TV Series Featuring Characters or Performers With Disabilities

A big part of raising awareness and acceptance for people with disabilities is making their stories part of popular culture. Check out our list of TV series that have had regularly featured characters or performers with special needs. Be sure to check out reviews before watching because they aren't all kid-friendly.

Alphas

Show: "Alphas"
Network: SyFy
On the Air: 2011-2012
Character of Interest: Gary Bell (Ryan Cartwright), a young man with autism whose abilities as a "human antenna" make him valuable to a crime-fighting team of people with extraordinary abilities

The Big Bang Theory

Show: "The Big Bang Theory"
Network: CBS
On the Air: 2007-2019
Character of Interest: Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons), a theoretical physicist and all-around quirky guy who talks about and displays many symptoms of Asperger's syndrome (which the DSM-5 now classifies under autism spectrum disorder or ASD)

Bones

Show: "Bones"
Network: FOX
On the Air: 2005-2017
Character of Interest: Dr. Temperance "Bones" Brennan (Emily Deschanel), a forensic anthropologist who looks to a lot of viewers like a person with ASD

Breaking Bad

Show: "Breaking Bad"
Network: AMC
On the Air: 2008-2013
Character of Interest: Walter White, Jr. (RJ Mitte), son of a chemistry teacher turned meth maker who, like the actor who plays him, has ​cerebral palsy​

The Bridge

Show: "The Bridge"
Network: FX
On the Air: 2013-2014
Character of Interest: Sonya Cross (Diane Kruger), a detective in the El Paso police department with ASD

Covert Affairs

Show: "Covert Affairs"
Network: USA
On the Air: 2010-2014
Character of Interest: Auggie Anderson (Christopher Gorham), a blind CIA analyst who's a tech whiz and sidekick for newbie agent Annie Walker, played by Piper Perabo

Glee

Show: "Glee"
Network: FOX
On the Air: 2009-2015
Characters of Interest: Artie Abrams (Kevin McHale), a glee-club member who uses a wheelchair, and Becky Jackson (Lauren Potter), a cheerleader with Down syndrome

Grey's Anatomy

Show: "Grey's Anatomy"
Network: ABC
On the Air: 2005-Present
Character of Interest: Dr. Virginia Dixon (Mary McDonnell), a cardiac surgeon with ASD, appeared in several episodes of the series' sixth season

King & Maxwell

Show: "King and Maxwell"
Network: TNT
On the Air: 2013
Character of Interest: Edgar Roy (Ryan Hurst), who is often described as "a high-functioning autistic savant" specializing in patterns and numerical sequences.

Legit

Show: "Legit"
Network: FX and FXX
On the Air: 2013-2014
Character of Interest: Billy Nugent (DJ Qualls), a man with severe muscular dystrophy who was sprung from a nursing home by a trying-to-do-good friend

Life Goes On

Show: "Life Goes On"
Network: ABC
On the Air: 1989-1993
Character of Interest: Corky Thatcher (Chris Burke), a high-school student with Down syndrome, just like the actor who plays him, and a member of the family the series focused on

The Middle

Show: "The Middle"
Network: ABC
On the Air: 2009-2018
Character of Interest: Brick (Atticus Shaffer), the youngest child of the Heck family and a quirky little fellow whose odd ways and habit of repeating things in a whisper has some viewers wondering if he's on the autism spectrum; whether the character is special needs or not, the show remains of interest as Shaffer has osteogenesis imperfecta (OI), also known as brittle bone disease

Modern Family

Show: "Modern Family"
Network: ABC
On the Air: 2009-2020
Actor of Interest: Sarah Hyland, who plays Haley Dunphy, revealed that she was born with kidney dysplasia and received a kidney transplant from her father in April 2012, at age 21; after complications five years later, she received a kidney from her brother, actor Ian Hyland

Parenthood

Show: "Parenthood"
Network: NBC
On the Air: 2010- 2015
Character of Interest: Max Braverman (Max Burkholder), a member of the youngest generation of the sprawling Braverman clan and, as of the show's first episode, a child diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome (now ASD)

The Secret Life of the American Teenager

Show: "The Secret Life of the American Teenager"
Network: ABC Family
On the Air: 2008-2013
Special-Needs Connection: Tom Bowman (Luke Zimmerman), a level-headed young man with Down syndrome, much like the actor who plays him

St. Elsewhere

Show: "St. Elsewhere"
Network: NBC
On the Air: 1982-1988
Special-Needs Connection: Tommy Westphall (Chad Allen), the autistic son of St. Eligius Hospital honcho Dr. Donald Westphall

Switched at Birth

Show: "Switched at Birth"
Network: ABC Family
On the Air: 2011- 2017
Character of Interest: Daphne Vasquez (Katie Leclerc), a hearing-impaired teenager who finds out she went home with the wrong family as an infant; one entire episode—season 2, episode 9—was done entirely in American sign language (ASL)

The West Wing

Show: "The West Wing"
Network: NBC
On the Air: 1999-2006
Character of Interest: Joey Lucas (Marlee Matlin), a pollster who, much like the actor who plays her, is deaf

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  1. National Kidney Foundation. Modern Family star opens up about her kidney disease and transplants.