Netflix is one of the largest online streaming platforms in the world with thousands of original TV series and films to binge-watch. Here at Disability Horizons, we’ve rounded up eight of the best Netflix Original shows and films with disabled actors and characters.
Special is a comedy series that tells the story of Ryan, a 28-year-old gay man with cerebral palsy. He goes in search of independence by moving out of his mum’s house and getting an internship at an online publication.
When Ryan starts his internship, his colleagues think his dexterity issues and the way he walks were caused by a car accident and not cerebral palsy.
Ryan continues to keep quiet about his cerebral palsy and tries to embark on a normal life, creating content at work, making friends, going to parties, dating and having sex.
Special cast and production
Ryan is played by actor Ryan O’Connell, who is gay and has cerebral palsy. He also wrote and executively produced the series.
Special is based on Ryan’s memoir I’m Special: And Other Lies We Tell Ourselves, which was published in 2015.
Check out Emma Purcell’s review How is disability represented in the Netflix series ‘Special’? on her blog Rock For Disability.
The first series of Special is available to watch on Netflix and series two will be coming soon.
Atypical is a family drama and comedy series that follows the everyday life of autistic teenager Sam Gardner and his family.
As Sam sets off on his journey to find love and independence, his parents and sister are also experiencing changes in their own lives.
Atypical cast and production
Sam is played by non-autistic actor Keir Gilchrist, which has sparked mixed reactions from viewers.
Netflix told Teen Vogue that Anthony Jacques, who plays Sam’s friend Christopher in one episode, has autism.
The creator Robia Rashid also said that several crew members have autistic family members.
However, in series two, the show created five new characters as part of Sam’s peer support group, all of whom are played by actors on the spectrum.
Netflix also indicated that it worked with David Finch, who is himself on the spectrum, and authored the memoir The Journal of Best Practices, to help ensure an accurate representation of autism on the show.
Series one to three of Atypical is available to stream on Netflix with the fourth and final series due to be released later in 2021.
The Healing Powers of Dude
The Healing Powers of Dude is about 11-year-old Noah, who has social anxiety disorder. After a few years of being homeschooled, he attends middle school with the support of his emotional therapy dog Dude.
Noah manages to make friends, which includes a girl called Amara, who uses a powered wheelchair.
Throughout the series, he overcomes many life challenges, including attending classes, doing presentations, taking the bus, standing up to bullies, attending parties and performing on stage, all of which he achieves thanks to the support of Dude.
The Healing Powers of Dude cast and production
The Healing Powers of Dude was co-created by Erica Spates and Sam Littenberg-Weisberg. The character of Noah, played by Jace Chapman, was based on their own personal experience with social anxiety disorder.
The creators agreed it was important to include disability representation in the show by casting a disabled actress.
The Healing Powers of Dude is available to watch on Netflix now.
The Fundamentals of Caring
The Fundamentals of Caring is a Netflix Original film that tells the story of Ben, who encounters a personal tragedy and becomes a carer for 18-year-old Trevor, who has Duchenne muscular dystrophy.
The two of them embark on a road trip together across America, in which their perspectives on life are changed and they begin to understand the importance of hope and friendship.
The Fundamentals of Caring cast and production
This film was based on the book The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving by Jonathon Evison, who like Ben, has dealt with the loss of a family member and also worked as a carer.
Disabled teenager Trevor is played by non-disabled actor Craig Roberts. This caused some criticism among disabled communities, but Craig argued that he had researched muscular dystrophy by speaking to others living with the condition.
You can watch The Fundamentals of Caring on Netflix.
Stranger Things is a science-fiction, fantasy, horror series set in the 80s in the small town of Hawkins, where a chain of suspicious events result in supernatural forces and secret government agencies invading the town.
It is up to a group of teenagers and a local sheriff to find out the truth of these terrifying incidents and save the town of Hawkins.
Stranger Things cast and production
Stranger Things has received critical acclaim and numerous awards, including six Emmys and a Critics Choice Television Award.
One of the teenage boys in the show, Dustin, is played by Gaten Matarazzo, who has a rare genetic condition called cleidocranial dysplasia (CCD), which affects teeth and bones, such as the skull, face, spine, collarbones and legs.
Gaten’s condition is visibly noticeable as he has missing teeth and a lisp. With the exception of school bullies naming Dustin “toothless”, his condition is mostly unrelated to the story and he is simply another teenager trying to fight the paranormal monsters of evil.
You can watch the first three series of Stranger Things on Netflix and the fourth and final series will be coming soon.
Raising Dion is about a young boy called Dion who has ADHD and chronic asthma. Following the death of his father, he is transferred to a new school where he becomes friends with Esperanza, who is a wheelchair user.
Together they try navigating an inaccessible world and soon discover Dion has superpowers, which he cannot control but tries to use for good and not evil.
Raising Dion cast and production
Raising Dion is based on the comic book series written by Dennis Liu, who also co-created the Netflix series with Carol Barbee.
Dion is played by 8-year-old Ja’ Siah Young who is not known to have ADHD or chronic asthma.
Esperanza is played by 7-year-old Sammi Haney, who lives with brittle bone disease. The creators of the show say that she secured the part thanks to her savvy, positive and humorous personality rather than just for her disability.
The first series of Raising Dion is available to stream on Netflix with a second series due for release later this year.
Feel the Beat
After failing to find success on Broadway, April returns to her hometown and reluctantly takes a job training a misfit group of young dancers for a big competition.
One of the young dancers is a deaf girl called Zuzu. She proves to April that deaf people can dance by feeling the vibrations of the music.
Feel the Beat cast and production
Zuzu is played by deaf actress Shaylee Mansfield and her character was written in as a deaf person.
The title of the film was inspired by Shaylee’s character when describing that she can “feel the beat” when dancing.
American sign language (ASL) is integrated into the final dance of the film and was brainstormed by Shaylee and an ASL dialogue coach.
Feel the Beat is available to watch on Netflix now.
A teenage boy, whose mother is a sex therapist, teams up with a high school classmate to set up an underground sex therapy clinic at school.
In series two, the show introduces troublemaker teenager Isaac, who has a spinal cord injury. The character is not defined by his disability but is instead charmingly sarcastic and unembarrassed.
Sex Education cast and production
Isaac is played by disabled actor George Robinson, who himself acquired a spinal cord injury while playing rugby aged 17.
There was also disability representation behind the scenes as comedian, actress and writer Rosie Jones, who has cerebral palsy, helped write the second series.
Head over to Netflix to watch the first two series of Sex Education and stay tuned for an upcoming third series coming soon.
Accessibility features on Netflix
As well as having disabled actors and characters on screen, it is also vital that streaming services are accessible to disabled audiences too.
For blind and visual impaired viewers, they require audio description (AD), which narrates the scenery, action, body language and facial expressions in a TV show or film. They also need VoiceOver/Screen Readers to read aloud the menu options on the streaming services.
Deaf and hard of hearing audiences require subtitles so they can understand the dialogue and sound effects in a TV shows and films.
Accessible features available on Netflix
Here are the accessibility features available on Netfilx. These features may vary depending on the device you use:
- Audio description on all Netflix Originals and a proportion of other content
- Audio description category
- VoiceOver/Screen Reader access on menu
- Subtitles on a majority of Netflix content
- AD and subtitle function buttons
If you’d like to know more about accessibility features for blind and visually impaired people on streaming services, check out Emma Purcell’s blog Accessibility features on TV streaming services on Rock For Disability.
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