June 3, 2012
“Push Girls,” a reality show about five attractive women in wheelchairs, is likely to engender a number of reactions in viewers, not all of them helpful to the cause of illuminating the lives of people with disabilities. From the premiere, showing Monday night on the Sundance Channel, it’s not entirely clear which of those reactions the series’s creators are going for. But the intent seems to be good, and if they can find the elusive line between voyeuristic and didactic, the show could become something of a milestone for a lot of people who have felt invisible for a long time.
In the first episode we meet four Los Angeles friends — Angela Rockwood, Auti Angel and Tiphany Adams, who were paralyzed in car accidents, and Mia Schaikewitz, whose paralysis resulted from a medical condition. (Chelsie Hill, who was also injured in a car accident, will be added to the group later.) The “push” in the show’s title doesn’t refer to assistance these women need to get around. It’s push as in boundary pushing.
The show quickly makes clear just how independent these women are, with shots of Ms. Adams driving, Ms. Angel grabbing something off a high shelf at a grocery store and so on. And it just as quickly answers the two questions that many able-bodied people unfamiliar with this universe immediately have (and, yes, sometimes still bluntly ask): How did you end up in that chair, and can you still have sex?
The accidents and Ms. Schaikewitz’s condition (a ruptured blood vessel in her spinal cord that, she recounts, “paralyzed me from the waist down over the course of a half-day”) are summarized, but the four women we initially meet seem long past the brooding stage. As for sex, various boyfriends and, in Ms. Adams’s case, a girlfriend, are introduced, and Ms. Angel, who is married, is contemplating trying to have a child.
“Being 42 and in a wheelchair, most people don’t think that I can have a baby,” she says. “But I physically can. I just don’t know if I’m ready to give up my career and my independence.” (She was a dancer before her accident and still is.)
The premiere episode tends to lapse into a “You go, girl” mode typical of shallow treatments of disability, with fist-pumping and treacly background music. It’s a tone that subtly demeans, suggesting that simple things like having head shots taken (Ms. Rockwood is trying to restart a modeling career) must be applauded because, golly, for someone in a wheelchair to do anything other than sit there is a triumph.
A little of that may be necessary to hook an audience that has come to expect this treatment whenever a person with a disability turns up on television, but the faster this show sheds that tone and its preoccupation with sex, the more useful it will be. There are numerous other things we’d like to know about these interesting women besides the particulars of their love lives: their finances, their experiences on the job, their journey to get to the confidence level they seem to have achieved, their hopes for new technologies and medical breakthroughs.
Another challenge for “Push Girls” is dispelling the impression that these women are representative. Certain viewers might well look at them and conclude, “Gorgeous, smart, independent; I guess the disabled-Americans problem has been solved, so I can go back to not thinking about it.”
The reality, of course, is that vast numbers of people in wheelchairs aren’t young and independent, are in poor physical health, don’t have money and can’t even get interviewed for jobs. The show needs to make sure to convey that it is about five unique and engaging individuals who can shed light on some aspects of the disabilities universe but aren’t that whole universe.
Sundance Channel, Monday nights at 10, Eastern and Pacific times; 9, Central time.
using the number/letter grid:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
A B C D E F G H I
J K L M N O P Q R
S T U V W X Y Z
A = 1 J = 1 S = 1
B = 2 K = 2 T = 2
C = 3 L = 3 U = 3
D = 4 M = 4 V = 4
E = 5 N = 5 W = 5
F = 6 O = 6 X = 6
G = 7 P = 7 Y = 7
H = 8 Q = 8 Z = 8
I = 9 R = 9
157531 96325664 63
her path of destiny = 63 = Doing her best and letting God worry about the rest.
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