Kyle XY/ABC FAMILY/2006-2009 (Amnesia)
A teenage boy (Matt Dallas) awakens naked in a forest outside Seattle, Washington, with no more knowledge or abilities than a newborn and no belly button.
Missing standard human behaviors such as anger, joy and love, the teenage savant is adopted by a family and given the name Kyle. The series follows Kyle as he tries to solve the puzzles of who he is and why he has no memory before that day.
George Lopez/ABC/2002-2007 (Dyslexia)
Maximilian Victor Roberto “Max” Magic Johnson Lopez (Luis Armando Garcia), Hispanic teenager with dyslexia who lives in Los Angeles, California.
Born April 13, 1993, Max is the second-born child and only son of Mexican George Edward Lopez (George Lopez) and Cuban Angela “Angie” Palmero Lopez (Constance Marie).
His father, George, who works as a manager at an airplane parts factory (Powers Brothers Aviation) also has dyslexia, but not as severe as his son.
When George learns that his son has dyslexia he is saddened. George has been hiding his dyslexia for years but he managed to keep it a secret by manipulating people around him, like having someone else do his paperwork or read a report for him.
To help Max with his problem, Max’s school teacher suggests he get help from the school’s services. But George explodes, and says, “He’s a boy, he’ll grow out of it! You know, I appreciate your concern but this is a school and you’re a teacher. So why don’t you teach him?”
Eventually, George accepts the situation and allows Max to get a tutor to improve his grades at school. And George is encouraged to do something about his own dyslexia.
Friday Night Lights/NBC/Direct TV/2006-2011 (Wheelchair/Injured Spine)
Jason Street (Scott Porter), disabled seventeen-year-old high school senior at Dillon High School in Dillon, Texas. Jason was the starting quarterback for the Panthers football team until a devastating spinal injury ended his promising career.
He was hurt tackling a rival player from making a game-ending touchdown. Jason’s injured the C-7 and T-1 level of his spine. He was paralyzed from the chest down. He can move his arms and hands but has limited use of his fingers.
With the help of his family and friends, Jason struggled to cope with his new reality of life as a paraplegic. But, living in a town that worships athletes is difficult for Jason to overcome, but eventually he finds purpose in his life. Meanwhile:
- Jason’s girlfriend, Lyla Garrity (Minka Kelly), a former cheerleader becomes a Christian Youth leader.
- Jason befriends Herc, his rehab roommate and wheelchair rugby teammate.
- Lyla grows apart from Jason and dates Tim Riggins (Taylor Kitsch), the fullback for the Panthers and Jason’s friend.
- Jason works as an assistant coach for the Panthers but quits after the first game when he disagrees with the authoritarian style of Bill McGregor (Chris Mulkey), the new coach.
- A road trip to Mexico finds Tim Riggins and Jason looking for a non FDA approved treatment for his paralysis.
- Jason moves in with Herc and gets a job at Buddy Garrity’s (Brad Leland) car dealership as a salesman.
- Jason has a one-night stand on a blind date with a waitress named Erin (Tamara Jolaine Hassan) and gets her pregnant. He offers to do the right thing and take care of the woman and the baby.
- A real estate venture finds Jason and friends flipping Buddy Garrity’s house for a profit.
- Jason finds an entry-level job at a sports agency in New York City, and moves to be close to his girlfriend and newborn baby, Noah who have relocated to New Jersey to live with Erin’s parents. As Jason said, “far enough away that I’m not going to be stalker…but close enough that I can be here.”
- Jason, now a full-fledged sports agent, returns to Dillon and meets his former mentor Coach Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler) to see if he is interested in taking a college coaching job. The coach politely declines his offer.
Note: FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS was inspired by H.G. “Buzz” Bissinger’s non-fiction book “Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream” (1990) and the 2004 film based on it. The book explores the 1988 season of the Permian Panthers, a high school football team in Odessa, Texas.
The Jason Street character was inspired by the career of David Edwards, a high school player in San Antonio, Texas.
In the last episode of the series (“Always”) an ending montage show the words “J.Street” written below the “P” in the Dillon Panthers’ locker room.
Glee/FOX/2009-2015 (Wheelchair/Damaged Spinal Cord)
Arthur “Artie” Abrams (Kevin McHale), a nerdish, paraplegic teenager with glasses who is confined to a non-motorized wheelchair. He was paralyzed by car accident when he was eight-years-old. Artie attends William McKinley High School in Lima, Ohio. His nemesis are members of his school’s football team who often bully him.
Despite the damage to his spinal cord, Artie is a normal teenager who wants to make friends and find romance with, among others, Tina Cohen-Chang (Jenna Ushkowitz), who had faked a stuttering speech impediment since the sixth grade; Britanny Pierce (Heather Morris), a cheerleader with whom Artie lost his virginity; and Kitty Wilde (Becca Tobin).
Artie is a member of the glee club group “The New Directions” where he sings, and dances in a fashion, by moving his wheelchair in time with the music and the other performers. He also plays guitar with the school’s jazz ensemble, dabbles in film directing, and is a member of both the A.V. Club and the Academic Decathlon team.
Aside from being a talented guy, Artie also has a kind and giving heart. When fellow student and cheerleader Quinn Fabray (Dianna Agron) damaged her spine (a truck struck her car) and had to use a wheelchair, Artie took the time to show her how to navigate the ramps and just have a fun time. After weeks of recovery, Quinn was able to walk again.
When the Glee Club is disbanded, Artie graduates and goes to the Brooklyn Film Academy in New York. While still at the film school, he returns to McKinley to help recruit members for the newly rebooted glee club.
In 2020, Artie’s film gets into the Slamdance Film Festival. It starred Tina (who is now his girlfriend). Later, Artie goes back to McKinley for the re-dedication of McKinley’s auditorium (Finn Auditorium) where he performs “I Lived” with every former member of the “New Directions.” They all take a bow.
Note: In the episode “Glee Actually”, Artie injures himself on an icy ramp, and angrily wishes he’d never had to be in a wheelchair. A subsequent dream, shows him walking.
Born June 14, 1988, actor Kevin Michael McHale (who is not disabled) was a former member of the boy band NLT (Not Like Them).
During the season one episode “Laryngitis” Sean Fretthold (Zack Weinstein), appeared as a disabled 16 year old male who lived in Lima, Ohio. He enjoyed math, singing and also attended William McKinley High School.
Sean played on the school football team until an accident paralyzed him from the upper chest down. He injured his spinal cord at the C4 vertebrae.
To get around, Sean used a wheelchair. When he first got his wheelchair, he pushed it into his family swimming pool in a fit of anger. He was a friend of Finn Hudson and Rachel Berry.
See also: Glee (2)
The Secret Life of the American Teenager/ABC Family/2008-2013 (Down Syndrome)
Thomas “Tom” Bowman (Luke Zimmerman), a young man with Down syndrome whose mother died when he was young. He was adopted by the Bowman family who live in Los Angeles, California.
The Bowman family includes father Dr. Marshall Bowman (John Schneider), who later dies in an airplane crash; his wife, Kathleen (Josie Bissett), and their 15-year-old daughter, Grace Kathleen (Megan Park) whom Tom feels very protective towards. When their mother decides to remarry, Tom and Grace have a hard time adjusting to the fact.
Like all healthy males, Tom in interested in sex. To experience his first time with a woman, he calls an escort service. They sent a prostitute named Betty Boykewich (Jennifer Coolidge). But instead of having sex, the two shared a quiet evening where Tom shared his frustrations.
Tom’s other romantic interests were Adrian Lee (Francia Raisa) to whom Tom proposes, (when he learns she is pregnant) but she gently declines his offer; and a girl named Tammy (Michelle Marks), whom he wanted to marry. Tammy ends up marrying someone else. When Tom became Vice President of Human Resources, he dated a single mother with two children whom he met on a bus on the way to work.
Eventually, Tom moves to New York where he works as the door man in Kathleen’s building (she became a church fund raiser and Grace attends medical school at NYU). In his spare time, Tom volunteers as a Docent for the Natural History Museum.
Switched at Birth/ABC Family(Freeform)/2011-2017 (Deaf)
Daphne Paloma Vasquez (Katie Leclerc) a hearing-impaired teenager who attends Carlton School for the Deaf in Kansas City, Missouri. Born October 22, 1995, she lives with her single mother Regina (Constance Marie) and grandmother Adriana (Ivonne Coll) in the low-income, working-class neighborhood of East Riverside, Missouri.
Daphne lost her hearing at the age of three by contracting meningitis. Her dad Angelo Sorrento left her when she lost her hearing. Daphne speaks with a deaf accent.
Now here is the twist. Daphne is actually the biological daughter of John and Kathryn Kennish. She was switched at birth due to a hospital error. The mistake was discovered by Bay Kennish (Vanessa Marano), the other switched baby who conducted a genetic blood type test during a school lab assignment. The results confirmed her AB blood did not belong to her parents.
After the discovery, the Kennishes, who live in the wealthy Kansas City suburb of Mission Hills, Kansas, invite Daphne, their true biological daughter, and her family to move into a guest house on their estate so the two polar-opposite groups can become acquainted with each and allow their two teenage girls to bond.
Other hearing-impaired friends and acquaintances include:
- Emmett Bledsoe (Sean Berdy), Daphne’s friend who is deaf. They have been best friends since the age of eight.
- Melody Bledsoe (Marlee Maitlin), Emmett’s mother and Regina’s friend who is also deaf. She is a guidance counselor and Deaf Studies teacher at Carlton.
- Noah (Max Lloyd-Jones), a new student in the pilot hearing program at Carlton. He is suffering from Ménière’s disease and slowly losing his hearing . His uncle is also deaf. For a time, he was Bay’s boyfriend until he went to Canada for the summer.
- Travis Barnes (Ryan Lane), another of Daphne’s deaf friends. He lives with Emmett and Melody Bledsoe. He is Daphne’s ex-boyfriend. A former janitor, he works at Kennish Car Wash.
- Garrett Banducci (Nyle DiMarco), a student at the Carlton who takes a romantic interest in Bay.
- Matthew (Daniel Durant), a gay, deaf boy at Carlton who is interested in Emmett.
For a time, Daphne dates Campbell Bingman (RJ Mitte), a pre-med student in a wheelchair who volunteers at the free clinic where Daphne is serving her community service hours.
Note: According to ABC Family, SWITCHED AT BIRTH was “the first mainstream television series to have multiple deaf and hard-of-hearing series regulars and scenes shot entirely in American Sign Language (ASL).
The Carlton School for the Deaf seen on the program was inspired by the real life Marlton School in Los Angeles.
Actress Katie Leclerc is hard of hearing rather than deaf as portrayed on the program. She learned to use American Sign Language (ASL) at age 17. Three years later she was diagnosed with Ménière’s disease (an inner ear disorder) which runs in her family.
On episode No. 9 Daphne dreams she was not switched at birth and was raised as Bay Kennish who could hear. Episode 15 of season 2, “Ecce Mono” featured an an alternative reality Daphne who was raised by the Kennishes from age three. They arranged to get a cochlear implant to improve her hearing.
The episode “Uprising” (aired March 4, 2013) featured a student-led protest surrounding the closure of Carlton School for the Deaf. The program, which echoed a real life “Deaf President Now” protests at Gallaudet University 25 years earlier, was produced almost entirely in sign language.
Speechless/ABC/2016+ (Cerebral Palsy)
J.J. Dimeo (Micah Fowler), disabled 16-year-old teenager with Cerebral Palsy who is confined to a motorized wheelchair. He lives in Newport Beach, California with his mother Maya (Minni Driver), father Jimmy (John Ross Bowie), sister Dylan (Kyla Kennedy), who runs track, and brother Ray (Mason Cook) who likes astronomy.
Unable to use his vocal cords, J.J. communicates with an Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) device that uses a red laser beam pointer attached to his head that allows him to target a list of letters and words and spell out what he wants to say. He can move his arms, but his fingers are bit stiff. If he gets disgusted with someone and wants to give them the “finger,” he gives them his whole hand instead.
Assisting J.J. is Jennifer (Dina Spybey-Waters), an overly enthusiastic female caregiver who helps voice his concerns. She works for the New Generation Center (“Building opportunity for California’s Youth with Disabilities”). Her high pitched voice sounds like a fairy godmother and J.J. requested that she change a number of students into pumpkins. He even wanted her to say, “Bippity, Boppity, Boo,” but she declined. She was replaced by Kenneth (Cedric Yarbrough), the school’s black groundskeeper whom J.J. liked better.
As for J.J.’s mother Maya Dimeo, she is extremely protective and fights and fights to make sure J.J. has a normal life. She refuses to let people refer to him as “crippled.” Maya can be so confrontational the even the local police won’t give her a ticket when she speeds by in her car.
When J.J. arrives at his new school (Lafayette High School) there was no handicapped ramp, except a service ramp at the back of the school used for deliveries. Angry, Maya DiMeo immediately gets up a petition for a handicapped accessible ramp to be built in front of the school.
Before Maya arrived at the school, the staff at Lafayette had a meeting on how to handle her, because word was out that Maya had already ruffled the feathers at other schools, including Lincoln, Woodbridge, Alma Dena, Whitman, Marshall, and Fountain Valley.
Eventually, J.J. settles into his new school and runs for Student Council President. When he first arrived at school, however, his classmates greeted him with a sign that read, “J.J. for President.” But J.J. felt they were patronizing him, so he responded, “Eat … A …Bag …of … (well, you get the point)!”
Note: Micah Fowler who plays the role of J.J. DiMeo has Cerebral Palsy in real life. The series was created by Scott Silveri (Friends), who comes from a family with a special-needs child (and who employs writers who have experience in similar situations).