Welcome to Part 3 of our 4 part series on the portrayal of disabilities in entertainment. We will be reviewing films from 12 Monkeys to Power Rangers and how they spread stigma instead of awareness. This series is not meant to criticize but critique the content based on our personal experiences and the research we conducted.
Disclaimer: we are not a regular wheelchair user. We in no way assume to know your experiences as a wheelchair user. This analysis is based on our knowledge of accessibility and our experience with accommodation practices and the social nuances of the disability community.
Over the years, there have been many examples of disability in film and TV. One franchise that rises above in social commentary and innovation is Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek.
Personal bias alert! We are Trekkies through and through. However, this is not a post to elaborate on our fandom. We aim to provide an objective analysis of the episode “Melora” from season 2 of Deep Space Nine.
The episode opens with a conversation on wheelchairs. "I haven't seen one in over 300 years' ' says Dr. Bashir followed Chief O'Brien reporting he finished installing the access ramps. Immediately, the conversation started on making things accessible for the ambassador visit. Even with the ramps, she won't be able to reach everywhere on the station. LT. Dax offers the transporters as an option to beam her throughout the ship. The Chef received a message from the ambassador that the transporters are not acceptable.
The crew is baffled. Then it happens. Dr. Bashir went to the Starfleet academy with Melora: "Once her basic needs are met. She refuses any other assistance. She is extraordinary."
Let's stop here for a moment and analyze some important pieces.
What was done right is that they made the station as accessible as possible. The request was sent ahead of time of what she wanted for her visit and they implemented most of it.
However, it was problematic. They implemented most of her requests and were not willing to do more than what they "could accomplish." To them, the transporters were a solution, but they were not acceptable, because the person requesting the accommodation had the right to say no.
At this moment, Dr.Bashir clearly has a romantic fascination with Melora. We are not going to focus on this intently since it is not relevant to our message in this blog.
As Melora boarded the station something outstanding occurred. Instead of immediately grabbing her to help her into her chair, Lt. Dax asks first.
Please remember it is never okay to grab anyone without consent. Just because a person has a visible disability doesn’t mean they want or need your help.
The doctor is included in the mission briefing and Lt. Dax fires a red alert saying, "Julien is included in this mission because he knows your capabilities." Melora immediately retorts and rightly so.
A visible or invisible disability does not make you incapable.
Never assume that a disability status impedes a person's ability to accomplish the task at hand. An individual in a professional setting should never feel as if they are being judged by their peers. Remember, they have the job because they are qualified. They are your peers!
Melora may seem rude, abrupt, and aggressive when talking with the crew. However, she is fighting for the right to equal treatment and equal access. She refuses to allow others' perception of her to stop her from succeeding. Her dream was to travel the stars and explore, which is exactly what she is doing.
Throughout the episode, she fights for her rights as a person. This mirrors our society even to this day. The idea that a disability or neurodiversity makes you less than or incapable. This is why self-advocacy is vital. When enough people stand up for themselves and others, eventually people must listen.
Remember, every voice, every action that promotes equal access, every story MAKES CHANGE.
At one point, Dr. Bashir has the ability to rid her of her chair. She promptly refuses, because it is part of her life, her identity and she is not ashamed. She was happy with herself; it was the world that looked down on her.
Never assume, always ask, and remember that a disability status doesn't make you less than. You know your worth and if others are willing to accept that….
It is their responsibility to learn, grow and become aware.