Watch films about disability online

If you want to explore some unhelpful stereotypes about disability, mainstream hollywood films are a good place to start. (Listen to the music swell dramatically at the end of Million Dollar Baby when – spoiler alert! – Hilary Swank’s character realizes she’d rather be dead than live with spinal chord injury; or watch the magical future super!crip in Avatar get magically cured in the magical future where disabilities disappear like magic.)

But there are some really amazing films out there about, and in some cases by, disabled people. And I was pleasantly surprised to discover recently that you can stream some of them for free. Below are some of my favorites. Check them out!



“Shameless: the art of disABILITY” is a film by Bonnie Sherr Klein exploring the lives of five disabled artists. They discuss their work, their own experiences of disability, and the relationship between the two.


The Kids are Alright

“The Kids are Alright” is a fascinating documentary about the protests led by disability rights activists against the annual Jerry Lewis Telethon. The protests were organized by a group called “Jerry’s Orphans” – a group of former “Jerry’s Kids” (children with muscular dystrophy who had appeared on the telethon) who felt that the telethon was exploitative and promoted harmful stereotypes of disabled people.


Life’s a Twitch

“Life’s a Twitch” is the story of one man’s experience of Tourette’s Syndrome.

7 thoughts on “Watch films about disability online

  1. My brother is a quad and some moron bought “Avatar” for him, which he watches over and over.
    “Million Dollar Baby” has credibility. My advance directive explicitly states that I am to be revived only long enough to say goodbye to my husband should I suffer a spinal cord injury and I am not to have a tracheal intubation. Conversely, I had a friend who was totally paralyzed from the age of 18. He lived a happy, full life until his death at 45. I am not that brave.

  2. I don’t think anything you’ve said undercuts the contention that these stereotypes are unhelpful, elroyjones. You make two points: (i) that your brother, who is quadrapalegic, loves “Avatar”; (ii) that you would prefer to not to survive spinal chord injury.

    On (i): I can’t see how this is relevant to the issue of whether the stereotypes in “Avatar” are pernicious or problematic. For starters, I think it’s fairly easy to like a film that contains stereotypes you find objectionable. I’m a woman, and I find a lot of the gender stereotypes in “Star Wars” pretty ridiculous. But I still love that movie. I mean, who doesn’t want to see Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader have a lightsaber duel?! Likewise, a lot of women really love your standard romantic comedy. That doesn’t mean that the stereotypes about women in standard romantic comedies aren’t problematic.

    On (ii): Research suggests that a lot of people feel the same way you do about spinal chord injury. I didn’t say “Million Dollar Baby” was unrealistic – I said it was problematic. It’s problematic in part because it reinforces and dramatically ennobles a lot of things people *already* think about living with disability. But research also suggests that people are pretty radically mistaken about the badness (in terms of costs to personal wellbeing) involved in living with disability. Most people – not all, but most – who acquire spinal chord injury end up reporting that they live perfectly happy, well-adjusted lives. (Do a google search for “the disability paradox” if you want to read up on this – I’ll save my rant about that name for another time.) You say you had a friend who had just such an experience, but that you are “not that brave”. I’d argue that this is just an instance of yet another unhelpful stereotype – the “tragic overcomer”. The idea that you need some sort of special heroism or bravery to live well with disability is commonplace. It’s also harmful, and the source of a lot of frustration for disabled people.

  3. Perhaps brave was a poor choice. I would be resistant to relinquishing my independence. My brother relies on others for everything, he can’t tend to his own bodily functions. I would not be a good candidate for adapting. I’m not attempting to undercut stereotypes, merely expressing that making an informed decision is a valid option. My advance directive encompasses many scenarios that I have chosen not to participate in. It’s good for me to recognize my limitations and address them accordingly. I understand that my decisions wouldn’t be appropriate for everyone nor should they be inflicted on others. Stereotypes are harmful because there are people who are more comfortable when human beings are categorized.

  4. A note on accessibility: the “Life’s a Twitch” trailer isn’t captioned! (The other two are.) This isn’t so much criticism as observation; even within the disability “community”, access is sometimes overlooked. I don’t have the software to know whether these videos have video description, but that is yet another consideration to think about. In any case, I’m glad to see another post on disability on this blog — thank you!

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