Why all Disabilities Need an Ambassador like Maya DiMeo in Speechless

Hit US comedy Speechless hit the small screen in the UK with season 1 airing on E4 earlier this Spring. The unique show features an actor who actually has Cerebral Palsy playing, yes you guessed it a character with the same condition. This is rare in film and TV with able-bodied actors normally portraying these roles.

What’s Speechless all about?

Speechless is my new favourite show. A strong female main character (who could give Beverley Goldberg a run for her money), Kripke from The Big Bang Theory and a laugh out loud humour right up my street. All whilst raising awareness of Cerebral Palsy and the journey of growing up with a disability.

The TV show highlights the modern struggles of a family raising children when one has a disability and the emotional and practical challenges that come with having teenage children. It shows Mum Maya’s determination to give her son JJ the best and as ‘normal’ life as possible. It focuses on Maya learning how to let go and allow JJ to spread his wings, without his Mum there all the time.

They even have comedian and actor, Zach Anner writing for the show. Anner also has Cerebral Palsy and was brought in originally as a consultant, as well as making a debut in an episode. Then he came back for season 2 as a writer and a few more on screen appearances.

Maya DiMeo is my hero

Maya DiMeo is the perfect disability advocate. A slightly interfering mother, her love for her son and passion for giving him a ‘normal’ life shines through.

Like a fierce lioness, she will stop at nothing to ensure JJ can do the same things that other children can. Barging into the school to make demands from the Principal and never listening to the word ‘no’ makes Maya a force to be reckoned with.

Speechless also shows the need for balance. Ensuring that JJ is looked after and supported takes up a lot of time. But Maya’s other children also need her time. The message advocates the importance of spending quality time together as a family.

Raising awareness of disability in the acting world

It is great to see an actor with a disability portraying the role of a disabled person.

Micah Fowler started acting when he was just 5 years old, in local theatre productions. He first hit the screen with his role in Labor Day, before becoming a household name for his portrayal of JJ DiMeo. Fowler has Cerebral Palsy and also uses a wheelchair like JJ, but unlike his character he is not non-verbal.

This means he has to “compensate physically” when he’s acting as he can’t use hand or arm movements. “All of my acting choices have to come through my expressions alone”. But he hopes people will “look past the wheelchair and see JJ’s heart, humour and big personality”

Entertainment Weekly

We will be tuning in for the rest of season 3 on E4. However devastatingly US network ABC has cancelled the series.

The show is so important in raising awareness of disabilities and sharing wheelchair-users experiences. We sincerely hope that it isn’t the end of Speechless and another network picks it up for season 4.

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