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The Importance of Realistic Representation of Disability in Childhood Development

JoshNevarez's picture

This episode of Mister Roger's Neighborhood centers around mechanical engineering and its connection to disability. The episode begins with Mister Roger's running into a friend of his who is driving an electric car on his jog. Fascinated, Mister Roger's takes the vehicle for a spin and learns about a lot of the little details that goes into creating a car, starting from the chasis. Then, Mister Roger's returns home to meet with another special friend of his, Jeff Erlanger, that he is elated to introduce to the audience. Jeff had a very laboring surgery that left him as a quadripalegic at the young age of 4. Mister Roger's curiosity once again sparks and he asks his good friend to show off his wheelchair. Jeff, like the automotive mechanic, goes into great detail into the workings of his "fancy" chair, as Mister Roger's likes to describe it. Whilst this conversation is going on it is important to notice that Mister Roger's is sitting at a level height to Jeff. They are equals having a normal, casual conversation. The scene feels familiar and honest even though the audience has just met Jeff (and to anyone who has never watched Mister Roger's, who may have been flicking through the tv channels, it is their first introduction too). They continue their conversation more into how Jeff quickly learned how to use his wheelchair, has proud parents, his medical health experiences, and how every person finds their own way to cope with sadness. Another thing they do is sing a song called "It's You I Like" where Mister Roger's also changes up the lyrics a bit which makes Jeff smile. During the song the camera focuses on Jeff, who for this segment is the star of the show. 

Mister Rogers and Jeff Erlanger challenge many representations of disability that existed when it aired in February 18, 1981. Jeff was given spotlight to show the realities of disability and how his visual identity is a normal part of his own identity. Even more is how Mister Roger's highlights how extraordinary Jeff is in his incredible wheelchair that is just as cool and intriquite as a fancy new electric car. Jeff is represented as a cool little dude who is just commuting around our sweet neighborhood. Jeff is unique and cool like all of us are and he his an equal part to this shared neighborhood we all live in.

There are some more non visual parts that are important too, but I will go into a tangent about in class anyway lol.

It's You I Like - Vocals: Mister Rogers Piano: Johnny Costa