Disability in Orange is the New Black

I watched all of the Netflix Original series Orange is the New Black in one weekend and it was awesome. Lots of interesting characters and many stories. Sharp humor and really believable. For anyone who hasn’t heard about this show, it’s the story of a yuppie white woman in her thirties who suddenly goes to prison for a drug crime she committed ten years before during her rebellious and wild youth. It’s based (loosely) on an autobiography. The show takes the opportunity to explore the lives of women in prison and definitely humanizes that entire population.

Disability came up in two cases.


One of the guards is a single leg amputee. I think they played it perfectly. He is totally capable and we don’t see any indication of his disability until we see him naked and it is revealed. Other characters make some remarks about it that seem (unfortunately) believable as to the stupid remarks that ignorant people tend to make. The disability is a part of his character but not a big plot point or part of any major part of the story. It’s just something that’s there. I like that.


In one episode some kids are brought into the prison for a “scared straight” program and one of the teenage girls is a wheelchair user. The inmates who were so excited to scare the kids don’t want to go near her. It’s clear that everyone feels pity and feels bad about giving the same treatment to the disabled girl. People are skeptical that she could have been a delinquent or done anything wrong.

At one point she clarifies the point. “They said I couldn’t rob a liquor store, so I showed them. They said I couldn’t gangbang and now I run my own crew.”

She’s a tough girl and isn’t scared by any of it.

Until Piper tells her the truth about what makes prison scary: coming face to face with yourself and not being able to hide from it.


Personally I thought both uses of disability have been very well done! Now if only they would get people with actual disabilities to play the roles… (I can’t find information on who played the girl, so I don’t know that she isn’t disabled. Just guessing based on precedent).

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