Blind World Magazine

A TV channel that will actually include the disabled.

August 05, 2005.
Suburban Chicago Newspapers (IL).

Lights, camera, action! How many actors or actresses can you recall that have disabilities?

Let's see. . .There was Geri Jewell. She was the cousin of Blair on the "Facts of Life" sitcom in the 1980s. Geri's disability is from Cerebral Palsy and I haven't seen her on TV in years.

Christopher Burke, who was born with Down Syndrome, had a recurring role on "Our House" during the 1980s. A few times, he also appeared on "Touched by An Angel."

My favorite actor was another angel, the late Michael Landon. He was a champion in promoting actors with disabilities. Few people know that Matthew Laborteaux who played the role of Albert, son of Charles Ingles, on "Little House on the Prairie" series is autistic. When Landon introduced "Highway to Heaven," he also launched the acting career of James Troesh. Never before to my knowledge, had a real actor with quadriplegia using a sip and puff wheelchair been shown on TV.

Most importantly, the role Troesh played as Scotty was dignified. Scotty was a successful attorney, and married to a nondisabled woman. Landon frequently had themes in his shows about the negative attitudes the public has about people with disabilities.

When a young punk deliberately parked in an accessible reserved space, Jonathan the angel used his powers to plop the auto upside down! Oh, how I wish I had those powers to zap cars out of those coveted spots.

Landon also wrote and directed shows about Tom Sullivan, a totally blind person who climbed mountains, and had a family.

It staggers the imagination to realize that worldwide there are over 600 million people with significant disabilities. There are approximately 54-56 million Americans with disabilities, and the numbers keep increasing.

Yet, the mainstream media never focuses on real live people with disabilities. Move over CNN, FOX, ABC, NBC, and CBS. On the 15th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the People With disabilities Broadcasting Corporation (PWdBC) formally unveiled its Web site creating and maintaining an electrifying new disability media presence.

This new corporation will create the first 24-hour, seven day a week, TV channel "of, by, and for persons with disabilities."

This channel will feature dramas, sports, news and other features. It will also promote and design programming that will be accessible for everyone.

The PWdBC was founded by Howard Renensland who has an adult daughter with developmental disabilities. Renesland believes that too few people with disabilities appear in television and film.

Likewise, people with disabilities are not represented in the creative behind the scenes processes of networks. This new corporation aims at true inclusion.

I was pleased to read that James Troesh will be a board advisor along with several other movers and shakers on disability rights for this innovative and long overdue broadcast corporation.

Somehow, I believe Michael Landon is looking down from heaven with a big grin on his face.

For further information, check out these Web sites:

or e-mail Howard Renensland at:

Valerie Brew-Parrish is a writer, lecturer, and advocate for disability rights. Contact her at

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