By Heidi Johnson-Wright
I came of age in the late 1970s, when the girls in my high school sported ultra-shiny lip gloss and perfectly feathered hair. They wanted to be like Farrah Fawcett or Margaux Hemingway, pop culture “it girls” who danced the night away at Studio 54.
I wanted my share of fun, too. But I couldn’t imagine myself doing the bump or the hustle with a partner on a dance floor. The arthritis had turned my body against itself. Instead of grinding with a hot guy in a club, my joints were grinding bone on bone.
I began using a wheelchair for mobility. And I realized that Charlie had no gimp-girl Angels. Faberge wanted no crip chicks in its fragrance ads. It was painfully evident that no women in popular culture looked anything like me.
The only wheelchair user I saw depicted in popular media was Ironside, the character Raymond Burr portrayed in the TV cop drama. A former detective forced into retirement after a shooting renders him paraplegic, he becomes a special police consultant who solves crimes in a wheelchair.
Loads of action! Snappy dialogue! Wheelchair jokes!
I looked around and saw no positive female role models in wheelchairs. No crip chick characters on TV or in the movies. No gimp girl heroines in books or narrators in music or poetry. Didn’t do a whole lot for my adolescent female self-image.
Decades later, pop culture hasn’t made as much disability-positive progress as I’d like. But things are undoubtedly better. Case in point: my friend, Stephanie Woodward is in a Honey Maid graham cracker commercial.
Honey Maid has launched an ad campaign that features inclusive depictions of American families -- same-sex couples, mixed-race and blended and immigrant families. Stephanie and her niece are featured in a spot showing a disabled aunt and niece making apple and cheddar melts together on their graham crackers.
Stephanie is a disability rights lawyer and activist who is currently director of advocacy at The Center for Disability Rights. She signed on for the project, Honey Maid says, because she—and many in the disabled community—want real disabled people featured on TV and in the media, not actors playing disabled people.
Check out the ad at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d4TncEFoI3Q&feature=player_embedded