I’ve been encouraged lately, as I’m sure many of you have, with the number of TV shows, movies, and even commercials featuring people with disabilities. My own favorite is “Speechless”, though I have to admit that I haven’t seen all of them. Such social consciousness growth can’t help but improve acceptance and respect for the people we support. 

As I pondered the situation, I wondered about other art forms and where we might find examples of individuals with disabilities being the primary subjects. While my exposure to much of the fine arts universe is relatively limited, I do have a somewhat extensive library of music, so I mentally browsed through my memory of songs I’ve encountered in my many years of listening to and buying music. 

Almost immediately, I came to rest on my favorite singer-songwriter, John Prine. Prine is a raspy-voiced singer and prolific songwriter who began performing in bars in Chicago in the 70s to supplement his income as a postal worker. He was so prolific in his early days because he didn’t know that you could repeat songs from one gig to the next, prompting him to be writing new sets for each night’s performance. 

Early on, he became known for writing about out-of-the-ordinary subjects, many of which turned out to be his best known works. He wrote about old age (“Hello in There”), death, in a humorous vein (“Please Don’t Bury Me”), and addiction (“Sam Stone”). But the one that always touches my heart is “Billy the Bum”. 

Billy is a man living a marginalized life as a result of disabilities stemming from a childhood disease. Prine describes him as a “gentle boy, a real fluorescent light” who suffers the taunts of children and the disdain of adults. The fundamental message of the song is summed up in the final words of the last verse: “Just treat ‘em the same as you would your own name next time that your heart starts to bleed.”

When you get right down to it, isn’t that what all of us want for individuals with I/DD. The same respect, the same opportunities for happiness and achievement, the same treatment as anyone else. 

Note: If you’re aware of examples of other art forms that have featured people with disabilities, be it other music, plays, or visual arts, that have touched your heart, we’d love to have you share them with us. Just email your examples to officecommunications@thearcofal.org.