janice_lester: (Pike shoots)
[personal profile] janice_lester
Attention: Mild spoilers for: X-Men: First Class, Supernatural season 5/6, Dark Angel, Heroes, Glee, Star Trek. Contains Opinions. Fairly image-heavy. Thanks to [livejournal.com profile] nix_this for the beta.

Give Sexy Actors Sexy Wheelchairs!

There's something beautiful about the simple physics of wheels in motion. And there's something immensely satisfying about racing downhill on a trustworthy set of them. But I digress. This is about wheels, (mostly) white (mostly) male characters, and how The Powers That Be on TV and film sets seem fated--whether by unpleasant design or mere privileged ignorance--to be forever Getting It Wrong. When they could be getting it oh, so right. Anyway, [community profile] kink_bingo 2012, 'mechanical/technological', here we go...

This is Captain (later Admiral) Christopher Pike.

(He used to look a little different back in the 1960s, but I'm not going there. Too angry-making.)

This is Bobby Singer.

Chris and Bobby have a few things in common. Views that don’t align perfectly with the mainstream. Jobs that require such physically demanding skills as running from monsters over rough terrain. A certain ability with guns. An interest in saving the world. A bunch of very capable, but not necessarily wise, young 'uns to keep an eye on.

And poorly thought-out, poorly-explained disabling injuries. (Pike has an accident involving a bug. Bobby has an accident involving a demon and a knife. I have yet to work out how either of these could produce results so precisely resembling those expected from a fairly low spinal cord injury, and the relevant scripts do not explain.)

Oh, and one more thing.

Extremely poor choice of on-screen mobility device. I don’t know who to blame for this—writers? Directors? Props people?—but I know it smacks of undone research. That and, perhaps, a narrative (or even kinky) interest in maintaining the unfounded orthodox view that people with disabilities are automatically dependent on others for the basic activities of daily life.

See also:

Charles Xavier, X-Men: First Class (has an accident involving a bullet)

(He used to look different, too, and often still does. Not going there, too complicated.)

Heidi Petrelli, Heroes (has an accident involving a car)

Artie Abrams, Glee (had a pre-series accident involving a car)

Logan Cale (“Eyes Only”), Dark Angel (has an accident involving a bullet)

(FWIW, the only wheelchair-using character of colour I could think of in a major TV/film role was a distant memory of "that guy in Viper", representing the near-standard trope of the crippled genius scientist/tech support guy. Wikipedia informs me that this was Dr. Julian Wilkes, played by Dorian Harewood.)

So. Wheelchairs, huh? Props or costumes? Well, if they're props, shouldn't they be portable? And if they're costumes, shouldn't they, uh, fit?

Note the size and position of the large wheels on both Xavier’s and Pike’s wheelchairs. (Xavier's wheelchair doesn't look as if it's even designed to move--what are those things at the back?--but it has push handles, and the actress clearly thinks she's meant to be pushing it, so I read it as intended to be a functional manual wheelchair.) These wheels would be exceedingly difficult for the users to reach and push effectively (IF the powers that be in film land permitted them to push their own chairs; note that both characters are provided with able-bodied pushers). For reference, the guideline is that a person with arms of average length should be able to touch the hubs (centres) of the main (ordinarily rear) wheels while seated in the wheelchair without bending. Could these actors achieve this? I doubt it.

Secondly, note the armrests. Armrests on proper manual wheelchairs—I’m not talking about one-size-fits-all hospital cheapie chairs here, but about manual wheelchairs designed for active wheelchair users—are there for people who require arm support. Otherwise they just get in the way. Also, they’re removable--except, apparently, on these Hollywood monstrosities--so if you DID have them but didn’t always need them, you wouldn’t keep them on the chair all the time. Neither of these men displays a sufficiently reduced level of arm function that I would expect them to require or want armrests (since we actually see this Charles get shot, and it's a low back injury, I wouldn't expect him to have any loss of arm function at all; he's not a quad, he's a para). These wheelchairs are physically a poor fit for these actors/characters.

Bobby has a different problem:

Namely, his is a one-size-fits-all hospital cheapie chair. I can't imagine what kind of decent physical rehabilitation centre would have sent him home in that monstrosity; I can only conclude that he didn't do rehab, because he's an ornery old sod, and just bought/obtained the cheapest thing he could and went on his way. In which case he let his feelings get the better of him; a little research should have shown him that he could get a lot more done with a better wheelchair (and the training to use it well), and since he must have been shelling out for housing modifications at the time (ramps, bathroom mods, etc), you'd think he might not have balked at actually paying for a better quality version of the thing he was going to be relying on for 100% of his daily mobility for the foreseeable future. (Failing this, I'd have expected him to hole up in his workshop and see if he couldn't manufacture or modify a wheelchair that was actually suitable for his line of work. Iron might be heavy, but it's gotta be kinda useful to be sitting in a machine made of stuff ghosts can't abide! And think of the possibilities for toting weapons, holy water, and so on! I just can't see Bobby sitting around in a standard hospital monstrosity for very long, no matter how mopey he was feeling.)

Heidi Petrelli’s wheelchair is not congruent with her level of function, given that her family’s wealth makes price no object. My google-fu failed me on finding screen caps, but [livejournal.com profile] nix_this has come through.

(What do you see here? I see a small girl in a huge contraption. It'd be difficult to find a wheelchair that more loudly screamed hey, wheelchair here! Look at the wheelchair! Pay no attention to the person sitting in it!)

(Note what the presence of the unnecessary armrests makes her do to reach the rims. In addition, this wheelchair is at least a couple of inches too wide for her. Counting wheelspacing as well as seat width, I'd say >5 inches. Would you buy glasses that were 5 inches too wide for your face?)

Trust me: the chair she has is not the chair she would have, if she'd been through a competent rehab programme or even simply had the chair scripted by a competent OT, and nor would she push it like that. I don’t think it’s possible for someone who actually is an active wheelchair user to watch Heroes and believe that that character had been through any kind of competent rehab process. But it's still not as bad as Xavier's and Pike's, because the actress can push that wheelchair, it's just... clumsy and awkward and slow and she'd probably die if she went anywhere near a steep hill.

(Disclaimer: I've seen precisely one episode of Glee in its entirety, "Wheels", and I judge on that. At some stage, I gave the show a second chance only to switch it off when the recap offended me with some stupid shit about Artie having borrowed crutches and attempted to stand up so he could tap-dance. What? I mean what the actual fuck? Just what drugs are these writers on?)

Artie Abrams is better supplied. He has a decent wheelchair, although it doesn't fit him terribly well. I haven't managed find a cap that properly shows his (rather telling) typical off-to-the-side leg position, although the one towards the top of the page gives a hint, but even these images show that his footplate is too high--it's actually built up on risers, which you don't usually see on the wheelchairs of average-sized adults. Uh, ditto with the female character there. Your legs are actually supposed to touch the seat cushion, you know, not be lifted up off it because your feet are sitting too high. Also, the actor appears to have made zero effort to learn to push it. (Either that or he thinks it’s appropriate to invent a kind of Steve Urkel Nerd Walk for wheelchair users. Artie alone is reason enough for me not to watch Glee.)

On the plus side, it does appear to be a decent modern lightweight chair, a Colours, maybe, from the castor forks. So some Kudos there. But it should be set up very differently, with no anti-tips (please! A teenager with full upper-body function and no balance issues who's been using a wheelchair for years rocking around with anti-tips on all the time? No way. His anti-tips would be gathering dust in the bottom of a cupboard somewhere, and he'd have a tippy chair to boot. So he could, you know, get over obstacles larger than the anti-tips will allow. Plus have a smaller wheelbase, be able to back up closer to things, and other fun stuff. Again, telling that when they brought in the actual wheelchair user to do Artie's stunts in "Wheels", that was a differently-set-up chair with no anti-tips. Indeed, the one vaguely impressive stunt the stunt guy does cannot be done with anti-tips on, period.)

(Disclaimer: I'm only part way through watching the first season of Dark Angel; they still have plenty of time to screw it up!)

Logan Cale does much better, IMHO. Not only does he have a recognisably high-end wheelchair—which makes in-universe sense, given his wealth—and not only is it a good fit, but the actor has clearly made an effort to learn to use it. The cinematography doesn’t make a big deal of his wheelchair use (refreshing!), but from what we do see, he looks to me like he’s reasonably fluent. (It would be nice if the writers/directors had gone to as much trouble as the actor and props people clearly have here. Then perhaps we wouldn’t have frankly bizarre scenes like the one where thugs kidnap Logan, carrying him into their car and leaving his wheelchair behind. Um, they fit into cars, you know. And won't he be easier to move around when you get to Evil HQ, thus requiring less thugly attention, in his wheelchair?)

I find the Logan Cale case particularly impressive given that, IMHO, the cure storyline was always a given. I suspect the inevitability of the Heidi Petrelli cure was a contributing factor to the lack of effort at authenticity there, but the Dark Angel people, with the same ‘excuse’, have gone to rather more trouble.

I’m not going to touch on my discomfort with ‘cure’ story lines, the refusal of the powers that be to consider casting actual actors with disabilities for these parts, or the frankly offensive attitude of Kevin McHale and the Glee institution. Others have tackled these much better elsewhere, and I’d like to be a bit more positive here.

Great wheelchairs fit. They’re light enough for the particular, individual user to manage, without being too light. They support, they enable. (They don’t, unless you have a spare grand or so, have anything that can accurately be termed ‘brakes’.) They have only those extra/bolt-on parts--for example push handles, seat belts, arm rests, side guards, anti-tip tubes--that the particular user actually needs. And these parts cost extra, so you don't generally order them on a whim.)

This is a good wheelchair, for its user (me). It’s a Quickie Ti Titanium, about five years old, a discontinued model. (Many manufacturers are discontinuing their titanium lines. They say it’s because aluminium is better and cheaper, but that’s not universally reflected in either user consensus or, you know, prices.) It’s no longer a great fit and no longer entirely suits my needs (I have a new one on the way, aluminium, over an inch narrower, with larger lighter wheels. Red ones!). It obviously doesn’t suit the needs of 12” Captain Pike here. But it’s still a great chair, and it’s beautiful. (It’s my Impala.)

(The seat is clearly too wide. He cannot reach the wheels.)

(It's comfortable, though. He could totally nap on this cushion. It's a Roho, you know.)

(Lots of dump on this chair--that's the difference between the back and front floor-to-seat-heights. Note how minimal the frame looks, so that you tend to see lots of person and relatively little chair. Also note how BIG the big wheels are, how they stick up higher than the seat, and how far forward they're positioned. With the wheels here, and the user's weight falling where it does, this is a very tippy wheelchair, to the point of being unsafe for the uninitiated. I'm not saying this is optimum for everyone. But some of the wheelchairs shown elsewhere on this page are optimum for no one.)

Not everyone feels the same way I do about the awesomeness of good wheelchairs, of course. There’s a common attitude that wheelchairs are the most boring part of someone’s life, and that caring about the technical details or the latest developments is somehow dwelling on an unpleasant part of life. It’s an attitude that seems most common with people with recent disabling injuries and with people who’ve used wheelchairs basically all their lives, know what works for them, and have no further enthusiasm for the topic. But I love my wheelchair, and you can bet Aaron Fotheringham’s pretty proud of the wheelchair (a Colours Boing) that helps him turn backflips. (Unless Kevin McHale/Artie has had more than one stunt double in Glee, it's Aaron I referenced above.)

For your amusement (or cold-sweating horror), I present Aaron's most famous moment:

And some other attempts, not all as successful:

Aaron is exceptional. I don't recommend any of us try his tricks at home. But the almost symbiotic relationship between him and his wheelchair is there for all to see, as is the attitude that says, hey, let's see what this thing can do. That's what I expect to see in characters like Artie Abrams. It would be far more realistic than what we get. And I don't think it's too much to ask.

And, hey, don't Aaron and that chair look really good together? There's just something great about seeing someone work so beautifully in concert with a tool, whether that tool is a wheelchair, a BMX bike, a vaulting horse, or a baby grand piano.

There is an actual real-world kink, devoteeism. Devotees may genuinely find someone more attractive the more disabled they are or look, and therefore there’s an argument to be made that giving characters useless, crappy, ugly wheelchairs heightens their appeal to a certain niche of the audience. But if you’re a movie mogul or TV studio suit who says as much to me, I will punch you. It won’t be a very powerful punch, but it’ll be from wheelchair height so you might find it lands somewhere painful. If that’s what the deal is, it shouldn’t be what the deal is. The existence of devoteeism doesn't hurt me; these ongoing unrealistic, negative, and harmful portrayals of people with disabilities do.

But I don’t think that explains it. I think it’s a lack of research, a lack of awareness of what disability is like in the real world, and a profound lack of Giving a Damn about those people. (Even though those people are, if we include all long-term disabilities, estimated to be something like TWENTY PERCENT of the population, and therefore of your audience.) And I think in the case of things like Star Trek there’s another issue: the designers are trying to be futuristic. (I suspect this is what lets down X-Men: First Class as well, though I can’t think why they’d be trying to come up with an OMG FUTURISTIC!! wheelchair for a film set in the 1960s.)

I don’t expect film designers to have the time, enthusiasm, or general wherewithal to gain a good working knowledge of how wheelchair design has changed over time and why, though the general trends (towards more minimal, less obvious frames, lighter weight without compromising strength, and greater customisability to suit individual needs) should be obvious. This is what I’d ask them to do, and it’s simple:

Find the best example you can of what works today. This may mean taking your actor to an appropriately qualified occupational therapist and saying “price isn’t an issue. Please fit this actor for the best, most appropriate manual wheelchair for his size and for the disability he is playing, which is X”. When your actor has been thus supplied with a suitable wheelchair, let him play around with it for a few days, then have him show you what he can do with it, and note how he does these things, how he uses his arms, etc. (That step can be skipped if you’re pressed for time.) Then take the wheelchair back to your lair, and ‘futurize’ it. Think about the changes you can suggest have been made to materials in the years intervening between now and your movie’s setting. You may want, for instance, to replace metal tubing with clear material, to paint plastic parts silver as if they were metal, to replace plain upholstery with more futuristic-looking fabrics, or to query the CGI people about whether they can matte out parts (the way the spokes on Kirk’s motorbike wheels were removed in post). Come up with a more futuristic LOOKING version of a modern day chair that suits the actor, in short. Don’t fuck with its function, because that’s just stupid. Stupid and offensive. Stupid and offensive and inexcusable. Okay, so not just stupid. Don't radically redesign a machine you know precious little about. Don't be so arrogant as to think you can reinvent the wheel[chair] during six weeks of pre-production.

A note on power: DO NOT think you are making a manual wheelchair more futuristic and space-age and awesome by making it a powerchair. Even if it hovers, climbs staircases, and bakes soufflés. Manual wheelchairs look and function the way they do FOR A REASON. Think about it: if powerchairs were innately superior for all people in all circumstances, why would you ever see manual wheelchairs around the place? You wouldn’t. Check the prices: high-end manuals can be more expensive than low-end powered models. Absolutely, power has some advantages over manual, for example:

  • in a power chair, you can hold a drink or hold your darling’s hand while manoeuvring
  • you can go further and faster on less muscle power
  • you can moderate your downhill speed without risking the skin on your palms
  • people who lack the function to push a manual chair far or at all can go places in a powerchair
  • user-controlled tilt-and-recline functions for pressure relief are an expensive, but valuable, possibility with power

Places where manual wins hands-down include:

  • there are no batteries to run out
  • the wheelchair can be easily stowed in virtually any car (pop off main wheels, fold down the back, chuck the frame on a seat and the wheels in the footwell and you're good)
  • a strong, talented manual wheelchair user can perform such feats as going up and down staircases in a decent manual chair; if you’re in power and there’s no lift and no ramp you’re out of luck
  • the wheelchair can be manoeuvred, with user in it or not, by others, including up steps
  • you can travel in places where there is not likely to be mains power available for recharging
  • the average bike shop is likely to be able to help out with minor repairs
  • you can actually get around under your own steam

Could go on, but I won’t. Suffice it to say that there are plenty of good reasons to make either choice, and suggesting that in the future every wheelchair user will use power because OMG IT’S OBVIOUSLY BETTER misses the point. And seems somehow to insult those of us who’ve chosen not to embrace power here, now, in the present.

Try doing this in a powerchair:

Now, I can’t do this. Frankly, I don’t think I’d have the guts even to try. All alone, and faced with a staircase like this and a strong need or desire to climb it, I would probably get out of the wheelchair, then crawl or bump up the stairs one by one, pulling my wheelchair behind me, and get back in at the top (difficult, but do-able). There is no way I could do the same thing with a powerchair, it’s just too heavy and is not designed to be lugged around like that. Would I trust a stair climbing powerchair? Not very damn likely. And even if I had one, I wouldn’t use it. I like getting around under my own power, and actually making some use of what muscle power I have left. Power isn’t for me. It’s not for a lot of people, at least not full-time. Some folks have both kinds of wheelchair and use what’s most appropriate for where they have to be on a given day or how they’re feeling.

I’m including some examples below of good-looking, well-performing, lightweight and ultra-lightweight modern manual wheelchairs (mostly marketing pics). I’m personally picturing Admiral Pike in the TiLite, though possibly with flashier back wheels (they're easily interchanged, with the caveat that US and European axle diameters may differ). :-)

(Quickie Q7, aka Quickie Helium. Aluminium, with thicker tubing than would be necessary with more expensive metals. Consequently has a somewhat blunt, rough, 'butch' look to my eye. Lots of folks hate the caster position on these, since they're in-line with the main wheels rather than tucked in a little so they tend to get in the way more.)

(Lasher Sport BT-MG. These guys do some pretty amazing custom work. Check out their dragon chair!)

(Panthera X. Very modern, very very light, lots of carbon fibre, very wow.)

(TiLite ZRA, adjustable, titanium, beautiful. The Aero-Z is the aluminium version, which I was able to trial recently. Sweet chair from a legitimately well-regarded company.)

(Colours Razorblade. This is what I'm getting, though in a profoundly different configuration. If I hadn't been roped into trying one a couple of years ago at a show I would never have considered this model, because the way the chair looks in the stock photos isn't attractive to me, and nor is the company's insistence on 'bling' and on using sexy women--no sexy men in sight--to advertise its chairs. But the proof's in the trial. When I came to do official trials to identify the best new chair for me, no other chair made me grin. It feels right. And I've opted to go without the bling ;-)

(Progeo Joker Evolution. Saw this at a trade show, up there on a pedestal like the minor god it is, and snapped a picture because I knew I didn't dare ask the price! I call it 'The Thing of Beauty'. I love its green trim, particulary the green wheel rims--NOT push rims, they've actually coloured the metal of the wheel! Spectacular.)

I thought I’d finish up with a nice, handy, memorable slogan that perhaps Hollywood types can actually grok: GIVE SEXY ACTORS SEXY WHEELCHAIRS!

Because wheelchairs are not the enemy. Wheelchairs are wonderful. Wheelchairs are how you get out and do awesome things in the world when your feet can’t be trusted to carry you. And getting around by wheelchair can be fun in ways that getting around on foot can't; trust me, I've been there, done both.

A wheelchair can fit like a glove. It can feel like part of you. It can express your personality. It can be beautiful. It can be sexy.

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Date: 2012-10-13 04:45 pm (UTC)
trialia: River Song (played by Alex Kingston) smiling serenely at the camera while saying 'There's always a way out.' (who] river - serenity)
From: [personal profile] trialia
Excellent post for the most part, though I disagree with some of your "manual is better because" reasons (I'm a powerchair user without the physical capability to use a manual) - my powerchair has a freewheel setting that allows manoeuvrability by others and is light enough that it can be moved up stairs by an able-bodied person or someone with non-impaired upper body strength quite easily provided I'm not in it - it weighs about the same as I do, which is around 74kg.

I do consider my powerchair as getting me around under my own steam - I don't need to be accompanied, and saying it's less so than a manual when I can't physically use a manual would be a bit offensive if it were an abled person saying that!

I can also travel pretty far & long, within my own definition of such, without needing to charge it - I've only once in the time I've had it so far ended up without any charge left before I get home, 200 metres from my bus stop, and enlisted a friendly policeman to push me in freewheel. I can get roughly 25 miles out of every charge, which is more than enough for me.

Oh, and my local wheelchair/mobility scooter hire place, and there's a branch in most cities in England, are entirely happy to do minor (and sometimes a bit worse than minor) repairs for me for free. I had a part replaced by them free recently.

Last thing: powerchairs can totally be sexy too - mine is a lovely, comfy Invacare Harrier Plus covered in sparkly butterflies, which CAN have all those bells & whistles like tilting, armrests, cosy cushions & kerb climbers added or removed easily - and honestly, the bigger deal here is that we need more chair-user presence and representation and more accurately done, isn't it?

I love your post, I do, but I feel a little bit excluded by your definition of sexy since I can't handle a manual chair. Gonna share this though! Plenty of my circle will be interested. Found this through [livejournal.com profile] kat_lair.
Edited (typos - commenting from an Android is awkward) Date: 2012-10-13 04:49 pm (UTC)

(no subject)

From: [personal profile] badgerbag - Date: 2012-11-06 10:14 pm (UTC) - Expand

Date: 2012-10-30 05:33 pm (UTC)
clare_dragonfly: woman with green feathery wings, text: stories last longer: but only by becoming only stories (NCIS: Tony: mmm... tie)
From: [personal profile] clare_dragonfly
What a cool post. I love learning about things that I may never have noticed without posts like these. Is it weird to say that the more I learn/read about wheelchairs, the awesomer I think they are? I definitely want to write more characters who use wheelchairs in the future...

Date: 2012-10-31 03:16 am (UTC)
kate_nepveu: sleeping cat carved in brown wood (Default)
From: [personal profile] kate_nepveu
This was a terrific post, thanks.

Date: 2012-10-31 04:20 am (UTC)
sasha_feather: Retro-style poster of skier on pluto.   (Default)
From: [personal profile] sasha_feather
Hello! I am about to link this post at [community profile] access_fandom. :)

Date: 2012-10-31 05:14 am (UTC)
ambyr: pebbles arranged in a spiral on sand (nature sculpture by Andy Goldsworthy) (Pebbles)
From: [personal profile] ambyr
This is a great post--thank you so much for writing it (and [personal profile] sasha_feather for linking to it).

I just wish it was easier to convince Hollywood to actually cast actors who use wheelchairs :-/.

Date: 2012-10-31 06:46 am (UTC)
lilacsigil: Charles Xavier in exploding wheelchair (Professor X)
From: [personal profile] lilacsigil
I never worked out WTF Charles' wheelchair in X-Men First Class was meant to be! In the later X-Men movies he uses a perfectly nice, compact power chair.

Thanks for this post and all the details in it. I'm a fan of Oracle (before she got magically healed, dammit!) and this is very useful information for writing her.

Date: 2012-10-31 09:04 am (UTC)
tree: a figure clothed in or emerging from bark (Default)
From: [personal profile] tree
oh, wow. sexy wheelchairs. thank you for bringing this new and exciting concept into my brains! i love the razorblade. phwoar.

also, yay dark angel!

Date: 2012-10-31 09:06 am (UTC)
moonvoice: (wildspeak - the moon dmiezakr)
From: [personal profile] moonvoice
Thank you so much for this post, it just covered so much, so well, and gives me so much food for thought as well.

I am dismayed to admit this isn't something I have thought about a great deal in the past (additionally because I spent a significant time walking with a cane, and *did* look at trends / functionality of canes only to realise that what House was walking with was especially useless (especially for a doctor) - I see cane issues in a lot of TV shows, so I'm frustrated with myself that I hadn't used my brain or consideration to look at wheelchair issues too), but it's inserted itself into the forefront of my brain now and I'm going to follow up some of those links and have an explore. Thank you again.

You've also made me think about how cinematography *does* often make a big deal of the wheelchair, and I'm going to watch shows that feature characters in wheelchairs more closely now, so I can get in the habit of picking that up.

Date: 2012-10-31 09:23 am (UTC)
laeria: Implied-Parisian lamp post, Eiffel tower, people embracing, all meshed together and looking golden-autumny, um. (Default)
From: [personal profile] laeria
Try doing this in a powerchair.

Well, I mean, it's not unheard of.

(I don't mean to dilute your excellent point, just providing your commenters with further sexy things to ogle. The first link especially, it's like a Fast & Furious flick.)

But, more to the point, I definitely agree that using hospital-looking chairs is a huge mistake and missed opportunity for characterisation. (I mean, it could be a conscious choice to emphasise reluctance to do research/meet with professionals - but that could only work in Bobby's case, I think.) And worldbuilding, too, because there are so many cool theories about the future of assistive technology! Great post and lovely pic choices.

... Also, wait, Logan gets cured?

Date: 2012-11-01 01:05 am (UTC)
jesse_the_k: My head on foam mat under pine trees (on the disabling wagon)
From: [personal profile] jesse_the_k
There are many things sad about S2, and Logan's arc is def one of them. I must agree that Weatherly used his chair like a chair user.

Date: 2012-10-31 09:48 am (UTC)
armaina: seriously dudes, not stock art. (Default)
From: [personal profile] armaina
Just a passerby, thanks for the article, you've pointed out a lot of things I would have never actually notice, considering well.. it's not part of my life. Which is really unfortunate to notice that these people that are trying to show us these characters aren't even trying to give any sort of thought or research into what someone with a wheel chair actually needs. It's even more sad that they don't even try finding actors that already use wheel chairs (but when Hollywood is still using white actors in place of racial minorities, when the source material uses racial minorities, that's not really much of a surprise :| ) I can understand it if there was some sort of need to have the actor walking in per-accident scenes or something to that effect, but it doesn't need to be that way with every character.

It's also kinda.. amusing to me that one of the few cartoon characters in a wheel chair seems to be more accurately portrayed than high profile/high budget live action shows.
Edited Date: 2012-10-31 05:37 pm (UTC)

Date: 2012-10-31 10:03 am (UTC)
raze: A man and a rooster. (Default)
From: [personal profile] raze
Thanks for posting this! I appreciate how thorough and well thought-out it was. While I'll never be making a movie or other visual media, I am soon to be embarking on a project where I have my first character who uses a wheelchair, and want the portrayal to be accurate.

Date: 2012-10-31 12:15 pm (UTC)
kaberett: Trans symbol with Swiss Army knife tools at other positions around the central circle. (Default)
From: [personal profile] kaberett
This post is beautiful and perfect and if you don't mind I'll be sticking it in some links round-ups. (I am also here from [community profile] access_fandom!)

And. Yes. Yes. Walking? Eh, I'd rather do something more interesting. And, hey, you might be able to walk, but I can do wheelies, and there's no way you're beating me on a downhill. Etc.

I am a pretty recent chair user (as of about March) and I'm in the supremely lucky position of having two chairs - one Kueschall Champion, custom made, which is very much huge & comfortable & has supportive seating & Alber E-motion anti-tips so I can use it as recliner. My other chair? I got off eBay, because when my Kueschall arrived I was DELIGHTED... and simultaneously dismayed at how big and heavy it was compared with the RGK sports chair I'd been borrowing for 6 months. So, um, I bought an RGK. ;) Which is a thing of joy and BEAUTY, and if I ever end up in NZ again (... which is not totally implausible) you would be extremely welcome to give it a try ;)

Because, yes, this is the other thing: I am SO FAR from being the only person in my local community with two chairs for two purposes (a friend who is a long-term user with an existing XLT with e-motions, plus a power-chair, is also buying a super lightweight titanium chair for getting around the house in after having tried mine!), so WHY CAN'T WE ALSO have actors shown using different chairs for different purposes?

Date: 2012-11-01 01:07 am (UTC)
jesse_the_k: those words in red on white sign (be aware of invisibility)
From: [personal profile] jesse_the_k
Not to mention the workout chair and the office chair and for the minimally walking among us, the 1st floor chair and the basement chair.

Date: 2012-10-31 12:26 pm (UTC)
erratic: Abstract painting (Default)
From: [personal profile] erratic
There is an actual real-world kink, devoteeism. Devotees may genuinely find someone more attractive the more disabled they are or look, and therefore there’s an argument to be made that giving characters useless, crappy, ugly wheelchairs heightens their appeal to a certain niche of the audience. But if you’re a movie mogul or TV studio suit who says as much to me, I will punch you. It won’t be a very powerful punch, but it’ll be from wheelchair height so you might find it lands somewhere painful. If that’s what the deal is, it shouldn’t be what the deal is. The existence of devoteeism doesn't hurt me; these ongoing unrealistic, negative, and harmful portrayals of people with disabilities do.

Actually, devotees find these unrealistic portrayals very off-putting. You forgot the mother of them all: Gattaca. That chair looks like it was stolen from a hospital. And I don't think even hospital chairs would look that bad in that time period!

Anyway, awesome post, I completely agree with everything else. Sorry for butting in.

Date: 2012-11-06 10:11 pm (UTC)
badgerbag: (Default)
From: [personal profile] badgerbag
I think that the existence of devotees does hurt us, as the fetishization and sort of pornification of us is dehumanizing.

But Gattaca was a great movie

From: (Anonymous) - Date: 2016-02-22 06:20 pm (UTC) - Expand

Date: 2012-10-31 12:34 pm (UTC)
neolithicsheep: Text says: We have done the impossible and that makes us mighty. (impossible makes us mighty)
From: [personal profile] neolithicsheep
Amen! I love my Aero Z so much, because it gives me so much freedom. Most of these actors look like they've been caged, not set free.

Date: 2012-10-31 01:30 pm (UTC)
pickledginger: (Default)
From: [personal profile] pickledginger
Neat column, thanks. Not news to methat there are better chairs out there -- um, hello, guys: marathons? wheelchair basketball? clue? -- but neat to see your perspective.

FWIW, the people I know well locally who are stuck in wheelchairs (no, wait) are stuck (and I do mean stuck) in the hospital / airport / don't work terribly well models. And yes, that's after PT. It may be a shame and a scandal, but there it is. Neither has the disposable income to privately acquire something that would convey, I dunno, mobility? So at the lower end of the income scale -- not where any of these characters live, but that's another issue -- using one of those clunkers would not be unrealistic.

But really, I was mostly reading because I have been developing a very strong interest in wheelchairs lately due to not being able to stand up worth a damn anymore. I have dysautonomia (well, and back and knee and foot and ankle injuries) and am having trouble getting from the car to the doctor's office with the rollator. Increasingly finding myself using it as a really bad wheelchair.

A wheelchair would actually improve my mobility, a lot, and might let me get more exercise. But they weigh more, and I still would have to get the thing in and out of the car. And I don't know how/where I would carry stuff. And‡ ... argh! Anyway, thanks many. *goes off to think*

(‡ And $$. And if my shoulder can't be fixed, all this is irrelevant anyway. And, and. But still, cool posting.)

Edited Date: 2012-10-31 04:11 pm (UTC)

Thank you!

Date: 2012-10-31 03:40 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] sagaciouslu.livejournal.com
The marvelous ysabetwordsmith linked to this post of yours. I knew nothing about wheelchair culture / mechanics prior to this. Now I know more. It excites me to get some insight into new things.

I especially appreciated your observation about wheelchair 'fluency'. It is a lovely image and, I suspect, very apt.

Thank you for sharing.

Date: 2012-10-31 04:38 pm (UTC)
breezeshadow: TEA TIMES ICON (ALLtheTea)
From: [personal profile] breezeshadow
Great post, and those wheelchairs at the very end are GORGEOUS. Seriously, I love the green trim one, probably because green is my favourite colour. And now I have a better understanding of how horribly wheelchair users are portrayed in Hollywood; I didn't even realize such beautiful wheelchairs exist, let alone that you can go up stairs with them.

Date: 2012-10-31 04:53 pm (UTC)
majoline: picture of Majoline, mother of Bon Mucho in Loco Roco 2 (Default)
From: [personal profile] majoline
This is a fantastic post; thank you for sharing! ♥

Date: 2012-10-31 06:25 pm (UTC)
kass: "let love be your engine," image of Kaylee and of Serenity (let love be your engine)
From: [personal profile] kass
Thank you for this awesome, thought-provoking, beautiful meta essay (with pictures!)

Date: 2012-11-01 01:10 am (UTC)
jesse_the_k: White woman riding black Quantum 4400 powerchair off the right edge, chased by the word "powertool" (JK 56 powertool)
From: [personal profile] jesse_the_k
Excellent, informative, funny post. Many sexy chairs, but the Pike action figure in yours was the best.

I admit to frank envy around manual chair users — nothing like a well-fitted chair noodled around by a well-muscled human.

Date: 2012-11-01 02:33 am (UTC)
katiemariie: Screencap of Braca and Scorpius in The Peacekeeper Wars with the caption "your love is weird and toxic" (Fardale)
From: [personal profile] katiemariie
Great post! I don't think it's occurred to anyone in film and television--outside of the producers of Farscape--to make adaptive technology sexy. Or sexy in a way that is empowering rather than infantilizing. (Not that I have anything against consensual infantilization, but that's whole 'nother issue.)

I shared a quote and linked to this piece on the Space Crip Tumblr.


Date: 2016-02-22 06:25 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
wouldn't the next leap forward be some sort of powered exoskeleton.. like the starship troopers ? if only paraplegic a waist down exo would work...
Is that so hard to build ?

Re: Exoskeletons

From: [personal profile] lauredhel - Date: 2016-02-23 01:35 am (UTC) - Expand

a few other references

Date: 2012-11-01 03:44 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
The replies from folks with first-hand-knowledge is very enlightening and set a good tone to this article. Thanks to you all!

As to characters on television, there's Davros from Dr. Who
Despite all the jokes about their inability to negotiate stairs (so how can they rule the earth?), I believe later versions could levitate. I'm unsure if Davros ever got that upgrade.

The US series "Ironside" starred Raymond Burr as the wheelchair-using Chief of Detectives, Robert T. Ironside. It was popular enough to be parodied too: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ironside_%28TV_series%29#Parodies

Bell Atlantic (now Verizon) was one of the few employers where several of my co-workers had severe handicaps: blind (seeing eye dog and touch-only computer equipment), Deaf, and one in a "wheelchair" that I've never seen elsewhere. The seat raised up and with a padded bar across the knees, she was almost standing upright on the motorized base, so she was at eye-level for conversation and scooting around.

There are occasional TV blurbs of computer-stabilized ones that balance on 2 wheels and can climb stairs, but I'm yet to see one "in the wild".

Date: 2012-11-01 04:54 pm (UTC)
aedifica: Drawing of a bicycle with the logo "Put the fun between your legs." (Bike fun)
From: [personal profile] aedifica
Thank you for this excellent post! And woo, if I ever need a chair I hope I can afford a Panthera X (assuming it fit me well, etc). I looked at that with the carbon fiber and so on, and my bicycle-loving self said "oooh!"

Date: 2012-11-01 09:57 pm (UTC)
thette: (Default)
From: [personal profile] thette
Very interesting article, thank you. I've never paid attention to wheelchairs in entertainment before, but I will in the future.

More than one of the big Swedish actors/stage personalities started out hosting the public service children's show, and I'm so glad that one of the most charming young women who's a host now is a wheelchair user. (The studio has a ramp, and they don't remove it for her days off.)

Date: 2012-11-02 10:37 pm (UTC)
ext_1445100: (Default)
From: [identity profile] quotidian_c.livejournal.com
Thanks for a fascinating post from someone unfamiliar with wheelchairs.

I noticed how very different the wheelchairs were for the various chair based sports in the Paralympics this summer (I saw bits of fencing, boccia, basketball and athletics). Obviously high level sports equipment is going to to be particularly specialized, and for rather different needs than typical day-to-day use, but I think it's a good highlight of one-size-not-fitting-all. The wheelchair basketball was particularly mesmerising, with amazing flow of play.

Date: 2012-11-02 10:42 pm (UTC)
ext_1445100: (Default)
From: [identity profile] quotidian_c.livejournal.com
And as soon as I hit post I realize that the phrasing wasn't very clear. I of course meant "thanks from someone unfamiliar with wheelchairs", not that I thought the post was written by someone unfamiliar with them. Argh!
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