Posted on 07/08/2019

Must-see films and TV shows that best represent disability

Must-see films and TV shows that best represent disability

There are over 11 million people living with a disability in the UK, so why aren’t there more films and TV shows representing disability?

We’ve chosen five incredible TV shows, films and documentaries about disability that have brought unique and compelling stories to light, by depicting the lives of real and fictional people who have experienced, or are still living with, a long-term disability. They do an excellent job in bringing some much-needed honesty, compassion and everyday truths of disabilities to the forefront of the entertainment world, with the help of talented actors and film crews, and we encourage you to add them to your “must-watch” list.

The Silent Child

The Silent Child is a short film about a young girl called Libby, who is deaf and born into a hearing family. As none of her family know sign language, Libby must depend on lip reading and, with no understanding about hearing loss, her family put Libby’s lack of communication down to behavioural problems. The story begins when Libby’s family employ Sue, a social worker, who they hope can improve her communication skills before she starts school. Together they grow a strong bond as Sue helps Libby communicate through sign language and, for the first time, overcome her disability by really connecting with another person.

The Silent Child was directed by Chris Overton and won an Oscar in 2018 for the Best Live Action Short Film. Its two main stars are young deaf actress Maisie Sly and actress Rachel Shenton, who also wrote the screenplay for the film and who is best known for her regular role in Hollyoaks. During her acting career, Shenton has been a dedicated disability advocate for deaf awareness, mainly due to her father’s loss of hearing in his later life. She learnt British Sign Language (BSL) as a young adult and has done a range of disability fundraising challenges, including a skydive and climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, to raise awareness for deafness and funds for charities such as National Deaf Children’s Society and Action on Hearing Loss. The Silent Child is an eye-opening story about growing up deaf in a hearing world.


Special is a Netflix short series about a young gay man living with cerebral palsy (CP). Ryan O’Connell plays the leading role and writer of this semi-autobiographical series which is based on his 2015 book, I’m Special, and Other Lies We Tell Ourselves. Ryan lands himself an internship at a modern company that publishes satirical articles and is led by an insensitive boss. He hides behind his disability at work by going along with the lie that his limp and dexterity difficulties are the result of getting hit by a car – an accident which did happen, but from which he suffered no injuries.

The series explores Ryan’s relationship with his mum, who Ryan has lived with and depended on for most of his life, his sexual and romantic relationships as a young gay man with CP and his friendship with Kim, a co-worker who he quickly bonds with. Special is the story of Ryan’s pursuit for independence, friendship, love and acceptance – something which everyone can relate to, whether or not they are living with a disability.


Jennifer Brea was studying as a PhD student at Harvard University when she caught a fever that left her bedridden. She was continually dismissed by doctors, despite her worsening condition and turned to the online world for answers. It was here she found millions of others who were living with chronic fatigue syndrome, also known as M.E.

Unrest is Jennifer’s story of understanding her condition, being aware of the disability that comes with it, and uncovering the experiences of other people across the world who were also living with little support. This is an important documentary that brings M.E. – an often misunderstood and misdiagnosed condition – to the wider public. It premiered at Sundance film festival in 2017, where it won an award for editing and was widely praised for its depiction of disability.

Ever since learning about the amount of lives M.E. has affected, Jennifer has been dedicated to raising awareness for the condition. In 2015 she co-founded a global network called #MEAction that fights for everyone with M.E. to be heard, understood and offered the right support.

Notes on Blindness

Notes on Blindness is a 2016 drama-documentary film about writer and professor John Hull, who lost his sight just before the birth of his son in 1983. John was born in Australia, but moved to England in 1959 to study theology at Cambridge University. In his lifetime he wrote many articles and books about religious education and theology and, later in his life, about vision loss and disability.

The film Notes on Blindness is based on John’s cassette diary, where he kept his thoughts and feelings about his fading vision, and his book called Touching the Rock: An Experience of Blindness. The film has a unique style as it includes actors playing John, his wife and his children who lip sync to the real cassette recordings of John and his family. Notes on Blindness was directed by Peter Middleton and James Spinney, winning the British Independent Film Award for Best British Documentary in 2016.


Atypical is a family drama and comedy first released in 2017 about an 18-year-old student called Sam, who is on the autism spectrum and is starting to date.

With two seasons now available on Netflix and a third season on its way, Atypical follows Sam’s life at home and at school, as well as the lives of his parents, Elsa and Doug, and his younger sister, Casey. The second season has been especially praised for its depiction of autism and an increase in the inclusion of actors on the spectrum who play both neurotypical characters and characters with autism spectrum disorder. Creator Robia Rashid has had continuous advice from a consultant on autism, who is also on the spectrum, about how to represent this condition as honestly as possible, and they have been involved since the start of the show.

Where can I watch these films and TV shows about disability?

Special, Unrest, Atypical and Notes on Blindness can all be watched on UK Netflix and you can find The Silent Child on YouTube or The Silent Child website.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.