Ameera with her friends. (Sesame Workshop)
I, like Patti, loved watching Sesame Street grow, and I cherish what it has taught generations of children (and probably some adults). My son grew up watching Sesame Street and Mister Rogers, who modeled diversity and inclusion before it was ever discussed or expected. TV has been taken over by so many other options by 2023. Not that those programs don’t provide important social and emotional stories and lessons – many do. There was just something about watching a show like Sesame Street that helped us grow in our understanding of differences, neighborhood, and acceptance.
Seeing diversity represented in the shows that young children watch, and the books that they read, is critical. Kids often see diversity on TV or in a book long before they see it in real life. So, what are kids watching today and how is diversity and inclusion being represented?
Sesame Street started the conversation for some of the articles in this newsletter, so acknowledging the growth of disability representation is important. Four years ago, Julia (who has autism) joined the Sesame Street neighborhood. More recently, Ameera, who has a spinal cord injury joined the ever-growing and diverse cast.
If you have a 3–7-year-old, you know about Paw Patrol (unless you have been living under a rock). In 2020 the show introduced Rex, who is a Bernese Mountain Dog who uses a walker to support his back leg and has different assistive devices as part of his contribution to the team. Nonny, on the wildly popular Bubble Guppies, is autistic. His character, as well as Rex’s, has sparked some great conversations with my 5-year-old granddaughter – who informed me that we are all different and that is OK.
Keep in mind that just representing a disability does not necessarily embody inclusion and acceptance. Sesame Street spent two years developing Ameera with the intent to make her as authentic as possible. Autism and physical disabilities are becoming a part of many shows. There is still, however, very little representation of characters with intellectual and developmental disabilities in children’s television.
As our leaders, businesses, and communities continue to address diversity, equity, and inclusion – I remain hopeful that disability is included in that discussion.