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Bean Gill wants new show, Push, to challenge how you see people with disabilities

Benveet
Benveet

Ten years ago, Benveet (Bean) Gill went to bed in Las Vegas with the use of her legs. In the morning, on Friday the 13th, she woke up without it.

"I was left paralyzed within 10 minutes," Gill told CBC News, describing how a sudden pain in her back eventually led to paralysis in her right leg, then her left.

"Having that sudden shift from being a fully able-bodied independent woman to now having a disability, being dependent on other people, it was a really hard shift for me in my life — and it's really hard for anybody to go through."

What followed was what she's described as the worst year of her life, as what was later diagnosed as transverse myelitis caused irreparable damage to her spine and, doctors told her, would forever remove her ability to walk. But instead of falling into despair, Gill did the opposite.

She worked nearly non-stop with a trainer to regain strength and mobility, became an activist for the inclusion and right of people with disabilities,  and founded a gym and treatment centre to help rehabilitate others with paralysis recovery. Now, a decade later, she just finished work on a new original series about what that life has been like.

Fenix Films/CBC
Fenix Films/CBC

"I firmly believe that one person can make a difference and I think I am that person to make a big difference in the lives of many people," she said. "I want people with disabilities to know that they can still have awesome lives. They don't need to be ashamed of themselves, and they don't need to keep hiding."

But while that show, Push (premiering today at 8:30 p.m. ET on CBC TV and CBC Gem) follows her and her real-life friends affectionately dubbed the "wheelie peeps," and shows them overcoming various challenges, its purpose is not to inspire. Instead, Gill made Push as the answer to a question: Why do people with disabilities need to choose between being ignored, or being inspirational to be seen on screen?

"The show itself just showcases our lives, our friends with disabilities, what we do, how we live. And it's not like what most people think it is," she said. "You can be successful, you can have all these things and have a disability. It's 2023, so it's about time that we start living like that."

Despite recent films like CODA and Eternals featuring characters with disabilities, representation is still lagging behind — especially in TV, according to a 2022 study by Nielsen. And when disabilities are shown, Gill said, it's more often to use them as examples of what she calls "inspiration porn," sources of motivation instead of real people with their own personal journeys and issues that extend beyond their disabilities.

Push could possibly help change that, as the first major prime time show in Canada to feature a cast comprised of people with disabilities. It includes people like couple Victoria Berezovich and Brian McPherson, both with equally "strong personalities," Gill said.

There's YouTuber Brittney Neunzig, who had two children after becoming paralyzed. There's Aleem Jaffer, a Muslim gay man with cerebral palsy which is, for him, Gill said, "just a whole box of tricks, right?"

They're similar in that they all use wheelchairs, but — while the show is centered around that commonality — Gill said the show is about going beyond that. Talking openly about and showing the everyday realities of living with disabilities, Gill said, will hopefully help humanize them in an arena where they often aren't, and stop people from avoiding saying anything, to avoid potentially saying something wrong.

"I really hope that people start seeing people with disabilities. So many of us want to be seen and heard, but too many of us get ignored," she said.

"And you know what? Everyone's one step away from joining this club. So don't think you're high and mighty because you're not. You might be a part of this club, too."