Actors with I/DD bring accurate portrayals to the small screen

Family with a child that has down syndrome sitting on a couch together watching TV

A few weeks back, we talked about why it’s important for the media to accurately portray people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD). It’s arguably even more important that actors with disabilities portray characters with disabilities.

Accurate portrayals address the two primary ways media shapes our perception. It helps us learn more about people who are different from us and it allows people with disabilities, our loved ones, to see themselves within the characters and personalities portrayed.

In the interest of promoting inclusion for people with I/DD, we would like to share our collection of television / streaming series that reflect the diversity of our world. To make this list the series includes characters with I/DD portrayed by actors with I/DD. The following are available on most streaming services.

Many of these series deal with adult or coming-of-age themes, while there are also family-friendly options and animated children’s programs. We hope there’s something for everyone.

Everything’s Gonna Be Okay (comedy)

After the sudden death of their father, a neurotic 20-something brother is thrust into caring for two teenage half-sisters including Matilda, who has autism and is played by Kayla Cromer who is on the spectrum.  

Atypical (comedy-drama)

Sam, played by Keir Gilchrist, is an autistic teen who is making the transition from high school to college, having friends and a girlfriend while trying to work in a technology store. He alsostruggles with independence, inclusion and a range of teenage concerns.

Stumptown (crime drama)

A woman working as a private investigator in Portland, Oregon, also supports her adult brother Ansel who has Down syndrome, played by Cole Sibus who has a chromosomal disorder. Ansel has a job and wants his independence. He also deals with falling in love, driving and coming of age.

Ozark (dark drama)

When a financial advisor moves his family from Chicago to the Ozarks, his teen son is befriended by Tuck, an employee at the Blue Cat bar and hotel with Down syndrome played by Evan Vourazeris. Tuck offers friendship when it’s needed most.

Speechless (situational comedy)

The family of a teen who lives with cerebral palsy and is nonverbal, played by Micah Fowler, deals with the challenges he faces while creating even more challenges. Thefamily deals with self-advocacy, the experience of siblings, acceptance and inclusion and coming of age.

Life Goes On (family drama)

The first drama series produced around a person with Down syndrome, Life Goes On (1989 to 1993) explores family life when Corky, a child with Down syndrome played by Chris Burke, moves into mainstream education.

Glee (musical comedy/drama)

While the series focuses on the Glee Club, it also illustrates high school life. Cheerleader Becky, who has Down syndrome, goes through typical teen life such as dating, popularity and going to college. Lauren Potter played Becky and  Robin Trocki, who also lived with Down syndrome, played the sister of the cheerleading coach.

We would be remiss if we didn’t mention the animated children’s programs that represent people with I/DD and in many cases use confirmed voice actors with I/DD.

Sesame Street (educational)

Julia, a character with autism, has joined Sesame Street and is accepted and included by other children.

Pablo (animation)

Pablo is a five-year-old boy living with autism who goes adventuring with his animal friends.

Punky (animation)

Punky is a six-year-old with Down syndrome who shares her everyday life with her brother, grandmother and dog. Punky is voiced by Aimée Richardson, a 29-year-old Dublin actress who has Down syndrome.

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power (animation)

There are several disabled characters in this animated series including an autistic character.

The Casagrandes (animation)

Character CJ has Down syndrome and is voiced by an actor who also has Down syndrome.

Enjoy the programming recommendations and check back next month for our list of favorite movies featuring characters with disabilities.

Read our previous blog post to learn more about why representation matters and find a list of children’s books featuring characters with disabilities.