Date of Award

Spring 2022

Degree Type

Honors Project


College of Liberal Arts

First Advisor

Mike Reynolds

Second Advisor

Jen England


This project critically engages with disability representation in the media through an uncensored autoethnography of everyday ableism. In particular, it focuses on how the Netflix series Special reveals the duality of representation: being seen is validating yet (re)traumatizing. As a queer woman with Cerebral Palsy, I’ve spent my whole life trying to find myself in TV shows and movies, latching onto the few disabled and disabled-coded characters available. I never felt fully seen until I watched Special: a show about a gay man with Cerebral Palsy gaining independence through a writing internship and romantic prospects. Special allowed me to acknowledge the trauma surrounding my disability and ableism and to reflect on how the dominant disability on-screen representation is ableist propaganda hidden in plain sight. Despite a “commitment” to break from old models of marginalization and to reject enduring stereotypes, today's media continues to emphasize what I term disability comfort, that is, centered in and by the families of disabled people and not disabled people themselves. Disability comfort leads to disabled people being used as props under so-called disability allyship. This project frames critical readings of contemporary disability representations through personal experience with disability to criticize this "progressive" reinforcement of ableism. Through humor and anger, I contextualize the real harm of such false representation: the ableist actions of non-disabled people traumatizing and degrading the mental health of disabled people. I write through the lens of disability trauma in order to discomfort abled readers and recenter the narrative on actual disabled people like myself.








Departmental Honors Projects