Reality-Wheelchairs

I read about this new TV show over a year ago, and discovered recently that “Push Girls” is now in its second season.  The show, on the Sundance Channel and online, is a version of Reality-TV, with four young and attractive women as the stars. Each of these women is a wheelchair user both in the show and in real life. These are women who live their lives using wheelchairs — both on and off the show.

The “push” in the title of the TV series refers to more than the physical push associated with propelling a wheelchair.  Because they are women, these actors are also pushing the audience to be aware of the important female minority within the population of people with spinal cord injuries — a population dominated by males. The show is also pushing against stereotypes of wheelchair users (and by extension, people with disabilities in general) as un-sexy or even a-sexual.  And, the women push themselves beyond what people might typically expect them to do.

The daily lives of these four women are built around careers, babies, dating, living independently, marriage, friendships, and participating in their communities.  As the executive of Sundance, Sarah Barnett, is quoted as saying, these are “young women just trying to figure it all out.”

push girls

I googled to find the “Push Girls” website and watched part of the opening episode for the second season starting this fall.  In the opening show, one of the women is branching out to try living by herself in her own apartment — on the third floor of an apartment building.  There is an elevator, but what about if there is a fire or other need to evacuate the building using the stairs?  I held my breath as one of the friends in the show demonstrated how she was able to safely back down the stairs in her wheelchair.  “Didn’t they teach you this in rehab?” she demanded of the new apartment dweller.  Egad, no!  The whole thing was new to me, but I admittedly have been out of rehabilitation practice for many years.  And yet, the situation seemed authentic. The actor doing the demonstrating lost her grip on the stair rail at one point, but breezily recovered herself and the chair.  After that, the new apartment dweller tried the backing-down-the-stairs technique herself; I found myself watching nervously during what was portrayed as her first attempt. She reached the bottom safely.  Who knew??

The producer, Gay Rosenthal, recognizes that the show might be perceived by some as exploitative of people who use wheelchairs, but she feels firmly that such a view is not true — “we’re telling the story with respect.”

“Push Girls” has been nominated for Best Reality Series by the Critics Choice Awards.  In the press it has been described as “inspiring work,” “probably the only Reality-TV worth watching,” “intelligent, engaging,” and as a show that features “babes with brio.”  Not everyone, however, agrees with such a positive spin on the series. One online rater, who identified herself as a woman with a disability, called the show “highly offensive.”  

So, go online or tune in to the Sundance Channel and watch for yourself.  Does “Push Girls” represent a positive and modern take on young women with disabilities or does it represent an offensive and false view?  See what you think.  And if you are an instructor, have your students go online and see what they think.

_____________________________

Megan Angelo, “They’re Pretty, Normal and in Wheelchairs,” New York Times, June 3, 2012.

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