March 28, 2008

Game Show Contestants With Disabilities

Stupid Question ™
Aug. 18, 2003
By John Ruch
© 2003

Q: Is “The Price Is Right” wheelchair-accessible?
—Toaste, Columbus, Ohio

A: When announcer Rod Roddy tells a contestant to “Come on down!” from the audience of this hit game show, it usually means the lucky person squeezes out of a tight row of seats and dashes down the aisle to the stage.

But yes, you can theoretically “come on down” in a wheelchair. However, like nearly all game shows, “The Price Is Right” has a horrible track record of actually letting people with disabilities in on the fun.

In the show’s entire history—starting back in 1956 on NBC and in 1972 as the reinvented modern hit on CBS—there has been exactly one wheelchair-using contestant.

Aired on Sept. 27, 1999, the show featured one Paul Rossman, who used a ramp to get onstage and was assisted by a studio page. He won a car in the show’s “Cover Up” mini-game.

Despite the anybody-can-win mystique, game show contestants are actually carefully chosen. The choices are often based on pleasing a supposed youth market and leave plenty of room for prejudice. For example, senior citizens rarely appear on any game shows, both in the US and internationally.

Paul Longmore, a San Francisco State University history professor and disabled-rights expert, has written that people with disabilities are stereotypically viewed as “virtually the antithesis of the ideal game-show contestant.” They’re branded as invalids who can’t compete; as victims deserving charity instead of earning money; and as depressed and sickly people who don’t fit the insanely happy and energetic contestant profile.

Or, as a spokesperson for The Price Is Right Productions, the show’s producer, told me, “Like everybody else, [disabled contestants] have to pass certain criteria…They have to be able to be exciting and [have an] exciting personality.”

The spokesperson, who is not directly involved in contestant selection, noted that disabled contestants are not “excluded.” But clearly, they’re almost never included, either.

The “Price Is Right” selection process, uniquely grueling among game shows, forces the audience/contestants to sit for hours on hard benches, sometimes with limited bathroom access. In a 2002 post to the corporate-complaint web site, “Jennifer B.” complained the process discriminates against elderly people, and also said he met a wheelchair-using woman there who was repeatedly attending the show to prove it never includes people with disabilities.

Accessibility is improving, but it’s usually because of such activism. Longmore got himself and other people with disabilities onto “Tic Tac Dough” and “The Joker’s Wild” after overcoming producer Dan Enright’s fears that people with disabilities would feel “embarrassed” or crash over TV camera cables. (However, “Family Feud” and “Wheel of Fortune” refused to play along.)

In 2000, a deaf man sued “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” under the Americans With Disabilities Act. He wanted to be a millionaire, but the show required people to try out via the telephone. The suit was dropped after the producers agreed to hold in-person tryouts around the country.

“Jeopardy!” has earned a disabled-friendly reputation in recent years, and “Hollywood Squares” will reportedly feature its first blind contestant on Sept. 11.

No comments: