FACTS OF LIFE/NBC/1979-88 (Cerebral Palsy)
Geri Tyler (Geri Jewell), disabled cousin of snobbish Blair Warner (Lisa Whelchel) who attends Eastland School, an all-female boarding school in Peekskill, New York.
The role of cousin Geri, an aspiring nightclub comic with Cerebral Palsy, was introduced on episode “Cousin Geri” (aired 12/24/80) wherein Blair Warner is embarrassed by her relative’s condition.
In real life, Jewell acknowledged her own handicap and poked-fun of it in her comedy routine with such humorous quips as “Ever notice there are no handicapped people on TV? Name That Handicap?…Bowling For Crutches?…I’ve had some really high bowling scores, only never in my lane” or “I’m not drunk, I’ve got Cerebral Palsy. That’s CP-not to be confused with MD, MS, VD or ET.”
Born prematurely, Geri was diagnosed with CP at 18 months. Her additional loss of hearing forced her to become proficient at lip reading. She also limps when she walks. After many hours of therapy, her palsy has improved from severe to mild.
Geri Jewell’s “Cousin Geri” role represents the first TV performer with a disability to be hired in a recurring role on a prime-time network series.
In an article in Ability magazine about the Media Access Awards Geri confided, “All my life there’s been only one thing that bothered me about having cerebral palsy…Children have always been afraid of me. But since I’ve been on the show (FACTS OF LIFE), whenever I’m walking on a street or I am in a shopping mall, children come over and ask., ‘Aren’t you Cousin Geri’ and we sit and talk.”
Geri Jewell later became a motivational speaker with Milt, Wright & Associates.
Note: Cerebral Palsy is a paralysis resulting from developmental defects in the brain or a trauma to the brain occurring at birth. The chief characteristics are uncontrollable muscle spasms.