as comfortable as possible and that I knew what accommodations, I needed, and was entitled to when I would go to court. And so every Wednesday. I would sit in judge Garcia’s courtroom in Lansing, Michigan. And he had invited at our law school orientation anybody to sit in and observe. And so I decided to do that and I brought a couple new friends with me most of the time. And we would sit and we would watch and observe the cases and learn about the different procedures, and gained some confidence in that environment.
But for me, I was really practicing, in my mind, and then at home, navigating these situations years before I was in a courtroom.
So, I can relate to Ryan going home and practicing opening these envelopes over and over again and just wanting to fit in at work, and not have disability become another thing that you have to explain when you’re working, and just also trying to get your work done at one of the law firms they worked at.
I had a boss who, when they hired me they didn’t know a lot about, you know, me and my disability and my physical differences. And I had on after I got the job I had a really honest conversation with them about the accommodations that I was entitled to. And how I could still do the essential functions of the job but they didn’t handle all of it very well but I stayed at that job for a while. And one of the things that was difficult was this attorney, really wanted the other attorneys to do things exactly the same way that he did. And as a disabled woman, and I know that there are times when you have to do things especially in the law that you have to do steps one through 20, and there’s no way to change those steps from being required and but there still may be ways that you can adapt, get the job done.
In the same effectiveness level as your boss or your coworkers, but just in your unique way because the environment is inaccessible or discriminatory. So one of the things that I had to deal with at this job was the employers wanted everyone to win meetings with clients sketch out this diagram. And I knew that with my hand tremors that that was going to be difficult immediately. And so one thing that I did was I went home and I had spent hours creating this diagram on the computer, so that instead of sketching it out.
It could be printed with icons and charts and everything the same exact content as when you’re writing it in front of the client and explaining it to a client, but it’s a printed out resource so the client can also use and take with them if they’d like. And we could use with other clients. And I just remember when I first brought it up. I was really nervous about it, and I spent a lot of time working on it. And to my employers credit he did allow me to use that and then you should have allowed me to use it and he did.
He wasn’t doing me a favor by allowing me to make the environment accessible. But at first he was like “Well I prefer if you can hand write it.” To do that, because then it shows the clients that you just know these things off the off the top of your head and as you’re writing out but they, I guess think that you’re smarter, or something like, and but I pushed back against that and honestly, I stand by the diagram. I think the diagram’s great.
And even though I don’t work for them anymore. I would do it all over again, and I still think the diagram was the right way to go. But I’m a little biased, probably on that. But I’m also professionally equipped to assess that anyway. So, back to the show Ryan is practicing opening now as mom says, “You don’t need to learn that and you said yes I do, because I don’t know how to do basic shape like open mail.”
She’ll give you a break and you can both focus on pitching articles. And he says, I don’t think anyone will be interested in the time I ditch school to go mini golfing with my mom. His mom goes. That was so fun, and he looks at her seriously with a smile on his face and, like, I know those corn dogs they sell they’re better than they need to be. And so his mom kind of recommends that he should write about his CP. And he was like No, my whole life. My CP has been the main course, when it really needs to be an appetizer taken off the menu, and his mom says your disability is part of you.
It’s what makes you any cuts and and so special, I know. And so, one thing I don’t know if I touched on this before, but his memoir, Ryan O’Connell, who’s the actor and the writer and executive producer of the series, his memoirs called I’m special and other lies we tell ourselves.
And so that’s kind of what this show is based on. And it’s the special term is something I talk a lot about on my disability advocacy work online because oftentimes the term special needs, is used by really well intentioned parents who want their children who have disabilities to be looked at as well rounded individuals who are in their words quote unquote more than just their disability, but that messaging can be very damaging. And not only do other kids tend to use special and special needs. And the special buss or the short buss, or phrases like that to bully disabled kids. But, disability, it teaches that disability is this kind of extraordinary strange experience of being other and different from the norm when really disability is the most normal human experience especially as we age and so we in the disability community.
I tend to prefer people say, just disabled or disability, rather than special needs are special because it’s a weighted term that special word. So in the show. Ryan returns to work sees a supervisor and says he has an idea about what he can write about but it’s really personal, and as supervisor cuts them off and starts apologizing and saying, I was like, essentially, really rude to you yesterday
I was just told that you’re hit by a car, and as a fellow victim and then goes oh you were hit by a car too. And the supervisor is like “No, but we all could be,” and starts kind of picking on the coworker Samantha who gets picked on by a lot of people. And she says, “Especially Samantha. It all makes sense now the mail and your sad little limp.”
And then goes oh no my lip is actually kind of and a supervisor custom audiences are you ever going to get better, or is this just like it for you. And this question are you ever going to get better, or what’s wrong with you, or what happened, or things that I do get quite a bit from people, not just people who don’t know me. But you know, colleagues and old professors and things like that. And it’s a difficult question one because it’s asking for personal private confidential, often medical information.
And so sometimes when people are like, oh, what’s wrong with you. I want to be like, what’s wrong with you. Let me look at your medical records, and then I’ll discuss mine with you. And just because I get asked that a lot especially if I’m using a mobility like a team. And so anyway. This question is really complicated when she’s like are you ever going to get better as it’s just like it for you because the disabled experience, is it just like, it’s not. Are you stuck with this horrible disabled body and experience? Coworker Kim says, “I hope you don’t mind [I told her] I couldn’t let her come down on you for something you couldn’t do.” He says, “It’s fine.” His supervisor says he needs to write about getting hit by a car, Ryan says, “Absolutely, let the healing begin.” LOL. Ryan sits back, looking at his computer, and smiles.
That wraps up season one episode one of Special on Netflix! Again, the new season comes out May 20th. Watch along with me, and let me know what you think of the show! This has been the Legally Abled Podcast, I’ll see you next time!”