Monday, October 28, 2013

They Will Take us to the Next Level
Ch. 2: Media Portrayals of Disabilities.

Welcome back to a series of posts by Education students HUC-JIR's New York School of Education. I asked the director, Evie Rotstein to provide some context for this next piece:
This is from an assignment in a course on Diverse Learners taught by Rabbi Richie Address; which is the very first course we are offering around this topic.

Choose a text, film, book, play, TV episode that deals with issues related to diversity, inclusion, or disability, What is the dynamic involved? How do you related to it as a rabbi, educator or cantor?
Please continue to comment! The response to Ch. 1 was lovely!

- Ira


Media Portrayal of Disabilities 

Brian Nelson

"About 20 percent of people have disabilities, but only about 1 percent of speaking parts in television portray disability." - RJ Mitte

Walter “Flynn” White Jr., one of the main characters in the television show Breaking Bad, has Cerebral Palsy. From the very outset of the show, Walt Jr. is portrayed as a fairly typical teenager, although one of the earliest episodes depicts him being relentlessly teased while shopping because he has difficulty putting his own pants on in the dressing room. Walt Jr. is clearly upset by the harassment, and tries to ignore it. In that particular scene, Walt’s mother tries to discourage him from responding to the harassment, a suggestion he ignores.

At other various times throughout the run of the show Walt Jr. confronts the limitations of his disability as he lives a typical teenage life. One striking example of this is when he starts learning to drive a car. Walt Jr. struggles to learn the mechanics of driving without the full use of his legs. He eventually masters the task, eventually driving a Mustang.

Ultimately, Walt Jr.’s disability is not highlighted as a major obstacle in the narrative of this television show. Rather, Walt’s disability is portrayed as simply a part of his life, and his family’s life. What’s more, the actor selected to play Walt Jr. is an actor with Cerebral Palsy. According to an interview with RJ Mitte, he was in the right place at the right time to be cast in the role and he considers it as an incredible opportunity to advocate for people with disabilities.[1]

The situations portrayed in Breaking Bad bring to mind the commandment “Do not put a stumbling block in front of the blind” because situations on this show demonstrate ways in which a family may remove potential stumbling blocks, instead. In our positions as Jewish Educators it is our responsibility to treat our students with disabilities in a similar way. We must support those in need of help, and do all we can to help them have a typical learning experience.





Brian Nelson is a rabbinic/education student in the New York School of Education with residency on the Cincinnati campus. Brian grew in Minnetonka, Minnesota and attended college at the University of Minnesota where he studied History and Political Science. During and after college Brian worked in the Twin Cities Jewish community at Temple Israel, Bet Shalom, and Mount Zion in a variety of capacities, and spent numerous summers at Temple Israel's summer camp, Camp TEKO, before attending HUC-JIR. This year he is working as an Education Intern at Isaac M. Wise Temple in Cincinnati, OH.





[1] http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/ae/tv-radio/breaking-bad-actor-rj-mitte-finds-perfect-role-prepared-him-to-become-an-activist-238250/ 

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