When Disabled Is Powerful

The new television season started this past week. There’ve been shake ups for program days and times. Some of last year’s staples are gone. With that, we’ve collectively breathed a sigh of relief about some of the shows as well as grumbled softly about others that remain.

We also have one show that’s a reprise. “Ironside” is now set in current perspective with Blair Underwood (a Black lead) playing the title role of a paraplegic police detective out to get the answers that lead to getting the bad guys out of circulation.

Remember Raymond Burr? With Burr as the star, the show had an eight-year run. It was all about the hard-as-nails detective out to get results. As far as the audience was concerned, he had no real personal life and no real obstacles.

Enter Underwood in the title role. Ironside has a personal life. He has a girlfriend and they have a full relationship. He suffers from PTSD and suffers flashbacks (just like many of our contemporary veterans) to the day of the incident that led to the loss of his full abilities. He’s a Black man aligned with law enforcement, not a victim of it. The bad guys (and women) come from all walks of life, diverse ethnicities, forms of crime. You find them in many locations and venues.

As with the earlier version, the new Ironside quickly identifies ways to overcome the barriers to accomplish his goals and the manner in which he pursues his mission. Although his flashbacks remind him of how he wound up in his current circumstances as well as the fact that his condition is permanent, he is not wallowing in self pity. It’s obvious that he’s not dissolved into feeling worthless. There are alternatives to the straightforward methods of doing his work. Life is still open to him in many ways. And just when the criminals think they have him under their thumbs, some new skill (of which we weren’t previously aware) emerges as part of the means of escaping Death.

While I want to say that this version of Ironside is stellar in its delivery because of the demographics it seeks to portray, I don’t want to go down that path while there’s scant time to research the statistics of Black men who are paraplegics. I want to research how many there were five and ten and fifteen years ago. It’s my guess, especially in light of the fact that there are so many foreign war veterans, that the numbers are growing at an enormous rate.

The fact that this iteration allows Ironside to have PTSD and flashbacks sets the stage for us to become conditioned. We are being led to realize that not every person who suffers from those conditions is out of control. They are not deranged and they are not dangerous to others – unless, of course, that other is actively and currently threatening their welfare and safety.

The frequency of those flashbacks made the story line difficult to follow at times. That’s what probably caused its low rating.

Ironside is not a homeless man. He is not living in a shelter. And he does positive things to take care of himself, all the way from healthy diet to exercise to staying up to date on reading of all types of matter, and use of technology.

This iteration of Ironside shows us disability in a positive light. It helps employers see it not as a deficit and depletion of revenues. In fact, it tacitly shows employers and recruiters the many possibilities of having this type of disabled person among the members of their staff and book of talent. The person is resourceful and in many ways can go toe to toe with everyone else.

And then there’s that name of the character – Ironside. He’s difficult to defeat because his outer (and in many respects, even his inner) side is as difficult to penetrate as iron.

I’d like to congratulate the producers of this new, updated version of Ironside. The subtle messages came through loud and clear for me – and I was only half watching while I worked on another project. While it isn’t disabled veterans nor young men of color who live in a ghetto, this show is providing these demographics with a role model who helps them realize there is life after the incident, whatever that incident was. It reminds them that the encouraging and supportive words from friends, coaches, instructors, and family are not mere platitudes – empty words that sounds nice. There is reality in what’s being said. Being disabled does not mean not empowered. It’s just the opposite.

Who told you that Life would be easy lied to you. Life is supposed to be challenging so that you can take pride in figuring out how to overcome the barriers. Life is supposed to be challenging so that we can flaunt our own personal ironside.

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