Why 'The Bachelor' Needs To Feature More People With Disabilities

I'm just going to be honest here: I've never seen an entire episode of The Bachelor/ette. I could say it's because I refuse to watch reality TV or that I'd rather spend my time reading great works of literature, but neither of those reasons are true. The answer is far simpler than that — I've never watched a full episode because I never saw anyone like me on the show, because The Bachelor doesn't have a history of including contestants with disabilities. I'm the girl who was born with Freeman-Sheldon Syndrome, a genetic bone and muscular disorder. I've amassed surgical scars by the dozens and logged hospital hours in the thousands. You can watch a lot of TV when you've been in a hospital bed as long as me, and I've very rarely seen people with disabilities reflected back at me in reality shows or scripted series.

You especially rarely see people with disabilities in The Bachelor (or its spinoff The Bachelorette). Despite the popularity of the series, it reflects only a small margin of its viewing audience: The straight-size, able-bodied, conventionally attractive margin. Still, you see stories about it splashed across the headlines of Us Weekly on the regular these days — people are obsessed with this show. All this frenzied excitement surrounding the special man or lady and their suitors-in-waiting made me think of my own dreams of yore. Yes, as hard as it may be to believe, I once dreamed of being one of those starry-eyed, rose-wielding Bachelorettes.

Over the years, I've struggled with feeling different and at times, I've just wanted to scream to the world, "Can't you see? Women with disabilities aren't as different as you think!" So maybe that's part of the reason that I keep wondering why, in 2017, haven't we seen a woman with a disability as the Bachelorette? It's hard enough to get disability representation in the contestants, even. A notable exception is Sarah Herron from Sean Lowe's Bachelor season who explained her disability to Working Not Working, saying, "I was born with Amniotic Band Syndrome, and as a result grew up with only one arm." 

But Herron's participation is the exception to the rule when it comes to showcasing disability diversity on The Bachelor. She's universally beloved by fellow contestants and fans, alike, though, which should be a clue to producers that viewers embrace diversity on television — and we could use some more of it. If you think about it, now is really the perfect time for the show to take a step forward in this regard. 

It's A Chance To Make History

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I'm not saying it has to be me, of course, but think of how revolutionary it would be to see someone on the small screen who maybe didn't fit those traditional standards of beauty, but presented a different kind of beauty — someone who was unique and had a story to tell. The Bachelorettes from all 12 seasons are all traditionally "pretty" with long blonde or brown hair. Good for ratings? Sure. But it's not a real representation of women — hordes of whom tune in weekly to watch people so unlike themselves fall in love.

It'll Be A Good Way To Tell Real, Honest Stories

I love a classic fairy tale as much as the next person, but here's the thing: They're not real. Ever. Sometimes the princess is in a wheelchair and her story doesn't follow any sort of script. What is real is being authentic and vulnerable and sharing that part of yourself. That's what people will ultimately relate to the most. The Bachelor/ette already loves to feature introspective segments, just think how much better they would be with contestants and stars who have seen the real struggle of living with a disability but are chasing love anyway. 

It's A Chance To Squash Those Pesky Myths About Disabilities

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It's pretty safe to say there hasn’t really been a person like me on network TV. But, it's so important that there are people with disabilities like mine represented in media. According to Variety, a recent study from the Ruderman Family Foundation (co-authored by Seinfeld actor Danny Woodburn) found that in the 2015-2016 television season, 95 percent of general disability roles were played by able-bodied actors. The study looked at the top 10 network shows and the top 21 streaming shows, and also find that only six characters with visible disabilities were featured on those shows, and only two of them were played by actors with disabilities. So, a reality show is a great place to instill disability diversity because it requires featuring an actual person with disabilities, unlike many scripted shows who hire an able-bodied actor to play pretend. 

There are many incredibly false and downright insulting misconceptions about women with disabilities — that we're somehow burdens, that we don't lead full, productive lives. If for no other reason, having someone with a disability on the show would say to the world that, "Yes, women with disabilities are just like other women with the same hopes, dreams, fears and — gasp! — romantic desires!"

Women With Disabilities Aren't Going Anywhere

In fact, we're pretty strong in numbers. The CDC reports that roughly 27 million women live with a disability in the United States — that's eight percent of the population. And, that number is growing. Women with disabilities are living and working all over the country, making us pretty hard to miss — and we're tired of television pretending we don't exist.

It’s time to start changing the world, and a show with The Bachelor's influence and popularity is a great place to start. The world is a beautifully diverse place, and I'd love to see that beauty reflected back at me on TV. I'd even volunteer myself as that first person to make history with the show. So, Bachelor producers, gather all those potential suitors, give me a rose and watch those sparks fly! Are you with me?

Images: Craig Sjodin/ABC; ABC; Courtesy Melissa Blake (2)

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