There’s a Reality Show About Girls In Wheelchairs (Cringe)
The Sun Dance Channel’s latest reality addition Push Girls, a series about five paralyzed women living in Hollywood, aired this past Monday night at 10pm. Normally, this kind of never-before-seen exposure of wheelchair life would be great news for the handicapped. We’re finally getting some face time in the media, something that died along with Christopher Reeves. The problem is there is no collective voice for spinal cord injuries and so I fear these girls have been empowered by having a large platform, and yet it’s not the voice of a very diversified population. And already, the stereotyping has begun.
Kudos to the Push Girls for getting together over a glass of wine, coming up with this reality pitch and selling the idea to Sundance. Am I jealous? Kind of. They beat me to the public eye and are stealing some of my imaginary wheelchair thunder. I’ve been paralyzed for 13-years and have been working on a book about it for the past two years. I, too, have a story. I’m the only person that has been paralyzed on Sea World property. In fact, every person that has faced adversity has a story and that’s kind of the problem. Five women are representing the entire paralyzed population. Let me reiterate, these five women are representing the entire paralyzed population.
Let’s meet them. First is Tiphany Adams–yes! with a ph–a sexy, flirty, I-don’t-categorize-my-sexuality and I’ll put on a show. She’s a paraplegic that was in a car accident ten years ago. There is Mia Schaikewitz, the only woman to not be injured by car accident but by some awful betrayal of her own body. She has a boyfriend but doesn’t want to settle down because there might be someone else better out there (but later we find out the real reason for her laissez-faire attitude, her soon-to-be ex-boyfriend doesn’t want kids). Next there’s Angela Rockwood, who is gorgeous, once a model, once married and the only quadriplegic of the group.
And finally, there is my least favorite character (and who I’m counting on will be everybody else’s favorite), 42-year-old Auti Angel who grew up in the “hood,” proclaims herself a ‘Diva’ and is unsure if she’s ready to have children, though she wants the world to know she’s very capable. She’s also known for dancing in her wheelchair while donning rims with recognizable silver dollars signs on them. Ugh.
Regardless of the fact these women need wheelchairs, it seems these girls are a mess, which always makes for great reality TV. But it also makes for unwanted stereotyping. So let’s not forget that the show, like how all reality programs embellish, is about hyping up a wheelchair lifestyle to be relatable or the exact opposite, unbearable. Just take a look at the first five minutes of episode one.
It’s dedicated to a sexy Tiphany as she ogles two men (I imagine paid actors) pumping gas at a gas station, attempting to prove she is admired and desired, when actually [Spoiler alert!] pumping gas is not sexy. Trust me. I’ve done it. This is what it entails: I park my van in front of the pump and then go inside the store to ask for help. This always causes confusion for the employees until finally someone steps up and volunteers themselves to help, usually a paying customer. Together we make nervous chatter as we make our way back to the pump, and then he or she ends up asking and then entering my credit card information while I sit there watching helplessly, acting independent and fearless, all the while wondering, “Is this person concerned that I can drive a vehicle but can’t pump my own gas?”Awkward right? That’s why I ask my boyfriend to fill up for me whenever possible. To Tiphany’s credit, she is in a push chair while I am not. Still I imagine no one wants to take apart and put together a chair and transfer unless absolutely necessary (or of course, it’s for a reality TV show).
Thanks to Christopher Reeves, most people think of a quadriplegic as a person that can’t move their arms at all, and often they picture an electric wheelchair with a headrest and breathing machines. This a set-up for one some quadriplegia, but not mine and not Angela’s. So bless Angela for giving quadriplegia a new, much prettier face. But I need to ask the obvious question. Why is she not in an electric wheelchair? Is a Push Girl required to be in a push chair? Because her life would be much easier if she drove electric. Maybe it’s a money issue, and that’s an acceptable reason. My chair cost about as much as a new Toyota Corolla. Still, every occupational and physical therapist must cringe watching Angela trying to push herself through the house. She is one injury level higher than me (which means I have more arm function), and even I was told not to ever use a push chair because overtime, apparently, the toll of pushing will ruin one’s shoulders. Not that it mattered. I don’t mind sitting in an electric chair. It’s much easier than pushing through the dirty, cracked open, uneven sidewalks of downtown Los Angeles. It’s no wonder Angela needs nursing care 24/7; she needs her own personal “push girl” to aid her in getting around town.
Not to pick on Angela because I do like her the most out of the other characters, but she confirms another disabled stereotype when she tells the camera, “I can’t go to an office job and type on a computer.” Say what? Wheelchair people work. And did she forget she’s sitting at a computer typing while saying this? She may not have dexterity in her fingers but every quadriplegic knows there’s aids to assist with that. I’m a quadriplegic. I have typing tools. I can type. I also managed to hold an office job for three years as the managing editor of a smaller national publication. While I may have to ask for help when pumping gas, I prove myself a key player on any job and I’m not the only one. There are many quads that have part-time, even full-time, jobs in offices. Angela just doesn’t want an office job because she’d rather work in the modeling industry, which is lovely and brings me to another point. There actually is a modeling market for wheelchair users (even I have done jobs for Disney with no modeling experience). But is that showcased on the show? No. Because then Angela’s reemergence into the modeling world wouldn’t be so dramatic. After all, Sundance wants all of you able-bodied people to scream at the TV, “You go girl!” Did it work?
Regardless if I like it or not, Push Girls is here to stay for twelve episodes. If you haven’t seen it yet, watch it. I’ll begrudgingly admit it’s entertaining. Just try to keep in mind it’s one small snap shot of a growing population, and it’s a directed and produced TV show. Trust me, it’s unlikely that so many wheelchair women want to hang out together on a regular basis. I mean, four wheelchairs in one room or on the same sidewalk? What a nightmare. Just imagine the logistics of it and how much space would be needed. But then again, I try to avoid being grouped together with any wheelchairs at any time.
Clearly, I’m not a Push Girl… nor would I like to be categorized as one.